The boy problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7) Rod Graham on wokeness and post-materialism:

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

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

I’ll give three examples:

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

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

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

So why is the West woke?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10) Humanities degrees are in freefall:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost all good parenting advice is good people advice.

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

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

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

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

Yes, printer ink.

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

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

What is illusion of explanatory depth?

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

Where this bias occurs

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spot the logical fallacy– sex and sports edition

Hmmm, apparently my media consumption has pushed me into center-left culture warrior mode as I get back into blogging.  But, my goodness that has to be literally one of the worst piece I’ve ever read in the Atlantic.  It should be taught in philosophy or critical thinking classes for “spot the logical fallacy” (and, no, I won’t point out many because any reader with good critical thinking skills will catch them). “Separating Sports by Sex Doesn’t Make Sense”

This quote has led to a lot of attention on twitter (Yglesias’ take):

Like, hello, boys are, on average, inherently bigger, faster, and stronger and what complete sophistry and intellectual dishonesty to pretend that all the science on this isn’t “on average.” This is a terrific thread on this fact.  Basically, elite women’s sports simply would not exist (and HS sports teams would only have a few extraordinary females) if we didn’t have sex division.  

Rather than admitting this, much of the author’s contentions are shaped by this:

Sari van Anders, the research chair in social neuroendocrinology at Queen’s University, in Ontario, told me by email. She said that this complexity means it doesn’t make sense to separate sports by sex in order to protect women athletes from getting hurt. 

I don’t want a separate girls soccer and basketball team at my local high school so that girls don’t get hurt.  I want separate teams so that girls can play HS basketball and soccer.  Girls and women’s sports are great and I’m a fan, but to pretend that males don’t (on average!) have huge biological advantages in most sports, or that the science isn’t settled on this, is just pure anti-science.  I also can’t let this line go:

And though sex differences in sports show advantages for men, researchers today still don’t know how much of this to attribute to biological difference versus the lack of support provided to women athletes to reach their highest potential. 

This tweet is the appropriate response (though, I wouldn’t blame “journalists”)

Anyway, I’m actually entirely open to fair-minded discussion of how we think about the role of sex in sports– and youth sports in particular.  There’s surely room for improvement.  For one, we should let girls play football and wrestle, etc., if they are good enough and not worry about them “getting hurt.”  But any discussion that starts from a gender-ideology, anti-science premise that there’s no meaningful biological sex differences in athletics and that all such sex differences are just socially constructed is not a discussion that gets us to actual improvements.  

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Advice for parenting teens about social media:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

6) Quinta Jurecic on Trump and the documents:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8) Pew with a notable chart:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20) This is fun– “most regretted baby names

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

 

Quick hits (Part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What’s going on with adolescents and gender identity?

Given my natural interest in gender issues, plus the fact that I spend a lot of time with high school and middle-schoolers, I’m particularly intrigued by the controversy over today’s teenagers and gender identity.  Given what we all know about the social contagion and social dynamics among kids this age, it seems insane to suggest that there’s not at least some element of social contagion in the dramatic rise in non-traditional gender identity among American teens.  And, yet, apparently, the radical gender ideology folks argue that to make any such argument is downright transphobic (and, in many cases, go on to pull out the “you are going to make trans kids kill themselves!” card). 

But we’ve all been teenagers and thus, intuitively understand the powers of social influence as well as just how many teens are totally confused about themselves and their place in the world.  In modern America, might that manifest in rebellious and/or uncertain takes on one’s own gender identity? Sound plenty plausible to me.

I bring this all up now because there was an absolutely awful piece of research published in Pediatrics recently (really, just a complete embarrassment for this journal).  I would like to think the manifest problems in the research would have led to a rejection from a 2nd or 3rd tier political science journal, but it reaches an ideologically popular conclusion (there is no teen social contagion on gender identity) so the extremely problematic methods and conclusions were seemingly overlooked. 

Jesse Singal has a thorough rundown on why this is so bad. I skimmed the actual article myself, and, yes it is that bad on so many levels. 

But, what I really appreciated was Singal’s theory on what actually is going on, which comports with much of my own hypotheses in this regard:

This is a misunderstanding of… well, everything. Let’s use an example we know is driven by social contagion to make this point: goths. I am not aware of any high-quality polling on goths, let alone representative polling, but it seems safe to assume goths are bullied more often than non-goths. Imagine the argument “You’re claiming being a goth is socially transmitted, but that makes no sense, because why would someone choose to be a member of a group that is bullied?” This would be supremely silly, because the sort of kid who is entering gothdom is probably already facing some level of ostracization or bullying or other social issues. That’s why the goth identity appeals to them! Then, once they’re a goth, it can both be true that they’re a member of a group that is looked down on by other, more popular cliques in their school, but also that membership in the group gives them a sense of meaning and social belonging they previously lacked. 

The problem is failing to make the right comparison. The question isn’t whether goths are more popular than non-goth; it’s whether an already unpopular non-goth might become a bit more popular, or at the very least gain a modicum of belonging and community, by putting on those weird dark clothes and mascara. (Plus, there’s some legitimately awesome music.)

I am not directly comparing being a goth to being trans, of course — I’m using an example that we know is 100% driven by social contagion rather than latent biological factors to make the point.2 But to engage honestly with the ROGD [rapid onset gender dysphoria] hypothesis would be to acknowledge that Lisa Littman and others have never presented this as, like, a video game character selection screen: “Instead of choosing to be popular cisgender kids who captain the football team, our thesis is that kids choose to be bullied trans teens instead.” That would be ridiculous. The whole point of the ROGD hypothesis is that it is more likely to affect kids who are already lonely and disillusioned, and that for kids going through that sort of stuff, embracing a trans identity might bring with it the promise of some degree of social and psychological relief.

Maybe ROGD’s proponents are wrong about this! But if you want to argue in print that they’re wrong, you need to engage with the actual substance of what they’re saying, not a caricature of it. And if you go online it’s immediately obvious that yes, kids find community and support when they come out as trans, even as one component of that group membership often involves complaining about bullying, adults not understanding them, and so on. It should be neither complicated nor controversial to claim that a lot of teenage subcultures are structured in exactly this way, where part of the point is feeling like an insider among outsiders.

