Quick hits (part I)

1) I think my students would tell you I genuinely care about them and want the best for them. But, my god the coddling approach that the Chronicle of Higher Education teaching newsletter is always taking is just so grating:

  • Acknowledge the Bigger Picture. “We were brought up to just walk into the classroom and say, oh, this DNA molecule is so cool, or this new Shakespeare play is so cool,” said Bryan Dewsbury, associate professor of biological sciences and associate director of the STEM Transformation Institute at Florida International University. But that’s not working for today’s students, who face not only the pandemic but climate change and a host of other serious threats. “We have to stop pretending that the classroom and the campus and the online-course space are just completely disconnected to what’s happening in the wider world — and that people are walking in and just able to shelve all that chaos and just fully be present.”

So, expect less of my students because… climate change?

2) Really interesting interview on how two Supreme Court cases could make some pretty big differences in how social media companies operated. A lot of complicated issues involved.  Also, how had I never heard of this painting?

You said you were sympathetic with the goals, but it seems that the goals might have been just to stop companies from restricting far-right content.

Yes, I do think that’s the goal. But the first time that I saw litigation on claims like this, it came from more traditionally left sources. In Brazil, Facebook took down an image of a native Amazonian woman who was topless. And [the Ministry of Culture said] this was a violation of cultural diversity.

 

That’s hilarious.

The other one’s even crazier. I don’t know if you know the French “L’Origine du Monde,” which is a Gustave Courbet painting? It hangs in the Musée d’Orsay. Its credentials are impeccable, but it’s also a very closeup depiction of female genitalia. Facebook took it down. And the Frenchman who had posted it was, like, “But this is art. I have a right to post art.”

Both of these state laws require platforms to carry speech that the platforms don’t want to. And both of them imposed transparency obligations somewhat similar to the ones in the Digital Services Act in the E.U. The platforms challenged both of those laws in both aspects, the transparency and the so-called must-carry provisions, on a couple of different legal grounds. But the grounds that the Supreme Court would look at if they took it is whether the platform’s own First Amendment rights to set editorial policy have been violated.

The Florida one says that, if an online speaker counts as a journalistic enterprise, which is defined very broadly and strangely, or if they’re a political candidate or they’re talking about a political candidate, then the platform can’t take down anything they say, with almost no exceptions. There’s a weird obscenity exception. Basically, that means if you’re talking about a political candidate or you are a political candidate, you can share electoral disinformation or covid disinformation or racist biological theories. All kinds of things that I think most people would consider pretty horrific. Platforms would have to leave it up in Florida.

The Texas law is also motivated by a concern about conservative voices being silenced, but it comes at it a little bit differently. It says that platforms can engage in content moderation under their own discretionary terms, but they have to do so in a way that is viewpoint-neutral. And there’s a lot of disagreement and uncertainty about what it means to be viewpoint-neutral. I think, and a lot of people think, that it means that if you take down posts celebrating the Holocaust, you also have to take down posts condemning it. If you leave up posts that are anti-gun violence, you also have to leave up posts that are pro-gun violence.

Sorry, these examples are very dark. But that is what we’re talking about here: horrific things that people say on the Internet, that, effectively, platforms such as Facebook or YouTube would have to leave up under this Texas law, unless they want to take down a whole lot of user speech. They could not let anybody ever talk about racism at all, because they have to be viewpoint-neutral on the topic, or not let people talk about abortion at all, because they have to be viewpoint-neutral on the topic, etc.

3) Scott Alexander on AI is always interesting.  I was also listening to a podcast on ChatGPT today and what was really key was that the language model was trained by feedback from real humans.

So far, so boring. What really helped this sink in was reading Nostalgebraist say that ChatGPT was a GPT instance simulating a character called the Helpful, Harmless, and Honest Assistant.

The masked shoggoth on the right is titled “GPT + RLHF”. RLHF is Reinforcement Learning From Human Feedback, a method where human raters “reward” the AI for good answers and “punish” it for bad ones. Eventually the AI learns to do “good” things more often. In training ChatGPT, human raters were asked to reward it for being something like “Helpful, Harmless, and Honest” (many papers use this as an example goal; OpenAI must have done something similar but I don’t know if they did that exactly).

4) The Durham investigation is a complete embarrassment. Nice summary from Drum:

Today’s big New York Times piece about the Durham investigation is chock full of goodies about how Donald Trump and his lackeys desperately tried to prove that the FBI had illegally opened an investigation of Trump for no good reason. Attorney General Bill Barr and his special counsel, John Durham, were obsessed about this and became increasingly agitated as their investigation continued and they were unable to find anything that backed up their suspicions. They never did. We know now that, in fact, Trump’s presidential campaign did have links to the Russian government. The FBI did have a perfectly sensible reason to open an investigation into this. Vladimir Putin did try to interfere with the election in Trump’s favor. And several members of Durham’s team did quit because of disagreements with him over prosecutorial ethics.

There’s no single smoking gun in the story, just a long series of incidents that paint a damning picture of Barr’s Justice Department. In one of them, Barr received a tip from Italian intelligence:

[In 2019] the Times reported that Mr. Durham’s administrative review of the Russia inquiry had evolved to include a criminal investigation, while saying it was not clear what the suspected crime was. Citing their own sources, many other news outlets confirmed the development.

The news reports, however, were all framed around the erroneous assumption that the criminal investigation must mean Mr. Durham had found evidence of potential crimes by officials involved in the Russia inquiry. Mr. Barr, who weighed in publicly about the Durham inquiry at regular intervals in ways that advanced a pro-Trump narrative, chose in this instance not to clarify what was really happening.

Barr was normally a chatterbox, constantly tossing out tidbits about the investigation that made it seem as if they had the goods on the FBI. This time, however, he kept his mouth shut.

Why? Because the tip from the Italians linked Trump to financial crimes. That was the criminal investigation, but Barr saw no need to correct reporters who thought he was looking into criminal conduct by the FBI.

Nothing came of this investigation, but it’s telling nevertheless. And it’s a warning to everyone to take Durham’s final report with a salt mine’s worth of skepticism when it comes out. Past experience tells us that Durham will do his best to make it look like the FBI was guilty of massive crimes even though he was unable to prove any of them and unable to successfully prosecute even the minor charges he took to court.

Poor John Durham. He made his own bed, but this was partly because he got sucked into the black hole that is Donald Trump. Everyone who associates with Trump comes out of it looking worse than when they went in, and that’s what happened to Durham. In 2019 he was a respected veteran prosecutor. Four years later that reputation is in tatters. Nomen amicitiae sic, quatenus expedit, haeret.

5) Pamela Paul on the chilling effect of the American Dirt controversy:

Three years ago this month, the novel “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins landed in bookstores on a tsunami of enthusiasm. “Extraordinary,” Stephen King wrote in a prepublication blurb. “Riveting, timely, a dazzling accomplishment,” raved Julia Alvarez. “This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas,” Sandra Cisneros proclaimed. “This is the international story of our times. Masterful.”

The book’s momentum was nonstop. Riding on starred prepublication reviews from the trades, the book, a fast-paced road novel about a Mexican bookseller and her son trying to cross the border to escape a murderous drug cartel, was named an Indie Next List Pick by independent bookstores. Then came the rapturous reviews. “A thrilling adrenaline rush — and insights into the Latin American migrant experience,” raved The Washington Post. Cummins “proves that fiction can be a vehicle for expanding our empathy,” said Time magazine. Finally, the golden ticket: Oprah selected “American Dirt” for her book club. “I was opened, I was shook up, it woke me up,” Winfrey said.

It all fell apart with stunning speed. Following a blistering online campaign against the author and others involved in the book over who gets to write what, and in response to threats of violence against both author and booksellers, Cummins’s publisher, Flatiron Books, canceled her book tour. Cummins’s motives and reputation were smeared; the novel, eviscerated. “We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor,” Flatiron’s president said in a statement.

Looking back now, it’s clear that the “American Dirt” debacle of January 2020 was a harbinger, the moment when the publishing world lost its confidence and ceded moral authority to the worst impulses of its detractors. In the years since, publishers have become wary of what is now thought of as Another American Dirt Situation, which is to say, a book that puts its author and publishing house in the line of fire. This fear now hangs over every step of a fraught process with questions over who can write what, who should blurb and who can edit permeating what feels like a minefield. Books that would once have been greenlit are now passed over; sensitivity readers are employed on a regular basis; self-censorship is rampant.

A creative industry that used to thrive on risk-taking now shies away from it. And it all stemmed from a single writer posting a discursive and furious takedown of “American Dirt” and its author on a minor blog. Whether out of conviction or cowardice, others quickly jumped on board and a social media rampage ensued, widening into the broader media. In the face of the outcry, the literary world largely folded.

“It was a witch hunt. Villagers lit their torches,” recalled the novelist and bookseller Ann Patchett, whose Nashville home Cummins stayed in after her publisher told her the tour was over. The two were up all night crying. “The fall that she took, in my kitchen, from being at the top of the world to just being smashed and in danger — it was heartbreaking.”…

But if the proposal for “American Dirt” landed on desks today, it wouldn’t get published.

“In the past two or three years, there’s a lot of commentary about the publishing industry being increasingly eager to appease potential cancelers, to not get into trouble to begin with, to become fearful and conformist,” says Bernard Schweizer, a professor emeritus of English at Long Island University who is founding a small publishing company, Heresy Press, with his wife, Liang, to take on the kind of riskier work that now gets passed over. According to Schweizer, the publisher will look for work “that lies between the narrow ideological, nonaesthetic interests presently flourishing on both the left and the right” and “won’t blink at alleged acts of cultural appropriation.” As he told me: “The point is not to offend but to publish stories that are unfettered and freewheeling, maybe nonconformist in one way or another. Somebody may be offended or not, but that’s the kind of risk we want to take.”

For some aspiring writers, the mood remains pessimistic. “My take is the only take and the one everyone knows to be true but only admits in private: the literary world only accepts work that aligns with the progressive/woke point of view of rich coastal liberals,” the Latino writer Alex Perez said in an interview with Hobart magazine last fall. “This explains why everything reads and sounds the same, from major publishing houses to vanity zines with a readership of 15.” Shortly after publication of Perez’s interview, Hobart’s staff of editors quit and Perez was widely mocked on social media. Elizabeth Ellen, Hobart’s editor and the person who conducted the interview, posted a letter from the editor advocating for an atmosphere “in which fear is not the basis of creation, nor the undercurrent of discussion.”

6) It really is crazy that on an entirely regular basis the local school system simply fails to run the necessary busses to get kids to school.  It’s not even Econ 101 about what to do about the bus driver shortage; it’s Econ 01.  Just pay more or find other ways to make the job more enticing.  But, damnit, you’ve got to get the kids to and from school!

That means parents need to be prepared — sometime on short notice — to become their child’s chauffeur when the school bus is very late or isn’t running at all.

“Any day in the office I could get the message that I need to leave my job to get my child,” said Heather Wilson, a Raleigh parent whose daughter rides the bus to Farmington Woods Elementary School in Cary. “It’s definitely very stressful.”

The driver shortage is causing students to miss school, teachers to stay late watching students and bus drivers to feel burned out from the additional routes they’re running.

And the situation could get worse as more drivers retire or switch to other jobs with better hours and higher pay. School bus driver vacancy rates have soared post-pandemic.

7) Big story in the NYT this week about whether schools should tell parents when the kids switch gender identities. I don’t think this is an easy issue with an obviously right answer.  I do think all the trans “allies” who consider the very reporting of this story and a sympathetic hearing of the parents’ views to be so very wrong.  Mona Charen:

Advocates for “gender-affirming care” are vigilant, potent, and feared, trashing anyone who raises questions about rushing into transition as hatemongers who are attempting to “erase” trans people. But their campaign to stifle debate is ebbing. The Atlantic ran a sympathetic account of detransitioners, i.e., patients who’ve regretted sex changes and sought to restore their natal identity. Both of the authors are trans themselves. The New York Times Magazine also ran a piece highlighting competing views within the medical community about how best to handle the explosion of young people saying they think they’re trans, and acknowledging that social contagion may indeed be at work.

The Times also reported on the controversy (yes, there is a controversy) about the use of puberty blocker drugs in children. The Washington Post, noting the pattern of schools withholding information about students’ social transitions from parents, quoted Erica Anderson, a transgender woman and former president of the U.S. Professional Association for Transgender Health, to the effect that failing to notify parents is a form of malpractice: “If there are issues between parents and children, they need to be addressed. It’s not like kicking a can down the road. It only postpones, in my opinion, and aggravates any conflict that may exist.” And New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait chastised enforcers on the left who attempt to cow mainstream journalists on this topic:

The purpose of their rhetorical strategy is to conflate advocates of more cautious treatment of trans children with conservatives who oppose any treatment for trans children. This campaign has met with a great deal of success. Much of the coverage in mainstream and liberal media has followed this template—ignoring or denying the existence of the medical debate, and presenting anti-trans Republican politicians as the only alternative to gender-affirming care. This has been the theme . . . of mainstream organs like Politico and CNN, where coverage of the issue often treats progressive activists as unbiased authorities and dismisses all questions about youth gender treatment as hate-driven denial of the medical consensus.

It’s healthy that the suppression of competing views on this subject is starting to subside, because, as independent journalist Jesse Singal has indefatigably reported, the research on puberty blockers, cross-sex hormone treatment, and other aspects of the affirmative treatment model is actually quite weak. Several European nations, including France, Sweden, and Finland, have drastically limited treatment with puberty blockers, and the largest transgender clinic in Great Britain has been closed due to controversy about unprofessional standards.

8) I actually found this NYT feature on mass shooters infuriating, “We Profiled the ‘Signs of Crisis’ in 50 Years of Mass Shootings. This Is What We Found.”  They are deeply disturbed people suffering despair.

This is no coincidence. The killings are not just random acts of violence but rather a symptom of a deeper societal problem: the continued rise of “deaths of despair.”…

We think the concept of “deaths of despair” also helps explain the accelerating frequency of mass shootings in this country.

Every damn country has people like this, though.  Only in America do they have such ready access to guns.  It’s the guns, guns, guns!

9) I’m cranky about a lot this week. Like this guest essay on childhood obesity:

This month, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its first comprehensive guidelines for evaluating and treating children and adolescents with obesity. The paper, co-written by 21 prominent doctors, health researchers and obesity experts, advises health care providers that they may refer children as young as 2 years old to “intensive health behavior and lifestyle treatment” programs if they have a body mass index in the overweight or obese range. For children ages 12 and up with an obese B.M.I., doctors are encouraged to prescribe weight-loss medications and to offer those over age 13 with severe obesity a referral to a bariatric surgery center.

The paper’s authors see this new guidance as a brave leap forward in the fight against childhood obesity, which they frame as a “complex and often persistent disease” requiring early and aggressive treatment.

But the guidelines are rooted in a premise that should have been rejected long ago: that weight loss is the best path to health and happiness.

The academy’s guidelines are the latest sally in the war on obesity that health care providers, public health officials and the general public have waged to shrink our bodies for over 40 years. The approach hasn’t worked; Americansincluding kids, are not getting thinner.

Instead, we face an epidemic of anti-fat bias, which results in the stigmatization of fat people in schools, workplaces, doctor’s offices and other public spaces. In a study of almost 14,000 people enrolled in behavioral weight management programs across six countries, researchers found that over half of the participants had experienced weight stigma, with more than two-thirds of those encountering it doing so from doctors…

The guidelines acknowledge that experiences of “weight stigma, victimization, teasing and bullying” are major challenges faced by kids in larger bodies that contribute to disordered eating and worse mental health outcomes. Some health care providers, they note, are biased against fat patients in ways that compromise the quality of care and contribute to more severe illness and even death.

Yes, be nice to overweight people!  But, that doesn’t mean childhood obesity isn’t a serious health issue that we should not take diet and behavioral steps to try and reduce!

10) Loved this in Yglesias‘ mailbag about Reuben Gallego taking on Sinema in Arizona:

Gallego is a great type of candidate for Democrats to run in general — very solid working-class background, military veteran, knows how to talk to normal people — and I think specifically in Arizona is well-positioned to hold on to Democrats’ new voters while halting or partially reversing some Republican gains with Latinos. You can’t tell all that much from his electoral track record because he’s been running in very safe blue House seats, but he did run two to three points ahead of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in 2016 and 2020 respectively, which is what you want to see. Some House members use safe seats like that to be bomb throwers and cast prudence to the wind. That’s fine if that’s what you want to do (members of the Squad run on average 6+ points worse than a generic Democrat, but none of them are at risk of losing their seats), but Gallego doesn’t do that. He’s personable, he champions mainstream Democratic positions on economic issues, and he tries to represent his constituents. He’s also got good judgment, and his team features Rebecca Katz, late of the John Fetterman campaign, and Chuck Rocha, who was Bernie’s Hispanic outreach strategist in the 2020 cycle.

People get touchy about how exactly you characterize the Fetterman campaign, but I’d say it was a good example of how to run a race that progressive factionalists are happy with while avoiding progressive pitfalls and embracing banal popular messages.

But there are sort of three interrelated challenges facing Gallego:

  1. He needs to establish himself as quickly as possible as the immovable force in the race — the Democratic Party nominee who is either going to win the race and finish in first place, or else a Republican will win and Gallego will be in second. Sinema is a spoiler, don’t waste your vote on Sinema.

  2. He needs to define the campaign as having some texture to it other than “he’s more left-wing than Sinema.” I think that probably means trying to find at least one topic to be in some sense to her right on, even as he can clearly position himself as a champion of mainstream Democratic positions on taxing private equity managers and prescription drug pricing against her plutocrat politics. He’s got the progressive base locked down, but he needs to be more than a factional candidate.

  3. He needs to manage his elite politics — his relationship with Katie Hobbs and Mark Kelly and Chuck Schumer and the White House and the national press — to clarify that he, Gallego, the guy with the D next to his name, is standing up for mainstream Democratic Party positions, not for left-factionalist positions. The stuff Sinema killed from the reconciliation package was Biden/Wyden ideas on taxation and prescription drugs that Joe Manchin supports.

The upshot of all this is that as unrealistic as it sounds, I think a dream goal for a Gallego campaign would be to do something collaborative with Manchin on taxes, pharma pricing, and deficit reduction where they talk about how working-class people have a lot in common whether they’re rural whites in West Virginia or Latinos in southern Phoenix, and the Democrats need to be something more than a party for educated snobs.

We’ll see what happens. But I thought the launch ad was pretty great. My only criticism is that I think they are going to want to drop the framing that he is “challenging Kyrsten Sinema” for the seat. She has vacated the Democratic Party nomination and he is running to (a) get the Democratic Party nomination and (b) defeat the GOP nominee. Sinema is unpopular, electorally doomed, and should just bow out from running and go be a part-time lobbyist, part-time triathlete. If she wants to insist on running an obviously doomed spoiler campaign, that’s on her, but Gallego wants to rally the Kelly/Biden/Hobbs coalition of Democrats, independents, and McCain Republicans against the MAGA forces who’ve taken over the Arizona GOP.

11) I love German Lopez’s take on the classified documents– especially since it’s basically what I told my class earlier this week.  A cost/benefit lens and bureaucratic risk aversion explain so much:

Why does this keep happening? One possible reason, experts say, is that too many documents are classified in the first place. The federal government classifies more than 50 million documents a year. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of all of them. Some get lost and found years later — and many more are likely still out there…

Playing it safe

The government classifies all kinds of information, including informants’ identities, war plans and diplomatic cables. There are three broad categories of classification: confidential, secret and top secret. Technically, the president decides what is classified. But the job is delegated to cabinet and agency heads, who further delegate, through agency guidelines, to lower-ranked officials.

That system effectively encourages federal officials to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach to classification. The classification of a document reduces the risk that important secret information leaks and leads to trouble, particularly when it concerns national security. But if a document is not classified and is obtained by America’s enemies or competitors, the people who originally handled that information could lose their jobs, or worse.

In many agencies, officials “face no downsides for over-classifying something,” said Oona Hathaway, a professor at Yale Law School and former special counsel at the Pentagon. “But if you under-classify something, really dire consequences could come for you.”

So officials tend to play it safe. Of the more than 50 million documents classified every year, just 5 to 10 percent warrant the classification, Hathaway estimated, based on her experience at the Pentagon.

One example of the extremes of classification: In a cable leaked by Chelsea Manning, an official marked details of wedding rituals in the Russian region of Dagestan as “confidential” — as if most such details were not already well known in a region of more than three million people.

Presidents have criticized the classification system, too. “There’s classified, and then there’s classified,” Barack Obama said in 2016. “There’s stuff that is really top-secret top-secret, and there’s stuff that is being presented to the president or the secretary of state that you might not want on the transom, or going out over the wire, but is basically stuff that you could get in open-source.”

In 2010, Obama signed the Reducing Over-Classification Act. It didn’t solve the problem, experts said.

The downsides

So what’s the harm? Experts say there are several potential dangers to over-classification.

For one, it keeps potentially relevant information from the public, making it harder for voters and journalists to hold their leaders accountable. One example: Starting in the 2000s, the U.S. ran a highly classified drone program to identify, locate and hunt down suspected terrorists in the Middle East and South Asia. The program’s existence was well known, and the destruction it caused was widely reported. Yet elected officials, including members of Congress briefed on the program, could answer few questions from constituents or reporters about it because the details were classified.

Over-classification can also make it difficult for agencies to share information with others, whether they are other U.S. agencies or foreign partners. “There are national security concerns — in terms of information not getting shared that should be,” said Elizabeth Goitein, senior director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program.

And, of course, the recent discoveries show how hard it can be to track all of these classified documents. “We’ve just overloaded the system,” Goitein said. “And that makes slippage inevitable.”

12) You know where I stand on Alec Baldwin’s guilt, but here’s the other side, “Why Alec Baldwin Could Be Found Guilty.”  Not to be belabor, but I just feel like a gun on a movie set is in important ways, fundamentally different from a gun in the rest of the world in ways that affect what would be considered “negligence.”

13) Sorry, but this is wokeness amok, “Stanford student may need to ‘take accountability,’ ‘acknowledge harm’ for reading Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’”

14) Good public post from Yglesias on the debt ceiling, “Republicans can’t even explain what they’re trying to do with the debt ceiling”

15) I ultimately found this New Yorker article not all that enlightening, “Republicans’ sustained and successful courting of Latino voters in South Florida could be a road map for the G.O.P. in 2024.”  And it raises the question of why it is so easy to convince South American immigrants that Democrats are basically socialists/communists when this is not remotely true. 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Billy Binion on Alec Baldwin:

If convicted of the first involuntary manslaughter charge, Baldwin faces up to 18 months behind bars. If convicted of the second—to which prosecutors tacked on a firearm enhancement—he faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison.

Carmack-Altwies makes her case sound like a slam dunk. It is anything but.

The case comes down to what the word negligence means under the law. It doesn’t refer to a careless, airheaded moment with deadly consequences. That negligence has to be criminal, which under the New Mexico statute requires “that the defendant must possess subjective knowledge ‘of the danger or risk to others posed by his or her actions.'”

Does that mean that Baldwin is blameless? No. Does that mean that the prosecution will have an easy time convincing a jury that he is criminally culpable? Also no. “The prosecution would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was subjectively aware of the danger: that he actually thought about the possibility that the gun might be loaded, and proceeded to point it and pull the trigger despite that,” writes Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at UCLA. “That’s much harder than just to show carelessness, or even gross carelessness.” …

 

So why bring the case against Baldwin? I’d venture to guess it’s not because the government thinks that the actor, unpalatable as he may be, needs to spend five years in prison to protect public safety. Andrea Reeb, a special prosecutor helping on the case, provided a clue during the national press tour she did alongside Carmack-Altwies. “We’re trying to definitely make it clear that everybody’s equal under the law, including A-list actors like Alec Baldwin,” she said. Ironically, one wonders if these charges would have materialized had no one famous been involved and had it not attracted the attention of the world.

2) Eugene Volokh:

Involuntary manslaughter is thus very different from the voluntary; the similarities are just that it’s a homicide but not murder. One branch of it (“manslaughter committed in the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to felony”) is the so-called “manslaughter-misdemeanor” rule, an analog to the “felony-murder” rule. The second branch involves, basically, causing death through negligence.

But not just any old negligence, of the sort that we’re familiar with from civil cases. Rather, it has to be “criminal negligence,” which is defined in New Mexico as “willful disregard of the rights or safety of others”—what some other states might call “recklessness”:

In New Mexico, “the State must show at least criminal negligence to convict a criminal defendant of involuntary manslaughter.” Because involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing, we only attach felony liability where the actor has behaved with the requisite mens rea. This Court has made clear that the criminal negligence standard applies to all three categories of involuntary manslaughter. Criminal negligence exists where the defendant “act[s] with willful disregard of the rights or safety of others and in a manner which endanger[s] any person or property.” We also require that the defendant must possess subjective knowledge “of the danger or risk to others posed by his or her actions.” [Emphasis added.]

Say, then, that the prosecution can show that Baldwin pointed the gun at Hutchins and pulled the trigger, but carelessly believed (without checking this for himself) that it was unloaded.

It wouldn’t be enough to show that Baldwin was careless, negligent, or lacked due caution in the ordinary sense of the word. The prosecution would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was subjectively aware of the danger: that he actually thought about the possibility that the gun might be loaded, and proceeded to point it and pull the trigger despite that. That’s much harder than just to show carelessness, or even gross carelessness, though of course much depends on what evidence the prosecution has gathered.

3) NYT: “Lights, Camera, Weapons Check? Actors Worry After Baldwin Charges.”

The news that Alec Baldwin is facing manslaughter charges for killing a cinematographer with a gun he had been told was safe had the actor Steven Pasquale thinking back to the filming of “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem” more than a decade ago, when he and other actors were handed military-style rifles and told to start shooting.

He felt safe, he said, because he relied on the professional props experts and the armorer who had checked and shown him the gun.

“We are artists — we are not actual cowboys, actual cops, actual superheroes,” Mr. Pasquale said. “We are not Jason Bourne. I can’t even begin to imagine an actor having the responsibility of now needing to be the safety person on the set regarding prop guns. That’s insane.”

The charges being brought against Mr. Baldwin for an on-set shooting had many actors recalling their own experiences with guns on sets, and discussing safety measures and who bears primary responsibility for them…

Kirk Acevedo, an actor who has worked extensively with weapons on shows like “Band of Brothers” and in the film “The Thin Red Line,” said it was typical for a film’s armorer, who is responsible for guns and ammunition on set, to open a gun and demonstrate to the actor that it was empty. Mr. Acevedo said that while he owned guns and had experience with them, many actors lacked the expertise to check firearms on their own. In some cases, he noted, the actors are children.

“It’s not me,” he said, referring to who has the responsibility. “It can’t be me. If you have never fired a weapon before, how would you know how to do all of that? For some people, it’s hard to even pull back the slide.”

4) Really interesting take from Rob Henderson on family dysfunction among low income Americans, ‘No One Expects Young Men To Do Anything and They Are Responding By Doing Nothing”

If you come from poverty and chaos, you are up against 3 enemies:

1. Dysfunction and deprivation

2. Yourself, as a result of what that environment does to you

3. The upper class, who wants to keep you mired in it

The people with the most money and education—the class most responsible for shaping politics and culture and customs—ensure that their children are raised in stable homes.

But actively undermine the norm for everyone else…

Absent fathers and broken family units are major factors for many social ills. It’s obvious but no one wants to talk about it.

I am well aware of the behavior genetics research, twin studies, and so on indicating little effect of home environment on personality, propensity for crime, addiction, and so on. These studies are inapplicable for kids living in extreme dysfunction.

Behavior geneticists investigate the relative role of genetic and environmental variation within the sampled population.

Behavioral genetics studies report findings from within the environmental variation in their samples,not in all conceivable environments.

For example, there are many studies on identical twins separated at birth who are adopted by different families.

Researchers find little difference between these twins when they are adults. Their personalities, IQ, preferences, and so on are very similar.

But twins are usually adopted by intact middle-class families.

They are typically taken in by married parents with the means to jump through the hoops to qualify for adoption. Additionally, adoptive parents are the kind of people who would adopt, which introduces another layer of similarity.

I’ve yet to see any twin studies with one set of identical twins raised in extremely bad environments and another in good ones.

The intelligence researcher Russell T. Warne has written:

“A problem with heritability study samples is that they tend to consist of more middle and upper-class individuals than a representative sample would have…results of behavioral genetics studies will indicate genes are important—if a person already lives in an industrialized nation in a home where basic needs are met…it is not clear how well these results apply to individuals in highly unfavorable environments.”

In a chapter titled Genes and the Mind, the psychologist David Lykken states:

“If twins were separated as infants and placed, one with a middle-class Minnesota family and the other with an 18-year-old unmarried mother living on AFDC in the South Bronx, the twins will surely differ 30 years later.”

Yes, genes are responsible for human traits and behavior. But these traits are responsive to social norms and other environmental factors too.