It’s not quite as silly, but I also think Turban and his team are also misunderstanding the homosexuality argument in a pretty willful way. My understanding has always been that the argument is two-pronged: First, in some youth settings it might be perceived as cooler or higher-status to be (say) a trans boy than a cisgender lesbian, which could nudge kids in that direction. (It is plainly true that in some progressive adult settings, trans guys are seen as “higher status” than cisgender lesbians, and trans women as “higher status” than cisgender gay men, so I don’t see why we should be skeptical this could be true among some youth as well.) Second, due to internalized homophobia (and misogyny), some females (especially) might interpret homosexual feelings as evidence they are trans. It’s not uncommon for youth gender clinicians to encounter 12- or 13-year-old natal female patients who say things like “When I picture myself kissing a girl, I see a boy kissing a girl.” 

These are kids with no real-world experience with sex or romance, and they’re immersed in a very complicated, ever-swirling vortex of hormone-addled ideas about sex, gender, identity, status. The ROGD hypothesis is that in some cases, to the extent anyone has a “true” or “latent” or “innate” identity, they’re really lesbians, but just don’t feel comfortable landing at that conclusion. Whether or not this theory is true — I think it is in some cases, in part because I’ve read and listened to firsthand accounts from kids who say it’s happened to them and trans-affirming clinicians who insist it’s a real phenomenon — Turban’s and his team’s approach of simply looking at zoomed-out bullying data doesn’t engage with any of its actual meat. It goes without saying that “some trans kids identify as gay or lesbian” is not a response to the argument that other kids adopt a trans identity as a result of internalized or external homophobia. 

So throughout their study, Turban and his colleagues are responding to strawman arguments that no one in the ROGD camp is really making.

And, of course, it should go without saying, but, in this arena that’s never safe, so… none of this is to remotely suggest that all gender dysphoria is social contagion or that we shouldn’t treat all trans/non-binary persons with kindness, compassion, and respect. 

But, what’s going with adolescence and gender identity is important and complicated and deserves nuanced, thoughtful responses and research, not knee-jerk condemnation of trans kids nor a blanket embrace that ignores the complexities.  

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) David Hopkins on lessons from Kansas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

there are some much more fundamental issues in play here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. education isn’t very expensive

 

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

Source: OECD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Reforms

 

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

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

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

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

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

13) Some interesting social science:

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

14) Graeme Wood on al-Zawahiri:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Carry on my wayward son

Sorry, I wanted a Kansas reference in the post title that wasn’t a play on “what’s the matter with Kansas.”  And, great song.  

Some good takes on Kansas and abortion…

Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern:

Even in a state in which Republican voters vastly outnumber Democrats, even in the midst of a primary contest in which highly motivated GOP voters were favored to turn out to the polls in disproportionate numbers, and even with deceptive last-minute texts to voters suggesting that a “yes” vote on the amendment would protect “choice,” Kansans stood up and showed up. In so doing, they roundly vanquished what might have been the first of many state efforts to capitalize on the 5–4 Supreme Court’s offer to “return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

If anything, the fact that more voters cast a ballot on the Kansas abortion referendum than have ever voted in the midterm general elections there suggests that every single hot take to which we have been treated over the years—about how reproductive freedom is a toxic issue, and women don’t vote on it, and the fall of Roe v. Wade would be more demoralizing than mobilizing for progressives—has been completely wrongheaded. There are lessons to be learned here beyond mere surprise and delight.

The newest polling from Gallup suggests that abortion has become a newly salient issue this summer, and that the gender gap between men and women on the issue of abortion has increased since Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizationoverruled Roe in June. This was borne out in Kansas, where voter registration surged among women after Dobbs. Efforts of those who have taken the position that forced birth is somehow pleasant and rewarding, even for America’s 10-year-old rape victims, have backfired spectacularly, as have their claims that abortion rights advocates are lying about new dangers that abortion bans pose to patients with high-risk pregnancies or who are experiencing a miscarriage.

Back in 2012, Republican Rep. Todd Akin, in the midst of what would prove to be an unsuccessful Senate run, tried to assure us that in cases of “legitimate rape,” pregnancy wasn’t a possibility because it was a known fact that “the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” He was, of course, obscenely wrong. But ten years later, facing a national reproductive freedom landscape that suddenly made Akin sound like a radical feminist, the people of Kansas—voting on an amendment that would have removed abortion rights from their state constitution—showed that the body politic is, in fact, capable of shutting down laws that are dangerous, lethal, and poisonous.

In a surprise landslide, Kansans overwhelmingly rejected the amendment. The American people still have ways to stop violence against women dressed up in the sanctimonious guise of coddling and protecting them. And that means that maybe democracy isn’t quite as far gone as some of us had believed.

Even in a state in which Republican voters vastly outnumber Democrats, even in the midst of a primary contest in which highly motivated GOP voters were favored to turn out to the polls in disproportionate numbers, and even with deceptive last-minute texts to voters suggesting that a “yes” vote on the amendment would protect “choice,” Kansans stood up and showed up. In so doing, they roundly vanquished what might have been the first of many state efforts to capitalize on the 5–4 Supreme Court’s offer to “return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

If anything, the fact that more voters cast a ballot on the Kansas abortion referendum than have ever voted in the midterm general elections there suggests that every single hot take to which we have been treated over the years—about how reproductive freedom is a toxic issue, and women don’t vote on it, and the fall of Roe v. Wade would be more demoralizing than mobilizing for progressives—has been completely wrongheaded. There are lessons to be learned here beyond mere surprise and delight.

The newest polling from Gallup suggests that abortion has become a newly salient issue this summer, and that the gender gap between men and women on the issue of abortion has increased since Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizationoverruled Roe in June. This was borne out in Kansas, where voter registration surged among women after Dobbs. Efforts of those who have taken the position that forced birth is somehow pleasant and rewarding, even for America’s 10-year-old rape victims, have backfired spectacularly, as have their claims that abortion rights advocates are lying about new dangers that abortion bans pose to patients with high-risk pregnancies or who are experiencing a miscarriage.

For the last six weeks, Republicans have touted their vision of a post-Roe America. It is a place in which rapists get to choose the mother of their children, even if she is 10 years old; in which patients must be dying of sepsis before they can terminate a failing pregnancy; in which doctors who follow their duty of care to perform a life-saving abortion must persuade prosecutors of their proper judgment at risk of incarceration; and in which pharmacists refuse to provide women with autoimmune treatment because they suspect it could be used for an illicit abortion. This reality unfolded in under a month, because it’s the fondest dream of a small minority of uncompromising extremists. [emphases mine]

And, one of my favorite lines ever:

In under a month, even Americans who call themselves abortion opponents have come to see that when abortion is criminal, every uterus is a potential crime scene.

And Jonathan Weiler:

The Kansas vote reflects something else, though. I’ve written before about what political scientists describe as symbolic vs. operational ideology. In plain English, voters might prefer one party for symbolic reasons, including because of perceived alignment of worldviews between themselves and the party they’re loyal to (see my previous books on the subject :)). But their policy preferences might diverge substantially from those symbolic attachments. For example, on election night, 2020, Donald Trump beat Joe Biden in Florida by four points. On that same night, a ballot measure calling for an eventual increase in the Florida minimum wage to $15 an hour, a measure Republican officeholders almost universally oppose, won easy passage. Numerous bright red states have, every time they’ve been given the chance, voted in favor of Medicaid expansion, sometimes by overwhelming margins, and usually over the strong objections of their state Republican leaders. Even for all the years Obamacare itself polled poorly (and now it enjoys majority support), almost every one of its specific provisions was broadly popular. It was the “Obama” part, not the “care” part that many people objected to…

In fact, besides climate change, on issue after issue, including increasing access to affordable health care, taxing the wealthy, expanding gun safety measures, supporting same-sex marriage and more, solid majorities prefer the mainstream liberal/Democratic position. One way this basic fact gets obscured is the nature of how public opinion tends to be reported and discussed, which is in partisan terms.

Let me elaborate on this.

I hear friends all the time say that we can’t do anything about X because “half the country” believes Y. What they mean is that most Republicans believe Y, even though that doesn’t represent half the country. This slippage appears frequently in reporting on public opinion, which tends to conflate a split between Democrats and Republicans on an issue with the proposition that the country is evenly or intractably divided. To be clear, the fact that Republicans oppose something, even if a clear majority of all Americans support it, as on climate action, is relevant and critical, given the nature of our political system. But it can muddy the reality animating this post – that *we* are the majority – and contribute to a self-perpetuating pessimism about our future

Josh Barro:

First, it’s worth looking at the messaging in the advertisements from the “no” campaign.

Here’s one ad that says passing the amendment would lead to “a strict government mandate designed to interfere with private medical decisions.” It adds “Kansans don’t want another government mandate” — superimposing that message over a COVID mask mandate sign. The ad doesn’t even mention the word abortion.

Another ad features one woman’s abortion story, a heartbreaking case involving the sort of abortion that the largest fraction of respondents will tell you should be legal in any poll — one where her life was at risk if she didn’t get one. “It could ban any abortion with no exceptions, even in cases like mine,” she warns, regarding the amendment.

Rachel Cohen, a reporter at Vox who has been doing good writing on internal Democratic debates over abortion strategy, notes on Twitter that “the Kansas coalition leading the fight against amendment targeted their messaging and campaign focus carefully to polling.” You can see that in these messages — a focus on opposing “government mandates” seems designed to speak to moderates or even conservatives, not progressives with strong pro-choice views.

As Cohen noted last month, “although a majority of American voters have repeatedly said they believe Roe should be upheld, roughly one-third of that majority personally opposes abortion.” The “no” campaign in Kansas aimed squarely at those voters, making a forceful argument that the amendment would allow an extreme ban, going against the wishes even of many voters whose views about abortion are broadly negative.

The messaging in the Kansas campaign couldn’t be further from the Groups-Speak mush I have complained about previously — no “reproductive justice,” no “men get abortions, too,” — and it also ignored the sometimes-fashionable idea that you should brush right past voters’ internal qualms about the morality of abortion and simply make the case that abortions themselves are good…

I’m heartened by what we saw in Kansas — not just that the amendment won so resoundingly, but that Democrats demonstrated the ability to run a calculated, poll-tested campaign that is built around the views and concerns of the mass electorate that is wary of what would happen if abortion were banned, rather than the attitudes of what White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield described accurately (if intemperately) earlier this summer as “activists who have been consistently out of step with the mainstream of the Democratic Party.” It shows that the party can prioritize winning over intra-coalition posturing when it really counts….

So if you are a Republican who does not have especially strong pro-life convictions, it’s worth considering: How much political capital do you really want the party to spend on imposing very unpopular, total or near-total abortion bans? Because if anyone is going to push the party toward a more popular position — for example, toward a “European-style” abortion policy where the procedure is legal up until about the 15th week of pregnancy with extensive restrictions thereafter — it’s going to have to be you. The pro-lifers aren’t going to do it for you.

Steve… We cannot say just how much extreme Republican legislating post-Dobbs mattered, but, it sure ain’t helping Republicans on this.  If Republicans had passed temperate and popular 15-week bans with clear rape/health/life exemptions, they’d probably be doing okay.  Instead, it is an insane conservative one-upsmanship along the lines of, “I’ll see your 10-year old rape victim and raise you a no exceptionseven for the life of the mother).  And, if you think about the current dynamics in the GOP it’s really hard to see them changing on this.  Instead, I strongly suspect they will double down on policies that lead to substantial human suffering.  But, importantly, that will help Democrats win elections to change that.  And, yes, I love that Barro highlights just the messaging I’ve been talking about since the beginning.  Abortion is on the ballot here in NC– just not directly, but hell yes in who are state legislators are– and I damn sure want to see ads like this flooding our airwaves and tying the issue to Republican candidates.  

Pro (fetal) life

It really is amazing the degree to which so many Republicans are just completely cavalier about the lives of pregnant women in their misguided efforts to protect fetal life at all costs.  And, already, this really is having some scary impacts on pregnant women.  Stat News, “Fear of prosecution forces doctors to choose between protecting themselves or their patients”

In the days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Missouri was one of several states that rushed to pass legislation that bans physicians from terminating a pregnancy unless the mother’s life is in immediate danger. Physicians like Rhee risk losing their medical license and more than a decade of prison time if they violate these laws, so doctors and hospitals are taking no chances.