Height is 90 percent heritable. But it is still malleable by the environment. Before Korea was divided, Northerners were taller than Southerners. Today, North Koreans are 6 inches shorter, on average, than South Koreans. Did their genes change? No. Their environments did.

Obesity is highly heritable (40-70%) but the percentage of Americans who are obese has tripled since 1982.

Access to food made people change their behavior by eating more.

Tobacco use is highly heritable (60-80%) but the percentage of Americans who smoke has dropped by half since 1982.

Strong norms against smoking made people change their behavior by smoking less.


Norms were loosened around being an absentee father. So more men took the option.

But nobody wants to admit it because it upsets people.

Instead, we retreat to discussions of poverty and economics because talking about family and parenting makes people feel weird and judgmental.

But young men will only do what’s expected of them.

And a lot did use to be expected. There were social norms to work hard, provide, take care of loved ones, and so on.

Today, these norms have largely dissolved.

Young men have responded accordingly.

5) Really good stuff from Jessica Grose on NZ prime minister, having it all, and what we expect out of our politicians:

In 2023, it’s clear that women can be ambitious and have families. We shouldn’t — we don’t — need to prove that at this point, though Ardern provided us with ample evidence of how well it can be done. She became prime minister in 2017 at just 37. She gave birth while in office, and rose to worldwide prominence for her “extraordinary leadership” in the aftermath of the tragic mass shootings at two Christchurch mosques in 2019.

Like every other world leader, she navigated the coronavirus pandemic and its various economic and political repercussions. As my colleague Natasha Frost reports, though Ardern’s Labour Party has lost favor with New Zealanders, she “has remained personally popular with the electorate” and is still most New Zealanders’ “preferred prime minister.”

All the while, she’s had a young child at home. In 2018, she brought her baby daughter to a United Nations peace summit honoring Nelson Mandela. During the scary early days of the Covid crisis, she “addressed the nation via a casual Facebook Live session she conducted on her phone after putting her toddler to bed,” as my colleague Amanda Taub wrote in 2020.

Making the decision to leave office now rather than run herself into the ground isn’t conceding that she can’t do the job anymore. It’s an acknowledgment — one that’s both astute and selfless, fine qualities in an elected official — that she no longer wants to do it in this particular way. While she says she has “no plan” and “no next steps” for after she leaves her government role, I anticipate she’ll put her abundant political skill to good use in some way.

She demonstrated that skill in her moving resignation speech, addressing her nation in terms highly relatable to any parent versed in the current motherhood discourse of “filling our tanks” before they are empty and putting our “oxygen masks” on first so we have something left to give our families before we burn out…

I never thought “having it all” meant we should sacrifice our entire lives and our health on the altar of ambition and outward metrics of success or financial reward. It shouldn’t mean that we can never leave a professional role that is no longer suiting us or our families, because feminism, or something. The world would probably be better off if more leaders were like Ardern, less concerned about their own egos and more concerned about what was best for their countries. The “I alone can fix it” posture has its obvious limitations.

 

6) Interesting, “Citing Accessibility, State Department Ditches Times New Roman for Calibri”  I love me some Times New Roman, but when I’m not using serifs (like, I just realized, this blog!) I’m good with Calibri.  That said, this article was frustrating because it was all assertions and no actual evidence. 

7) I’m not sure this policy is necessarily coming from the best place politically, but I do find myself sympathetic to this idea, “UNC Board of Governors to consider policy barring staff from ‘compelling’ speech”

The UNC Board of Governors is considering a policy that would prohibit UNC System schools from asking applicants for employment, promotion or academic admission to share their personal beliefs.

The proposed policy would bar questions requiring applicants “to affirmatively ascribe to or opine about beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action as a condition to admission, employment, or professional advancement.” It would revise the “Employee Political Activities” section of the system’s policy manual.

8) Regarding the Singal piece I linked yesterday, the problem of DEI trainings is not a new idea, “Don’t Mistake Training for Education: That should especially be the case when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, argue Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder.”

9) Ian Milhiser in Vox, “A new Supreme Court case could turn every workplace into a religious battleground: The fight over whether religious conservatives enjoy special rights is coming to a workplace near you.”

The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear Groff v. DeJoy, a case that could give religious conservatives an unprecedented new ability to dictate how their workplaces operate, and which workplace rules they will refuse to follow.

Yet Groff is also likely to overrule a previous Supreme Court decision that treated the interests of religious employees far more dismissively than federal law suggests that these workers should be treated.

The case, in other words, presents genuinely tricky questions about the limits of accommodating an employee’s religious beliefs. But those questions will be resolved by a Supreme Court that has shown an extraordinary willingness to bend the law in ways that benefit Christian-identified conservatives.

That could lead to a scenario in which the Court announces a new legal rule that disrupts the workplace — and that potentially places far too many burdens on non-religious employees.

10) Yglesias addresses highway lanes (as part of a larger argument on transit)

In other words, I don’t think the induced demand critics of highway widening are wrong exactly. But they’re not really saying what they mean. This is what I think they mean:

  • The pollution associated with driving cars is bad.

  • Addressing that pollution via an appropriate gas tax seems politically challenging.

  • Because the American political system is laden with veto points and NIMBY institutions, blocking highway projects is easier than raising taxes.

  • Both new transit and new highways fail to solve traffic, but transit fails by leaving net driving flat while highways increase vehicle miles traveled.

  • Therefore we should advocate for transit and not for highways.

I don’t have a problem with that logic exactly. But when you live by the NIMBY, you die by the NIMBY. Just as the same NIMBY toolkit that blocks private development also blocks public housing, the NIMBY toolkit that blocks highway projects also makes it impossible to complete transit projects in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Beyond that, traffic congestion is a real problem and it deserves a solution.

11) I was really excited about the prospects of fluvoxamine as a cheap, effective treatment for Covid. New studies show that, alas, among the vaccinated there’s just no benefit. 

12) Another take from Rob Henderson, I really enjoyed, “Nobody is a Prisoner of Their IQ”

People often treat intelligence, a relatively immutable trait, as the sole predictive variable in determining life outcomes. And then use it as an instrument to advance their favored agendas.

People on the right and, increasingly, on the left, generally accept the importance of IQ. The right is more open about it. Those on the left are often coy in public, concealing their statements underneath an avalanche of hedges—but in private, without the fear of negative social judgment, most will acknowledge that intelligence matters a lot for achievement.

Recently, two prominent books discussing the importance of intelligence have been written by authors who are broadly thought to be on the political left: The Cult of Smart and The Genetic Lottery.

That intelligence is largely (though not entirely) influenced by genes is somehow simultaneously taboo and widely accepted. Perhaps an example of Paul Graham’s observation that “the biggest source of moral taboos will turn out to be power struggles in which one side only barely has the upper hand. That’s where you’ll find a group powerful enough to enforce taboos, but weak enough to need them.” Still, the publication and relative absence of anger about the two aforementioned books suggests that were it not for fear of being mobbed by lunatics, people would be more forthcoming about their acceptance of this psychological concept.

The importance and fixity of intelligence are now used by both the political right and left in different ways. For many on the left, it confirms that their view that unfairness is pervasive and thus they have a strong argument in favor of large-scale redistribution. You didn’t earn the genes that made you smart, thus whatever earnings you’ve obtained due to your innate abilities are due to luck. For many on the right, the durability of intelligence confirms their view that differences between people exist and there isn’t much you can do about it. Thus society should accept that things are unfair and, e.g., limit the number of immigrants who, on average, extract more resources than they contribute. 

Intelligence is important, but it’s far from the only thing that matters for living a decent life. A meta-analysis of 23 studies found that at the individual level, intelligence has no relationship with happiness. Knowing the IQ of two random people in the same country tells you nothing about whether one is happier than the other. And if you believe Richard Hanania, today the high IQ elites are more miserable than everybody else (yes, the elites are smarter than average—but often smart people use their intelligence to raise their own status rather than seek the truth).

The psychologist and intelligence researcher Russell T. Warne points out:

“Although below-average intelligence makes life more difficult for a person, other traits or life circumstances can compensate for having a lower IQ. Having a supportive family, higher socioeconomic status, motivation, conscientiousness, cultural influences that discourage unfavorable behaviors, determination, and many other characteristics can compensate for a. lower level of intelligence. Nobody is a prisoner of their IQ.”

13) What MSG is doing is still so wrong, but this is nonetheless heartening, “Lawyers Barred by Madison Square Garden Found a Way Back In: MSG Entertainment resorted to facial recognition technology to kick out legal foes, but some have undermined the ban using a law passed to protect theater critics in 1941.”

14) Enjoyed “The Last of Us” and enjoyed learning more about fungal infections here, “The Last Of Us Fungal Outbreak Is Terrifying, But Is It Realistic?”

In The Last of Us premiere episode, 20 years have passed with no progress made against the fungal threat — which is because of the real-life similarities between fungi and humans as eukaryotes, or organisms with nucleated cells, explains Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an instructor with the Duke University School of Medicine who specializes in immunocompromised hosts and invasive fungal infections.

“Our cells are a lot more complex than, for example, bacteria, and fungi are more related to people than they are to bacteria that cause infections,” says Dr. Schwartz of why there are only three antifungal agents compared with “way more classes of antibacterials.” “We have this problem with our adversary being closely related, and what that means is that the cell machinery is the same as ours. There are far fewer targets for antifungals to work with, to selectively cause damage to fungal cells without causing damage to human cells.”

15) Eric Barker on the value of humor and how to be funnier:

We just don’t take humor that seriously.

Yeah, it makes us happier, but its effects are much, much more profound than you might guess.

People who use humor to cope with stress have better immune systems, reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, experience less pain during dental work and live longer. Surgery patients who watched comedies needed 60% less pain medication. Heck, even anticipating humor has been shown to reduce stress.

Humor improves your relationships. Surveys say it’s the second most desirable trait in a partner. When both people in a couple have a good sense of humor they have 67% less conflict. (Want a tip? Reliving moments that made the two of you laugh is a proven way to increase relationship satisfaction.)

Let’s up the stakes, shall we? What about the office? A lot of people think humor isn’t appropriate at work and those people are, as we say, “wrong.” A survey of hundreds of senior executives showed 98% prefer employees who are funny – and 84% thought those people actually did better work.

In fact, if you’re not going for laughs at the office, you may be hurting your career. Humor increases perceptions of power and status. It boosts creativity. It signals intelligence. Making people laugh increases persuasion and made buyers willing to pay higher prices. In fact, studies show work teams often fail simply because they don’t joke around enough. And leaders with a sense of humor were rated as 23% more respected and 25% more pleasant to work with.

Can I stop there? I’ll stop there.

We need to get to the bottom of how to do this humor thing right. We’re gonna pull from a slew of excellent books and studies including Humor, SeriouslyHow to Write FunnyInside Jokes, and Ha: The Science of Why We Laugh.

Alright, let’s get to it…

16) Drum summarizes some cool new PS research:

A new study is out that tries to measure the effectiveness of social media advertising campaigns in political races. The unique part of this study is that it makes use of an actual advertising campaign during the 2020 presidential contest that deliberately held out a control group so that its effectiveness could be measured:

We present the results of a large, US$8.9 million campaign-wide field experiment, conducted among 2 million moderate- and low-information persuadable voters in five battleground states during the 2020 US presidential election. Treatment group participants were exposed to an 8-month-long advertising programme delivered via social media, designed to persuade people to vote against Donald Trump and for Joe Biden.

The funny thing is that I think the authors underrate their own results. For example, here is turnout for Republicans and Democrats:

The authors say, “We found both small mobilizing effects among Biden leaners and small demobilizing effects among Trump leaners.” But this is a net difference of 1.8% in turnout. In most political campaigns this would be considered pretty substantial and the price tag of $8.9 million for five states pretty modest. Most campaign managers in battleground states would be thrilled with it.

Basically, I think you can say two things here. First, on an absolute basis this study shows a fairly small effect. Second, within the context of a close political race, it shows a very substantial effect.

17) I hate this!  If we can’t have meat alternatives, can’t we at least pay more for meat to not have it be horribly inhumane?  Apparently not. “Spy Cams Reveal the Grim Reality of Slaughterhouse Gas Chambers”

18) Well, this is intriguing and, hopefully, promising, “Could this be the solution to chronic pain—and the opioid crisis? Early research suggests that monoclonal antibodies—used to protect the vulnerable from COVID-19—may provide non-addictive, long-lasting pain relief from a variety of conditions.”

As the pandemic raged, monoclonal antibodies gained sudden prominence when these laboratory-made proteins were found to reduce the risk of hospitalization from COVID in vulnerable and immunocompromised people. Now researchers are investigating whether these types of proteins might also be an effective treatment for a variety of chronic pain conditions: low back pain, pain from osteoarthritis, neuropathic pain (such as diabetic peripheral neuropathy), rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer pain.

Already, the Food and Drug Administration has approved four monoclonal antibodies (mAb) to prevent and treat painful chronic migraine attacks. Last year, the FDA approved use of an mAb (an injection of frunevetmab) to treat osteoarthritic pain in cats; similar drugs are in the works for people. And clinical trials for other mAbs for chronic pain are expected to begin later in 2023.

“The hope is that as we learn more about specific pain mechanisms, we can develop monoclonal antibodies that would target different forms of chronic pain,” says Charles Argoff, a professor of neurology and director of the Comprehensive Pain Center at the Albany Medical Center in New York. “But we’re not there yet and I don’t think it’s going to happen tomorrow.” …

The reason mAbs can be used for many different purposes is that each one has a highly specific target. During the pandemic, monoclonal antibodies were used to block the protein on the COVID-19 virus that enabled it to attach to human cells. Similarly, researchers believe they can design mAbs that can bind to receptors involved in pain transmission, thus blocking the signals.

Yarov-Yarovoy’s goal is to create monoclonal antibodies that target specific ion channels on the surface of nerve cells that receive signals caused by painful stimuli; essentially shutting off the transmission of chronic pain that occurs in a variety of medical conditions.

“In terms of chronic pain, we’ve got to figure something out because it’s difficult to treat and there aren’t a lot of great options,” says Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist and addiction medicine specialist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “Opioids lose their effectiveness with long-term use for a lot of people, and there’s a potential for dependency to develop. Even if you’re taking them as prescribed, you will have to take higher and higher doses to get pain relief.”

19) I’m not worried about getting germs from my spice jars.  I don’t handle raw meat anymore, but, when I did, I guarantee you I was zealous enough with hand-washing that I was not cross-contaminating spice jars. “The germiest spot in your kitchen? The spice jars, a new study found.”

If you had to guess the germiest spot in your kitchen, you might think of the refrigerator handle, the cutting board or maybe the inside of your sink. But a new study shows that icky bacteria could be more likely to be lurking in an unexpected spot: your spice drawer.

Researchers in a recent study commissioned by the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service examined how people preparing turkey burgers cross-contaminated various surfaces in a kitchen. (Sneakily, the participants weren’t told they were participating in a food safety study; instead, they thought they were testing new recipes.)

Spice jars used in the meal, the researchers found, were far and away the most cross-contaminated spot — 48 percentof those used were found to harbor bacteria from the turkey.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Food Protection, noted that while consumers might have heard about the importance of cleaning cutting boards or wiping down handles, they might not have thought about their spice jars. “Consumers may not necessarily think to wipe down or decontaminate spice containers after cooking because they are not typically targeted as high risk for cross-contamination in consumer messaging,” the study says.

20) This is a really cool feature, “The happiest, least stressful, most meaningful jobs in America.”  Check it out with the gift link

21) Good stuff on ChatGPT, “Large Language Models like ChatGPT say The Darnedest Things: The Errors They Make, Why We Need to Document Them, and What We Have Decided to Do About it”

22) Thanks, Republicans! “Opposition to School Vaccine Mandates Has Grown Significantly, Study Finds: A third of parents now feel they should be the ones to decide whether to get their children immunized against measles, mumps and other childhood diseases.”

For generations of most American families, getting children vaccinated was just something to check off on the list of back-to-school chores. But after the ferocious battles over Covid shots of the past two years, simmering resistance to general school vaccine mandates has grown significantly. Now, 35 percent of parents oppose requirements that children receive routine immunizations in order to attend school, according to a new survey released Friday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

All of the states and the District of Columbia mandate that children receive vaccinations against measles, mumps, rubella and other highly contagious, deadly childhood diseases. (Most permit a few limited exemptions.)

Throughout the pandemic, the Kaiser foundation, a nonpartisan health care research organization, has been issuing monthly reports on changing attitudes toward Covid vaccines. The surveys have showed a growing political divide over the issue, and the latest study indicates that division now extends to routine childhood vaccinations.

Forty-four percent of adults who either identify as Republicans or lean that way said in the latest survey that parents should have the right to opt out of school vaccine mandates, up from 20 percent in a prepandemic poll conducted in 2019 by the Pew Research Center. In contrast, 88 percent of adults who identify as or lean Democratic endorsed childhood vaccine requirements, a slight increase from 86 percent in 2019.

21) Speaking of Republicans, “The House spectacle highlights a key difference between the parties”

As political scientists Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins wrote in their 2016 book, “Asymmetric Politics”: “While the Democratic Party is fundamentally a group coalition, the Republican Party can be most accurately characterized as the vehicle of an ideological movement.” Group coalitions can be managed through transactional politics — so long as some of the groups’ priorities are advanced, they will stick together to deliver for the other groups in the coalition.

Ideological movements are less flexible. There’s pressure for alignment among members — and even when members are mostly aligned, remaining differences may seem all the more significant. (McCarthy’s move rightward hasn’t done much to shore up his position with his opponents.) 

Since “Asymmetric Politics” was published, Democrats have grown increasingly ideological, and the ideological emphases of the GOP have changed. Yet it’s still the case that “the Democratic Party — in the electorate, as an organizational network, and in government — is organized around group interests.” The party’s “self-conscious” constituent groups include, for example, indebted college graduates, intellectuals and the expert class, government-employee unions, and the organized civil-rights apparatus (which itself includes many independent interests).

Democrats tend to argue for specific policies, Grossmann and Hopkins observed, on the grounds that they will help a specific group they see as part of their coalition — women, unions, universities. Republicans, meanwhile, are more likely to appeal to “general concepts and principles … frequently emphasizing the need to limit the scope of government or preserve traditional American society.” A coalition that makes ideology its lodestar is stronger in some respects — but as the House GOP fractiousness has shown, weaker in others.

Business might have once been a group interest within the GOP. Corporations are amenable to transactional politics and have historically expected benefits under Republican governance. But in the Trump years, big business and the Republican Party drifted apart, both because of corporate discomfort with populism and the GOP’s discomfort with business’s growing social liberalism. The gap widened after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot. The Republican-business rift has left the House GOP even less constrained by interest groups’ needs, and more driven by ideological goals.

When Republicans ran the House between 2011 and 2019, they had comfortable majorities — from 234 seats to 247 — and still faced significant divisions that made speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan struggle to find 218 votes for legislation at key junctures. The new speaker’s margin for error will be much smaller.

There are similarities between each party’s populist wing — Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is a firebrand like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.); Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont launched an insurgent 2016 Democratic primary bid that paralleled Donald Trump’s. But the Democratic Party’s upstarts have been embraced by the party establishment; it also has leverage over them. Republican populism is more unpredictable and genuinely disruptive to the party system.

22) Alice Evans highlights interesting research on sex differences

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Cathy Young, “Ron DeSantis, Chris Rufo, and the College Anti-Woke Makeover”

DeSantis’s move has been met with alarm by progressive media and by many New College students who see the school as a haven for social justice-friendly values. But harsh rebukes have also come from some people who are themselves strongly critical of the progressive academy and its illiberal bent—such as New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait, who has been writing about “social justice” zealotry and its baneful effects on public discourse for the past eight years (and has taken his share of lumps for it). Indeed, in his column slamming DeSantis’s power grab, Chait wrote:

It is important to understand that there is a critique of the academic left rooted in free-speech norms that posits that many schools have had an atmosphere of ideological pressure that discourages or punishes professors who violate left-wing taboos. This is not the belief system animating DeSantis’s academic mission. He is not seeking to protect or restore free speech, but to impose controls of his own liking.

The DeSantis brand of “anti-wokeism” is classic right-wing illiberalism. (Chait rightly compares it to the conservative institutional takeover in Hungary under the stewardship of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who proudly embraces the “illiberal” label—and who was cited as a model by a DeSantis spokesperson at the National Conservatism Conference in Miami last September.) But that brand is also bad news for those of us who oppose left-wing illiberalism from a liberal, libertarian, or classical conservative perspective favoring the values of free expression, individual rights, and intellectual openness.

2) Advice I will never take (I don’t think they are talking about 10am). “How to Become a Morning Exercise Person”

3) I think Voter ID laws motivated by making it disproportionately harder for minorities to vote are bad on their face.  I think lying to the public about the amount of voter fraud to push these laws is wrong.  That said, they really just don’t have much impact on turnout.  Nate Cohn:

Effects of voter suppression

Many readers asked about another topic I didn’t mention in my post-election analyses: voter suppression.

Did voter suppression or even the threat thereof affect Black and Hispanic turnout? Thank you for your interesting newsletters! — Claire Hess

It’s worth noting that this is a reply to a newsletter entry from early December, when I noted that Black turnout appeared to drop markedly across the country. Indeed, Black turnout really did seem to decline everywhere, regardless of whether states imposed new voter suppression laws or even expanded voter access.

To take the three states where we have the best data — North Carolina, Louisiana and Georgia — Black turnout dropped off the most in North Carolina and Louisiana, where Democratic governors blocked efforts to restrict access. And turnout stayed strongest in Georgia, the epicenter of the fight over voting rights.

This pattern doesn’t prove that new voter laws had zero effect in Georgia or elsewhere — and this analysis is separate from the ethics of the intent of the laws — but the broad decline in Black turnout across the country suggests that other factors were mainly responsible. It also implies that the effect of the new laws was small enough that it’s hard to tease out from the other factors that affect turnout from state to state.

As I wrote two years ago about the new Georgia law, “In the final account, it will probably be hard to say whether it had any effect on turnout at all.” This is by no means the final account, but that remains my best guess.

4) Jamelle Bouie on he debt ceiling– he’s right:

One proposed solution to all this is to use accounting tricks and other games to get around the debt limit and render it immaterial. But I think the better option is to take the offensive and confront the issue head-on. Biden should make the case that the debt limit, because of the threat it poses to the validity of the nation’s debt, is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.

By this reasoning, Congress has no right to prevent the White House from faithfully executing the law and borrowing money in accordance with its own instructions. If and when the Treasury exhausts its extraordinary measures, it should simply keep issuing debt, in order for the federal government to do what it is obligated to do under the Constitution.

This is not the best of a set of bad options; I’d say it is the best option, period. President Biden, like all other constitutional officers, is duty bound to interpret and faithfully adhere to the Constitution. And here, on the question of whether he is permitted to place “substantial doubt” on the status of the national debt, much less to let the nation go into default, the Constitution is clear — or at least clear enough for the president to take a stand.

5) From a classified documents expert, “Yes, Trump and Biden Both Broke the Rules. Here’s Why It’s Not the Same.”

But a closer, fuller examination of both the presidency and historical prosecutions for mishandling classified records actually makes the opposite case: Mr. Biden’s mishandling of a limited number of classified files, which upon discovery were promptly turned over to the National Archives and proper authorities, should make the reasoning, and necessity, of prosecuting Mr. Trump all the more clear.

Mr. Biden’s handling of the issue — especially given the more detailed timeline recently released by his team — shows how an official who finds misfiled or improperly stored classified files should react. Mr. Biden’s behavior stands in sharp contrast to that of Mr. Trump, who spent months fighting with the National Archives over the files and repeatedly assured the Justice Department that he had turned over all files, even when he was still — apparently knowingly — holding onto scores of classified files. He failed to comply with a legal subpoena, and only then did the F.B.I. move to search his Mar-a-Lago residence.

Mr. Biden’s scandal so far feels more like an administrative error; there’s no evidence he even knew the documents were misplaced or in his possession, and when discovered they were promptly and properly returned to authorities. The government didn’t know they were missing (which itself is a bit of a mystery, since classified documents are usually tightly controlled, which is how the National Archives knew Mr. Trump had missing documents in the first place), and Mr. Biden didn’t try to hold onto them in the face of a legal process ordering otherwise…

In a tweet, the former Missouri Senate candidate Jason Kander compared Mr. Biden to a shopper who “realized he mistakenly failed to pay for an item in his cart” when he left a store and an alarm went off. Mr. Biden, the analogy goes, went back in and returned the items. By contrast, Mr. Trump apparently stuffed items in his pockets, and when the store alarm sounded “he ran to his car and peeled out.”

You could add to the Trump part of the analogy that he led the police on a low-speed pursuit, and then insisted the stolen items were his all along.

6) Great stuff from Brian Beutler on the debt ceiling:

This gets at my Grand Unified Theory of the politics of Republican debt-limit sabotage. Having learned the hard way in 2011 that the worst approach is to negotiate terms of surrender, Democrats reasoned that the optimal approach is to beat Republicans at their own game. To bait them into offering up a list of politically toxic demands, then using it to turn the public against them. That approach is obviously better than simply caving, but it still sets the political system on a path to vitriol and chaos and economic harm as the drop-dead date to raise the debt limit approaches, and leaves us dangerously vulnerable to a Republican-imposed default. Even if they cave before doing the greatest possible damage, there’ll be more economic misery than there needs to be, and everyone will be less popular than they otherwise would’ve been, including Joe Biden. Liberal commentators often marvel that Republican leaders seem totally indifferent to the concerns of their frontline members when they deploy these kamikaze tactics. But it isn’t irrational at all—just sociopathic. They operate on the theory that hurting the incumbent president by creating national distress helps their frontline members more than any specific antics harm them. And the record, from 2009-2022 suggests it’s at least a wash.

The truly optimal approach, then, is to beat Republicans in the battle of aggression. After Donald Trump became president, and needed Democratic help to raise the debt limit, I argued Democrats should condition their votes on permanently neutralizing the debt limit itself. No more jerking us around when we control the presidency. When Trump wrecked the economy in 2020, and needed Democratic help to pass various rescue bills, I argued Democrats should condition their votes on, among other things, permanently neutralizing the debt limit. When Democrats were rounding out their legislative agenda in 2022, and then lost the House in November, I argued that they should permanently neutralize the debt limit on a partisan basis. Each time, Democrats balked. They also bypassed their best political option. They left the country vulnerable to today’s predictable Republican depredations, because they viewed using power in this way as a liability. Something that would expose them to political attacks and campaign ads they didn’t want to face, rather than an opportunity to defeat a gang of bullies before god and everyone, and brag about having stood between the sinister and the meek…

The good news is that Democratic leaders (if not all the rank and file members of the party) have the correct bottom-line. No negotiations. That’s the one strategic element they can not sacrifice. Isolate Republicans, let them do most of the work of making it clear to everyone they they’re courting default because their demands are not being met. I like what Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told the Daily Beast“In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing. You don’t get a cookie. You don’t get to be treated like you’re the second coming of LBJ. You’re just a person doing the bare minimum of not intentionally screwing over your constituents for insane reasons.”…

Beyond that, I’d add two important ingredients. First, since the Biden administration has disclaimed unilateral measures, Democrats may as well accept (both publicly and in their private contemplations) that Republicans really might do something evil and irreversible out of spite, and no one can really force them to be better people. It’s in their hands alone now and the best hope for the country is that their consciences and political survival instincts kick in before it’s too late. 

Second, since Republicans are threatening to do something evil out of spite, the best way to make that clear to a bewildered public is with real, justified outrage and contempt. I don’t know whether Democrats are outraged or not, but if they are, it isn’t coming through, and I think that’s because being indignant isn’t totally compatible with trying to lure Republicans into a trap…

7) Persuasion, “The Green Technology That Dare Not Speak Its Name”  You know what it is, of course. Nuclear.

It’s the biggest, strangest, most unnecessary environmental disaster of the 21st century: a source of hundreds of millions of tons of new carbon emissions that aren’t just needless but purely senseless, at a time when we’re meant to be going all out to combat climate change.

I’m not talking about fossil fuel subsidies or plutocrats’ private plane fleets, or any other of the climate bugbears you already know about and hate. No, I’m talking about an environmental disaster perpetrated largely by environmentalists in the name of the environment.

Yes, I’m talking about the mass, premature shutdown of nuclear power plants.

As scientists and policy analysts know perfectly well, nuclear power—and I’m talking about old-style nuclear fission power—is in some ways the perfect solution to the climate crisis: extremely safe and reliable, it’s the only way humanity knows to produce large quantities of energy without heating up the atmosphere. Nuclear power plants tick over reliably in fair weather and foul, at night time as well as day, providing a stable base for any electric grid.

And we’re turning them off. In great numbers. All around the developed world. For no good reason. 