Though an ectopic pregnancy will never result in childbirth, and can cause massive internal bleeding and death if left untreated, the ethics team at Mercy Hospital had to determine that Rhee was exercising appropriate judgment and her patient was in danger before she could be rushed to the operating room. The added bureaucracy took more than half a day of work, and Rhee felt the oversight was intended to protect her and the hospital, at the expense of her patient.

“When we graduate medical school and take the Hippocratic oath, we vow to first do no harm to the patient, and to keep the patient’s best interests in mind,” said Rhee, an OB-GYN and a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist who noted she was speaking only for herself, not a medical practice or hospital. Seeking approval from ethics committee members with no clinical expertise can help document that physicians are acting within the law, she added, but puts patients’ lives at risk: “I can’t think of another situation where we’re feeling cornered to choose between the two.” …

State abortion laws are often vague about what constitutes a medical emergency, meaning doctors, hospitals, and clinics risk being second-guessed by prosecutors. “This is a scary time. If you have a state that wants to set an example, they’re looking for cases to prosecute,” said Lisa Larson-Bunnell, a health care attorney for a Missouri hospital.

Missouri does not define pregnancy, but describes medical emergency as a condition requiring “immediate abortion” to prevent death “or for which a delay will create a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.” Arkansas and Oklahoma define medical emergency as when the pregnant person’s “life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury,” while Texas has a medical emergency exception but does not define the term.

In Missouri, every abortion must be reported to the state, and prosecutors can request a court order to examine records and confirm a medical emergency was present. “I can’t tell my physicians I’m not worried about an overzealous prosecutor,” said Larson-Bunnell, who did not specify which hospital she works for so as to protect her client’s identity.

This is nuts!  And, again, anybody who does not appreciate that fact is truly pro-fetus and not “pro-life” in any reasonable sense. 

Similarly, in Slate, Mark Joseph Stern:

When Elizabeth Weller’s water broke during the 18th week of her pregnancy, the prognosis was bleak: With almost no amniotic fluid left, the fetus could not survive. If Weller did not terminate immediately, she would be at risk of a potentially lethal uterine infection. She requested an abortion, but the hospital’s ethics committee refused. The committee feared that if doctors terminated Weller’s pregnancy before she was actively dying, they would face liability under Texas’ six-week abortion ban. So the committee forced her to wait until she had a high fever and “foul” discharge—symptoms of a serious infection in her uterus—to terminate.

Weller’s story, documented by Carrie Feibel in a wrenching NPR report, reflects a growing crisis in a post–Roe v. Wade America. Many states have banned or severely restricted abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roeon June 24, enacting laws with extremely vague and narrow exceptions for the life of the mother. Health care providers have legitimate concerns that they will face civil and criminal liability if they terminate a pregnancy under any circumstances. They worry that judges, juries, and prosecutors will disagree that the patient had a true medical emergency. And so the decision shifts from the patient to the hospital, which frequently places these delicate considerations in the hands of ethics committees…

The fundamental problem facing these committees is that the current crop of abortion bans were written with the most cramped and ambiguous health exceptions imaginable. Many of these laws allow termination only in the case of a genuine medical emergency—a term that is not defined, but suggests the patient’s life must be in imminent peril. GOP lawmakers have consistently rejected a broader exception for the mother’s “health” on the grounds that it creates a loophole allowing “abortion on demand.” The Susan B. Anthony list, a prominent anti-abortion group, has condemned any “health exception” as “a dangerous carveout” that makes “abortion available throughout all of pregnancy without any meaningful restriction.”

Hospitals are thus left to interpret draconian laws that ban abortion except when necessary to “save the life” or “prevent the death” of a pregnant woman. But when is a patient sufficiently close to death to justify termination? When her pregnancy has a 10 percent chance of killing her? 50 percent? 90? That, increasingly, is a question for the hospital ethics committee…

This engineered drama is already playing out on the ground in Missouri, which banned abortion minutes after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. The ban has no explicit exception for ectopic pregnancies, which are nonviable and deadly if not terminated; Republican Gov. Mike Parsons has declined to call a special session to clarify this ambiguity. Instead, Missouri law permits abortion when there is an “immediate” need to avert death. This language suggests that even if a patient will surely die if her pregnancy is not terminated, she cannot undergo an abortion until the pregnancy is about to kill her.

As Stat’s Olivia Goldhill has reported, at least one patient with an ectopic pregnancy has been denied care under Missouri’s law. When she arrived at the hospital, her fallopian tubes could have burst at any moment, causing internal bleeding and possible death. Yet she still had to wait for the ethics committee to decide whether an abortion was legally permissible. The panel took half a day to decide that the patient was, indeed, in enough danger to terminate…

At least two states have already passed S.B. 8 copycats, and more than a dozen have imposed severe civil and criminal penalties on abortion providers. These laws pit the best interests of the woman (as a patient in need of treatment) against the best interests of the hospital (as an institution seeking to avoid lawsuits and prosecution). Doctors know that prosecutors are always looking over their shoulder. In Missouri, for instance, every abortion must be reported to the state, and prosecutors can review the doctor’s decision to decide whether to charge them with a criminal violation of the state’s ban. If a doctor is convicted under the law, they face up to 15 years in prison…

This trepidation about prosecution translates into denial of maternity care for women in desperate need of it. It’s why Dr. Jessian Munoz, a Texas OB-GYN, could not provide an abortion to a woman in the midst of a miscarriage with a womb infection: The fetal heartbeat had not yet stopped, so he waited until she lost multiple liters of blood to terminate. By that point, she had developed major complications that required surgery and had been put on a breathing machine. It’s why another Texas patient undergoing a miscarriage could not terminate until she was bleeding out. It’s why at least 28 other Texas patients experiencing a failed pregnancy were denied an abortion—a majority of whom then had serious infections and bleeding. It’s why yet more Texas patients were forced to suffer through sepsis and hemorrhage before doctors would terminate their doomed pregnancies.

This is just so bad.  And I’m cautiously optimistic not pro-life/pro-fetus zealots will recognize how horrible this is once they are made approprirately aware.  And, yes, OMG, should Democrats message the hell out of this with the Fall elections.  My guess is most people actually know someone who had a high-risk or scary pregnancy or scary miscarriage experience.  And, Republicans need to stop putting all these women at risk. 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) This was really interesting from Rory Smith on whether we are seeing the beginning of the end of headers in soccer and how that would change the game:

It would be futile to predict when, precisely, it will come. It is not possible, from the vantage point of now, of here, to identify a specific point, or an exact date, or even a broad time frame. All that can be said is that it will come, sooner or later. The days of heading, in soccer, are numbered…

This is not an attempt to introduce an absolute prohibition of heading, of course. It is simply an application to banish deliberate heading — presumably as opposed to accidental heading — from children’s soccer.

Once players hit their teens, heading would still be gradually introduced to their repertoire of skills, albeit in a limited way: Since 2020, the F.A.’s guidelines have recommended that all players, including professionals, should be exposed to a maximum of 10 high-force headers a week in training. Heading would not be abolished, not officially.

And yet that would, inevitably, be the effect. Young players nurtured without any exposure to or expertise in heading would be unlikely to place much emphasis on it, overnight, once it was permitted. They would have learned the game without it; there would be no real incentive to favor it. The skill would gradually fall into obsolescence, and then drift inexorably toward extinction.

From a health perspective, that would not be a bad thing. In public, the F.A.’s line is that it wants to impose the moratorium while further research is done into links between heading and both Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (C.T.E.) and dementia. In private, it must surely recognize that it is not difficult to discern the general direction of travel…

The same would be true of a soccer devoid of heading. It is not just that the way corners and free kicks are defended would be changed beyond recognition — no more crowding as many bodies as possible in or near the box — but the way that fullbacks deal with wide players, the positions that defensive lines take on the field, the whole structure of the game.

Those changes, in the sense of soccer as a sporting spectacle, are unlikely to be positive. Players may not head the ball as much as they used to, now, but they know they might have to head the ball just as much as their predecessors from a less civilized era. They cannot discount it, so they have to behave in such a way as to counteract it. The threat itself has value. Soccer is defined, still, by all the crosses that do not come.

Removing that — either by edict or by lost habit — would have the effect of removing possibility from the game. It would reduce the theoretical options available to an attacking team, and in doing so it would make the sport more predictable, more one-dimensional. It would tilt the balance in favor of those who seeks to destroy, rather than those who try to create. Clough did not quite have it right. Soccer has always been a sport of air, just as much as earth.

If heading is found — as seems likely — to endanger the long-term health of the players, of course, then that will have to change, and it would only be right to do so. No spectacle is worth such a terrible cost to those who provide it. The gains would outweigh the losses, a millionfold. But that is not the same as saying that nothing would be lost.

 

2) Catherine Rampell, “Texan politicians won’t say this, but solar is saving their tushies right now”

The heat waves searing the United States and Europe have generated huge demand for energy, as air conditioners work overtime. Texas, for instance, has busted records for energy demand at least 11times this summer. Europe is simultaneously attempting to wean itself off Russian-produced natural gas, increasing demand for other fuel sources.

Solar power, meanwhile, has been heroically filling in the gaps.

That’s because there has been an enormous ramp-up in solar investment in recent years. This has been driven by multiple factors, including government incentives, customer demand and especially technological advancements that have made solar astonishingly cheap. Sun-drenched Texas — not exactly known for its bleeding-heart liberals — has nearly triple the solar capacity this summer than it had last summer.

3) Jessica Grose, “Calendar management is a frustratingly difficult task to equalize”

Sonya Bonczek wanted to make sure she was inviting all of her son’s favorite kids to his 4th birthday party, which is in August. But she quickly realized she didn’t have all of their parents’ email addresses, and her son’s preschool doesn’t give them out. When she saw one of these parents at pickup, she flagged him down and asked for his contact info for an Evite. “Let me give you my wife’s,” he said.

“I didn’t even think about it,” Bonczek told me. Until the next day, when the same thing happened again. She saw a dad at the local pool in their Chapel Hill, N.C., neighborhood, and asked for his email — he gave out his wife’s instead. When this happened a third time in a single week, Bonczek, who works at the University of North Carolina Press, tweeted, “Been running into dads of my 3yo’s classmates and asking for their emails for his birthday party and so far 3 out of 3 dads have proceeded to give me their wives’ emails instead. This is now a social experiment.”

The tweet went viral, and the replies to it are like answers to a wild Rorschach test, revealing all kinds of intimate and specific interactions among parents. Some dads responded that their wives are just better at scheduling kid activities, and many people pushed back that moms are better at it because dads aren’t really trying and women have been socialized to manage their children’s schedules. Others responded that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving a “strange” woman their email, because they’d be concerned it was inappropriate. Dads in families without moms expressed that they’re often left out of kid socializing because it takes place in female social circles…

What these varying responses tell me is that, despite all of the progress American dads have made in the past several decades in terms of active involvement with their children, scheduling remains one of the frustratingly difficult aspects to equalize in heterosexual couples. Even in couples where both parents work full time, 54 percent of parents say the mother does more managing of children’s schedules and activities, according to a 2015 Pew Research survey.

Interestingly, Pew notes that mothers are more likely to say they do more of every activity, while fathers are more likely to say that many activities are shared equally. “For example, 64 percent of mothers in two-parent households say that they do more than their spouse or partner when it comes to managing their children’s schedule and activities. And while many fathers (53 percent) concede that the mom in their household does more of this than they do, dads are much more likely than moms to say this responsibility is shared equally (41 percent vs. 31 percent of moms).” This reminds me of an epic Claire Cain Miller headline from early in the pandemic: “Nearly Half of Men Say They Do Most of the Home Schooling. 3 Percent of Women Agree.

4) Who knew the Opossum was so interesting:

First, let’s get a few things straight. Opossums do, in fact, play dead when threatened; they do not hang upside down by their tails. Dozens of different opossum species can be found in the Western Hemisphere, but only one lives here in America. This is Didelphis virginiana—given name, Virginia opossum. Possums, sans O, do exist; furrier and slightly more squirrel-like than opossums, they live in Australia and were once thought to be the same as our Virginia opossum. They are not—but they are both marsupials. Experts believe that early relatives of the Virginia opossum waltzed over to Australia way back when the continents were joined, millions of years ago.