8) This was good, “Alarmed by A.I. Chatbots, Universities Start Revamping How They Teach”

Across the country, university professors like Mr. Aumann, department chairs and administrators are starting to overhaul classrooms in response to ChatGPT, prompting a potentially huge shift in teaching and learning. Some professors are redesigning their courses entirely, making changes that include more oral exams, group work and handwritten assessments in lieu of typed ones…

The moves are part of a real-time grappling with a new technological wave known as generative artificial intelligence. ChatGPT, which was released in November by the artificial intelligence lab OpenAI, is at the forefront of the shift. The chatbot generates eerily articulate and nuanced text in response to short prompts, with people using it to write love letters, poetry, fan fiction — and their schoolwork.

That has upended some middle and high schools, with teachers and administrators trying to discern whether students are using the chatbot to do their schoolwork. Some public school systems, including in New York City and Seattle, have since banned the tool on school Wi-Fi networks and devices to prevent cheating, though students can easily find workarounds to access ChatGPT.

In higher education, colleges and universities have been reluctant to ban the A.I. tool because administrators doubt the move would be effective and they don’t want to infringe on academic freedom. That means the way people teach is changing instead.

For now, I’ve only added the following line to my syllabi, “Academic Integrity also includes not representing work from AI as your own.”  You can follow the links to them and judge for yourself whether my assignments are sufficiently GPT-resistant.

9) You probably already know the social science answer as to the key to a good life… good relationships.  So, how to have them?  Good stuff in the Atlantic.

Thinking about these numbers can help us put our own relationships in perspective. Try figuring out how much time you spend with a good friend or family member. We don’t have to spend every hour with our friends, and some relationships work because they’re exercised sparingly. But nearly all of us have people in our lives whom we’d like to see more. Are you spending time with the people you most care about? Is there a relationship in your life that would benefit both of you if you could spend more time together? Many of these are untapped resources, waiting for us to put them to use. And, enriching these relationships can in turn nourish our minds and bodies…

In this sense, having healthy, fulfilling relationships is its own kind of fitness—social fitness—and like physical fitness, it takes work to maintain. Unlike stepping on the scale, taking a quick look in the mirror, or getting readouts for blood pressure and cholesterol, assessing our social fitness requires a bit more sustained self-reflection. It requires stepping back from the crush of modern life, taking stock of our relationships, and being honest with ourselves about where we’re devoting our time and whether we are tending to the connections that help us thrive. Finding the time for this type of reflection can be hard, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable. But it can yield enormous benefits.

10) I think it’s ridiculous that Alex Baldwin is being charged with Involuntary Manslaughter.  Yes, you should check a gun before you fire it, but an actor on a movie set has no reason whatsoever to think the gun they are firing would ever be loaded with real bullets!  That has to matter.  All the comments I’ve been seeing on standard gun safety apply to situations where you have reason to believe there might possibly be actual bullets in it.  Why would there be on a movie set?

11) Interesting discussion on obesity and the amazing new generation of weight-loss drugs.  I really do think obesity is essentially a disease for many people.  But, for many others it really can be controlled by better diet and exercise and thus it should not always be considered a disease.  But, yeah, it does affect your brain, hormones, and metabolism in dysfunctional ways for many.  Honestly, it really does seem like the key is to never become obese in the first place, if at all possible. 

So I’m going to say it’s a disease of the brain. And the reason why I’m going to say it’s a disease of the brain is because the brain regulates how the body stores fat. The brain is the central operating system.

If the brain’s not there, the rest of the body doesn’t work. So let’s explain what happens. There are two primary pathways by which the brain will regulate weight. There is the pathway that tells us to eat less and store less, what we call the POMC or proopiomelanocortin pathway, or AGRP pathway, which is the agouti-related peptide pathway, which tells us to eat more and store more.

And we don’t choose. And this is where the willpower issue goes away. My organs, my genetics, my environment, all of these things can play a role in whether I signal down the more desirable pathway or less desirable pathway. And so this comes the complexity of this disease that is obesity. Why do certain people signal one way and other people signal another way?

Lulu Garcia-Navarro

Well, help me understand this. Our genetics haven’t completely changed in the past 40 years. Yet, we’ve seen this huge increase in the number of people living with obesity. So what’s changed? I mean, are there environmental factors at play?

Fatima Cody Stanford

Absolutely. So we’ve placed our bodies inside of what we call this obesogenic environment. And this gets into those environmental factors and how they play a role.

How has diet quality changed? How has our sleep quality changed? Our screen time, how does that disrupt or affect our circadian rhythm? We’re supposed to rise when it’s bright outside and go to sleep when it’s dark outside.

But I can tell you that most of us don’t follow that as our inherent rhythm. So when we deviate from all of these things, put ourselves in this world that our bodies weren’t really created to be in, it’s going to lead to a greater storage of adipose or fat. It’s stress on the body. And when we have stress, stress increases storage of an organ that has typically helped us out. And that organ is adipose or fat.

12) Love this from Derek Thompson, “Stop Trying to Ask ‘Smart Questions’”

But for most of my professional life, I labored under a powerful delusion. I thought that asking Smart Questions was of the utmost importance.

A Smart Question is a query designed to advertise the wisdom of the asker. The point may be to establish that the interviewer and interviewee are on equal intellectual footing. Sometimes, the question is designed to get the source to begin the answer with a brief compliment: “That’s a smart question!” or, on a good day, “That’s a really smart question!”

I used to think these kudos were a sign that my investigation was on the right track. I didn’t want to embarrass myself on the phone with a government official or an academic. And a part of me just wanted the conversations to go as pleasantly as possible.

But after many years of subscribing to the theory of Smart Questions, I’ve decided that I’ve been mostly wrong. Smart Questions are, typically, kind of dumb. And, just as typical, questions that might initially seem dumb or underinformed, or downright unintelligent, are the smartest way to learn stuff if you’re a journalist, an academic, or anybody else…

Readers seemed to like the Big Dumb Question stories because the articles used the day’s news to investigate a deeper truth about the world. Personally, I liked them because they changed the way I thought about asking questions. Reporting out these BDQs required my writers and me to ask a lot of, well, BDQs. Really revelatory and surprising answers can come from extremely basic questions such as:

  • “Can you just explain this to me like I barely know anything about this subject?”
  • “What, if anything, is actually interesting or new about this story?”
  • “Let’s say everything you say is going to happen really does happen. Then what happens?”

And perhaps most important of all:

  • “Is there some angle here that I’m not even seeing?”

None of these questions assume any knowledge. None of them reveal much intelligence. It’s their openness that I’ve found to be useful. 

13) Jeremy Faust, “”Future Covid-19 booster vaccinations should be 100% Omicron.”

14) A few days ago I had the random thought, “why haven’t we cured any genetic diseases with CRISPR yet?”  Next day, I see we actually do have a Crispr-based cure for Sickle Cell Disease.  But, it’s complicated. 

This year, Dr. Jackson and other people with sickle cell may have the option of finally living without the damage the disease causes. Two drug companies are seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration for gene therapies that may provide what amounts to a cure. But the decision to take the medication — should it become available — it turns out, is not so simple.

After a life adapted to their illness, some like Dr. Jackson are unsure of how to begin again as healthy people. Do they go back to school after dropping out because of their illness? Do they start looking for jobs after thinking that, with frequent hospitalizations because of sickle cell, they were unemployable? What if this new life is not so easy to enter?

Others fear that the logistical complexities of gene therapies may imperil their ability to access them.

These and other dilemmas illustrate an often hidden aspect of medical advances — a long awaited cure can be accompanied by trepidation.

15) Good stuff in the Atlantic.  Since it actually written by trans people, all the trans-radicals cannot just dismiss this out of hand, “Take Detransitioners Seriously: Some people reverse their gender transition. Understanding their experience is crucial.”

Both of us are trans academics. One of us studies the history of trans activism; the other recently studied detransitioners’ experiences in depth. We strongly oppose efforts, in state legislatures and elsewhere, to target trans children and their families and pass laws restricting treatment options for gender dysphoria, a condition that the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual defines as impairment or distress over an incongruence between a person’s gender identity and their gender assigned at birth. But trans-rights advocates and mainstream-media outlets should stop downplaying the reality of detransition, lest readers and viewers conclude that it’s a negligible issue. It’s not…

To many in the trans and nonbinary community, detransition stories—especially those that involve regret—seem to jeopardize half a century of hard-won gains for civil rights and access to health services. Detransition has become a political cudgel to challenge any and all gender care for young people. This may be one reason right-wing outlets have prominently featured Beck, who has urged trans youth to “slow down” in order to avoid his own fate. Never mind that Beck explicitly states that he is not against trans people or gender-related medical care.

Unfortunately, some people who discuss their detransition on social media are met with suspicion, blame, mockery, harassment, or even threats from within the LGBTQ communities in which they previously found refuge. Some trans-rights advocates have likened detransitioners to the ex-gay movement or described them as anti-trans grifters. In fact, many detransitioners continue to live gender-nonconforming and queer lives. No one benefits from the anger and suspicion that gender-care issues currently inspire. Detransitioners who face social rejection, coupled with shame and isolation, may come to view anti-trans activists as their only allies—even when those activists portray them negatively, as damaged goods rather than as human beings who have survived medical trauma. Meanwhile, clinicians who receive threats of violence for assisting trans youth are vulnerable to developing myopic positions and overly optimistic clinical practices that ignore detransitioners’ accounts…

The LGBTQ community today must still contend with attacks on gender and sexual diversity—but is also at a moment of unprecedented cultural, institutional, and political strength. Those of us who believe in LGBTQ-inclusive health care and bodily autonomy must recognize that some of our hard-earned wins may have introduced new uncertainties. Upholding the dignity and diversity of trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming populations should not be at odds with a data-informed medical approach that seeks to maximize positive outcomes for all. Gender-affirming care must be available to those who need it. But our community must also advocate for the research to help transitioning patients thrive in the long run—regardless of their individual outcome.

16) For example, Jesse Singal is reviled and constantly defamed by trans activists for regularly writing about detransitioners and the complexities of the issue overall.  Not surprisingly, a bunch of the woke went crazy over this piece in the NYT, but, he’s got the research to back him up, “What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good?”

D.E.I. trainings are designed to help organizations become more welcoming to members of traditionally marginalized groups. Advocates make bold promises: Diversity workshops can foster better intergroup relations, improve the retention of minority employees, close recruitment gaps and so on. The only problem? There’s little evidence that many of these initiatives work. And the specific type of diversity training that is currently in vogue — mandatory trainings that blame dominant groups for D.E.I. problems — may well have a net-negative effect on the outcomes managers claim to care about.

Over the years, social scientists who have conducted careful reviews of the evidence base for diversity trainings have frequently come to discouraging conclusions. Though diversity trainings have been around in one form or another since at least the 1960s, few of them are ever subjected to rigorous evaluation, and those that are mostly appear to have little or no positive long-term effects. The lack of evidence is “disappointing,” wrote Elizabeth Levy Paluck of Princeton and her co-authors in a 2021 Annual Review of Psychology article, “considering the frequency with which calls for diversity training emerge in the wake of widely publicized instances of discriminatory conduct.”

Dr. Paluck’s team found just two large experimental studies in the previous decade that attempted to evaluate the effects of diversity trainings and met basic quality benchmarks. Other researchers have been similarly unimpressed. “We have been speaking to employers about this research for more than a decade,” wrote the sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in 2018, “with the message that diversity training is likely the most expensive, and least effective, diversity program around.” (To be fair, not all of these critiques apply as sharply to voluntary diversity trainings.)

17) This was disturbing reading.  Lot of dog murder going on in Italy! “Hunting for Truffles Is a Perilous Pursuit, Especially for the Dogs Who Dig: Truffles are big business, and some are trying to take out the competition by poisoning the dogs that accompany those known as “truffle hunters.””

18) Fascinating thread from a gender scholar on sex differences in how we use humor:

19) HEPA filters are great to reduce our exposure to airborne viruses. They can also be a real problem in classroom environments because they are loud.  Here’s the solution:

20) Somehow I had never watched the movie “The Sting” and I saw a little twitter conversation about it this week and decided that it’s time.  It’s on Netflix and if you like Redford, Newman, and a good caper movie, it’s a must watch.  

Is it so wrong to admit that gender identity and teenagers is complicated?

Jonathan Chait had a really nice piece on the transgender adolescent controversy month that I really liked.  I think what I most liked about it is the call for epistemic humility right in the headline, “Helping Trans Kids Means Admitting What We Don’t Know.”  I think what is so frustrating about the left’s take on all this is the near-hubris of we know what’s best for kids and teenagers always know what’s best for themselves.  Of course, the pure absurdity of that last phrase to anyone who’s ever been or known a teenager stands out.  Is there really any reason to think “teenagers know always know what’s best for themselves” becomes true when we add “for their gender identity.” And, of course, the right is regularly using this for an absurd moral panic.  That’s certainly not okay, either.  But, just because the right is acting poorly on this does not mean that those on the left need to embrace rigid positions that would not make sense for any other aspect of adolescent life.  Chait:

Last month, the New York Times published an investigative report on the medical treatment of children who question their gender identity. The findings were decidedly mixed. The reporters showed that many patients benefit from puberty-blocking drugs, which help them transition to a different gender, but that doctors also fear puberty blockers have long-term side effects, and that the treatment locks at least some children into escalating medicalization before they have figured out their gender identity.

The response on the left was as if the newspaper had committed a hate crime. “It is playing into the ongoing manufactured and weaponized conservative panic about trans existence,” asserted a Slate podcast. “Wild how normalized it is for journalists on this ‘beat’ to be aligned with straight-up hate groups and rely on anti-trans activists to link them with sources,” tweeted left-wing journalist Michael Hobbes.

This interpretation that the Times had contributed to an atmosphere of hatred against trans people was repeated so often and so stridently that within the left, it came to seem almost obvious. A week later, when a murderer opened fire in an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, NPR’s On the Media interviewed NBC Out reporter Jo Yurcaba, who explained that the murder resulted from “rhetoric that labels LGBTQ people as grooming children,” including “coverage, for example, in the New York Times that paints gender-affirming care for minors as something that is debatable.”

There is a familiar pattern here in the way left-wing activists shut down internal criticism by treating any criticism of their position as either identical to, or complicit with, the far right. [emphases mine] Extremists on the right, of course, use the same method to shut down their critics on the center-right. To the radical, the easiest way to win a debate is to insist that the only choice is between opposing poles. If you oppose any element of their argument, you have endorsed the enemy. If the criticism is tempered and credible, this only makes them regard it as more dangerous.

But this absolutist mind-set has had an especially pernicious effect on the issue of youth gender medicine. This is because the science is genuinely murky and embryonic, making the struggle to identify a humane and effective solution both difficult and necessary. The left has thrown itself behind a crusade to define such a position out of existence.

The key thing to understand about this issue is that there are two distinct debates going on at the same time. The one between Democrats and Republicans in the political arena concerns whether to respect the basic rights of transgender people. Within the medical community, the debate is over exactly how to treat children who question their gender identity. The former matter is clear and simple. The latter is murky.

The question of how to treat children has many sources of uncertainty. There has been a huge explosion in cases of children questioning their gender identity, and a large majority of the patients are assigned female at birth. The stages of treatment generally begin with social transition (using different name and clothing), proceed to drugs that delay puberty, and culminate in surgery. Experts don’t agree on the correct age at which to begin these treatments. One problem is that kids and teens often have a fluid grasp of their own identity and gender, and need time to form a stable identity. Another is that puberty blockers have undetermined long-term risks.

Both sides of this debate within the medical community agree that trans people do require medical and social support without stigma. The disagreement lies in the process and speed of the appropriate treatment. The treatment regimen supported by most of the trans-activist community calls for “gender-affirming” care that puts kids on the process to transition in relatively rapid order, highly aware of the risk of going too slow: that transgender children will be denied care they need and grow despondent or even suicidal. More traditional treatment models call for more cautious progression to medicalization and surgery, focused on the risk of moving too fast: that children will be mistakenly diagnosed with gender dysphoria and will have long-term side effects from treatment that they later come to regret.

Progressive activists have not just embraced the gender-affirming care model; they have begun treating any disagreement with it as hateful denial that trans people exist. Indeed, they have frequently denied that any debate exists within the medical community at all.

The purpose of their rhetorical strategy is to conflate advocates of more cautious treatment of trans children with conservatives who oppose any treatment for trans children. This campaign has met with a great deal of success. Much of the coverage in mainstream and liberal media has followed this template — ignoring or denying the existence of the medical debate, and presenting anti-trans Republican politicians as the only alternative to gender-affirming care. This has been the theme not only of progressive infotainment like Jon Stewart and John Oliver, but also mainstream organs like Politico and CNN, where coverage of the issue often treats progressive activists as unbiased authorities and dismisses all questions about youth gender treatment as hate-driven denial of the medical consensus.

Over the last half-decade, as more and more reporting has revealed a persistent divide inside the medical community, the attempts on the left to deny its existence have grown increasingly strained. Rather than acknowledge the debate within the medical community and the genuine sources of concern, activists have continued to wish away its existence and attack those journalists who try to report on it.

Anyway, good stuff.  I’m so tired of false binaries and damn are there few places where those false binaries are worse than on issues of gender and adolescents because, you know what? It’s complicated!

Quick hits (part II)

1) Good stuff from Brian Beutler:

Republicans trying to hurt the country rather than serve as a faithful opposition isn’t new. Antipathy between the far right and the GOP leadership is longstanding. If you think right-wing Republicans lying to their voters about the limits of their power for personal gain is something they invented in 2023, Ted Cruz would like a word. And if reactionaries are going to issue marching orders to their leaders, including orders to shut down the government or default on U.S. debt unless Democrats pay various ransoms, the correct response is also old: We won’t negotiate. You get nothing.  

What’s new, or at least unique to this circumstance, is the character of the splinter faction that seems poised to seize control of the House. It’s composed almost entirely of insurrectionists. Their aims as legislative terrorists, such as we can discern them, aren’t the kinds of nonstarter policy demands that marked Republican hostage taking in the Obama years (gut Medicare, defund the Affordable Care Act, etc). They are rooted in the realm of corruption. They want to steal elections. They want to sabotage criminal investigations that implicate themselves, Donald Trump, and January 6 defendants, current and future. They want to dictate the the tactics and tools the House will bring to bear to achieve those goals to whoever becomes speaker. They want to institutionalize a standard of impunity for Republicans caught in the reach of legitimate oversight, and a different standard of total compliance for Democrats, whether investigating them is merited or not.

And here we get drawn into the question of how Democrats should react. Because the key thing about this insurgency is that the faction waging it is the same one that just cost Republicans victory in the 2022 midterms. Its goal is to redouble the party’s commitment to the exact same losing politics. And as of this writing—by deposing McCarthy or making him their puppet—the insurgents are poised to win.

Over the past week plenty of smart people have daydreamed that a more sensible wing of the GOP will reach its breaking point, find a sane candidate to nominate for the speakership, and get him elected by offering Democrats some basic concessions—no trifling with government shutdowns and debt defaults; no Benghazi-style fishing expeditions. Other equally smart but more jaded observers have noted…well, have you met Republicans?!

And as a practical matter, the cynics are almost certainly right. But as a theoretical matter, there’s really nothing more far fetched about a coalition legislature than one commandeered by right-wing hijackers. The difference is that the hijackers are willing to try. The Republicans who claim to be furious at the hijackers could stop them. But once again, same as it ever was, they’re more fixated on their jobs or their grievances than with what’s best for the country. Their failure to confront the MAGA wing is an endorsement of the MAGA uprising over the alternative of conceding an inch to political reality or the national interest. The whole Republican Party, every last member of the House GOP, has now re-embraced the toxic politics of its losing 2022 campaign. And so, through the speakership crisis and for the next two years, Democrats should remember what it was that saved them from landslide defeat in the 2022 midterms. 

2) An AI text detector

3) So, not stretching, but here’s a dynamic warmup before exercise.  

But in recent years, exercise science has coalesced around a better way to prepare your body for exertion: the dynamic warm-up.

A dynamic warm-up is a set of controlled, up-tempo movements that can help make your workout safer and more effective, said Alvaro López Samanes, an assistant professor and international coordinator of physiotherapy at Universidad Francisco de Vitoria, in Madrid, who’s studied them in tennis players.

Research suggests dynamic warm-ups improve agility, speed and overall performance for a wide range of sports, including tennisbaseball and running. They also appear to reduce injury risk. In a fast-moving, direction-changing sport like soccer, a tailored dynamic warm-up lowered the odds of getting hurt by about 30 percent in one 2017 research review.

While Olympic sprinters and World Cup players do them before competing, they’re not just for elite athletes. In fact, “people who don’t move athletically very often need dynamic warm-ups the most,” said Emily Hutchins, a personal trainer and owner of On Your Mark Coaching and Training in Chicago. If you go straight from your office chair or your bed to a workout, you might arrive with a hunched posture, not to mention cold, tight muscles that don’t move fluidly. Dynamic warm-ups bridge the gap.

4) I really wish NYT had just written a nice article instead of giving us this video, but the gist is important.  The reason that we keep running out of hospital space for kids is largely that hospitals have simply decided adults are more profitable.  

5) Hell, yeah, “Guns Are Not Speech”

In dealing with the controversy that erupted, I made hundreds of speeches, many of them in synagogues, defending free speech for everyone, including the Nazis. I published a book on the subject called “Defending My Enemy.” I hold the same beliefs today as I expressed then: I would defend free speech for all, regardless of my antipathy for their views.

But in these controversies, we have to be clear about what free speech actually entails. In recent years, there has been a troubling increase in people conflating free speech with something quite different: the right to carry weapons. On November 26, The New York Times published a front page article on the increasing frequency with which guns are being carried and displayed by participants in demonstrations. It included an analysis of more than 700 such demonstrations during the past three years and found that, at about 77 percent of them, those carrying guns came from the political right.

Indeed, right-wing groups have been increasingly outspoken in recent years about what they claim are efforts to suppress the expression and dissemination of their views. A spokesman for Gun Owners of America told the Times that “Americans should be able to bear arms while expressing their First Amendment rights, whether that’s going to church or a peaceful assembly.” Proud Boys and Oath Keepers invoked free speech to justify their armed participation in the January 6 Capitol assault.

But these arguments represent a fundamental misunderstanding of what free speech is all about. Freedom of speech is about persuasion. Those engaged in free speech try to persuade others on the basis of the information they disseminate and the quality of their arguments. If these are worthless or repugnant, like those of the Nazis who proposed to march in Skokie, they deserve to fail. If their views have merits, that should be the basis on which they persuade others. In either case, their right to express their views should be protected.

Weapons, on the other hand, are about threats. Openly brandishing weapons conveys the message that they may be used against those who express contrary views. It is the antithesis of freedom of speech, and clearly indicates that one is not interested in persuasion or dialogue but is only interested in intimidation. Unsurprisingly, protests at which firearms are carried are far more likely to turn violent than protests without guns present.

For these reasons, I would not have defended the right of the Nazis to march in Skokie if they had chosen to carry guns, knives, baseball bats, or anything else they could have used to assault or intimidate people. They had a right to seek police protection as they marched—but no one has a right to use or threaten violence to impose their views on others.

6) I love that EJ Dionne is devoting a column to my former member of Congress and former Duke Political Science Professor, David Price.

Price, who is retiring from Congress in January at the age of 82 after 17 terms in office, has been a special figure in our public life. He is a loss to the institution and our politics precisely because he thinks institutionally. He believes that Congress matters and that individual members have obligations not only to themselves, their consciences and their constituents, but also to making the first branch of government function effectively.

He grew up in east Tennessee in a Republican family and became a Democrat as a student in North Carolina because of his engagement in the early years of the civil rights movement. He got divinity and political science degrees from Yale and is a first-rate political scientist — his book on Congress, first published in 1992, came out in its fourth edition at the end of 2020. It’s one of the best examples of “participant-observer” scholarship.

7) I actually did not notice at all that the new Avatar movie was using high frame rates. 

The problem is that increasing the frame rate begins to make everything look hyper-clear. That extreme sharpness, far from being an unalloyed benefit, changes the whole texture of the image, giving it a look that we associate with video and stripping away whatever mystique and aesthetic allure comes from longer time gaps between frames…

There is no discernible rationale for Cameron’s choices: The rate often shifts within a scene or when he cuts to another angle on the same object. And the technique isn’t simply used for action scenes and fast camera movements, the most obvious potential sources of blur or judder. Some of the action is shown at 24, and some quiet, character-driven shots are at 48.

8) One of those big-think Noah Smith pieces you just have to read, “The third magic: A meditation on history, science, and AI”

9a) Surely, at least part of the answer, “Young adults are struggling with their mental health. Is more childhood independence the answer? “

But a growing body of evidence is beginning to suggest that the problems of “adulting” and mental health in college students may be rooted, at least in part, in modern childhood. Research shows that young people are lacking in emotional resilience and independence compared to previous generations. The problem has been growing in tandem with rising rates of anxiety and depression, perhaps exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and has left colleges scrambling to help and adapt.

“Some parents have been parenting differently, they have this value of success at all costs,” said Dori Hutchinson, executive director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University. “I like to describe it as some kids are growing up developmentally delayed, today’s 18-year-olds are like 12-year-olds from a decade ago. They have very little tolerance for conflict and discomfort, and COVID just exposed it.” …

Research shows that young people who arrive on campus with healthy amounts of resilience and independence do better both academically and emotionally, but today more students of all backgrounds are arriving on campus with significantly less experience in dealing with life’s ups and downs. Many even see normal adult activities as risky or dangerous.

In a new study currently under review, Georgetown University psychologist Yulia Chentsova Dutton looked at whether American college students’ threshold for what is considered risky was comparable to their global peers. Chentsova Dutton and her team interviewed students from Turkey, Russia, Canada and the United States, asking them to describe a risky or dangerous experience they had in the last month. Both Turkish and Russian students described witnessing events that involved actual risk: violent fights on public transportation; hazardous driving conditions caused by drunk drivers; women being aggressively followed on the street. 

But American students were far more likely to cite as dangerous things that most adults do every day, like being alone outside or riding alone in an Uber.

The American students’ risk threshold was comparatively “quite low,” according to Chentsova Dutton. Students who reported they gained independence later in childhood — going to the grocery store or riding public transportation alone, for example — viewed their university campus as more dangerous; those same students also had fewer positive emotions when describing risky situations. 

Chentsova Dutton hypothesizes that when students have fewer opportunities to practice autonomy, they have less faith in themselves that they can figure out a risky situation. “My suspicion is that low autonomy seems to translate into low efficacy,” she said. “Low efficacy and a combination of stress is associated with distress,” like anxiety and depression.

In recent years, other psychologists have made similar associations. Author and New York University ethical leadership professor Jonathan Haidt has used Nassim Taleb’s theory of anti-fragility to explain how kids’ social and emotional systems act much like our bones and immune systems: Within reason, testing and stressing them doesn’t break them but makes them stronger. But, Haidt and first amendment advocate Greg Lukianoff have argued in their writing, a strong culture of “safetyism” which prizes the safety of children above all else, has prevented young people from putting stress on the bones, so to speak, so “such children are likely to suffer more when exposed later to other unpleasant but ordinary life events.” 

Psychologists have directly connected a lack of resilience and independence to the growth of mental health problems and psychiatric disorders in young adults and say that short cycles of stress or conflict are not only not harmful, they are essential to human development. But modern childhood, for a variety of reasons, provides few opportunities for kids to practice those skills. 

While it’s hard to point to a single cause, experts say a confluence of factors — including more time spent on smartphones and social media, less time for free play, a culture that prizes safety at the expense of building other characteristics, a fear of child kidnapping, and more adult-directed activities — together have created a culture that keeps kids far away from the kinds of experiences that build resilience.

Chentsova Dutton said America has an international reputation for prizing autonomy, but her study opened her eyes to a more complicated picture. American parents tend to be overprotective when children are young, acting as if kids are going to live at home for a long time, like parents do in Italy. Yet they also expect children to live away from home fairly early for college, like families do in Germany. The result is that American kids end up with drastically fewer years navigating real life than they do in other countries that start much earlier. 

“We parent like we are in Italy, then send kids away like we are in Germany,” Chentsova Dutton said with a laugh. “Those things don’t match.”

The woke culture of “safetyism” where everything is a threat to personal well-being, sure doesn’t help either. 

9b) and just before queuing these up, I came across this:

10) Really interesting post on evolved sex differences across species

Biological Constraints

 

Darwin’s [7] sexual selection, that is, the social dynamics that emerge with intrasexual competition for mates and intersexual choice of mating partners, is the primary source of sex differences across species [for review see 8]. Sexual selection results in the evolution of traits that support competition and choice, and the evolutionary emergence of sex differences for these traits, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The male kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) from The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex, Vol. II, by C. Darwin, 1871, London, John Murray, p. 255. Males compete by locking horns and pulling and pushing each other as a display of physical strength and stamina. Females are hornless.