Today, the Virginia opossum can be found basically all over North America: in cities and suburbs, fields and forests. One interloping opossum was recently tossed out of a Brooklyn bar. She thrives alongside humans, and she thrives without them, too. In his 2016 essay titled “Everything What’s Wrong of Possums,” the writer Daniel M. Lavery wondered what, exactly, an opossum eats: “IS IT FRUIT? IS IT … NIGHT DIRT? IS IT OTHER RATS?” The answer is yes. The opossum shovels up all of those things like the Dyson of the natural world. She savors carrion, cockroaches, earthworms, and insect exoskeletons. She feasts on small mice, and ticks that attach themselves to her hide. In cities she gobbles down rotten vegetables, bones, and greasy paper from your garbage. She scavenges—she cleans the streets! Opossums “have their own job,” Donna Holmes Parks, a biology professor at the University of Idaho, told me. And for all that hard work, she added, “they deserve to be admired.”

The Virginia opossum alone is known for all sorts of fascinating behaviors. Baby opossums, which are born the size of an ant, somehow manage to travel from the birth canal into their mother’s pouch. Those that survive the journey stay there for months, latching on to the mother’s teat with their tough palates. Grown, these opossums may not hang by their tails—but they do use them to carry around leaves in the winter. They make smacking sounds with their lips to communicate. Sometimes, they shuffle their back feet in a dance that Parks described to me as “a lot like the mashed potato.” Opossums are also immune to most snake venom. They literally eat pit vipers such as rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and copperheads for lunch. “They’re just so astounding!” Mason Fidino, who studies opossums at the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute, told me. “I’ve got mad respect for them and their little bare toes.” Opossums “get a bum rap as being ugly, overgrown, ratlike things that have no brains,” Steven Austad, a biology professor at the University of Alabama, told me. Their brains are pretty small. But what they lack in brain size they make up for in olfactory power and memory. “If they eat something that’s bad, they remember that better than dogs or cats or pigs,” Austad said.

5) So much this “The Covid Virus Keeps Evolving. Why Haven’t Vaccines?”

6) Thought this was a really interesting take in the N&O, “As college football evolves, lessons can be learned from NASCAR’s rapid growth, decline”

In the crumbling speedways and long-faded echoes of the roars that once gave rise to a national sporting phenomenon, there are now lessons and quiet whispers that a different regional pastime would be wise to heed: There’s a mighty cost in abandoning one’s roots.

There was a time, throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, when NASCAR was considered America’s fastest-growing sport. The likes of Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon became household names in those days, and those in charge might’ve thought the future to be boundless.

And so the businesspeople believed it wise to expand, to take races from places that had given birth to stock car racing, and from people and communities that had nurtured it to civilization from its moonshine-running roots, and move them somewhere else.

Phoenix. New Hampshire. Texas. California. NASCAR, suddenly too big and too corporate for places like North Wilkesboro and Rockingham and Darlington, South Carolina, went national.

It made more money, for a while. More people watched, for a while. The sport grew, for a while. Now, more than 15 years after the most-watched Daytona 500 ever, NASCAR’s premier race comes and goes with much less interest than it used to. More than 19.3 million people tuned into Fox to watch it in 2006, according to sportsmediawatch.com. Fewer than half that many watched it earlier this year.

7) Harrowing account, “Inside a Uvalde Classroom: A Taunting Gunman and 78 Minutes of Terror”

8) Really appreciated Jesse Singal taking on this awful form of argumentation that’s become all too common among many liberals, “On Rashida Tlaib And Chase Strangio’s Ridiculous, Bad-Faith Attack On The New York Times (Updated): “Bad people could use your words to do bad things” is, in most cases, a nonsensical argument”

9) This is long overdue, especially know in light of Dobbs, “F.D.A. to Weigh Over-the-Counter Sale of Contraceptive Pills”

10) Good stuff from David French, “The Constitution Isn’t Working” 

What does any of this have to do with the Founders? How do these cases reflect a challenge to American democracy? The problem is simply this: Congress was intended to be the most potent branch of government. It is now the most dysfunctional. And it’s dysfunctional in part because the Founders did not properly predict the power of partisanship over institutional responsibility.

Even worse, Congress’s dysfunction radiates to other branches of government. Both the presidency and the judiciary assume more power than they should, escalating the stakes of presidential elections and the intensity of judicial confirmations.

Describing the branches of government as “co-equal,” as many people do, is simply wrong. Read the Constitution and you’ll quickly see that Congress has more theoretical power than any other branch. It can fire the president. It can fire any member of the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court. It can define the jurisdiction of federal courts and the numbers of judges and justices. Its powers are enumerated in the first article of the Constitution for a reason. It’s not equal. It’s preeminent.

Only Congress can declare war. Only Congress can authorize public spending. And for all the talk of the Founders’ suspicion of democracy, they gave these significant powers to the most democratic branch of government.

In reality, however, this independent congressional power depends a great deal on its willingness to uphold its institutional responsibility, to see itself as a separate branch of government that is jealous of its own power and prerogatives. The constitutional theory isn’t that, say, Democrats will check Republicans but that Congress will check the presidency.

Substitute an overriding partisan purpose for institutional responsibility, and the system starts to falter. We see this most plainly in the impeachment context. Congress has quite clearly tended to view impeachment primarily through a partisan lens. When Mitt Romney voted to convict Donald Trump during Trump’s first impeachment trial in 2019, he was the first senator in American history to cross partisan lines to vote to convict a president.

Congress is now less an independent branch of government and much more a collection of partisan foot soldiers supporting or opposing the sitting president’s agenda. Combine this partisan purpose with a closely divided country and you have a formula for deadlock, and worse.

Politics abhors a power vacuum, and Congress’s absence has been filled by the presidency. As Congress shrinks, the presidency grows. On a bipartisan basis, presidents now choose to act whenever Congress “fails.”

So now it is presidents who, in effect, declare war. Time and again, they initiate military hostilities without congressional approval. Their administrative agencies write laws of great consequence. They draft executive orders that are even designed to redirect funds appropriated by Congress to new presidential priorities. And the quirks of the Electoral College mean we now face a system where most Americans (who live in safe red or blue states) don’t cast truly meaningful votes for the one person who holds all this power. This reality breeds instability, and that instability is amplified each time a president is elected in spite of losing the popular vote.

And this brings us back to the Supreme Court. An emerging Court majority is now highly skeptical of presidential power. Through a series of technical rulings grounded in both the Administrative Procedure Act and in the Constitution itself, the Court is imposing intense scrutiny on executive actions—such as the Trump administration’s attempt to repeal DACA and add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, the Biden administration’s OSHA vaccine mandate, and the Obama-era clean-power rule.

On a pragmatic basis, a dangerous game is afoot. The Supreme Court is telling Congress, “If you want something done, you’ll have to do it yourself.” But what if Congress simply doesn’t do anything? What if it continues to place partisan imperatives over its institutional responsibilities? The Supreme Court can deny the president additional power, but it cannot force Congress to do its work.

11) Nice summary of key public opinion from 538, “How Americans Feel About Abortion And Contraception”

12) As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, I do an oral daily gratitude journal with my kids.  This is some great guidelines for gratitude from Eric Barker, who’s book, Plays well with others, I’ve really been enjoying:

Here’s how to be more grateful:

  1. The Right Way To Keep A Gratitude Journal: Vary what you write about. It’s the searching for ideas that matters in the end. Don’t say, “I can’t think of anything.” Did you just get back from a chemotherapy appointment? No? Then you have something to be grateful for.
  2. Remember The Bad: Reflecting on how much worse life was reminds you how much better it is now.
  3. Get A Gratitude Buddy: People nag you at work. People might nag you to do things around the house. Do yourself the favor of getting someone to nag you to live a happy life.
  4. Hey! Watch Your Language!: Your Inner Critic does not get the last word. Change how you talk to yourself and you’ll change how you feel. “But does that really work, Eric?” Yes, Inner Critic, it does.

13) Jonathan Weiler, “Depraved Indifference: The senseless cruelty of rejecting Medicaid expansion”

Every individual who holds significant political office has the power and burden of making life or death decisions (so, you’re off the hook if you’re the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska :)). Politics involves tradeoffs. When you allocate resources here, you draw them from there. In favoring some groups, policies and priorities, you are disfavoring others. If you agreed to a certain level of health funding, the difference between what you settled for and the higher amount you might have fought for can be statistically inferred to result in increased mortality. While having inescapable real world consequences, these choices typically exist in a moral gray zone. Maybe you wanted to do more, but were blocked from doing so. Maybe other urgent priorities required your attention. And you have to make these choices in the face of the ultimately finite resources available to you. In any event, there is no such thing as a perfectly crafted policy that can enhance and optimize the well-being of every single potentially affected person. We are fallen.

In some cases, though, the tradeoffs are so lopsided in favor of basic well-being that choosing otherwise isn’t just the normal, inescapable to and fro of politics. Choosing otherwise amounts instead to calloused, pointless cruelty that deserves to be called senseless killing.

This is how we ought to be thinking about the ongoing obstruction of Republican leaders in a dozen states to accepting Medicaid expansion.

14) Business Insider, “The only demographic in America that reliably opposes abortion access is older men”

15) James Fallows, “How to Rein in an Out-of-Control Judiciary”

Yesterday a group called Fix the Court released proposed legislation with a Plan A / Plan B structure.

—The main effect of the law, Plan A, would be to enact 18-year fixed terms for Supreme Court Justices, as many groups (including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and several U.S. Representatives) have proposed, and is long overdue.

—The innovation of the law is its “contingency” provision. The Constitutional validity of any term-limit rules might ultimately be appealed to the same Supreme Court whose members would be affected. And suppose they ruled against it? To keep themselves in their seats?

If that happened, according to this provision, Plan B would kick in: the Court would automatically be expanded, from nine members to 13. The logic of this approach was laid out by G. Michael Parsons, of NYU’s law school, in a detailed law-review article and an op-ed last year.

Parsons summed up the argument this way:

Popular plans [to reform the Court] get watered down to preempt legal concerns, while controversial policies dominate the debate based on their constitutional pedigree. For example, Fix The Court’s plan would require justices to take senior status after 18 years (a widely popular approach), but the plan exempts sitting justices to avoid potential legal issues. Take Back the Court, meanwhile, argues that packing the court is the only viable option because anything else might be invalidated.

But what if this choice between popularity and predictability is a false one? Rather than settling on one plan, Congress instead should use a rare legislative tool known as “backup law” to layer its policy preferences from most politically desirable to most constitutionally secure. If the court holds the first preference unconstitutional, the second will automatically take its place. 

16) Unsurprisingly, I really enjoyed this, “The coaching and parenting lessons I learned coaching my son’s pee-wee football team”

17) I’m here all day long for taking right-wing Christians to task for consistently ignoring Jesus’ core message of concern for the poor:

Let’s talk about the culture war we should be fighting. When we think of what’s important to the “religious right” or to “white evangelicals,” the focus tends to be on social issues: abortion, the role of religion in public life, conflicts around sexual orientation and gender identity, and lately, controversy over critical race theory.

Social issues determine which corporations conservative Christians deem moral or immoral, good or bad. There have been calls to boycott Disney for its seemingly pro-L.G.B.T. stance. Disney also angered conservatives by pledging to help employees travel to other states to obtain abortions. On the other hand, Hobby Lobby is viewed as a “Christian” company because of its stance on contraception, its “Jesus Saves, Bro” coffee mugs and its commitment to print “full-page ads celebrating the real meaning of Christmas, Easter and Independence Day.” One Christian legal nonprofit puts corporations on a “nice” or “naughty” list each year based on their use of the term “Christmas” versus the more general “holiday” celebration. There was even a minor dust-up in a niche corner of Christian Twitter about “Whole Foods Christians” versus “Cracker Barrel Christians.” This is the stuff that the culture wars feed on. It’s the fodder for trending hashtags, outrage and denunciations.

But the people who debate the morality (or lack thereof) of Disney or Hobby Lobby rarely discuss how much paid time off these companies provide employees or whether they pay a living wage or what the wealth disparity is between their top and bottom earners or whether they have adequate maternity leave policies or how much a corporation financially gives back to a community.