These traits can be physical (e.g., body weight), ornamental (e.g., colorful plumage), behavioral (e.g., mating displays), or supported by brain and cognitive systems (e.g., bird song). The key result is trait exaggeration in one sex or the other. But this exaggeration can also create a vulnerability for the seemingly advantaged sex [4]. Larger, exaggerated traits consume more cellular energy (and result in more oxidative stress and other cell damaging processes) to build, maintain, and express, making them especially vulnerable to energy and nutritional short falls, as well as to other stressors [9]. By analogy, a poorly working furnace will result in a more rapid drop in ambient temperature in a 300-square-meter than a 100-square-meter house. Basically, the ability to fully express these traits depends on the overall condition of the individual, which is why they are called condition-dependent traits, and the condition of the individual will depend in part on social and ecological conditions.

The factors that sap the development and expression of these traits are well-captured by the Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Figure 2), that is, infection, famine, and intense social competition. Exposure to these conditions, as well as some man-made toxins, compromise exaggerated traits more than other traits and therefore reduces the magnitude of any associated sex differences [5, 10, 11]. There are, of course, individual differences within each sex in sensitivity to these stressors, such that some individuals are compromised more strongly than others, but the overall results are smaller sex differences for the population and more variability in the affected trait across individuals…

By the logic above, variation in nutrition, disease risk, and social stressors represented by the Horsemen should result in variation in the magnitude of the sex differences in physical size, such as height. More precisely, height differences between the sexes should have increased over time as developed nations kept the Horsemen at bay with improvements in public health (among other factors) and be larger today in developed than in developing nations. Indeed, from 1900 to 1958, the sex difference in height increased 36 percent in Great Britain [17]: In 1900, the average British man was 11 cm taller than the average woman, but this increased to 15 cm by 1958. For young adults in nutritionally stressed regions of Nigeria, men are 7.5 cm shorter than their better-nourished peers, whereas women are 3.2 cm shorter [18]. The result is a sex difference in height that is 38 percent smaller than it would be if these adults had received better nutritional and medical care during childhood and adolescence.

11) Teen pregnancy and child poverty are both down and it is a fascinating and difficult question of which of these declines is driving the other one more.  You should read this, thus the gift link (I’m actually going to run out of these). 

Teen births have fallen by more than three-quarters in the last three decades, a change of such improbable magnitude that experts struggle to fully explain it. Child poverty also plunged, raising a complex question: Does cutting teen births reduce child poverty, or does cutting child poverty reduce teen births?

While both may be true, it is not clear which dominates. One theory holds that reducing teen births lowers child poverty by allowing women to finish school, start careers and form mature relationships, raising their income before they raise children. Another says progress runs the other way: Cutting child poverty reduces teen births, since teenagers who see opportunity have motives to avoid getting pregnant…

The reasons teen births have fallen are only partly understood. Contraceptive use has grown and shifted to more reliable methods, and adolescent sex has declined. Civic campaigns, welfare restrictions and messaging from popular culture may have played roles.

But with progress so broad and sustained, many researchers argue the change reflects something more fundamental: a growing sense of possibility among disadvantaged young women, whose earnings and education have grown faster than their male counterparts.

“They’re going to school and seeing new career paths open,” said Melissa S. Kearney, an economist at the University of Maryland. “Whether they are excited about their own opportunities or feel that unreliable male partners leave them no choice, it leads them in the same direction — not becoming a young mother.” …

On the surface, the decline in teen births is easy to explain: Contraception rose, and sex fell.

The share of female teens who did not use birth control the last time they had sex dropped by more than a third over the last decade, according to an analysis of government surveys by the Guttmacher Institute. The share using the most effective form, long-acting reversible contraception (delivered through an intrauterine device or arm implant), rose fivefold to 15 percent. The use of emergency contraception also rose.

Contraception use has grown in part because it is easier to get, with the 2010 Affordable Care Act requiring insurance plans, including Medicaid, to provide it for free.

At the same time, the share of high school students who say they have had sexual intercourse has fallen 29 percent since 1991, Child Trends found. Some analysts, including Brad Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, say the postponement of sex, which has intensified since 2013, stems in part from the time teens spend in front of screens.

Abortion does not appear to have driven the decline in teen births. As a share of teenage pregnancy, it has remained steady over the past decade, although the data, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, omits medication abortions, and analysts say the recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion, could cause teen births to rise.

12) I actually had this book sitting in my “maybe read from the library” pile when BB sent me this really interesting article, “Rethinking the European Conquest of Native Americans: In a new book by Pekka Hämäläinen, a picture emerges of a four-century-long struggle for primacy among Native power centers in North America.”  Now I’m not sure if I should read the book or if I got most of what I would’ve out of the article.

13) Somewhat relatedly, this is a fascinating thread on gender dynamics among Native American tribes after the introduction of horses and how much it varied across tribes.

Here’s what I’ll add based on these two.  Land Acknowledgements are just insultingly stupid.  Do you know what any indigenous tribe would have done to the colonists if they were the ones with better weapons? Killed them and taken their land. This is what humans do.  I’m so tired of the noble savage.  Any land acknowledgement that addresses the Comanches (and quick google shows that there are plenty of these), for example, ignores the fact that they violently and brutally appropriated their land from other native tribes.  

14) A nice post on Epicurus and how to be happier from Eric Barker:

This is how to be happier:

  • Live For Pleasure: Not the frat party kind. Prize tranquility. We should be strategic hedonists. Think about the responsibly happy life you would wish for your children.
  • The Three Types Of Pleasure: Focus on Necessary pleasures like friendship. Enjoy Extravagant pleasures as long as they don’t require too much or infringe on the Necessary. Abolish Corrosive desires like the pursuit of fame and status.
  • Seek “Enough”: Satisfaction beats success. What we call “success” is often just slavery to Corrosive desires. And you don’t need quintuplets to be a happy parent.
  • Friendship is #1: (If you stop reading this right now to go laugh with friends over pizza, I promise not to be disappointed.)
  • Pleasure Can Make Us Resilient: Supportive friends, warm memories, and gratitude. A focus on these Necessary pleasures can give us strength.

15) I guess it’s good we’re making some progress on Alzheimer’s Drugs, but, this really doesn’t seem like enough to justify the costs and the risks:

In the Clarity study, which involved 1,800 patients, participants’ health declined whether they received the treatment or a placebo, but the lecanemab group deteriorated 27 percent more slowly. At 18 months, those patients scored a half-point better than the placebo group on an 18-point dementia test involving memory, judgment and other areas, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Some doctors say those effects are not large enough to be meaningful to patients and their families, and may not even be noticed. But others argue that the treatment could allow some patients with the fatal disease to enjoy the birth of a grandchild or to live at home longer.

16) I don’t think it will actually happen, but I would love to see a college lose it’s accreditation for such a gross violation of academic freedom, “A College Fired a Professor for Showing a Painting of Muhammad. Now, It Could Lose Its Accreditation.”

17) The idea of a cultural history of butts is pretty interesting. A shame the author had to turn it into overly-woke nonsense.  Apparently, men being attracted to women’s butts is racist or something. Kat Rosenfield:

For this we may thank the existence of Butts: A Backstory, a new book by journalist Heather Radke. To be fair, it surely is not Radke’s intention to inculcate racial anxiety in her reader: Butts feels like a passion project, deeply researched and fun to read, offering a deep dive into the history and culture of the human rear end, from the Venus Callipyge (from whose name the word “callipygian” is derived) to Buns of Steel to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s seminal rap celebrating all things gluteal. It is a topic ripe for well-rounded analysis, so to speak. But having been written in the very particular milieu of 2020s America, Butts unfortunately falls victim to the contemporary vogue for viewing all matters of culture through a racial lens. The result is a work that not only flattens the butt, figuratively, but makes the book feel ultimately less like an anthropological study and more like an entry into the crowded genre of works which serve to stoke the white liberal guilt of the NPR tote bag set…

The book is insistent on this front: butts are a black thing, and liking them is a black male thing, and the appreciation of butts by non-black folks represents a moral error: cultural theft or stolen valour or some potent mix of the two. Among the scholars and experts quoted by Radke on this front is one who asserts that the contemporary appreciation of butts by the wider male population is “coming from Black male desire. Straight-up, point-blank. It’s only through Black males and their gaze that white men are starting to take notice”. To paraphrase a popular meme: “Fellas, is it racist to like butts?”

Perhaps needless to say, a wealth of cultural artefacts — from the aforementioned Venus sculpture to the works of Peter Paul Rubens to certain showtunes of the Seventies —  belie the notion that white guys were oblivious to the existence of butts until black men made it cool to notice them. But the cultural legacy of the butt is undeniably entangled with the legacy of racism and eugenics, including a sordid and repellent history wherein certain anthropologists of the white male variety both fetishised the physiques of black women with ample backsides and conflated their peculiarities with savagery and promiscuity…

Certainly, it is impossible to do justice to the history of butts without devoting ample space to Baartman. But it’s one thing to give due scrutiny to the fact that some 19th century anthropologists indulged in the repugnant racial stereotyping of black women’s bodies and body parts; it’s another to replicate it ourselves — or to assume that other people are.

Radke does assume, though — repeatedly, persistently, and sometimes in spite of alternative theories or evidence to the contrary. This includes advancing the argument that bustles, the Victorian-era fashion that trended more than 50 years after Sarah Baartman’s death, were inspired by her singular figure — and that white women were coyly, perhaps even consciously, appropriating Baartman’s silhouette in an act of racist fetishisation. Notably, Radke is the first to acknowledge the obvious flaw in her argument: “There is also a question of why a late-19th-century woman would have wanted to look like Sarah Baartman, whose silhouette had been used as the quintessential example of African as subhuman,” she writes. Why, indeed? But Radke answers this question with some crude stereotyping of her own: “White culture and fashion have both proved relentlessly adept at cherry-picking throughout the centuries, finding a way to poach the parts of other people’s culture, histories, and bodies that suit them and leave behind the rest.”

Why would 19th century women have aspired to the silhouette of a sexually promiscuous savage? Because they were a bunch of Karens, that’s why (and here the self-loathing contemporary white woman reader is surely nodding along).

18) Another fascinating Noah Smith post, looking at economic development in Ghana (again, one of those things where I would typically just ignore it, but Smith is invariably so interesting in these essays). 

19) Interesting idea, “Can a Federally Funded ‘Netflix Model’ Fix the Broken Market for Antibiotics?”

The $6 billion measure, the Pasteur Act, would upend the conventional model that ties antibiotic profits to sales volume by creating a subscription-like system that would provide pharmaceutical companies an upfront payment in exchange for unlimited access to a drug once it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Some call it the Netflix model for antibiotics.

The measure attempts to address the vexing economics of antibiotics: Promising new drugs often gather dust on pharmacy shelves because health providers would rather save them for patients whose infections don’t respond to existing ones. That’s because the more frequently an antibiotic is used, the more quickly it will lose its curative punch as the targeted bacteria develop the ability to survive.

New antibiotics also tend to be expensive, a disincentive for hospital-based prescribers who will often turn to cheaper ones, making it even harder for drug companies to earn back their initial investmentAside from the shortages of drugs that still work, the shrinking toolbox of effective antimicrobials has become a silent global crisis that claims nearly 1.3 million lives a year. By 2050, the United Nations estimates that drug-resistant pathogens could kill 10 million people annually.

“If we want antibiotics to work for our kids, our grandkids or ourselves in 10 years, we have to invest in the infrastructure today,” said Kevin Outterson, executive director of CARB-X, a nonprofit that provides funding for small biotechs developing novel antibiotics.

By separating profits from sales volume, supporters of the bill hope that prescribers will save new drugs for patients whose infections are resistant to existing medications. Limiting their use, experts say, can help extend the life of a new antibiotic before evolutionary pressure creates a “superbug” all but impervious to available antimicrobials.

The bill, a decade in the making, has bipartisan support and is widely backed by researchers, health care policy experts and drug company executives. But as momentum for the bill has gained steam, opposition has emerged from a small group of doctors and health care advocates, many of them critics of Big Pharma. They say the bill is a drug-industry giveaway — and unlikely to address the problem of antibiotic resistance.

20) I went through Evolv scanning/metal detectors for the first time ever last week at the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space museum.  I loved how quick and efficient it was.  Get these everywhere.  “AI may be searching you for guns the next time you go out in public”

Evolv machines use “active sensing” — a light-emission technique that alsounderpins radar and lidar — to create images. Then it applies AI to examine them. Data scientists at the Waltham, Mass., company have created “signatures” (basically, visual blueprints) and trained the AI to compare them to the scanner images.

Executives say the result is a smart system that can “spot” a weapon without anyone needing to stop and empty their pockets in a beeping machine. When the system identifies a suspicious item from a group of people flowing through, it draws an orange box around it on a live video feed of the person entering. It’s only then that a security guard, watching on a nearby tablet, will approach for more screening.

Dan Donovan, a veteran security consultant who rents Evolv’s systems out to clients for events, says that by allowing guards to focus on fewer threats, it avoids the fatigue metal-detector operators can feel.

A cool video of how they work.  

21) Somewhat relatedly, I have seen “Clear” at airports on my most recent flights and turns out it it’s basically evil:

That is the entirety of CLEAR’s offer to American flyers: Pay us money and give us your biometric data, and in return you can jump in front of other people to access an essential federal service. Unlike with TSA Pre, whose purpose is to speed up the entire airport safety system, there is no public benefit to CLEAR’s role in the screening process; it’s simply a way for a company—and airports themselves—to make money at the expense of passengers.
Worse, its insertion into aviation security undermines a core government function.

22) I loved, loved, loved Planet Money on the economics lessons in children’s books.  It featured one of my kids’ favorites that I have read hundreds of times, Put Me in the Zoo, as well as my favorite kids book ever, The Sneetches.  

23) The strong case for an economic market for kidneys.  Too many people are dying waiting for a kidney and lots and lots of people have extra kidneys they would do just fine without. 

24) Nice piece on the profound, very conservative influence Pope Benedict had on the Catholic Church, largely before he became Pope. 

25) A headline you don’t see everyday, “An airline worker died after being ‘ingested into the engine’ of a plane, NTSB says”

26) Here’s some amazing AI work:

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Best stuff I’ve seen on XBB1.5:

At this stage of the pandemic, new variants are *guaranteed* to come and go. Variants arise from random errors as viruses make copies of itself. Most of these errors will be neutral (or even harmful) to the survival of the virus. But if you roll the dice millions of times, you’re bound to hit a winner eventually. A mutation that gives the virus an advantage will spread and create more copies of itself, crowding out other less “fit” variants.

This is what we are currently seeing with XBB.1.5 in the U.S…

Is XBB.1.5 more severe?

So far there is no evidence that XBB.1.5 causes more severe disease, but it’s something we always keep an eye on. There are very few “immune naïve” people who have not been infected, vaccinated, or both. While new variants can evade existing immunity enough to infect people and spread, we still have significant protection against severe disease compared to when we had no immunity.

2) Some pretty interesting research I definitely need to delve into more, “Does having children make you more politically conservative?”

Lead author Dr Nicholas Kerry, a psychology researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, says the team surveyed people in 10 countries, including Australia, about their feelings towards kids, as well as conducted a series of experiments encouraging participants to recall or imagine certain parenting and childcare experiences.

“We asked people to talk about either real or imagined experiences of childcare and reflect on how they felt at the time,” Kerry explains.

“For those who didn’t have kids, we asked them to imagine a child and then put them in different situations. We then compared this group to a control group, who were asked to think of similar positive experiences but without a child involved.”

They found that even thinking about scenarios like a child crying or playing ball fundamentally shifted the way people viewed the world, especially in relation to issues such as abortion, immigration and sex.

“Because socially conservative values prioritise safety, stability and family values, we hypothesised that being more invested in parental care might make socially conservative policies more appealing,” Kerry and his colleagues write.

3) Apparently, I’m a “reactionary centrist.”  Also, talk about reactionary, good God these leftists are dumb and knee-jerk. Chait:

The term originates from a 2018 essay by progressive activist and former Democratic House aide Aaron Huertas. It has been picked up and circulated by left-wing commentators like Jeet HeerMichael Hobbes, and Thomas Zimmer.

Huertas defined a reactionary centrist as “someone who says they’re politically neutral, but who usually punches left while sympathizing with the right.” Zimmer, in a recent podcast, said, “The term refers to people who claim to be moderate, in the middle, while always punching left.”

This definition applies, at least loosely, to some of the “reactionary centrists” they criticize. But while some “reactionary centrists” (David Brooks, Bari Weiss, Shadi Hamid*) reside on the center-right, many more reside on the center-left (the New York Times editorial pageMatthew Yglesiasme, among others). Very few of these “reactionary centrists” always or even usually criticize the left. The actual standard, and the term’s most commonly applied usage, is an insult for liberals who sometimes criticize the left.

The left-wing condemnations of “reactionary centrism” have both a minimalist and a maximalist version. The minimalist version argues that, since the right poses the greatest danger to liberal democratic values, it distorts reality to focus on the left as if its flaws are greater. I happen to agree with this version of the argument, and my work product (the overwhelming majority of which is directed against the right) reflects this belief.

But the left’s critique frequently slips into a maximalist version, which holds that, since the right poses the greatest danger to liberal democratic values, one should never criticize the left. Leftists who believe this don’t usually say it quite this bluntly. But their arguments leave no room for forceful criticism of the left, at least not in any terms that might be used by conservatives. Internal criticism from the left — scolding an ally for their lack of fervor — or criticism on purely personal or tactical grounds is exempt. But any “punching left,” or “scolding activists” as the sin is sometimes described, is forbidden on grounds of aiding the enemy.

A related version of this argument demands that liberals restrain their criticism of the left rather than engage in “left-bashing that empowers actual enemies of free speech.” None of these critics accept any such limits on their criticism of the liberals. It is a one-sided demand: The liberals must abstain from criticizing the left — or criticize only in the most respectful terms — because uninhibited attacks on the left help the right. The left, on the other hand, is free to attack liberals without inhibition. One cannot help but suspect the point of these rules is winning intra-left factional conflicts, not national elections…

Huertas, in his foundational essay on the phenomenon, comes close at one point to acknowledging the possibility that a liberal critic may be correct, before veering away.

“If progressive groups are doing something you can describe as distasteful or beneath you, or ineffective,” he writes, “that’s an excuse to avoid the hard work of participating in the progressive political movements that are actually trying to make our politics better.” You might believe progressive groups are misguided, but rather than saying so, you should simply work harder, like Boxer in Animal Farm.

4) Eric Levitz, “The GOP Is More Ungovernable Than Ever Before”

Meanwhile, over the past three decades, the rise of right-talk-radio juggernauts such as Rush Limbaugh and major conservative outlets like Fox News created further alternative power centers to the Republican leadership. These right-wing-media institutions had distinct incentives from the GOP. Whereas Republicans must appeal to a mass electorate, Fox News and Limbaugh served niche audiences that were both far more conservative and politically engaged than the median voter. And while internecine warfare is bad for party governance, it’s quite good for ratings: The media exists to tell stories, and you can’t have a compelling narrative without conflict…

It is one thing for Republican backbenchers to humiliate their party in defiance of its leadership; it is another for them to do so in defiance of the GOP Establishment, Donald Trump, and the bulk of the conservative media. In the past, the Republicans’ internecine feuds pitted the party’s disparate power centers against one another. In the current feud, however, all of the right’s major institutions are aligned behind McCarthy. And roughly 20 House Republicans feel comfortable defying their party anyway.

This intransigence is all the more extraordinary when one considers how little is actually at stake. There are no profound ideological divisions between Gaetz and (McCarthy supporter) Taylor Greene. Electing Steve Scalise or Andy Biggs or any other House Republican Speaker will not change the fact that Democrats control the Senate and the presidency and, therefore, that the conservative agenda cannot be implemented at the present time. The rebels do have official demands. But these are so outlandish as to call into question their sincerity; the House is not going to create a new legal entity that empowers the Freedom Caucus to unilaterally wage lawsuits.

In truth, it might be this very pointlessness that has rendered the GOP’s civil war so difficult to resolve. The House’s conservative hard-liners may be less interested in any particular outcome than they are in the chaos itself; their means may be their end. Placing oneself at the center of a days-long national news firestorm attracts attention to one’s social-media feeds, and that attention can eventually be monetized in all manner of ways. As Puck’s Tara Palmeri notes, far-right congressman Biggs has been raking in campaign contributions on the strength of his “Speakership revolt antics.”

5) Lee Drutman on the Republican mess:

Thought #2: Divided government encourages Republican recklessness

 

A long-standing Republican opposition strategy with a Democrat in the White House is to sow chaos in Washington, on the thought that dysfunction and chaos in Washington hurts the party in the White House. If Washington is in chaos, perhaps voters will think it’s time for a change.

Thus, rather than forcing the parties to work together, divided government encourages the party out of the White House to make the party in the White House look bad. 

And while enough Democrats ultimately want to keep governing functioning so they will make deals with a Republican White House, enough Republicans want to force the government to shrink in size and believe that chaos is the only way to make it happen.

Are there political limits? Forcing a government shutdown can backfire. And nobody knows what happens if you don’t vote to raise the debt ceiling — which is, of course, the big looming crisis that could turn this clown show from dumb-and-dumber comedy to costly tragedy. 

But far-right Republicans presumably see the looming debt ceiling as their point of maximum leverage, in which they can make outrageous demands and dare Democrats to deny them.

It’s hard to imagine any Republican speaker surviving a debt ceiling fight. Ultimately, they will need Democratic votes to pass the raise the debt ceiling. And when a Republican Speaker does that without extracting significant concessions, the revolt from the far-right will bring their downfall.

The problem is that Republican leadership has so demonized Democrats that much of its fired-up voter base sees compromise as submission to evil. But the rhetoric of opposition never lives up to reality. And enough current members of Congress, and their supporters and benefactors, now believe the conflict really is a fight to the death. 

The fight is over the size and scope of the federal government. These are existential times. America is at stake. Enough people in Congress either genuinely believe it now, or they have earned so many psychic and financial rewards from saying so that they can’t tell whether they believe it or not, but they are conflict-seeking and attention-seeking enough to keep fighting to the end.

 It is a 90-year fight, though one that has intensified into final battle status since a black man was elected president and White Christian America became a demographic minority. Which takes me to thought #3…

 

Thought # 3: It’s hard to manage a 90-year opposition party at the cranky old age of 90.

 

For nine decades, American politics has been defined by the macro-conflict over the role of the federal government. FDR’s New Deal was a Democratic Party program. Truman’s Fair Deal was a Democratic program. LBJ’s Great Society was a Democratic Program. Broadly, Republicans have spent nine decades now opposing the federal government’s role in American life.

Why does this matter? Because after 90 years of fighting the same fight against government, generation after generation, the Republican Party has become a thoroughly anti-system party. And it is very hard to lead an anti-system party when leadership means being part of the system.

6) Great stuff from my regular co-author, Laurel Elder, on gender in Congress:

This issue is important because how many women there are in the room when legislative decisions are made has significant consequences for the policies that governments enact. Female legislators are more likely than men to introduce, speak about and work to pass policies that disproportionately affect women and girls, such as paid family leave, pay equity and gender-based violence.

Having more women in Congress also strengthens female voters’ sense of connection with the government. It also bolsters women’s sense that government cares about their concerns and inspires young women to become more politically engaged

What’s behind this sluggish pace

While women are underrepresented in governments around the globe, it is a particularly significant problem in the United States. Currently, the U.S. ranks 73rd in the world when it comes to female representation in government.

But the reason women are so dramatically underrepresented in U.S. government is not because they face resistance from voters or struggle to raise money. On the contrary, decades of research shows that when women run, they raise as much money and win as often as similarly qualified men.

In my 2021 book, “The Partisan Gap,” I show that the slow progress of women in politics is a tale of two political parties.

In the next Congress, there will be 107 female Democratic lawmakers and 42 female Republican lawmakers in the Senate and House combined.

In other words, Democrats will compose 72% of the women in Congress. Despite Democrats losing nine congressional seats during the November 2022 midterms, the number of Democratic lawmakers in Congress who are women will remain steady.

The gap between elected Republican and Democratic female lawmakers in Congress has widened over the past four decades…

But the Republican Party’s increasing conservatism has made it harder for women running as Republicans to win elections, as it has not made encouraging more women to run for office a priority. This creates additional challenges for potential Republican female candidates, since women typically need to be encouraged by others to consider running for office.

So, what will it take to get more Republican women to run? The Republican Party would need to commit more fully to recruiting and supporting female candidates.

In the 2018 elections, the number of Republican women in the House dropped to a mere 13, the lowest level in two decades. In response, Republican House member Elise Stefanik started the political action group Elevate-PAC to identify, cultivate and support Republican female candidates. Although Stefanik faced criticism from her party for this move, her efforts paid off with 31 Republican women elected in 2020.

In order for women to gain half of the seats in Congress, more women need to run, especially on Republican tickets. I believe that this will require the Republican Party as a whole to prioritize recruiting women – and not just for one election cycle, but in a sustained way.

7) Great stuff from Scott Alexander on ChatGPT, “How Do AIs’ Political Opinions Change As They Get Smarter And Better-Trained?”

Here more intelligence and training make AIs more likely to endorse all opinions, except for a few of the most controversial and offensive ones. Smarter and better-trained AIs are more liberal and more conservative, more Christian and more atheist, more utilitarian and more deontological.

What does it mean for the trained AI to be more liberal and more conservative? This isn’t a paradox: it just means the AI goes from unopinionated to a mix of strong liberal and conservative opinions. Why would it do that, when RHLF is supposed to make it more neutral and helpful and inoffensive? Unclear; an expert I ran this by suggested it was sycophancy bias, a tendency for the AI to agree with the predicted opinion of whoever is asking the questions (more in Part V below).

Although the AI gets both more liberal and more conservative, these aren’t equal effects; RHLF increases liberalism more than conservatism, for a net shift left. Other net shifts: towards Eastern instead of Abrahamic religions, towards virtue ethics instead of utilitarianism, and maybe towards religion rather than atheism.

What’s going on here? It’s not that the crowdsourced human raters have told the AI to be more Buddhist, or punished it for being insufficiently Buddhist, or necessarily ever given it a question on virtue ethics in particular. I think the answer is that, in lots of different ways, the crowdworkers have been rewarding it for being nice/helpful and punishing it for being not nice/helpful. One thing the AI learns from this is to be nice and helpful. But another thing the AI learns – and this is close to the same thing, but not exactly the same thing – is to answer all questions the way that a nice and helpful person would answer them.

To see how this isn’t the same, imagine that women are generally nicer and more helpful than men. And imagine that you asked the AI what gender it was. You can’t actually do this, because people have trained these AIs to respond that they are AIs and don’t have genders. But I think if you could do this, then an AI rewarded for nice/helpful answers would be more likely to say that it was a woman. This isn’t a nicer and more helpful answer, but it’s more the kind of answer that a nice and helpful person would give.

Is that an offensive stereotype? Maybe, but we’ve already found that AIs use stereotypes in reasoning. I think the reason RHLF makes AIs more Christian than atheist, but more Buddhist than Christian – is that the AI has stereotypes that Christians are nicer and more helpful than atheists, but Buddhists are nicest of all. This is just a theory – but you try explaining why the AIs keep coming out Buddhist.

8) I don’t actually think wanting to learn is some secret thing that people don’t talk about. “The Key to Success in College Is So Simple, It’s Almost Never Mentioned”

One of the most important factors in Ms. Zurek Small’s success seems almost too obvious to mention but, in fact, deserves far more attention and discussion: a simple willingness to learn. In more than 20 years of college teaching, I have seen that students who are open to new knowledge will learn. Students who aren’t won’t. But this attitude is not fixed. The paradoxical union of intellectual humility and ambition is something that every student can (with help from teachers, counselors and parents) and should cultivate. It’s what makes learning possible.

The willingness to learn is related to the growth mind-set — the belief that your abilities are not fixed but can improve. But there is a key difference: This willingness is a belief not primarily about the self but about the world. It’s a belief that every class offers something worthwhile, even if you don’t know in advance what that something is.

Unfortunately, big economic and cultural obstacles stand in opposition to that belief.

The first obstacle is careerism. To an overwhelming degree, students today see college as job training, the avenue to a stable career. They are not wrong, given the 70 percent wage premium for 22- to 27-year-old workers with a bachelor’s degree over those with only a high school diploma. But this orientation can close students off from learning things that don’t obviously help their job prospects. Despite the fact that I taught at a religious college, students in my theology class grumbled about having to satisfy a requirement. Why, they asked, would they need to know theology as an accountant, athletic trainer or advertising manager? …

The other big obstacle to the willingness to learn is the urge to present yourself as always already informed. The philosopher Jonathan Lear calls this attitude knowingness. He regards it as a sickness that stands in the way of gaining genuine knowledge. It is “as though there is too much anxiety involved in simply asking a question and waiting for the world to answer,” he writes.

Knowingness is everywhere in our culture. From a former president claiming “everybody knows” some conspiracist nonsense to podcasters smugly debunking cultural myths to your feeling you have to have read, heard and streamed everything, the posture of already knowing supersedes the need to approach new situations with curiosity.

9) An entire AI screenplay is presumably a decent-way off, but, this is interesting, “Soon You’ll Be Able to Make Your Own Movie With AI Artificial intelligence isn’t about to change the movie industry. It already has.”

There’s a new Knives Out movie on Netflix, and I still haven’t seen a few of this season’s awards contenders. But the film I most wish I could watch right now is Squid Invasion From the Deep. It’s a sci-fi thriller directed by John Carpenter about a team of scientists led by Sigourney Weaver who discover an extraterrestrial cephalopod and then die one by one at its tentacles. The production design was inspired by Alien and The Thing; there are handmade creature FX and lots of gore; Wilford Brimley has a cameo. Unfortunately, though, I can’t see this movie, and neither can you, because it doesn’t exist.

For now, Squid Invasion is just a portfolio of concept art conjured by a redditor using Midjourney, an artificial-intelligence tool that creates images from human-supplied text prompts. Midjourney was released into public beta over the summer and for months belched out mostly visual gibberish. “I was trying to make a picture of Joe Rogan fighting a chimp, and it just looked like nightmare fuel,” says the Reddit user, OverlyManlySnail, whose real name is Johnny Weiss. Then, in November, the software was upgraded to version four. It began effortlessly translating complicated suggestions (“DVD screengrab, ’80s John Carpenter horror film, an alien squid attacking a horrified Sigourney Weaver, blood everywhere, extra wide shot, outstanding cinematography, 16-mm.”) into imaginary film stills that look good enough to be real. Some of them look better than anything in Hollywood’s current product line: stranger, more vividly composed, seemingly less computer generated even though they’re completely computer generated.

Soon, Hollywood could be in direct competition with generative AI tools, which, unlike self-driving cars or other long-promised technologies that never quite arrive, are already here and getting better fast. Meta and Google have announced software that converts text prompts into short videos; another tool, Phenaki, can do whole scenes. None of these video generators has been released to the public yet, but the company D-ID offers an AI app that can make people in still photos blink and read from a script, and some have been using it to animate characters created by Midjourney. “In the next few years,” says Matthew Kershaw, D-ID’s VP of marketing and growth, “we could easily see a major movie made almost entirely using AI.” Someday, instead of browsing our Rokus for something to watch, we might green-light our own entertainment by pitching loglines to algorithms that can make feature-length films with sophisticated plots, blockbuster effects, and A-list human actors from any era.

10) Eric Levitz on a supply-constrained economy:

The age of excess supply probably isn’t coming back anytime soon. The U.S. population is old and getting older. Demand for medical services and elder care will grow even as the proportion of prime-age workers in the nation will shrink. Meanwhile, the green transition will stress the economy’s resource base: The more critical minerals needed for electric-vehicle batteries, the fewer available for cell phones; the more construction laborers needed for building transmission lines, the fewer at the housing sector’s disposal.

And if America fails to build out renewables as fast as fossil-fuel production declines, energy-price shocks could ensue. The asset manager BlackRock recently declared that America has entered a new economic regime characterized by “production constraints” and “brutal trade-offs.” …

Liberals will also need to loosen their attachment to supply-constraining regulations. America’s current regulatory framework makes it exceedingly difficult for both the public and private sectors to build housing and clean-energy infrastructure. Environmental laws that help NIMBYs kill renewable-energy projects or tie them up in court for years must be rewritten. Zoning rules that make it extremely challenging for developers to build housing in high-demand areas must be abolished.

Even in the care sector, excessive regulations stymie supply. The U.S. is currently suffering from a shortage of doctors, in no small part because of its stringent licensing requirements. Other nations also make it much easier for foreign-trained physicians to practice within their borders. But rather than fighting to reduce unnecessary licensing requirements, some liberals have recently sought to expand them by making college degrees mandatory for child-care workers.

By reflexively opposing calls for deregulation, liberals do not uphold progressive ideals so much as they undermine them. An America in which housing, energy, and medical care are chronically undersupplied is one in which progressives’ vision for the country will be impossible to realize. In other words, liberals will need to develop their own supply-side economics.

11) This is interesting: a set of right-wing, rationalist principles.  A lot of them I would mostly agree with.  What’s fascinating to me, though, is how completely obsessed it is with IQ.  I’m a huge believer in individual differences in innate ability and think too many liberals downplay this way too much (I’m pretty much with deBoer on this), but, damn does this almost completely ignore the power of context. 

12) Crazy story.  “‘Office Space’ Inspired Engineer’s Theft Scheme, Police Say”

A software engineer siphoned more than $300,000 from his employer by introducing what prosecutors called a “series of malicious software edits” that wired money into his personal account. If the scheme sounds like the plot of “Office Space,” that’s because the authorities said it was partly inspired by the movie.

It appears the engineer, Ermenildo Valdez Castro, 28, of Tacoma, Wash., did not watch the entire movie: All of the evidence in the workplace comedy was destroyed in an office fire. But Mr. Castro detailed the scheme in a document found on his company laptop, according to the Seattle police.

Mr. Castro, a former software engineer for the e-commerce site Zulily, edited code to divert shipping fees to a personal account and manipulate product prices, stealing about $260,000 in electronic payments and more than $40,000 in merchandise, the police said. He was charged on Dec. 20 with two counts of theft and one count of identify theft and is scheduled to be arraigned on Jan. 26 in King County Superior Court in Seattle, where Zulily is based.

According to a police report, a document found on Mr. Castro’s work laptop referred to the scheme as “OfficeSpace project.” He later told the police that he “named his scheme to steal from Zulily after the movie.”

13) I thought there was a lot that “Andor” could have done better (an overly confusing beginning; somewhat bloated in spots), but, that said, a lot to like and this is a good take, “‘Andor’ Is a Master Class in Good Writing”

14) I’m totally a fan of composting human remains and it should definitely be legal.  Pretty cool interactive, so here’s the gift link to check it out. 

…and a selection of good stuff from twitter over the past couple weeks

15) Love this.  So much of life is arbitrarily based on 5 or 7. 

16) This is quite the study.  Handjob in an MRI, seriously.

17) On college majors and income.

18) Such an awesome graphic on what color was the infamous dress.

19) I’m not sure that we shouldn’t be giving out metformin with pretty much every Covid diagnosis at this point.

20) Though, here’s also some good results on Paxlovid

20) Good stuff on “neuromyths” of learning

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) I’ve been trying my best– to my family’s amusement– to pronounce Qatar with a proper Arabic accent.  

2) Drum on the reality of Republican business interests versus the base on immigration policy:

The Republican Party has long been viewed as a happy collaboration of business conservatives and social conservatives whose interests rarely conflict. Business conservatives want low taxes and less regulation while social conservatives want abortion restrictions, gun rights, and so forth. Both sides can usually ignore the other without a problem.

But what happens on the odd occasion when a real conflict breaks out? Immigration is a great test case. Social conservatives want less of it but business conservatives want continued access to lots of cheap, docile labor. Who wins?

Let’s take a look. Mandatory E-Verify works. This is why business conservatives hate it. Building a wall, by contrast, is little more than emotional symbolism, which is why social conservatives love it and business conservatives don’t care one way or the other.

So what did Donald Trump do? Naturally he built a wall and ignored E-Verify. Business conservatives were happy since they knew the wall was little more than a con with no lasting impact. What did the Florida legislature—which was 70% Republican at last count—do when they were given a choice? They voted down mandatory E-Verify. Business conservatives were satisfied yet again and social conservatives were just sort of confused. They’d been suckered one more time.

So the answer to who really controls the Republican Party is: business conservatives. Nearly everyone who’s really thought about it agrees that the most effective single thing we could do to rein in illegal immigration is to pass mandatory E-Verify at the national level and fund it with fines levied on employers. That would piss off business interests, which is probably the best indication that it’s actually effective. It’s also why it’s consistently dead in the water.

3) Annie Lowrey engages with some really good political science in looking at the reasons for and consequences of our closely-divided electorate:

As Lee shows in Insecure Majorities, such close contests and frequent changeovers in power are a cause of partisan strife. In recent decades, “neither party perceives itself as a permanent majority or permanent minority,” she writes. “This shift altered members’ partisan incentives and strategic choices in ways that help drive the sharp and contentious partisanship that is characteristic of contemporary American politics.” These days, both Republican and Democratic leaders have less incentive to cooperate across the aisle. Why give the other side a legislative victory if you are so close to taking back the House or winning the Senate?

The competitiveness of American elections also seems to have made the government less responsive to the wants and needs of voters—not more so, as you might normally expect. “In the current context, you have party control that hinges on small margins of the vote share in a small number of races,” Sides said. “A narrow shift creates a vast difference in terms of how the country is governed. Is that really what the election mandate was? Is that what voters want? I’m not so sure.”

Never losing by a significant margin or for a long period of time seems to have been bad for the parties themselves as well. Being banished to electoral purgatory every now and then encourages political groups to reform and change. It encourages them to think about their long-term value proposition, not just how to gain a few thousand more votes in Wisconsin. It forces them to adapt to the needs of average voters. Our political climate has diminished that constructive pressure for both sides. (Consider how many times Republicans have ignored their own advice about moderating and being friendlier to voters of color, opting instead to run some version of the “southern strategy” over and over.)

Yet for both sides, being out of power for any considerable amount of time feels like an existential threat. And for both sides, holding power for any considerable amount of time feels like an impossibility. Whatever happens this election, the next is likely to undo some of it—giving voters a greater sense of insecurity and urgency, with so much on the line each and every time.

4) I do think there is value in student evaluations of college teaching, but I also hate the consistent biases we find in them.  These studies are disturbing:

Two new studies on gender bias in student evaluations of teaching look at the phenomenon from fresh—and troubling—angles. One study surveyed students at the beginning of the semester and after their first exam and found that female instructors faced more backlash for grades given than did male instructors. The other study examined how ageism relates to gender bias in student ratings, finding that older female instructors were rated lower than younger women. The second study was longitudinal, so students were rating the same women more poorly over time, even as these professors were gaining teaching experience.

Both studies suggest that as women become more “agentic,” demonstrating agency via stereotypically male-associated traits, they are punished for violating gender norms with lower student ratings.

Whitney Buser, associate director of academic programs in economics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and co-author of the first study, told Inside Higher Ed that she and her colleagues “were unsure if we would find any bias at the beginning of the semester, but we did find a bit. We found that bias widened after receiving grades, making this the first study to our knowledge that confirms that gender bias is fueled by feedback. Our evidence seems to indicate that women receive more backlash for grades than male professors.”

Jennifer A. Chatman, Paul J. Cortese Distinguished Professor of Management and associate dean of academic affairs at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of the second article, said, “Our findings show that women are rated significantly lower as they age from younger to middle age, with their lowest teaching ratings emerging at age 47. Men do not experience this drop in ratings.”

That gender bias impacts student ratings of instruction is hardly news: much research to this effect already exists. Just a few some examples: a 2014 paper found that students in online classes rated a female teaching assistant more highly when they thought she was a man and a male instructor lower when he assumed a female identity; a 2016 paper found that bias against female instructors was so strong that it impacted students’ perceptions of even seemingly objective measures, such as how quickly assignments are graded; and a 2021 metastudy of more than 100 papers on student evaluations found that while bias levels vary across disciplines, students seem to prefer professors with stereotypically masculine traits but penalize women for not conforming to female stereotypes.

5) Alisdair Munro with a nice piece on how to interpret 95% confidence in statistics:

The 95% CI is one of the most misunderstood results in statistics, and one of the main reasons for this is it is usually taught wrong.

The common understanding of a 95% confidence interval is that there is a 95% chance the true result lies within that range. Let me begin by saying this is false.

However, most explanations of why it is false are unintuitive, and sometimes seem like fastidious and irrelevant technicalities. That is a shame, because in my opinion there is an intuitive way of explaining why this is false, and why it is important to understand it is false…

If some of this has made your head hurt, don’t worry. The specific nuts and bolts are not too important as long as you can take away the following important points

  • In the long run under multiple repetitions, 95% of 95% CIs will contain the true effect

  • The subjective probability of a particular 95% CI containing the true result is not automatically 95%, as it is influenced by what you already knew to be true before the experiment

  • A 95% CI is providing a range of results which are most compatible with the data you observed in the experiment, and is an important indicator of uncertainty around the point estimate

6) Somehow, I never came across this really nice political science piece on originalism.  BB pointed it out to me:

The Republican Party has adopted constitutional “originalism” as its touchstone. Existing accounts of this development tell either a teleological story, with legal academics as the progenitors, or deracialized accounts of conservatives arguing first principles. Exploiting untapped archival data, this paper argues otherwise. Empirically, the paper shows that the realigning GOP’s originalism grew directly out of political resistance to Brown v. Board of Education by conservative governing elites, intellectuals, and activists in the 1950s and 1960s. Building on this updated empirical understanding, the theoretical claim is that ideologically charged elite legal academics and attorneys in Departments of Justice serve more of a legitimating rather than an originating role for American constitutional politics upon a long coalition’s electoral success. Finally, by showing the importance of race to constitutional conservatism’s development, this article posits that the received understanding of a “three-corner stool” of social, economic, and foreign policy conservatism needs revision.

7) Really loved this Athletic piece on elite soccer goalkeeping in the World Cup in the little things that make a big difference. 

8) Some good political science here:

Gender gaps have been documented in numerous areas of American politics, but one area that has not yet been fully explored is responsiveness, the link between citizen preferences and public policies. Equal responsiveness to the preferences of citizens is a central aspect of democratic representation. This article extends work on income gaps in responsiveness to gender gaps. Specifically, it considers whether women’s preferences are less likely than men’s preferences to be adopted as policy in the US. It uses data on preferences and policy adoptions from 1981 to 2002 created by Gilens. The main finding is a large gender gap in responsiveness. The gap is similar in size to the one between rich and poor, it is particularly large in policies related to the use of force, and it did not narrow over the two decades studied. These results show that inequalities beyond social class deserve significant attention in the study of democratic responsiveness and that aspects of bias against women in politics remain underexplored.

9) Nice post-mortem on midterm polling and media coverage of it in Vox. 

In the months leading up to the midterms, many pundits and politicians thought that Republicans had momentum enough for big gains at the state and federal levels, enough to count as a “red wave.” But veteran Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg is one of a few voices in Washington who, despite President Joe Biden’s sagging approval ratings and polls that showed Democrats playing defense on inflation, remained optimistic about the party’s prospects and who was ultimately vindicated by a strong performance.

Rosenberg — who has previously advised the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and is the president of the progressive think tank NDN — says he’s not in the business of predictions. But he thought that the available data consistently pointed to a competitive election, and he became a self-described “info warrior” on Twitter trying to convince the pundit class of that. He believes that, unlike in 2016 and 2020 when polling failed to register Trump’s strength as a candidate, this time around, it was the media analyzing the polls who got it wrong.

“There was a massive media failure this cycle,” he said. “The failure that just took place is more grave than the polling error [in 2020] because there were a lot of really smart people who basically misled tens of millions of people through their political commentary in the final few weeks.”

It’s hard to know whether there was a practical effect of the doom-and-gloom stories about Democrats in the months before the election — whether it suppressed turnout by demoralizing voters or motivated them to show up because they feared what would happen if they didn’t. But even if any negative effect was small, that might have made a big impact.

“My own view is that it probably net cost us. It could have cost us the House,” Rosenberg said.

Here’s what he thinks went wrong…

Polls were misinterpreted

When the polling averages narrowed in the fall, it was partially because partisan polls commissioned by Republican organizations were bringing them down for Democrats. Rosenberg was one of the first to identify the phenomenon, which he described as an “unprecedented campaign by Republicans to flood the polling averages in the final month to create this impression of the red wave.”

If you were looking at polling averages that included Republican polls, “you were looking at a completely different election than we were looking at,” he added.

When Rosenberg stripped out the partisan polling, he foresaw an election in which New Hampshire, Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania were leaning Democrat, Nevada was too close to call, and Ohio, North Carolina, and Wisconsin were leaning a little Republican. That’s consistent with what actually transpired.

It’s not clear whether the onslaught of partisan polls represented a deliberate attempt by Republicans to change the narrative of the election and dampen Democratic enthusiasm. But it may have had an outsized effect on the averages this year because of a lack of public independent polling. As Politico pointed out, big players like NBC News didn’t commission any state midterm polls this year, and the New York Times only did so in four individual House races and five states — far fewer than the number they’ve previously commissioned.

The media was also too reliant on issue polling, which can be misleading if you’re just looking at the aggregate numbers across parties, Rosenberg said. Crime and immigration were among voters’ top issues overall because they are high-priority issues for Republicans. But if Democrats were trying to turn out their own voters, they needed to focus on the issues that matter to them.

In general, it’s also hard to parse issue polling. Voters may say that they care a lot about a whole range of issues, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any one of them will impact their decision to vote for a particular candidate or to vote at all.

“This reliance on the most important issue among all voters was playing into Republican talking points,” Rosenberg said.

10) I honestly don’t try all that hard with gifts any more, but this is great advice. Definitely resonates with the best gifts I have given and received. “How to become a truly excellent gift giver: A great present should have at least one of these three qualities. Here’s what they are.”

Because creativity thrives with constraints, Cerulo offered the following three-point framework for thinking about gift-giving: “Can I introduce someone to something they might not otherwise know about? Can I get them a nicer version of something than they would buy for themselves? Or can I make them feel seen?” If you can check one of those three boxes, you’ve probably got a good present on your hands.

11) Interesting stuff here, “The Evolution of ADHD: The advantages of wandering attention.”

  • Psychologists have long debated whether ADHD is a deficit or a distinct cognitive style.
  • A recent review of the evidence suggests that ADHD traits might have helped early humans.
  • This evidence should prompt us to consider how we can change our educational systems to benefit, rather than hinder, this cognitive style.

12) I gotta say, it’s just depressing to me how awful so many men in women sports still routinely are.  I mean, we have come so far and in many ways seems so advanced and enlightened.  But it’s just awful to read about how bad things still are in elite women’s soccer. “As women’s soccer undergoes a historic shift toward gender equity, elite girls’ soccer is still largely controlled by men. The results, women say, are toxic for coaches and players alike.”

American women’s ­professional soccer is in the midst of a cultural sea-change, including an influx of female coaches and team owners and a push toward equity and workplace safety. But for female coaches, elite youth soccer remains male-dominated, with a culture that often veers into sexism, discrimination and even harassment, according to interviews with two dozen current and former coaches at clubs that play in the Elites Club National League, the pinnacle of girls’ soccer in the United States…

But men control ECNL soccer at nearly every level, from executives to club owners to boards and oversight organizations, according to interviews and a review by The Post of coaching rosters and public filings from across the 129 girls’ clubs in the league. Nearly 90 percent of coaching directors at ECNL clubs are men, The Post found. At many of the country’s most successful clubs, there is not a single woman in coaching leadership…

The women’s allegations mirror some of the conclusions of an investigation into the sport released last month by former acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates, who found that the toxic culture of the National Women’s Soccer League “appears rooted” in the youth soccer system, where many NWSL coaches accused of abuse last year also got their start.

“Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players,” Yates wrote.

13) Jerome Adams, the surgeon general under Trump, is a pretty fascinating story.  Definitely not a true Trumpist, but everything about him has been poisoned by the association.  Including his attempt to spread the word on melanoma prevention, which his wife has been suffering from.  

Former surgeon general Jerome Adams and his wife, Lacey, often find themselves talking about what they have named the “Trump Effect.”

It followed them from Washington to their home in the Indianapolis suburbs. They felt it when he was exploring jobs in academia, where he would receive polite rejections from university officials who worried that someone who served in the administration of the former president would be badly received by their left-leaning student bodies. They felt it when corporations decided he was too tainted to employ.

Now, two years after Adams left office as only the 20th surgeon general in U.S. history, the couple feel it as acutely as ever. As Donald Trump announced this month that he will run for president again, they had hoped it all would have faded away by now.

They would rather talk about public health, in a very personal way. This summer, Lacey Adams was diagnosed with a third recurrence of melanoma. Both Adamses have been sharing her experiences on social media and in public appearances, hoping to spread a message about skin-cancer prevention. But the stigma of his association with Trump, even though neither of them is a supporter of his political campaign, remains.

14) Love this. “The Opposite of Schadenfreude Is Freudenfreude. Here’s How to Cultivate It.
The joy we derive from others’ success comes with many benefits.”  I’m sure I need to get better at it, but, for sure I know that the people I most appreciate are those who I can tell generally do take pleasure in my successes. 

Finding pleasure in another person’s good fortune is what social scientists call “freudenfreude,” a term (inspired by the German word for “joy”) that describes the bliss we feel when someone else succeeds, even if it doesn’t directly involve us. Freudenfreude is like social glue, said Catherine Chambliss, a professor of psychology at Ursinus College. It makes relationships “more intimate and enjoyable.”

Erika Weisz, an empathy researcher and postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Harvard University, said the feeling closely resembles positive empathy — the ability to experience someone else’s positive emotions. A small 2021 study examined positive empathy’s role in daily life and found that it propelled kind acts, like helping others.Sharing in someone else’s joy can also foster resilience, improve life satisfaction and help people cooperate during a conflict…

While the benefits of freudenfreude are plentiful, it doesn’t always come easily. In zero-sum situations, your loss might really sting, making freudenfreude feel out of reach. If you were raised in a family that paired winning with self-worth, Dr. Chambliss said, you might misread someone else’s victory as a personal shortcoming. And factors like mental health and overall well-being can also affect your ability to participate in someone else’s joy. Still, indulging in freudenfreude is worthwhile — and there are ways to encourage the feeling.

15) We suck at this.  And, as in the case of most all such things, it is not some complicated demographic or cultural factors– it is policy choices. “The Exceptionally American Problem of Rising Roadway Deaths: Why other rich nations have surpassed the U.S. in protecting pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.”

About a thousand people gathered on a bright morning on the National Mall the Saturday before Thanksgiving for what has become an American tradition: mourning a roadway fatality. With the Capitol in the background and the tune of an ice cream truck looping nearby, the crowd had assembled to remember Sarah Debbink Langenkamp, who was biking home from her sons’ elementary school when she was crushed by a semi truck.

Ms. Langenkamp was, improbably, the third foreign service officer at the State Department to die while walking or biking in the Washington area this year. She was killed in August in suburban Bethesda, Md. Another died in July while biking in Foggy Bottom. The third, a retired foreign service officer working on contract, was walking near the agency’s headquarters in August. That is more foreign service officers killed by vehicles at home than have died overseas this year, noted Dan Langenkamp, Ms. Langenkamp’s husband and a foreign service officer himself.

“It’s infuriating to me as a U.S. diplomat,” he told the rally in her honor, “to be a person that goes around the world bragging about our record, trying to get people to think like us — to know that we are such failures on this issue.”

That assessment has become increasingly true. The U.S. has diverged over the past decade from other comparably developed countries, where traffic fatalities have been falling. This American exception became even starker during the pandemic. In 2020, as car travel plummeted around the world, traffic fatalities broadly fell as well. But in the U.S., the opposite happened. Travel declined, and deaths still went up. Preliminary federal data suggests road fatalities rose again in 2021.

Safety advocates and government officials lament that so many deaths are often tolerated in America as an unavoidable cost of mass mobility. But periodically, the illogic of that toll becomes clearer: Americans die in rising numbers even when they drive less. They die in rising numbers even as roads around the world grow safer. American foreign service officers leave war zones, only to die on roads around the nation’s capital.

In 2021, nearly 43,000 people died on American roads, the government estimates. And the recent rise in fatalities has been particularly pronounced among those the government classifies as most vulnerable — cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians.

Much of the familiar explanation for America’s road safety record lies with a transportation system primarily designed to move cars quickly, not to move people safely.

“Motor vehicles are first, highways are first, and everything else is an afterthought,” said Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.

 

(Return of) quick hits

1) This is feeling dated (and I meant to give it it’s own post), but Jeff Maurer’s take on Democrats and inflation is literally the best I’ve read:

The thing Democrats did that actually matters — that’s influencing inflation more than a microscopic amount — is the American Rescue Plan. This was the third round of Covid stimulus, passed shortly after Biden took office; it was the $1.9 trillion bill that included $1,400 checks to Americans who make less than $75,000. Hilariously, one of the political benefits of the bill was supposed to be that Democrats could brag about those checks when election season rolled around. And now election season is here, and the checks are featured as prominently in Democratic rhetoric as Song of the South is in Disney’s promotional materials.

But it’s important to remember what the economy looked like when the American Rescue Plan passed. Covid slammed the American economy in a way that’s unprecedented in our lifetime (unless you’re really, really old). 2020 was the worst year for economic growth since the Great Depression; unemployment spiked at about 150% of what it was at the peak of the Great Recession. The term of art economists us for this type of economy is “shitty as all fuck”. Here’s how things looked in context:…

In early 2021, the economy was shrinking, unemployment was high…this is very bad stuff. And, in a way, it’s not too surprising that an attempt to drive down unemployment led to inflation.

Broadly speaking, there’s an inverse relationship between unemployment and inflation. It’s a bit like being good at magic and having friends; if one metric is high, then the other will almost certainly be low. That’s is why the Federal Reserve — and to a lesser extent Congress — is constantly trying to strike a balance between unemployment and inflation. When one metric gets too high, the government makes changes to (hopefully) bring that number down. And that often works, but usually at the cost of giving us more of the other thing. This is just more evidence that everything is complex and that simple solutions don’t exist on Planet Earth, which is one of my most firmly held beliefs.

Personally, I fear unemployment more than inflation. Both are very bad; I just think that unemployment is typically worse. Unemployment throws families into crisis; it can lead to crushing debt and/or uprooted lives (I’ve lived this and it blows). Inflation also sucks — it hits everyone in the economy, including those on a tight budget — but in many cases it amounts to an annoyance more than a catastrophe. The exception to this rule would hyperinflation, but nothing the US is experiencing is anything close to hyperinflation. Hyperinflation gets insane; in Hungary after World War II, prices doubled every 15 hours. Run the numbers on that: At that rate, it takes about nine days for a can of soup to cost as much as a brand new Tesla (that’s not a joke!)…

What did we get in exchange for those two percentage points of inflation? Well, as you might expect, we got faster economic growth and lower unemployment. Contrary to stereotypes about European governments throwing money from helicopters while American capitalists cackle at poor people starving in the streets, virtually no European governments passed a stimulus as aggressive as the American Rescue Plan. So, just as it shouldn’t be surprising that we have slightly higher demand-side inflation than our rich-country peers, it also shouldn’t be surprising that we have relatively low unemployment and high economic growth.

2) Good stuff from Ruy Teixeira, “Democrats’ Long Goodbye to the Working Class”

3) Will Saletan, “The Data Have Spoken: Abortion Was a Decisive Issue in the 2022 Midterms”

Like the exit poll, VoteCast found that about 60 percent of the electorate—63 percent, in the VoteCast sample—said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. But unlike the exit poll, it directly measured the effect of Dobbs. In the VoteCast survey, pro-choice voters (those who said abortion should be legal in all or most cases) were far more likely than pro-life voters (those who said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases) to say that the overturn of Roe had a “major impact” on which candidates they voted for. The gap was more than 20 points: 55 percent of pro-choicers said Dobbs was a major factor, compared to 32 percent of pro-lifers. When analyzed by party, the gap was more than 30 points: 65 percent of Democrats said Dobbs was a major factor, compared to 32 percent of Republicans…

But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. Dobbs didn’t just influence which candidates people voted for. It also influenced whether they showed up at the polls at all—and this provided a crucial boost to pro-choice candidates. In the VoteCast survey, pro-choice voters were twice as likely as pro-life voters (48 percent to 23 percent) to say Dobbs had a major impact on their “decision whether to vote” in the election. In partisan terms, the gap was even bigger: 57 percent of Democrats, compared to 23 percent of Republicans, said Dobbs had a major impact on their decision about whether to vote.

4) And Jonathan Weiler, “

It’s only one cut at thinking about the issue, but whatever ambivalence exists in American public opinion broadly about abortion, the anti-abortion extremism that the end of Roe has unleashed is far removed from the mainstream of American public opinion. As an aside, I’ve written before about the difference between operational and symbolic ideology – people’s preferences on specific issues versus their party loyalties, roughly speaking. Consistently, in red, purple and blue states, when given the opportunity to vote directly on policy in ballot measures, majorities favor raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid and, clearly now, protecting abortion rights. This has not, so far, translated clearly into greater support for Democratic officeholders among up-for-grabs voters.

5) The leap second’s time has come to an end!  Nice explanation in the NYT:

If the resolution passes [it passed], it would sever the timekeeping of atoms from the timekeeping of the heavens, probably for generations to come. The change would be indiscernible for most of us, in practical terms. (It would take a few thousand years for atomic time to diverge as much as an hour from Earth time.)