Meanwhile, economic disparity continues to widen. In 2020, Pew reported that the middle class has been shrinking since the early 1970s. Since the 1980s the biggest spike in income has occurred for the top 5 percent of earners in America. The report concludes that over the past five decades — the whole course of our lives for many of us — there’s been a “long and steady rise in income inequality.” Still, despite the popularity of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 Democratic primary, a Pew report from the same year said that while a majority of Americans think there is “too much economic inequality” in the nation, fewer than half view this as a top political priority. The report also said that Republicans are likely to blame individuals rather than systemic forces for economic inequality, citing lifestyle choices or that “some people work harder than others.”

 

But how would our contemporary understanding of politics change if economic justice is in fact a “traditional value”? The indifference Christians on the right often show about wealth disparity flies in the face of thousands of years of Christian teachings. While Christians throughout church history cared deeply about sexual and personal morality, the linchpin of a Christian vision of the social order was the flourishing of the economically disadvantaged. When church leaders across the ages cited evidence of social disorder, they consistently pointed to vast economic inequality.

It’s not news that Christianity, like many other religions, values care for the poor. Throw a dart at the Bible and you are likely to hit a verse about the need to aid the vulnerable, to care for orphans and widows, to love the “least of these.” And most conservative Christians today would affirm the value of individual charity. But what strikes me as I listen to voices across history is not just that Christian leaders called for charity toward the poor but that they also emphasized economic justice. The poor were not simply those masses that we must patronizingly remember in our Christmas giving; they were entitled to material well-being. The rich were denounced as being in grave spiritual danger. Beyond that, the church proclaimed that society — including the government — had a responsibility to rein in greed and to ensure just distribution of wealth.

18) This is wild. 

An explanation here.

(Return of) Quick Hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

And thus, the theater continues. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

14) Really interesting ideas about therapeutic use of hallucinogens:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14) Good stuff from Conor Friedersdorf:

When Semantics Dominate Civics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16) Katherine Wu on Monkeypox vaccines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dobbs = Prohibition?

Did not want to let this Frum piece from last week pass by.  So good:

The culture war raged most hotly from the ’70s to the next century’s ’20s. It polarized American society, dividing men from women, rural from urban, religious from secular, Anglo-Americans from more recent immigrant groups. At length, but only after a titanic constitutional struggle, the rural and religious side of the culture imposed its will on the urban and secular side. A decisive victory had been won, or so it seemed.

The culture war I’m talking about is the culture war over alcohol prohibition. From the end of Reconstruction to the First World War, probably more state and local elections turned on that one issue than on any other. The long struggle seemingly culminated in 1919, with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment and enactment by Congress of the National Prohibition Act, or the Volstead Act (as it became known). The amendment and the act together outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States and all its subject territories. Many urban and secular Americans experienced those events with the same feeling of doom as pro-choice Americans may feel today after the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade

Prohibition and Dobbs were and are projects that seek to impose the values of a cohesive and well-organized cultural minority upon a diverse and less-organized cultural majority. Those projects can work for a time, but only for a time. In a country with a representative voting system—even a system as distorted in favor of the rural and conservative as the American system was in the 1920s and is again today—the cultural majority is bound to prevail sooner or later…

But by the end of the 19th century, alcohol prohibition had evolved into a movement predominantly rooted in the Protestant and Republican countryside to police the Catholic and Democratic big cities. The famous phrase that the Democrats were the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion” contained a lot of truth—both about the Democrats and about some of the angry motives of the prohibitionists as well.

The cities lacked the political clout to stop rural America from enacting Prohibition in 1919. But they did have the fiscal clout to refuse the money necessary to enforce it. From the beginning, the federal Prohibition police—domiciled first within the Treasury, later inside the Department of Justice—were hopelessly underfunded and understaffed. Big-city police departments often refused to cooperate with federal authorities, not only because they were bribed, but because they despised the law…

Then came another surprise. The policing regimen intended to suppress the working-class urban saloon also impinged upon the members of the upper-class Union League and the middle-class suburban golf club. As one of the characters in Sinclair Lewis’s 1922 novel, Babbittremarks after a couple of bootlegged cocktails: “The trouble is the manner of enforcement … Congress didn’t understand the right system. Now, if I’d been running the thing, I’d have arranged it so that the drinker himself was licensed, and then we could have taken care of the shiftless workman—kept him from drinking—and yet not’ve interfered with the rights—with the personal liberty—of fellows like ourselves.” …

And love this conclusion (and very much in keeping with my recent post on how the abortion pills change everything)

Pro-life politics in the United States used to be mostly posturing and positioning, the taking of extreme rhetorical positions at no real-world cost. Republicans in red states could enact bills that burdened women who sought abortions, knowing that many voters shrugged off these statutes and counted on the courts to protect women’s rights. Now the highest court has abdicated its protective role, and those voters will have to either submit to their legislature’s burdens or replace the legislators.

That will likely mean that every legislative race in every currently red state will become a referendum on how strictly to police the women of that state. If a Republican president is elected in 2024 and signs a national abortion restriction in 2025, then every House and Senate race will likewise become a referendum on policing women. I don’t imagine that will be a very comfortable situation for the pro-policing side. Republican politicians who indulged their pro-life allies as a low-cost way to mobilize voters who did not share the party’s economic agenda are about to discover that the costs have jumped, and that many of the voters who do share the party’s economic agenda care more about their intimate autonomy.

Abortion politics is about to transition from being the conservative ideologue’s proof of purity to the Republican politician’s most vexed and intractable quagmire. We may all be surprised at how rapidly the politicians start looking for some escape.

I will say, I also love the Prohibition comparisons because it really is such a fascinating episode in American history and just the ultimate example of an intense, and well-organized minority having it’s way over the majority.  Hopefully, though, there’s less upheaval in American society and less of a long period in the wilderness before things improve.  But, I really do think there will be a dynamic where the “prohibitionists” overplay their hand and the political backlash from all quarters does them in.

[12 years old and relevant as ever is Daniel Okrent’s Last Call. This has stuck with me as much as any work of history I have read].

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