But the second is a huge amount of time in the technology of the internet. Cellphone transmissions, power grids and computer networks are synchronized to minuscule fractions of a second. High-frequency traders in financial markets execute orders in thousandths and even billionths of a second. By international law, data packages related to these financial transactions must be time-stamped to that fine level of precision, recorded and made traceable back to Coordinated Universal Time, the universally agreed-upon standard managed by the timekeepers at the B.I.P.M.

Every additional leap second introduces the risk of confusion: that some digital networks won’t implement the change correctly, won’t know precisely what time it is with regard to the other systems, and will fail to synchronize properly. The leap second is a dollop of potential chaos in a soufflé that demands precision.

For that reason, discarding the leap second has wide support from nations across the world, including the United States. The result of the vote is not a foregone conclusion, however. The fate of the leap second has long been the stuff of high diplomatic drama, designated one of just four “hot topics” at the B.I.P.M. Getting Resolution D on the agenda has involved more than two decades of study, negotiation and compromise to resolve the issue.

“It should have happened 20 years ago, and if not for political maneuvering, it probably would have happened 20 years ago,” said Judah Levine, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, in Boulder, Colo. He is co-chair with Dr. Tavella of the B.I.P.M. committee that discusses hot topics, and he helped draft the resolution.

6) Maybe trees aren’t talking to each other so much after all?

But as the wood-wide web has gained fame, it has also inspired a backlash among scientists. In a recent review of published research, Dr. Karst, Dr. Hoeksema and Melanie Jones, a biologist at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, found little evidence that shared fungal networks help trees to communicate, swap resources or thrive. Indeed, the trio said, scientists have yet to show that these webs are widespread or ecologically significant in forests.

7) Always good to read Sean Trende’s post-election takes.  Though I think he tries too hard to underplay the role of abortion.

So what does work? There are three parts to the explanation, none of which are mutually exclusive. 

1) The first is simply that candidates do matter. In the past decade, and especially after Trump’s win in 2016, it has become fashionable among pundits (including myself) to wave away candidate issues. This cycle, though, candidate quality seems to have made a comeback. This fits the data nicely: Vance running behind DeWine (who was seen as governing in a more bipartisan manner than perhaps he deserved); Walker running behind Kemp; Masters running behind Lake. In the House there were scores of candidates who lost in swing districts that they probably should have won, and as you list the names you start to see why: Joe Kent, J.R. Majewski, Karoline Leavitt, Vega, and so forth. Even Lauren Boebert came remarkably close to losing.  

That many of these candidates were concentrated in swing seats didn’t help the Republicans’ cause, while better Republican candidates in bluer seats didn’t quite get the push they needed. You can see this in Virginia, where 10th District Republican Hung Cao – an outstanding candidate – lost by just six points in a district Biden won by almost 20 points, while Vega lost by a similar margin in a district Biden won by half that margin…

The other issue is that Republicans may be suffering a representational penalty in rural areas similar to the penalty Democrats have suffered in urban districts. That is to say, the GOP puts up stunning vote percentages in rural America, margins that would not have been deemed possible a decade ago, to say nothing of three decades ago. But this means that a large number of those votes are effectively wasted. As the suburbs become more competitive for Democrats and the cities become somewhat less competitive (but not enough to lose seats) as minority vote percentage moves, Democrats lose the penalty they’ve suffered for running up overwhelming vote shares in urban districts in the past. 

8) And Tom Edsall with a whole bunch of political science takes.

9) Great stuff from Nate Cohn, “Trump’s Drag on Republicans Quantified: A Five-Point Penalty”

Donald J. Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that he would run for president in 2024 came at an especially awkward time for Republicans. They were supposed to dominate the midterm elections — but fell well short.

Mr. Trump appears to be a significant reason for that showing, based on an analysis of the results by House district.

His preferred candidates underperformed last week, helping Democrats hold the Senate and helping keep the race for House control close. (Republicans, who had been heavy favorites, are expected to prevail narrowly as mail ballots continue to be counted in California.)

Overall, his preferred primary candidates underperformed other G.O.P. candidates by about five percentage points…

With the benefit of the final results, we can gauge how well the MAGA candidates fared compared with other Republicans. The five-point penalty measure controls for how the district voted in 2020 and whether the district was an open seat or held by a Democratic or Republican incumbent.

Here’s another way to think about it: Non-MAGA Republicans in 2022 ran six points better than Mr. Trump did in 2020; the MAGA Republicans barely fared better than him at all.

10) Ed Luce on the midterms:

Mounk: When you look at election deniers running in the midterms, a lot of them got elected, right? When they ran in safe districts in deep red states, many of them did win elections. But when they were in purple states, they often lost. It feels like one of the lessons of this election is that Trump has superfans—he always had, and he will for a long time—but that even among traditional Republican voters, there are a lot of people who feel, “This is enough.”

Luce: Independents swung very much in that direction. They were very discriminating between the types of Republican candidates. Tim Michels, the Republican gubernatorial candidate for Wisconsin, notoriously said two weeks ago that if he won the governorship of Wisconsin, Republicans would never lose an election there again. And it was very clear what he meant by that: there will be a supermajority in the Wisconsin legislature, and he would change the election rules to such a degree that Democrats would be made into a minority party. But he lost very comprehensively. Meanwhile, Don Bolduc, a former army guy in the mold of Mike Flynn, and very Trumpian—he lost very, very convincingly to Senator Hassan in New Hampshire. Pennsylvania, where Trump invested most of his time in terms of the rallies that he attended, was a wipeout for Trumpian candidates: Dr. Oz for the Senate, Doug Mastriano for the governorship. And it’s looking more likely than not that Kari Lake, the Arizona gubernatorial candidate, will probably lose for similar reasons. 

11) And, of course, always read David Shor’s post-election takes.

What’s your nutshell summary of what happened in this midterm and why?
I want to preface by noting that it’s extremely early. But I’d say that the No. 1 most salient fact about this election is that Republican turnout was very strong relative to Democratic turnout. You can see this in a host of different data sources. Whether you’re looking at administrative data on early voting, or the AP VoteCast exit poll, or ecological regressions off of the county level results, it’s just really clear. It’s hard to get an exact number. But, back of the envelope, it looks like the electorate was about 2 percent more Republican than it was in 2020. Republicans literally outnumbered Democrats, according to the AP’s VoteCast. And yet Democrats still won.

And they won for a few reasons. First, Democrats won independent voters, which may be the first time that a party that controlled the presidency has won independents in a midterm since 2002. Second, they got a lot of self-identified Republicans to vote for them. And third, they did those things especially well in close races. The party’s overall share of the national vote is actually going to look fairly bad. It looks like we got roughly 48 percent of the vote. But that’s because Democratic incumbents in safe seats did much worse than those in close races.

In districts that the Cook Political Report rated as “likely” or “solid” or “safe” for the Democratic incumbent, Democrats’ share of the vote declined by 2.5 percent relative to 2020. In districts that were rated as “toss ups” or “lean Democratic,” however, our party’s vote share went down by only 0.4 percent compared to 2020.

I think that tells us a couple of things. It suggests that Democrats did a good job with resource allocation; we spent in the right races. But it also illustrates the power of message discipline. Democrats in competitive districts aired more ads than Democrats in safe ones. And they also were much more careful about which messages they amplified with those ads and which issues they chose to embrace.

12) Encouraging for cat people, “Your Cat Might Not Be Ignoring You When You Speak: Cats have a reputation for being aloof, but a new study has found that their relationships with their owners may be stronger than we thought.”

A study by French researchers that was published last month in the journal Animal Cognition found that not only do cats react to what scientists call cat-directed speech — a high-pitched voice similar to how we talk to babies — they react to who is doing the talking.

“We found that when cats heard their owners using a high-pitched voice, they reacted more than when they heard their owner speaking normally to another human adult,” said Charlotte de Mouzon, an author of the study and cat behavior expert at the Université Paris Nanterre. “But what was very surprising in our results was that it actually didn’t work when it came from a stranger’s voice.”

Unlike with dogs, cat behavior is difficult to study, which is part of why humans understand them less. Cats are often so stressed by being in a lab that meaningful behavioral observations become impossible. And forget about trying to get a cat to sit still for an M.R.I. scan to study its brain function.

13) This “God chose Rick DeSantis” ad is insane.  You have to see it to believe it.

14) The tide is turning.  NYT with a balanced, well-reasoned dive into puberty blockers and their potential harms.  This does not mean they should never be used, but it’s past time for mainstream media to run stories like this rather than be cowed by the twitter zealots who will yell “you’re literally killing trans kids!” every time a story like this runs.  This is an important story, so gift link it is. 

15) John McWhorter makes a compelling case that we should be more judicious with the use of “racism

“Systemic bigotry.”

“Institutional prejudice.”

Notice how those terms don’t really work? They challenge our mental processing, in part because systems can’t be bigots and institutions can’t be prejudiced.

And so I offer a modest proposal, but an earnest one. How about revising our terms for “systemic racism,” “structural racism” and “institutional racism”?

The problem with these phrases is that systems, structures and institutions cannot be racist any more than they can be happy or sad. They can be made up of individuals who share these traits, or even have procedures that may engender them. But systems, structures and institutions do not themselves have feelings or prejudices.

Yes, of course, we use these terms in a more abstract way: The idea is that the inequities between races that systems can harbor are themselves racist. They are a different form of racism than personal bias.

But we must learn this usage of racism in the same way that we learn we aren’t supposed to say “Tom and me talked”as opposed to “Tom and I talked.” It is a hallmark of the modern enlightened American to understand that systems can “be racist.” But deep down I suspect many cannot help but ask, if only in flashlight-under-the-pillow style: Isn’t bias different from inequality, and why are we using one word to refer to both?

Calling for people to stop saying this or that almost never has any real effect, and overall, linguists like me delight in the changes we hear around us. Plus, things people decry as confusing in language usually are not. Context is key: You probably have no problem with the fact that a rabbit can run “fast,” but that in the idiom “stuck fast” the word suddenly means the opposite.

But the terms “systemic racism,” “structural racism” and “institutional racism” can be seen as different in that they sow a kind of confusion — just as “sanction” meaning both to approve and to penalize does, especially among lawyers, from what I am told. We are to understand a pathway running through, first, racism as bias, then bias causing inequalities and thus leaving in its wake a different rendition of “racism.” But in actuality, using this word enables an attitude that can be less than constructive.

I once had a conversation with a Black woman who lived near a school in a mostly Black, low-income neighborhood whose students were almost all kids of other races from other neighborhoods. The school required a certain test score for admission. The woman referred to the school as “straight-up racist” in that almost no kids from the neighborhood attended it.

But this is a highly stretched usage of the word. The low number of Black kids in that school is something we need to fix. But it is probably safe to say that no one in the school would disagree — the reason for the low numbers is not anyone’s bigotry. Now, the reason is indeed legacies of what bigotry created in the past: poverty and its effects, parents who work too hard to have as much time to help their kids with schoolwork as others do, lack of inherited wealth to allay that problem, and so on.

16) David French, “The Hidden Way That Election Denial Hurt Republicans”

But that’s not the whole story. There’s an additional cost to Republican election denial—if the party doesn’t believe it lost, it won’t change its message or its messengers. Or, as I said on Twitter yesterday, “One of the consequences of election denial was MAGA’s simple refusal to understand the will of the voters.”

To understand the psychology of the GOP, one has to understand the core narrative of Trumpism. Before Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton, MAGA says, the GOP was a party of losers. It lost to Obama in 2008, it lost again in 2012, and it would have lost to Clinton in 2016 but for Trump. Establishment conservatives, according to this narrative, hadn’t “conserved” anything. Only Trump could save the republic.

The narrative never made sense. The Republican Party won control of the House and the Senate in the Obama era. It gained hundreds of state House seats. It controlled a majority of state governments. Yes, Trump won in 2016, but by the narrowest of margins. He beat an unpopular Democrat, but with a lower percentage of the popular vote than Mitt Romney’s.

Trump claimed a majority. He claimed a mandate. He had neither…

The 2020 election, however, was a different story entirely. Biden won more electoral votes than Trump won in 2016. He beat Trump by more than 7 million popular votes.

That should have been the Republican wake-up call. Trump lost the White House, Republicans lost the Senate, and even the reliably red Arizona and Georgia turned blue. There it was, the worst electoral performance by either party since Hoover’s decisive loss in 1932.

But no. It’s not a true defeat if the election was stolen. If the election was stolen, the MAGA movement doesn’t have to abandon its triumphalism. If the election was stolen, the MAGA movement doesn’t have to alter its ethos. The answer to stolen elections is electoral reform, not different kinds of candidates. So the Trumpist faction of the Republican Party felt free to cling to Trump, double down on Trump endorsements, and ride the Trump Train once again.

17) Okay, now I’m back on I will take Paxlovid when I finally get Covid, “Paxlovid May Reduce Risk of Long Covid in Eligible Patients, Study Finds”

18) Went to the Duke basketball game last night with my son (fun!) and spent some time trying to explain the new NIL rules in college athletics and thought immediately of this, “New Endorsements for College Athletes Resurface an Old Concern: Sex Sells: Female college athletes are making millions thanks to their large social media followings. But some who have fought for equity in women’s sports worry that their brand building is regressive.”

I support college athletes reaping the financial benefits of their NIL.  But, I really don’t love to see female athletes being rewarded for being sex objects rather than great athletes. 

19) Joshua March with a guest post for Noah Smith on the promise of cultivated meat.  I think he undersells just how good Beyond and Impossible can be, but I would love it if this technology could really take off and become cost competitive.  

Why Do Meat Alternatives Even Matter?

 

Conventional meat has a dirty little secret: it is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. According to the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, emissions from livestock account for a startling 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (compared to just 3.5% for aviation). And while energy production is rapidly making a transition to renewables, conventional meat consumption is only increasing (as the world’s population gets wealthier, people eat more meat)—and with it, the associated greenhouse gas emissions. Even if all energy production switched to 100% renewable power today the emissions from animal agriculture alone would still push us past the 2 degree celsius warming threshold.

Beef is by far the worst culprit, with cattle responsible for a whopping 65% of all livestock emissions. That’s because beef is the least efficient of all meats in terms of calories in to calories out (as low as 3% according to some recent studies). Beef is also responsible for a staggering amount of methane emissions (a greenhouse gas 30x more potent than CO2) and for a huge amount of land use change as trees are cut down to make way for either pasture land or to grow crops for animal feed—in fact, 80% of all rainforest deforestation is related to the cattle industry in some way. 

This information isn’t news—we’ve known about the impact of beef for decades. But unfortunately trying to reason people into eating less meat just hasn’t been working. If you want proof, look no further than the fact that the percentage of vegans and vegetarians in the US population hasn’t really changed  since the 1970’s (it’s around 5%). The bottom line is that people like eating meat. Even if they philosophically agree that eating less meat is better, when it comes down to it they still reach for that conventional beef burger.

Meat alternatives offer a more effective strategy than reason alone. Instead of arguing for an end to conventional meat consumption, why not figure out a way to make meat without the problems? Any wide-scale decrease in conventional beef consumption we can accomplish is worth it because of the major impact on climate change, and our ability to prevent the most catastrophic outcomes. And that’s even before you consider all the other problems with intensive factory farming. 

20) Sorry for the lack of quick hits last week, by the way.  Was having a super-fun time in Charleston, SC with some of my kids and my sister (and brother-in-law) who live there.

[Bonus points if you can identify the origins of the logo on my older son’s shirt]

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Eric Levitz on Republican hostage-taking on the debt:

Unfortunately, the debt ceiling provides the GOP with a hostage. This means the second half of Biden’s first term may look a lot like a throwback to the Obama era, when a Republican-controlled Congress would repeatedly torment the Democratic administration with threats to blow up the global economy in exchange for austerity. Alarmingly, Biden appears to have learned little from those manufactured crises. On October 21, the president ruled out the one tool that Democrats could use to preempt Republican brinksmanship.

In most developed countries, the budgetary process goes roughly like this: The legislature passes laws that authorize spending and taxation and then the government borrows money to cover the gap between the two. The U.S. follows a similar procedure except it includes an additional step. After Congress has approved deficit-increasing budgets, it must vote on whether it will allow the Treasury to borrow the necessary funds. This is because there is a statutory limit on how much debt the government is allowed to hold. Congress must raise this “debt ceiling” whenever the budgets it has already authorized generate debt in excess of the limit.

Raising the debt ceiling does not increase the amount of money the government owes its bondholders. It just prevents the government from having to default on either its debt or its obligations to U.S. service members, Social Security recipients, Medicaid enrollees, and the myriad other beneficiaries of federal spending.

In other words, the debt ceiling is an insane institution. Failing to raise it to a level consistent with Congress’s fiscal demands presents the executive branch with an impossible order: It is simultaneously instructed by Congress to borrow more and forbidden from doing so…

In light of all this, Democrats should do two things.

First, the party should inform voters that the GOP’s plan for lowering inflation is to cut America’s most popular government programs or else engineer a global depression. Attacking the GOP’s plan to reduce inflation at the expense of America’s seniors allows Democrats to increase the relevance of an issue on which it enjoys an advantage (protecting Medicare and Social Security) while addressing voters’ top concern.

Second, and most important, Democrats must effectively abolish the debt ceiling. Assuming Republicans win the House in November, the new majority won’t take the reins until January 2023. Between Election Day and then, Democrats will have the opportunity to use the reconciliation process to pass a budget bill without needing to overcome a Senate filibuster (and thus without needing Republican votes). Due to Senate rules, such a bill couldn’t technically abolish the debt limit, but it could effectively do so by raising the debt ceiling to, say, a googolplex of dollars. Better to kill the debt ceiling before Republicans can use it to take the world hostage.

But no such bill can pass without Biden’s support, and he told reporters that abolishing the debt limit would be “irresponsible.” In so doing, he affirmed the GOP’s fiction about what raising the debt ceiling actually means, while leaving the economy at its mercy. If the Republican Party’s commitment to brinksmanship threatens to upend the global financial system, the president’s nostalgic attachment to congressional conventions threatens to do the same.

I’d like to think Biden isn’t really this dumb and just didn’t want to give the Republicans another economic talking point before the election.  Because, if Democrats don’t actually essentially eliminate the debt ceiling, that’s just profound political malpractice.

2) Couldn’t agree more with this Melinda Wenner Moyer post, “Why I Won’t Teach My Son Chivalry”

I know this post is going to ruffle some feathers. So first, I want to point out that I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach our kids to be generous or helpful. It’s great to teach kids to hold the door for others! It’s important to teach kids to offer a helping hand when someone is struggling! But I firmly believe we should not be teaching boys to do this specifically for girls,and especially not to be doing it because they are girls. We should teach kids to come to the aid of others who need and want help, regardless of their gender — and not to make blanket assumptions about the kinds of people who need assistance and don’t. The notion that boys should go out of their way to help or protect girls promotes dangerous ideas, and, ultimately, dangerous behavior. (But if you have been teaching your kids chivalry, don’t fret! Just a slight tweak in framing turns chivalry into kindness towards all.)

Although chivalry is insidious — more on why in a minute — it’s very attractive. Among other things, it provides a simple code of conduct for young, typically heterosexual, people to follow when dealing with the opposite sex. “People are pretty desperate for a rulebook — ‘Okay, you want to get in a relationship, here’s how you do it,’” said Matt Hammond, a social psychologist at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand who studies prejudice and intimate relationships. Chivalry provides “hard and fast rules, which are super restrictive [but] are also very freeing in their restrictiveness, because they present a solution to complex problems.” (Speaking of restrictive rules: This post focuses on people who identify as either men or women and who are in heterosexual relationships, but of course, the world is much more complex than that. Still, chivalry does tend to thrive within these particular spheres.)…

But if you sit with the concept for a few minutes, and take a look at the research, you discover that chivalry is patronizing and based on misogynistic ideas. (In the research literature, chivalry is referred to as “benevolent sexism.”) The notion that men should care for and protect women inherently implies that women are weaker and less competent. It’s as if chivalrous guys think, “‘We love women. We love girls. But they’re also so helpless that we need to like make sure that they don’t hurt themselves while opening the door,’” said Andrei Cimpian, a psychologist at NYU who studies cognitive development, including how biases develop. “Sending the signal that girls need additional protection — while in the moment, it might be a nice thing for girls and they might feel good about it — it is ultimately undermining because the message is that you need extra help.”

Consciously, of course, many women and girls don’t interpret chivalry as sexist — and as I said, years ago, neither did I. This is another reason it’s become such a staple of our culture: It serves, at least initially, to keep women happy in their subordinate roles. If men were overtly misogynistic, many women wouldn’t tolerate them (I mean, one would hope?). Chivalry makes the existing gender power structure more palatable — it is what researchers have described as “the carrot dangled in front of women to motivate them to accept inequality” (whereas overt, hostile sexism is “the stick by which they are beaten when they do not”).

I’m not saying that chivalrous men are pretending to adore women in order to get females to tolerate them. Chivalry isn’t an act of willful manipulation. Many chivalrous men truly believe that what they’re doing is helpful and loving — I know lots of these guys and they mean well! — and many may be extremely offended by the argument that chivalry is rooted in sexism. (I can’t wait for all the hate mail I get in response to this post.) But we know from the research that men who support or engage in chivalrous behavior also tend to hold more overtly sexist beliefs deep down, even if they’re not consciously aware that they do. The two kinds of sexism — benevolent and hostile — typically go hand in hand. We also know that chivalry has negative consequences, even when men mean well.

3) OMG, Scott Alexander’s review of the Malleus Malificarum is soooo good:

I myself read the Malleus in search of a different type of wisdom. We think of witch hunts as a byword for irrationality, joking about strategies like “if she floats, she’s a witch; if she drowns, we’ll exonerate the corpse.” But this sort of snide superiority to the past has led us wrong before. We used to make fun of phlogiston, of “dormitive potencies”, of geocentric theory. All these are indeed false, but more sober historians have explained why each made sense at the time, replacing our caricatures of absurd irrationality with a picture of smart people genuinely trying their best in epistemically treacherous situations. Were the witch-hunters as bad as everyone says? Or are they in line for a similar exoneration? …

Question IX: Whether Witches May Work Some Prestidigitory Illusion So That The Male Organ Appears To Be Entirely Removed And Separate From The Body.

IE: can witches steal your penis?

It would seem that witches can steal your penis. After all, many people claim to have had their penis stolen by witches. The fifteenth-century peasants among whom Kramer went witch-hunting claimed this. And modern people claim it even today. Frank Bures’ The Geography Of Madness is a great book about recent penis-stealing-witch-related panics, which happened until the mid-20th century in Asia and still happen in Africa. For some reason, this is a classic concern across cultures and centuries.

But on the contrary side, God created the human body, and charged Man to be fruitful and multiply. So if the Devil could steal people’s penises it would seem that he must be more powerful than God, which is blasphemous.

Kramer answers that witches cannot steal men’s penises, but they can cast an illusion that causes it to look and feel like the penis has been stolen. Classic namby-pamby liberal centrist compromise! …

So what’s going on? Theory 1, Kramer made everything up. I don’t want to completely discount this. There must be at least one pathological liar in 15th century Europe, and surely that would be the kind of person who would write the world’s most shocking book on witches and start a centuries-long panic. Against this proposal, he sometimes names specific sources who a fact-checker could presumably go talk to, or specific court cases that living people must remember. I’ll stop here before we start retreading the usual arguments around the Gospels, etc.

Theory 2, Kramer is faithfully reporting a weird mass hallucination that had been going on long before he entered the picture. You can imagine a modern journalist interviewing UFO abductees or something. Some consistent rules might emerge – the spacecraft are always saucer-shaped, the aliens always have big eyes – but only because pre-existing legends have shaped the form of the hallucinations and lies. Then, unless he’s really careful, he unconsciously massages the data and adds an extra layer of consistency, until it everything makes total sense and seems incontrovertible.

I think 2 is basically right – again, I refer interested readers to Frank Boles’ study of penis-stealing-witch traditions around the world. Wherever there are superstitious people, there will be stories about witches, which will cohere into a consistent mythos. Add a legal system centered around getting people to confess under torture, and lots of people will confess. And since confessed witches were judged more repentant if they explained to the judge exactly what they did and maybe incriminated others, they’ll make up detailed stories about entire covens, and these stories will always match what their interlocutors expect to hear – ie the contours of the witch myth as it existed at the time…

So I think of Henry Kramer as basically a reasonable guy, a guy who expected the world to make sense, marooned in a century that hadn’t developed enough psychological sophistication for him to do anything other than shoot himself in the foot again and again.

This is how I think of myself too. As a psychiatrist, people are constantly asking me questions about schizophrenia, depression, chronic fatigue, chronic Lyme, chronic pain, gender dysphoria, trauma, brain fog, anorexia, and all the other things that the shiny diploma on my wall claims that I’m an expert in. In five hundred years, I think we’ll be a lot wiser and maybe have the concepts we need to deal with all of this. For now, I do my best with what I have. But I can’t shake the feeling that sometimes I’m doing harm (and doing nothing when I should do something is a kind of harm!)

They say the oldest and strongest fear is the fear of the unknown. I am not afraid of witches. But I am afraid of what they represent about the unknowability of the world. Somewhere out there, there still lurk pitfalls in our common-sensical and well-intentioned thought processes, maybe just as dark and dangerous as the ones that made Henry Kramer devote his life to eradicating a scourge that didn’t exist.

Happy Halloween!

4) I’ve been sleeping with variations of white noise for almost as long as I’ve been a parent.  It proved to be a godsend when our children were infants, and since we were in the same room with them we all got used to it and never stopped.  We have white noise machines in all the bedrooms.  I did know there were different “colors” of noise till a few years ago when I downloaded the Simply Noise app to use for white noise on my phone when I’m on the road (as my PS conference roommates can attest).  I was intrigued to discover the other colors, and “brown” noise is definitely the bomb.  And now here it is in the NYT (complete with interactive sounds).  Haven’t done a gift link in a while. “Can Brown Noise Turn Off Your Brain?”

5) I don’t know why The New Yorker would have a pretty scientific explainer on how metabolism works, but it’s pretty cool.  

6) Good stuff from Pew, “Parents Differ Sharply by Party Over What Their K-12 Children Should Learn in School”

Bar chart showing Republican and Democratic parents have widely different views of what their K-12 children should learn about certain topics in school

And check out the huge racial differences among Democrats on this graph below.  This matters.

Bar chart showing views on what children should learn about gender identity in school differ by gender among Republicans and by race and ethnicity among Democrats

7) It really is amazing how many fewer bugs are on my windshield on road trips these days.  It’s hardly an issue at all anymore and it used to be a big messy deal.  And this is probably not good. “Wait, why are there so few dead bugs on my windshield these days?”

Before we address possible causes of the “windshield phenomenon,” such as more aerodynamic cars, we should make one thing clear: It’s not a mass delusion or faulty collective memory. Windshield splats are valid ecological data, and they don’t bear good news…

From 1996 to 2017, insect splatters fell by 80 percent on one of the routes Moller regularly travels. On the other, longer stretch, they plunged 97 percent. Conventional measures show similar trends, and more recent observations have seen even sharper declines, Moller told us.

Experts say the lack of insect innards on our summer windshields is just one symptom of a broader decline in insect populations worldwide. But how much are insects declining? We’re not sure…

Many smart people we spoke with, including entomologists and wheat farmers, speculated that maybe the cars have changed, not the bugs. As vehicles become more aerodynamic, the thinking goes, their increasingly efficient airflow whisks the bugs away from the windshield instead of creating head-on splatters.

But when we called experts in the arcane art of computational fluid dynamics, they sounded skeptical. Yes, today’s sleek sedans can have half the drag of the land boats that ruled the road just a generation or two ago. But that improved airflow won’t do much for a bug.

8) Among my many concerns about the midterm elections is this, ‘Why Putin hopes for a GOP victory, as explained by a top Russia expert”

Greg Sargent: The guy likely to become House speaker is openly declaring that Republicans might not continue U.S. military aid to Ukraine. A number of House GOP and Senate candidates are also hostile to such aid. How seriously do you take this threat?

Timothy Snyder:I take it very seriously, because democracy around the world depends on Ukrainians winning this war. I also find it puzzling, because the Ukrainians are doing more for declared bipartisan American national security interests than any American foreign policy has done for decades.

By pinning down the Russian army and substantially weakening it, they are weakening China’s cat’s paw, which is Russia. By showing how difficult it is to carry out this kind of invasion, Ukraine is making the scenario for war with China — a Chinese invasion of Taiwan — much less likely.

A lot of Republicans genuinely support the Ukrainian cause and want the United States to help Ukraine prevail. But now we might see a genuine power struggle inside the GOP over whether the party will retreat from backing Ukraine.

I talk to quite a few Republicans who say and do exactly the right things regarding Ukraine. But an underlying source of the [power struggle] you mention is media. The guidelines for state-sponsored Russian propaganda television predict very well what Tucker Carlson says about Russia and Ukraine. Then Russian propagandists play clips of Tucker Carlson for their viewers.

So an awful lot of Americans and Republican voters are imbibing Russian propaganda tropes without knowing it.

It seems to me that the alignment of nontrivial swaths of the Republican Party with Vladimir Putin — we should try to understand this as potentially a serious geopolitical development.

We are actually on the verge of winning in Ukraine. We’re also on the verge of a tipping point back toward democratic institutions, and I don’t mean just in the West; I mean around the world. An awful lot hinges on Russia losing and Ukraine winning.

The tipping point can also go the other way. If the Ukrainians hadn’t fought — or if they had already lost — we would have already seen a tipping point where authoritarianism and Putin-style nihilism would be much more popular.

Right now, we have an opportunity for a positive tipping point. We could throw it all away if we do the wrong thing after November. Things could go either extremely well or extremely poorly.

9) Good (and free) stuff from Yglesias, ‘Getting back on track with the Latino vote: A decade of bad analysis built on a flawed analogy”

If you want some good takes on where things stand, I’d recommend this Pablo Manríquez article, as well as Miriam Jordan’s piece on racism in Latin America and in Latin-derived communities in the United States. I’d recommend Jay Caspian Kang on the difference between ethnic politics grounded in community solidarity and ideological anti-racism. And I really recommend “Reversion to the Mean, or Their Version of the Dream: An Analysis of the Latino Voting in 2020” by Bernard Fraga, Yamil Velez, and Emily West which concludes the rightward shift in the Hispanic vote may be permanent. I also recommend Ruy Teixeira’s article “Hispanic Voters are Normie Voters.”

This new conventional wisdom is, I think, completely correct — Americans of Latin American ancestry are a very diverse group with a range of ethnic backgrounds, issue positions, interests, etc.

This has always been personally salient because my grandfather was a Cuban-American leftist whose family came to the United States before the Cuban Revolution. He had very little in common politically with the mainstream Cuban-American community in the United States, which was dominated by anti-Castro emigrés. Which is just to say that even though everyone always knew the Cuban-American case was somewhat “special” in political terms, I knew that amongst Cuban-Americans, there were a lot of differences based on specific family experiences and, ultimately, the individual ideas of individual people.

And I think it’s important to remember the extent to which this was not the conventional wisdom in the recent past.

Teixeira, famously, was the author of “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” a book whose actual thesis was more complicated than the caricature, but that a lot of people read as “the growing Hispanic population will deliver victory to the Democrats.” Fraga wrote the more recent book, “The Turnout Gap: Race, Ethnicity, and Political Inequality in a Diversifying America.”His newer work doesn’t contradict anything the older work on turnout says. But it does reflect an important shift in emphasis from a mobilization frame to a persuasive one.

I’ve written about this a couple of times, but understanding the depth and persistence of the belief that Democrats could win elections through mobilization alone is critical to understanding what’s happened over the past decade of American politics. A lot of progressives were very disappointed by Barack Obama’s eight years in office. As far back as 2011, Jonathan Chait was writing pieces about how progressives are disappointed by every president and should maybe alter their expectations. But most progressives didn’t agree with that and wanted to construct a theory of how it would be possible to run and win campaigns with a much more progressive agenda.

If you want to understand why Democrats moved left on almost every issue since 2012, this misread of the Hispanic vote is a key piece of the picture. The idea was that if the party went left on criminal justice issues, Black turnout would remain high. Then the party could go left on immigration to maintain high Hispanic turnout, and count on the rising Hispanic share of the population to loft Democrats to victory as they moved left on climate and economics. The belated recognition that there are lots of moderate and conservative Hispanic voters, that the conservative ones will probably vote Republican, and that you need to court the moderate ones by paying attention to what they actually think and care about is welcome. But I think assimilating the significance of those facts requires revisiting some earlier debates.

10) And the Teixeira piece, “Hispanic Voters Are Normie Voters: Time for Woke Democrats to Wake Up”

It therefore follows that, if Hispanic voting trends continue to move steadily against the Democrats, the pro-Democratic effect of nonwhite population growth will be blunted, if not cancelled out entirely. Exactly that happened in 2020. This radically undermines the Democrats’ rising American electorate theory of the case.

Digging deeper reveals even more problems for the Democrats. Their slippage among Hispanic voters in 2020 was all over the country and among all the different ethnicities lumped under the Hispanic label. The biggest damage was among Cuban Hispanics (a 26 point decline in Democratic margin) and in Florida (down 28 points), but the damage went far beyond that. The Democratic advantage among Hispanic voters declined 18 points in Texas and Wisconsin, 16 points in Nevada, 12 points in Pennsylvania and 10 points in Arizona. And among Hispanic ethnicities, the Democratic margin was down 18 points among Puerto Ricans, 16 points among Dominicans, 12 points among Mexicans and 18 points among other Hispanic ethnicities…

But it’s not that simple, as the election results from 2020 demonstrate. In retrospect, it seems clear that Democrats, in fact, seriously erred by lumping Hispanics in with “people of color” and assuming they embraced the activism around racial issues that dominated so much of the political scene in 2020, particularly in the summer. This was a flawed assumption. In reality, Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly an upwardly mobile, patriotic population with practical and down to earth concerns focused on jobs, the economy, health care, effective schools and public safety.

In short, they are normie voters, not at all a liberal voting bloc, especially on social issues, that just needs to be mobilized. This is not true about Hispanics in general and is very far from the truth among working class Hispanics, three-quarters or more of Hispanic voters. In Pew’s post-election validated voter survey, just 20 percent of these voters described themselves as liberal, while 45 percent said they were moderate and 35 percent said they were conservative.

Just how normie and not super-progressive Hispanics are as a group is well-illustrated by recent data from Echelon Insights. Take the issue of structural racism. Echelon asked respondents to choose between two statements: Racism is built into our society, including into its policies and institutions vs. Racism comes from individuals who hold racist views, not from our society and institutions.

Of course in progressive sectors of the Democratic party, which do so much to define the party’s national brand, it is an article of faith that the first statement is the correct one. Indeed, in Echelon’s “strong progressive” group—roughly 10 percent of voters—they are so very, very sure of America’s systemic racism that they endorse the first statement by an amazing 94-6 margin. But Hispanic voters disagree, endorsing the second statement that racism comes from individuals by 58-36.

That’s quite a difference. Clearly, this constituency, unlike Democratic progressives, does not harbor particularly radical views on the nature of American society and its supposed intrinsic racism and white supremacy. 

Or consider patriotism. The Echelon survey posed this choice to respondents: America is not the greatest country in the world vs. America is the greatest country in the world. By 66 percent to 28 percent, strong progressives say America is not the greatest country in the world. By 70-23, Hispanic voters say the reverse…

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Democrats’ emphasis on social and democracy issues, while catnip to some socially liberal, educated voters, leaves many Hispanic voters cold. Their concerns are more mundane and economically-driven. This is despite the fact that many of these voters are in favor of moderate abortion rights and gun control and disapprove of the January 6th events. But these issues are just not salient for them in the way they are for the Democrats’ educated and most fervent supporters.

In short, they are normie voters.

11) Seems like harnessing the power of the tides for energy would be really cool.  At least for now, it’s hard to make cost-effective, but, that could potentially change with the right investments.  Almost surely worth a shot.

13) I don’t think we should have the death penalty.  But, since we actually do, this seems like a legitimate question, ‘If Not the Parkland Shooter, Who Is the Death Penalty For?”

Society embraces four major justifications for punishment: deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation and retribution. Retribution has often been scorned by academics and judges, but ultimately, it provides capital punishment with its only truly moral foundation. Critics of the theory, including Mr. Cruz’s lawyers, commonly equate retribution with revenge — disparaging “an eye for an eye” as barbaric.

But retribution is not simply revenge. Revenge may be limitless and misdirected at the undeserving, as with collective punishment. Retribution, on the other hand, can help restore a moral balance. It demands that punishment must be limited and proportional. Retributivists like myself just as strongly oppose excessive punishment as we urge adequate punishment: as much, but no more than what’s deserved. Thus I endorse capital punishment only for the worst of the worst criminals.

Notice what retributivists don’t count: punishment’s future costs or benefits. Although Mr. Cruz’s execution might deter future mass murderers, especially school shooters, we don’t subtract its costs and add its benefits. We refuse to make an example of convicted killers, to treat them as means to other ends.

Can Mr. Cruz be rehabilitated? Will he ever acquire the skills and values to function as a productive member of society? It’s morally irrelevant. Nor can his future dangerousness — that he might kill again — justify permanently incapacitating him by executing him. Surely it’s possible to construct and operate prisons that keep us safe.

So we retributivists reject deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation. Instead we insist that Mr. Cruz’s human dignity requires his just punishment as an end in itself. By rejecting as morally insufficient the defense’s plea that Mr. Cruz’s life should be spared because he suffered fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, by holding him fully responsible and executing him, we acknowledge him as fully human, condemning the free will that produced his monstrous crimes.

For Nikolas Cruz, adequate, proportional punishment means death. His crime was coldblooded and calculated. At 13 or 14, he first thought about shooting up a school. He studied how mass murderers had committed their crimes. He told a psychiatrist that he thought, “If I do go onto the school campus, the police are not going to do anything, and I would have a small opportunity to shoot people for maybe 20 minutes.”

14) Yes, Newsweek ain’t exactly Newsweek any more, but it’s still cool to be in there:

Steven Greene, professor of political science at North Carolina State University, told Newsweek that given the pattern of national polls, it seems consistent that Budd would “have a reasonable but certainly not safe lead” in what he described as a purple state “with the slightest red tinge.” …

Greene said he would be surprised if independents broke at more than 60-40 once results conclude on Election Day.

“That’s not to say it can’t happen but kind of looking at the whole larger political context, I don’t necessarily see the scenario where voters break strongly for Beasley to put her over the top….Regardless of the history, when you have a race polling this close, it would be insane for Democrats not to invest in this race and give a go at it,” he said.

15) Derek Thompson, “How the U.K. Became One of the Poorest Countries in Western Europe: Britain chose finance over industry, austerity over investment, and a closed economy over openness to the world.”

This calamity was decades in the making. After World War II, Britain’s economy grew slower than those of much of continental Europe. By the 1970s, the Brits were having a national debate about why they were falling behind and how the former empire had become a relatively insular and sleepy economy. Under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, markets were deregulated, unions were smashed, and the financial sector emerged as a jewel of the British economy. Thatcher’s injection of neoliberalism had many complicated knock-on effects, but from the 1990s into the 2000s, the British economy roared ahead, with London’s financial boom leading the way. Britain, which got rich as the world’s factory in the 19th century, had become the world’s banker by the 21st.

When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, it hit hard, smashing the engine of Britain’s economic ascent. Wary of rising deficits, the British government pursued a policy of austerity, fretting about debt rather than productivity or aggregate demand. The results were disastrous. Real wages fell for six straight years. Facing what the writer Fintan O’Toole called “the dull anxiety of declining living standards,” conservative pols sniffed out a bogeyman to blame for this slow-motion catastrophe. They served up to anxious voters a menu of scary outsiders: bureaucrats in Brussels, immigrants, asylum seekers—anybody but the actual decision makers who had kneecapped British competitiveness. A cohort of older, middle-class, grievously nostalgic voters demanded Brexit, and they got it.

The past few months have been rough for the United Kingdom. Energy prices are soaring. National inflation has breached double digits. The longest-serving British monarch has died. The shortest-serving prime minister has quit.

You probably knew all of that already. British news is covered amply (some might say too amply) in American media. Behind the lurid headlines, however, is a deeper story of decades-long economic dysfunction that holds lessons for the future.

In the American imagination, the U.K. is not only our political parent but also our cultural co-partner, a wealthy nation that gave us modern capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. But strictly by the numbers, Britain is pretty poor for a rich place. U.K. living standards and wages have fallen significantly behind those of Western Europe. By some measures, in fact, real wages in the U.K. are lower than they were 15 years ago, and will likely be even lower next year.

This calamity was decades in the making. After World War II, Britain’s economy grew slower than those of much of continental Europe. By the 1970s, the Brits were having a national debate about why they were falling behind and how the former empire had become a relatively insular and sleepy economy. Under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, markets were deregulated, unions were smashed, and the financial sector emerged as a jewel of the British economy. Thatcher’s injection of neoliberalism had many complicated knock-on effects, but from the 1990s into the 2000s, the British economy roared ahead, with London’s financial boom leading the way. Britain, which got rich as the world’s factory in the 19th century, had become the world’s banker by the 21st.

When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, it hit hard, smashing the engine of Britain’s economic ascent. Wary of rising deficits, the British government pursued a policy of austerity, fretting about debt rather than productivity or aggregate demand. The results were disastrous. Real wages fell for six straight years. Facing what the writer Fintan O’Toole called “the dull anxiety of declining living standards,” conservative pols sniffed out a bogeyman to blame for this slow-motion catastrophe. They served up to anxious voters a menu of scary outsiders: bureaucrats in Brussels, immigrants, asylum seekers—anybody but the actual decision makers who had kneecapped British competitiveness. A cohort of older, middle-class, grievously nostalgic voters demanded Brexit, and they got it.

In the past 30 years, the British economy chose finance over industry, Britain’s government chose austerity over investment, and British voters chose a closed and poorer economy over an open and richer one. The predictable results are falling wages and stunningly low productivity growth. Although British media worry about robots taking everybody’s jobs, the reality is closer to the opposite. “Between 2003 and 2018, the number of automatic-roller car washes (that is, robots washing your car) declined by 50 percent, while the number of hand car washes (that is, men with buckets) increased by 50 percent,” the economist commentator Duncan Weldon told me in an interview for my podcast, Plain English. “It’s more like the people are taking the robots’ jobs.”

16) And, while we’re on the subject, “What Liz Truss Proved: Dismantling guardrails to cater to the grassroots is a dangerous experiment.”

Until 1998, Conservative members of parliament (MPs) had the job of choosing their party leader. That leader would become head of government if the party could command a majority in the House of Commons. After 1998, however, the rules changed: henceforth Conservative MPs would “thin the herd” of leadership hopefuls through successive rounds of balloting, then leave the choice between the final two to the members.

What could possibly go wrong?

A lot, it turns out. Political scientists know that weakening party officials can introduce all kinds of dysfunction into a democracy. Britain’s recent history bears that out in great detail.

The first hint of trouble came from the opposition benches. The Labour Party moved decisively to let ordinary members choose their party leader in 2014. In 2015, the rank-and-file, which skews far to the left, overruled the party’s MPs and picked the hardliner Jeremy Corbyn to lead the party. Corbyn’s tenure as Labour leader is now widely understood to have been a catastrophe. Constant Labour infighting left Britain without a credible opposition for five crucial years.

Seven years later, following the fall of Boris Johnson, it was the Conservative rank-and-file’s turn to overrule their MPs’ preferences by choosing a new ideologically rigid and fundamentally unserious leader. Only, as the party in power, the stakes were far higher: their choice would move directly into Downing Street.

Liz Truss’s leadership bid was exquisitely in tune with the 142,000 or so people who voted in the Conservative Party leadership vote. But they amount to about a third of one percent of the 47.6 million people registered to vote in Britain. Conservative members are older, whiter, wealthier and more right wing than Britain’s electorate. To win power, she convinced them she would pursue an aggressive tax cutting agenda that most of the public reject

Was the danger of a Truss premiership unknowable ahead of time? Not at all: her colleagues knew it. Most Conservative MPs understood very well that trying to introduce massive tax-cuts amid a surge in inflation would be madness—both politically and economically. That’s why more of them voted for her moderate opponent for leadership, Rishi Sunak (who was today announced as her successor), than voted for her. It didn’t matter. Their judgment was overruled by the grassroots.


A prodigious body of literature in political science deals with the role of parties within democracy. A leading hypothesis appeared inResponsible Parties, Saving Democracy from Itselfby Yale’s Frances McCall Rosenbluth and Ian Shapiro, published in 2018. In exhaustive detail, Rosenbluth and Shapiro chronicle how reforms that weaken parties in the name of grassroots involvement fail. Such reforms, they argue, “feed political dysfunction and produce policies that are self-defeating for most voters, even those who advocate the decentralizing reforms.” They end up leaving voters more dissatisfied with the political system, and less able to hold their leaders to account.

17) The worst part about 2022 may be how it sets us up for a democracy-crushing 2024.

“My hair is on fire” to an even greater degree than it was in 2020, said Hasen, who published a prescient book that year called “Election Meltdown.”

18) My neighborhood has acorns like you wouldn’t believe (I should take a photo), thus I was intrigued to see this in the NYT, “Why We Should All Be Chasing Acorns

As Douglas W. Tallamy explains in his splendid 2021 book, “The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees,” oaks are keystone plants, the central life form upon which so many other species in the ecosystem depend. Hundreds of insects and caterpillars feed on oak leaves, and those insects in turn feed birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and even other insects. In fall and winter, acorns feed many of them all over again. Because so many predators eat the creatures that eat the acorns, a good year for oaks is a good year for everybody. “No other tree genus supports so much life,” Dr. Tallamy notes.

It probably goes without saying that oaks are commercially valuable, too, used in making everything from furniture and flooring to cabinets and whiskey barrels. Those utilitarian purposes go a long way toward explaining why the vast oak forests once found in the United States have been destroyed in many places and are too often fragmented where they remain.

One of my dogs has taking to eating some acorns.  Alas, the other day he was having a lot of trouble finishing the job of clearing his bowels while we were on a walk and it was most unpleasant. When all was finally done, I discovered the culprit– acorns!

19) I won’t be reading American Midnight, but I certainly enjoyed this review:

At a time when professional doom-mongering about democracy has become one of the more inflationary sectors of the American economy, it is tonic to be reminded by Adam Hochschild’s masterly new book, “American Midnight,” that there are other contenders than the period beginning in 2016 for the distinction of Darkest Years of the Republic. By some measures — and certainly in many quarters of the American left — the years 1917-21 have a special place in infamy. The United States during that time saw a swell of patriotic frenzy and political repression rarely rivaled in its history. President Woodrow Wilson’s terror campaign against American radicals, dissidents, immigrants and workers makes the McCarthyism of the 1950s look almost subtle by comparison.

As Hochschild vividly details, the Wilson administration and its allies pioneered the police raids, surveillance operations, internment camps, strikebreaking and legal chicanery that would become part of the repertoire of the American state for decades to come. It may be recalled how, when Donald Trump was a presidential candidate in 2016, his followers ignited a media storm when they threatened to lock up his challenger. But only Wilson went the distance: He jailed his charismatic Socialist opponent, the 63-year-old Eugene Debs, for opposing America’s descent into the carnage of the First World War, with the liberal press in lock step. “He is where he belongs,” Hochschild quotes The New York Times declaring of the imprisoned Debs. “He should stay there.” …

Aided by the news of German war atrocities, the Wilson administration whipped up anti-German hysteria. Wilson produced a great deal of cant about making the world “safe for democracy,” though by “democracy” he had in mind something like an international clinic for political delinquents with America as supervisor. Internal enemies ultimately proved more reliable than high ideals in sustaining the country’s war fever. German-speaking Americans and other immigrant groups made for obvious targets. “I want to say — I cannot say it too often,” Wilson declared in 1919, “any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic.” But the grander enemy was American socialists, who publicly opposed entering a war in which they would kill fellow workingmen at the behest of their ruling classes.

20) Among the more unusual features (including interactive video game!) I’ve seen in the Post, “D.C.’s great rat migration — and how they survived during the pandemic.” Definitely worth the gift link. 

21) I hope JPP is reading this so he can appreciate the Quick Hits birthday wishes.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really interesting profile of Ron DeSantis:

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He’s really good at ‘othering’ people,” said Mac Stipanovich, a veteran Florida Republican activist who was involved in the 2000 recount that handed the presidency to George W Bush, but has grown disgusted with the party under Trump. Perhaps one-third of the party was always composed of extremists and oddballs who were generally beyond the pale, Stipanovich estimated. Trump coaxed another silent third to come out of the closet. “This is the business model for today’s Republican party: stoking outrage, creating fear and then exploiting that fear,” he said.

2) Nate Silver on the growing pessimism for Democrats in the midterms.

From a modeling standpoint, another challenge is that Democrats were defying political gravity. The president’s party typically performs poorly in the midterms. There have been some exceptions and there is some reason to think this year may be one of them. But the model has been trying to balance polls showing Democrats having a pretty good year against its prior expectation that the electoral environment should be poor for Democrats.

As the election nears, the model relies on its priors less and trusts the polls more, so it was initially skeptical of buying into a post-Dobbs surge for Democrats. Right about the time the model had fully priced in Democrats’ improved polling, though, the news cycle shifted toward a set of stories that were more favorable for Republicans, such as immigration and renewed concerns about inflation.

It’s also possible to overstate the case for Republican momentum. Midterm elections tend not to turn on a dime in the way that presidential elections sometimes do. And there haven’t been any self-evidently important developments in the news cycle in the past week or so. If you’re one of those people who thinks gas prices are all-determining of election outcomes, they’ve even started to come down again slightly.

Rather, this is more a case of now having more evidence to confirm that the Democrats’ summer polling surge wasn’t sustainable.

That doesn’t mean it was fake: In fact, Democrats had a string of excellent special election and ballot referendum results in which they met or exceeded their polling. If you’d held the midterms in late August, I’d have bet heavily on Democrats to win the Senate. It sure would be nice to have another special election or two now, and to see how these polling shifts translate into real results. Polls can sometimes change for reasons that don’t reflect the underlying reality of the race, such as because of partisan nonresponse bias or pollster herding.

And certainly, Democrats have plenty of paths to retain the Senate. Republicans don’t have any sure-fire pickups; Nevada is the most likely, and even there, GOP chances are only 53 percent, according to our forecast. Meanwhile, Democrat John Fetterman is still ahead in polls of Pennsylvania, although his margin over Republican Mehmet Oz has narrowed. The model is likely to be quite sensitive to new polling in Pennsylvania going forward. If Democrats gain a seat there, meaning that the GOP would need to flip two Democratic-held seats to take the chamber, that starts to become a tall order. Nevada, sure, but I’m not sure Republicans would want to count on Herschel Walker in Georgia or Blake Masters in Arizona.

But the bottom line is this: If you’d asked me a month ago — or really even a week ago — which party’s position I’d rather be in, I would have said the Democrats. Now, I honestly don’t know.

3) To be fair, there’s some data in here, but, honestly, wasn’t the whole point of 538 to not have articles like this, “How 5 Asian American Voters Are Thinking About The Midterms.” (And, yes, it’s by the same author who wrote that it’s ableist to consider cognitive impairments when voting).

4) I didn’t realize the new Ebola outbreak is a new variant that’s not susceptible to the great new Ebola vaccine. That sucks.  Though, hopefully a new vaccine should be coming soon.

And this outbreak is different. Ebola is a disease of multitudes. For the most common species of the virus, successful vaccines have already been developed. But for others, no vaccine exists. To the dismay of health officials in Uganda, the version of the virus found in the body at Mubende was from the Sudan species, for which there is no vaccine.

Ebola has flared up intermittently in Africa for more than 40 years, most notably during an outbreak between 2013 and 2016 that infected 28,000 people and took more than 11,000 lives. During that outbreak, experimental vaccines against the most common form of the virus—the Zaire species—could be tested. They worked well, and have since been approved and used to protect people. But developing vaccines for rare viruses like Ebola is always a game of cat and mouse. The Sudan virus behind the current outbreak has caused only a handful of human cases over the past two decades. Work to develop vaccines to target this virus is underway, but none have been fully tested, let alone finished.

Using a Zaire vaccine against the Sudan virus isn’t an option, says Pontiano Kaleebu, director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute. “This has already been proven in the laboratory. The neutralizing antibodies do not respond,” he says. This means two things: that surveillance and physical control measures are currently the only tools available for limiting the virus’s spread, and that a working vaccine needs to be found as quickly as possible.

The candidate that’s farthest along is the single-dose ChAd3 Ebola Sudan vaccine, which is being developed by the Sabin Vaccine Institute, a nonprofit based in Washington, DC. By working with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and other organizations, the institute is planning to run a clinical trial in the current outbreak to see how well the vaccine works.

But there are only 100 doses available. With limited supply, health officials plan to give doses of the vaccine to immediate contacts of confirmed Ebola cases. Scientists then hope to use these contacts as potential candidates in the vaccine’s clinical trial—though the exact testing protocol they will use is still being worked out.

Kaleebu says they are hoping for accelerated production from the Sabin Vaccine Institute now that more doses are needed. But even if the number of vaccines used in the trial is small, they will still provide useful data, says Bruce Kirenga, a senior respiratory physician at Makerere University College of Health Sciences on the outskirts of Kampala.

5) Nice Yashca Mounk interview with Lis Smith on Democratic messaging:

Yascha Mounk: What are the main things political candidates should be doing, but aren’t? And what are the main things that they shouldn’t be doing, but are?

Lis Smith: The number one piece of advice that I give to candidates—and it shouldn’t be this complicated—is to just be normal: talk like a normal person, communicate in simple ways and with simple concepts. That’s a lot harder for a lot of political candidates than it should be. I worked for Pete Buttigieg, a Rhodes Scholar, but he was someone who, like Bill Clinton, another Rhodes Scholar, had a gift for taking really complex ideas and reducing them to points that everyone could understand—whether he was on CNN, at a think tank, or in front of a crowd in rural Iowa. It’s really important to act and speak like a normal person, and it’s something politicians don’t do enough. We get into a sort of wonky speak, or as James Carville says, “faculty lounge” speak. Speaking in front of a camera, or to a crowd, is really daunting to a lot of people. If they were just talking to friends around a dinner table, or at a bar, they would speak one way; but the second a camera turns on, they feel the need to speak in this stilted way. Or they’re just terrified of making a gaffe, so they end up speaking in this political gobbledygook.

You have a lot of political candidates who maybe watched too much of The West Wing or had advisors who watched too much of it. But unless you’re a poet, you should not engage in any poetry. If you’re not John F. Kennedy or Barack Obama, don’t try to speak like them. Look: like a lot of Democratic operatives, I went to an Ivy League college. I grew up in Bronxville, New York. But the difference between me and a lot of other Democratic operatives is that I cut my teeth in red states, places like South Dakota, Missouri, Ohio, and Kentucky. And so I understand how to speak to voters in a way that is not rooted in SAT words or advocacy group language.  

I wrote an Op-Ed for The Washington Post about this recently, because I was seeing these special interest groups put out things saying that “pro-choice” is harmful language; you need to say “pro-decision.” But no-one has ever heard anyone describe themselves as “pro-decision.” And so, you do see staffers who come out of this advocacy world, who have surrounded themselves with people who only share their worldviews—who think like them, talk like them, and live in bubbles where they don’t communicate with normal people. I think that distorts how politicians talk. 

Mounk: What are some of the big mistakes that candidates make?

Smith: Candidates should really limit how much time they spend on social media. It’s a good thing that younger candidates are more fluent in social media and modern technology. But there are some downsides. There is a distortionary effect that happens on social media, including really toxic group-think: e.g. the idea that unless you embrace the position that is popular online (which is oftentimes the most far-left position), you’re a Republican in disguise and you can’t be trusted. And if you take your cues from the online group, you’re going to be extremely out of touch with voters. 

We saw that when some prominent Democrats and Democratic groups embraced absolutely toxic, nonsensical slogans like “defund the police.” There was a time when, if you went online and said, “defund the police is a really bad slogan and it’s going to backfire on Democrats,” you would have gotten absolutely piled on. Now, I think people have come to realize this. After seeing the millions and millions of dollars that were spent against Democrats—even ones who had never even embraced that, just because certain Democrats had gone out there and embraced it—they understand that it was stupid. 

But that’s a problem that every campaign is gonna have to deal with. And it’s not just the candidates, it’s also the staff. A twenty-something year old staffer is not going to have the wherewithal to understand that just because some Twitter accounts are saying these things, it doesn’t mean that those views are held by the majority of voters. What’s really important is to get out and talk to the voters you’re trying to appeal to. If winning Twitter is your goal, you’re probably not going to win an election.

6) Relatedly, “Tim Ryan Is Winning the War for the Soul of the Democratic Party”

After years of being overlooked, Tim Ryan is pointing his party toward a path to recovery in the Midwest. On the campaign trail, he has embraced a unifying tone that stands out from the crassness and divisiveness that Mr. Trump and his imitators have wrought. A significant number of what he calls the “exhausted majority” of voters have responded gratefully.

And his core message — a demand for more aggressive government intervention to arrest regional decline — is not only resonating with voters but, crucially, breaking through with the Democratic leaders who presided over that decline for years. The Democrats have passed a burst of legislation that will pave the way for two new Intel chip plants in the Columbus exurbs, spur investment in new electric vehicle ventures in Mr. Ryan’s district, and benefit solar-panel factories around Toledo, giving him, at long last, concrete examples to cite of his party rebuilding the manufacturing base in which the region took such pride.

In short, the party is doing much more of what Mr. Ryan has long said would save its political fortunes in the Midwest. The problem for him — and also for them — is that it may have come too late.

7) You know I’m always fascinated by AI-generated art, ‘A.I.-Generated Art Is Already Transforming Creative Work”

For years, the conventional wisdom among Silicon Valley futurists was that artificial intelligence and automation spelled doom for blue-collar workers whose jobs involved repetitive manual labor. Truck drivers, retail cashiers and warehouse workers would all lose their jobs to robots, they said, while workers in creative fields like art, entertainment and media would be safe.

Well, an unexpected thing happened recently: A.I. entered the creative class.

In the past few months, A.I.-based image generators like DALL-E 2, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion have made it possible for anyone to create unique, hyper-realistic images just by typing a few words into a text box.

These apps, though new, are already astoundingly popular. DALL-E 2, for example, has more than 1.5 million users generating more than two million images every day, while Midjourney’s official Discord server has more than three million members.

These programs use what’s known as “generative A.I.,” a type of A.I. that was popularized several years ago with the release of text-generating tools like GPT-3 but has since expanded into images, audio and video.

It’s still too early to tell whether this new wave of apps will end up costing artists and illustrators their jobs. What seems clear, though, is that these tools are already being put to use in creative industries.

Recently, I spoke to five creative-class professionals about how they’re using A.I.-generated art in their jobs.

8) Alas, the N&O makes it super hard to cut and paste and this is subsciber only, but it’s a really important point, “As more people carry guns, thieves steal with ease — adding weapons to NC streets”

9) And this, “Durham had a tool for tracking stolen guns. North Carolina lawmakers killed it.” Because even though this is effective for fighting crime, heaven forbid gun owners should have to register their guns. 

10) I especially enjoyed the part of this about the NYT firing Opinion editor James Bennett as that was really peak wokism amok, “Inside the identity crisis at The New York Times”

Times management has clawed back its ability to run conservative points of view without facing a newsroom revolt. But has anyone noticed?  It’s hard to walk back high-profile grand gestures, like Bennet’s firing and the marketing of the 1619 Project, with quiet bureaucratic changes, columns and beat reporting.

One skeptic that the Times has an easy path back is Bennet himself. The former Opinion Editor and onetime heir apparent to run the Times spoke to me Saturday in his first on-the-record interview about the episode.

Bennet believes that Sulzberger, the publisher, “blew the opportunity to make clear that the New York Times doesn’t exist just to tell progressives how progressives should view reality. That was a huge mistake and a missed opportunity for him to show real strength,” he said. “He still could have fired me.”

Bennet, who now writes the Lexington column for The Economist, signed off on an editor’s note amid the controversy that the column “fell short of our standards and should not have been published.”

“My regret is that editor’s note. My mistake there was trying to mollify people,” he said.

The Times and its publisher, Bennet said, “want to have it both ways.” Sulzberger is “old school” in his belief in a neutral, heterodox publication. But “they want to have the applause and the welcome of the left, and now there’s the problem on top of that that they’ve signed up so many new subscribers in the last few years and the expectation of those subscribers is that the Times will be Mother Jones on steroids.”

Bennet, who spent 19 years of his career at the Times, said he remains wounded by Mr. Sulzberger’s lack of loyalty.

“I actually knew what it meant to have a target on your back when you’re reporting for the New York Times,” he said, referring to incidents in the West Bank and Gaza.

“None of that mattered, and none of it mattered to AG. When push came to shove at the end, he set me on fire and threw me in the garbage and used my reverence for the institution against me,” Bennet said. “This is why I was so bewildered for so long after I had what felt like all my colleagues treating me like an incompetent fascist.”

The Times declined to comment on Bennet’s words. The publisher told colleagues at the time that he was most upset that the Times seemed to have been blindsided by a series of controversies coming out of Bennet’s section. One thing that is clear in retrospect: while The Times sought to cast the firing into a question of performance, process, and Bennet’s ability to lead after the controversy, the move was widely perceived as a political gesture.

After we got off the phone, Bennet texted me a final note: “One more thing that sometimes gets misreported: I never apologized for publishing the piece and still don’t.”

11) You think any adult will face accountability for this?  I don’t.  Should they? Hell yeah! “2-year-old boy fatally shot was playing with loaded handgun, NC sheriff’s office says”

12) Do not call your physician by their first name unless they specifically ask you to! “‘Kind of Awkward’: Doctors Find Themselves on a First-Name Basis”

13) I found this a really interesting piece on creative writing programs and cancel culture.  Your mileage may vary.

14) This is really good, “I Did Not Steal Two Piglets. I Saved Them. A Jury Agreed.”

A jury in southern Utah let me walk free earlier this month after I took two injured piglets from a farm in the middle of the night that I had no permission to be on. The verdict, on felony burglary and misdemeanor theft charges that could have sent me and my co-defendant, Paul Darwin Picklesimer, to jail for more than five years, was a shock. After all, we had admitted to what we had done.

We’re animal rights activists. We believe the decision underscores an increasing unease among the public over the raising and killings of billions of animals on factory farms. Our rescue of the piglets took place during a clandestine three-month undercover operation I led into the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods. We focused on Smithfield’s Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah, which raises over a million pigs for slaughter every year.

We sneaked into the farm one night in March 2017. Inside, we found and documented sick and underweight piglets. One of them could not walk properly or reach food because of an infected wound to her foot, according to a veterinarian who testified on our behalf. The other piglet’s face was covered in lesions and blood, and she struggled to nurse from a mother whose teats showed gruesome reproductive injuries, the veterinarian, who reviewed video of the piglets and spoke to caretakers, said in a report. Given their conditions, both piglets were likely to be killed and potentially tossed into a landfill outside of Circle Four Farms, in which millions of pounds of dead pigs and other waste are discarded every year. Nationally, an estimated 14 percent of piglets die before they’re weaned.

But that would not be the fate of these two. After removing the piglets, our team nursed them back to health. We named them Lily and Lizzie. Some four months later, we shared a video of our actions with The Times. (Smithfield claimed that the video appeared staged. It was not.) In August, F.B.I. agents descended on animal sanctuaries in Utah and Colorado with search warrants for the two pigs. At the Colorado shelter, government veterinarians cut off part of Lizzie’s ear for DNA testing. Not long after, my four co-defendants and I were indicted in Utah…

The juror I spoke to also mentioned a third major factor that went beyond the legal issues: our appeal to conscience. During the closing statements in the trial, in which I represented myself, I told the jurors that a not-guilty verdict would encourage corporations to treat animals under their care with more compassion and make governments more open to animal cruelty complaints.

15) Very good stuff from Jake Tapper, “This is not Justice: A Philadelphia teenager and the empty promise of the Sixth Amendment”

16) David Graham, “What to Cheer About in the Sentencing of Steve Bannon”

The sentence is a landmark because no one has been sentenced to prison for contempt of Congress in decades. The term is shy of the six months that prosecutors sought, but well more than the 30-day mandatory minimum, as well as the probation that Bannon’s lawyers sought. He probably won’t see the inside of a cell for some time, if ever, as he is free while he appeals.

Bannon’s sentence is a victory for the rule of law—but not an unmitigated one. It is a message to those in the Trump orbit that you cannot simply ignore laws, and that Trump’s umbrella of protection has big holes. It also demonstrates that the ability to defy Congress is large, but not infinite. Yet even the most ardent Trump critics should not be too jubilant. The committee whose inquiry led to Bannon’s sentence seems to be steaming toward an abrupt end, a Trump-friendly Congress is likely, Bannon’s most nefarious activities are probably not going to be seriously harmed, and Trump himself has still evaded consequences in court.

17) Noah Smith is no fan of Xi Jinping,”China has shackled itself to…this one mediocre guy.”

But last year I do think I managed to catch something important that a lot of people seem to have missed: Xi Jinping is not as competent of a helmsman as he’s made out to be…

Already, the mistakes have begun piling up. Growth, especially all-important productivity growth, slowed a lot even before Covid and has now basically halted. The crash is due largely to Xi Jinping’s personal choices — his stubborn insistence on Zero Covid (which also has a dimension of social control), his willingness to let the vast real estate sector crash, and his crackdown on tech companies and other entrepreneurs. Overseas, Xi’s signature Belt and Road project has left a trail of uneconomical infrastructure, debt, and bad feelings around the world. His aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy, combined with his crackdown on Hong Kong and his use of concentration camps and totalitarian surveillance in Xinjiang, has soured much of the world on the prospect of Chinese leadership. And his promise of a “no limits” partnership with Russia blew up in his face when Putin bungled the invasion of Ukraine. Even Xi’s nationalized industrial policy — the Made in China 2025 initiative and the more recent push for semiconductor dominance — has not done much to accelerate growth, and has prompted the U.S. and other countries to switch from engagement to outright economic warfare.

18) It’s kind of amazing that there’s almost no experts in such an important part of the female anatomy.  Really interesting piece, “Half the World Has a Clitoris. Why Don’t Doctors Study It?
The organ is “completely ignored by pretty much everyone,” medical experts say, and that omission can be devastating to women’s sexual health.”

Some urologists compare the vulva to “a small town in the Midwest,” said Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a urologist and pioneer in the field of sexual medicine. Doctors tend to pass through it, barely looking up, on their way to their destination, the cervix and uterus. That’s where the real medical action happens: ultrasounds, Pap smears, IUD insertion, childbirth.

If the vulva as a whole is an underappreciated city, the clitoris is a local roadside bar: little known, seldom considered, probably best avoided. “It’s completely ignored by pretty much everyone,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin, a urologist and sexual health specialist outside Washington, D.C. “There is no medical community that has taken ownership in the research, in the management, in the diagnosis of vulva-related conditions.”

Asked what she learned in medical school about the clitoris, Dr. Rubin replied, “Nothing that sticks out to my memory. If it got any mention, it would be a side note at best.”

Only years later, on a sexual-medicine fellowship with Dr. Goldstein, did she learn how to examine the vulva and the visible part of the clitoris, also known as the glans clitoris. The full clitoris, she learned, is a deep structure, made up largely of erectile tissue, that reaches into the pelvis and encircles the vagina.

Today, Dr. Rubin has appointed herself Washington’s premier “clitorologist.” The joke, of course, is that few are vying for the title — out of embarrassment, a lack of knowledge or fear of breaching propriety with patients. “Doctors love to focus on what we know,” she said. “And we don’t like to show weakness, that we don’t know something.”

19) Nice follow-up on the Beagle story, ‘Profit, pain and puppies: Inside the rescue of nearly 4,000 beagles”

20) Paul Waldman’s twitter thread needs to be an article I can assign to all my classes.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Jeff Maurer is so good on this, “What if the Standard Left-Wing Position on Trans Issues Was to Support Evidence-Based Care But Skip All the Cultish Bullshit?”

There’s sex, and then there’s gender. Sex involves biological attributes — chromosomes, hormone levels, that kind of stuff. There are anomalies in sex such as Klinefelter syndrome (chromosomes are XXY) and androgen insensitivity syndrome (the body makes testosterone but doesn’t respond to it) that make sex not completely binary. Therefore, sex is basically meaningless and can be ignored. Gender is all that matters. Gender refers to socially-constructed gender roles — playing with dolls if you’re a girl, playing with trucks if you’re a boy, that type of thing. A person chooses their gender identity, so when a person identifies with a gender, they ARE that gender, end of story.

I feel that that’s a fair summation of left-wing canon on this issue. I also feel that it’s the argument Stewart makes on his show. He spends a great deal of time on the non-binary nature of sex, and of course he’s right that sex is not completely binary. There are people who don’t fall neatly into either the “male” or “female” category. I’d also agree that people should be free to live out whatever gender expression they want.

Those parts of the argument aren’t the problem. The problem is middle part, the idea sex is a meaningless concept and gender is all that matters. Stewart doesn’t explicitly say this, but it’s definitely in there; the other parts of his argument don’t make sense without it. And that’s the concept that I think is causing all the trouble; that’s the bit of cultish nonsense that I think is ruining an otherwise winning argument.

I’m not Mr. Science; the closest I could come would be to try to be Mr. Social Science, and I know that hard science folks look at social scientists the way Green Berets look at a kid in a pillow fort playing Army Man. But through my education and associations, I’m science-adjacent enough to know that the science crowd is not running around saying: “Man? Woman? WHAT DO THESE WORDS EVEN MEAN? I can’t begin to imagine what people think they’re talking about when they use these words! This has been settled for centuries: Human identity exists on a circular spectrum that is at once totally meaningless but at the same time absolutely critical. There is no dissent about this! Am I even saying these words right? ‘Mfan?’ ‘Wo…mryan?’ I can’t get my head around these antiquated lay-person terms!”

You have to think people are awfully fucking stupid to even attempt this argument. To delude yourself into imagining that you can dismiss a basic biological concept with a bunch of pseudo-intellectual hand-waving is equal parts arrogant and obtuse. You’ll have just as much luck convincing people that slugs are the master race or that gravity is a Soros-backed conspiracy as you will that there’s absolutely no biological underpinning to the concept of “male” and “female”.

You also have to be neck deep in cultish group-think to pretend to believe such obvious bullshit. And please remember: I lived in this world, I worked in this world, I heard “gender is a social construct!” more times than I can count, I don’t think I’m misrepresenting what some people claim to believe. And of course I respect people’s extremely stupid beliefs; I grew up with people who swore that Noah’s Ark was real, I understand that you have to let people think whatever backwards claptrap they hold dear. Respecting a person’s right to believe the dumbest shit you could possibly imagine is a core American principle. So, I completely support anyone’s rightto believe that “male” and “female” are nonsense concepts invented by advertising executives in the ‘50s. I just don’t believe that myself, and I don’t think that many people ever will.

The tragedy, of course, is that there’s a real issue here. Transgender people lack legal protections, and maybe even more importantly: They lack dignity and acceptance. We’re treating an aspect of the human experience as a defect, and that’s society’s problem to fix. Making it easier for trans people to live healthier, happier lives is a pressing and important project.

But I often feel that the left has chosen to fight this battle on the only terrain on which it can possibly be lost. Instead of focusing on dignity and personal liberty, we go to the mat to defend trans women’s right to compete in women’s sports, which happens to be one of the few aspects of life where biological sex really does matter. We push pseudo-scientific bullshit like the idea that uncommon genetic variations render the entire concept of sex meaningless. Observant people have noticed that the new orthodoxy blatantly contradicts other things the left believes, like the Obergefelldecision and that gender roles should be deemphasized. And — crucially, from a “the goal is to improve people’s lives” standpoint — nobody is buying this crap: Here’s how the left is faring on the hot-button trans women in sports issue:

Source: Ipsos/NPR.

What if the left simply ditched the cultish aspects of our argument? What if we stopped demanding that a people declare that sex is a meaningless concept in order to maintain their lefty cred on trans issues? What if we stopped pretending that there are no physical differences between men and women and that the only reason anyone could possibly object to trans athletes in high-level women’s sports is deep-seated bigotry? What if, instead, the argument was something like this:

There are men, and there are women. Most people fall neatly into one category or the other. But not ALL people do, and in those cases, the simple solution is for the person to choose which category they belong to (or if they belong to neither category). Some people — including minors — will pursue various forms of treatment to be the person they want to be, and we should support the choice they make consistent with evidence-based standards of medicine that we apply in all areas. There are a few uncommon circumstances in which things like bone density and hormone levels will need be taken into account, but for the most part, people should be free to live how they want to live without fear or judgment.

2) Great stuff on Ukraine, Russia, and nukes from Timothy Snyder:

But how do we get there?  The war could end in a number of ways.  Here I would like to suggest just one plausible scenario that could emerge in the next few weeks and months.  Of course there are others.  It is important, though, to start directing our thoughts towards some of the more probable variants.  The scenario that I will propose here is that a Russian conventional defeat in Ukraine is merging imperceptibly into a Russian power struggle, which in turn will require a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine. This is, historically speaking, a very familiar chain of events.

Before I lay this out, we will first have to clear away the nuclear static.  Speaking of nuclear war in a broad, general way, we imagine that the Russo-Ukrainian War is all about us.  We feel like the victims.  We talk about our fears and anxieties.  We write click-bait headlines about the end of the world.  But this war is almost certainly not going to end with an exchange of nuclear weapons.  States with nuclear weapons have been fighting and losing wars since 1945, without using them.  Nuclear powers lose humiliating wars in places like Vietnam and Afghanistan and do not use nuclear weapons.

To be sure, there is a certain temptation to concede mentally to nuclear blackmail.  Once the subject of nuclear war is raised, it seems overwhelmingly important, and we become depressed and obsessed.  That is just where Putin is trying to lead us with his vague allusions to nuclear weapons.  Once we take his cue, we imagine threats that Russia is not actually making.  We start talking about a Ukrainian surrender, just to relieve the psychological pressure we feel. 

This, though, is doing Putin’s work for him, bailing him out of a disaster of his own creation.  He is losing the conventional war that he started.  His hope is that references to nuclear weapons will deter the democracies from delivering weapons to Ukraine, and buy him enough time to get Russian reserves to the battlefield to slow the Ukrainian offensive.  He’s probably wrong that this would work; but the rhetorical escalation is one of the few plays that he has left. 

As I’ll explain in a moment, giving in to nuclear blackmail won’t end the conventional war in Ukraine.  It would, however, make future nuclear war much more likely.  Making concessions to a nuclear blackmailer teachers him that this sort of threat will get him what he wants, which guarantees further crisis scenarios down the line.  It teaches other dictators, future potential blackmailers, that all they need is a nuclear weapon and some bluster to get what they want, which means more nuclear confrontations.  It tends to convince everyone that the only way to defend themselves is to build nuclear weapons, which means global nuclear proliferation…

So let us take a harder look at Putin’s position.  The Russian armed forces are not “backed against a wall” in Ukraine: they are safe if they retreat back to Russia.  The “wall” metaphor is also not really helpful in seeing where Putin stands.  It is more like the furniture has been moved around him, and he will have to get his bearings again.

What he has done in Ukraine has changed his position in Moscow, and for the worse.  It does not follow from that, though, they he “must” win the war in Ukraine, whatever that means (“can” comes logically before “must”).  Holding on to power in Moscow is what matters, and that does not necessarily mean exposing himself to further risk in Ukraine.  Once (and if) Putin understands that the war is lost, he will adjust his thinking about his position at home.

Through the summer, that position was simpler.  Until very recently, probably until he made the speech announcing mobilization in September, he could simply have declared victory on mass media, and most Russians would have been content.  Now, however, he has brought his senseless war to the point where even the Russian information space is beginning to crack.  Russians are anxious about the war now, thanks to mobilization (as opinion polls show).  And now their television propagandists are admitting that Russian troops are retreating.  So unlike the first half-year of the war, Putin cannot just claim that all is well and be done with it.  He has to do something else. 

The earth has moved under Putin’s feet.  His political career has been based on using controlled media to transform foreign policy into soothing spectacle.  In other words: regime survival has depended upon two premises: what happens on television is more important than what happens in reality; and what happens abroad is more important than what happens at home.  It seems to me that these premises no longer hold.  With mobilization, the distinction between at home and abroad has been broken; with lost battles, the distinction between television and reality has been weakened.  Reality is starting to matter more than television, and Russia will start to matter more than Ukraine.

3) Voter ID laws are really, really popular.  Seems to me the winning play for Democrats is probably just to accept that and try and make the laws as fair as possible (i.e., reduce the burdens of getting an ID as low as you can);

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the midterm elections less than a month away, large majorities of Americans favor three measures meant to make voting easier: early voting (78% in favor), automatic voter registration (65%) and sending absentee ballots to all eligible voters (60%).

Majorities of Americans also oppose two measures that could make voting harder: removing inactive voters from voter lists (60%) and limiting the number of drop boxes for absentee ballots (59%). One restrictive policy that most Americans (79%) are on board with, however, is requiring photo identification to vote.

Also, automatic voter registration is also quite popular.  And it has the benefit of also being very good policy.  Democrats should get on this wherever they can.

4) Jennifer Rubin, “The Jan. 6 committee has provided proof of Trump’s willful deceit”

5a) Washington Post, “Florida offers warning for Democrats about Hispanic voters”

5b) NYT, “The ‘Sleeping Giant’ That May Decide the Midterms”

The choices made by Latino voters on Nov. 8 will be crucial to the outcome in a disproportionate share of Senate battleground states, like Arizona (31.5 percent of the population), Nevada (28.9), Florida (25.8), Colorado (21.7), Georgia (9.6) and North Carolina (9.5).

According to most analysts, there is no question that a majority of Hispanic voters will continue to support Democratic candidates. The question going into the coming elections is how large that margin will be…

Across a wide range of studies and exit poll data analyses, there is general agreement that President Donald Trump significantly improved his 2016 margin among Hispanic voters in 2020. But there is less agreement on how large his gain was, on the demographics of his new supporters and on whether the movement was related to Trump himself, Trump-era Covid payments or to a secular trend…

In their July 2022 paper “Reversion to the Mean, or Their Version of the Dream? An Analysis of Latino Voting in 2020,” Bernard L. FragaYamil R. Velez and Emily A. West, political scientists at Emory, Columbia and the University of Pittsburgh, write that there is

an increasing alignment between issue positions and vote choice among Latinos. Moreover, we observe significant pro-Trump shifts among working-class Latinos and modest evidence of a pro-Trump shift among newly engaged U.S.-born Latino children of immigrants and Catholic Latinos. The results point to a more durable Republican shift than currently assumed.

That is, the more Hispanic voters subordinate traditional party and ethnic solidarity in favor of voting based onconservative or moderate policy preferences, the more likely they are to defect to the Republican Party.

The authors caution, however, that nothing is fixed in stone:

On the one hand, there is evidence that working-class Latino voters became more supportive of Trump in 2020, mirroring increases in educational polarization among the mass public. If similar processes are at play for Latinos — and if such polarization is not Trump-specific — then this could mean a durable change in partisan loyalties.

On the other hand, they continue:

Historical voting patterns among Latinos reveal natural ebbs and flows. Using exit poll data from 1984-2020, political scientist Alan Abramowitz finds that the pro-Democratic margin among Latinos ranges from +9 in 2004 to +51 in 1996, with an average margin of +35 points. Instead of reflecting a durable shift, 2020 could be a “reversion to the mean,” with 2016 serving as a recent high-water mark for the Democrats.

In an email responding to my inquiry about future trends, Fraga wrote:

My sense is that most of the Latinos who shifted to the Republican Party in 2020 have not returned to the Democratic Party. Many of these new Republican converts were ideologically conservative pre-2020, so Republicans didn’t have to shift their policy message very much to win them over.

6) Damn if there’s one thing I hate about security theater is the absolutely inane, asinine, absurd, plastic bag policy.  I was so pleased the NC State Fair gave up on this absurdity after a single year.  Several of my family members are going to a marching band competition tomorrow that is requiring this.  Seriously?!  I’m surprised there’s not more good takedowns of this online because it is so stupid, but here’s a pretty good one on how unfair it is to women.  “Security Theater Doesn’t Help Anyone Other than Makers of Clear Bags”

7) I’m not even a particularly big fan of Jamie Lee Curtis, but, damn, this interview was just entertaining and charming.  

8) John McWhorter on the Duke-BYU volleyball incident that didn’t actually seem to happen:

It’s time for a few words on what we might learn from a Black volleyball player’s claims about what happened at a match she participated in at Brigham Young University this past August. I have refrained from commenting on this for a spell, in case there were further revelations. As there have been none yet, I shall proceed.

Rachel Richardson, a Black member of Duke’s volleyball team playing in a match at Brigham Young University, claimed that she and other Black teammates were “targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match,” such that they had to face a crowd amid which slurs “grew into threats.”

But a sporting match such as this one is attended by thousands and is well recorded, both professionally and also by anyone in attendance with a cellphone. To date, no one has offered evidence that corroborates Richardson’s claims of racist verbal abuse, either independently or as part of an investigation by B.Y.U. There is nothing comparable in the security footage or in the television feed the school took of the match. No one at the match representing either school has described hearing such a thing happening. No witnesses have been reported as coming forward.

To be clear: It is possible that some racist spectator shouted a racial slur at Richardson at some point during the match. But it seems apparent that no rising tide of slurs and threats occurred during that match — that would be clear in the recordings. And Richardson’s having possibly exaggerated what happened casts into doubt whether there were any slurs at all, given that people leveling such words tend to do so with the intention of being heard by others, and no one present has come forward and explicitly said they heard it. Richardson and her representatives have presented no explanation as to why recordings via modern technology do not reveal what she claimed.

We cannot know why Richardson made this claim. Maybe she misheard common volleyball chants, as some have suggested. Or perhaps there were members of the crowd who did in fact resort to racist slurs that others either did not hear or are not willing to corroborate. But it’s hard not to sense that all of this is discomfitingly ambiguous — the likelihood that Richardson’s basic claim of being continuously heckled with racist slurs from the stands seems rather infinitesimal.

But this is why the B.Y.U. story is important. The message from this story is not just that interpretations of events will differ, or that in some fashion racism persists in America even if the details on this case are murky. We must also engage with the unfortunate possibility that the B.Y.U. story may be a demonstration of a pattern, one that we must be aware of to have an honest debate about racism in America today.

I have long noticed, in attending to episodes of this kind in our times, that claims of especially stark and unfiltered racist abuse, of the kind that sound like something from another time, often do not turn out to have been true. Accounts of this kind, I have realized, should be received warily. Not with utter resistance, but with a grain of salt.

9) Thomas Friedman with an interesting new column on the US’s new policy trying to limit advanced Chinese microchip technology:

Today, though, I want to focus on the struggle with China, which is less visible and involves no shooting, because it is being fought mostly with transistors that toggle between digital 1s and 0s. But it will have as big, if not bigger, an impact on the global balance of power as the outcome of the combat between Russia and Ukraine. And it has little to do with Taiwan.

It is a struggle over semiconductors — the foundational technology of the information age. The alliance that designs and makes the smartest chips in the world will also have the smartest precision weapons, the smartest factories and the smartest quantum computing tools to break virtually any form of encryption. Today, the U.S. and its partners lead, but China is determined to catch up — and we are now determined to prevent that. Game on.

Last week, the Biden administration issued a new set of export regulations that in effect said to China: “We think you are three technology generations behind us in logic and memory chips and equipment, and we are going to ensure that you never catch up.” Or, as the national security adviser Jake Sullivan put it more diplomatically: “Given the foundational nature of certain technologies, such as advanced logic and memory chips, we must maintain as large of a lead as possible” — forever.

“The U.S. has essentially declared war on China’s ability to advance the country’s use of high-performance computing for economic and security gains,” Paul Triolo, a China and tech expert at Albright Stonebridge, a consulting firm, told The Financial Times. Or as the Chinese Embassy in Washington framed it, the U.S. is going for “sci-tech hegemony.”…

This last rule is huge, because the most advanced semiconductors are made by what I call “a complex adaptive coalition” of companies from America to Europe to Asia. Think of it this way: AMD, Qualcomm, Intel, Apple and Nvidia excel at the design of chips that have billions of transistors packed together ever more tightly to produce the processing power they are seeking. Synopsys and Cadence create sophisticated computer-aided design tools and software on which chip makers actually draw up their newest ideas. Applied Materials creates and modifies the materials to forge the billions of transistors and connecting wires in the chip. ASML, a Dutch company, provides the lithography tools in partnership with, among others, Zeiss SMT, a German company specializing in optical lenses, which draws the stencils on the silicon wafers from those designs, using both deep and extreme ultraviolet light — a very short wavelength that can print tiny, tiny designs on a microchip. Intel, Lam Research, KLA and firms from Korea to Japan to Taiwan also play key roles in this coalition.

The point is this: The more we push the boundaries of physics and materials science to cram more transistors onto a chip to get more processing power to continue to advance artificial intelligence, the less likely it is that any one company, or country, can excel at all the parts of the design and manufacturing process. You need the whole coalition. The reason Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, known as TSMC, is considered the premier chip manufacturer in the world is that every member of this coalition trusts TSMC with its most intimate trade secrets, which it then melds and leverages for the benefit of the whole.

Because China is not trusted by the coalition partners not to steal their intellectual property, Beijing is left trying to replicate the world’s all-star manufacturing chip stack on its own with old technologies. It managed to pilfer a certain amount of chip technology, including 28 nanometer technology from TSMC back in 2017.

Until recently, China’s premier chip maker, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Company, had been thought to be stuck at mostly this chip level, although it claims to have produced some chips at the 14 nm and even 7 nm scale by jury-rigging some older-generation Deep UV lithography from ASML. U.S. experts told me, though, that China can’t mass produce these chips with precision without ASML’s latest technology — which is now banned from the country.

10) Spencer Bokat-Lindell on the really tough geo-politics of the US relationship with Saudi Arabia:

The exchange of oil for security guarantees became the basis of the U.S.-Saudi alliance even as it broadened along other dimensions later in the 20th century. Both countries developed an interest in constraining the ambitions of Iran after the Iranian revolution in 1979 and in opposing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that same year. Since the 1990s, the United States has been the world’s largest arms exporter, and Saudi Arabia is its single largest customer.

This arrangement has always required a high tolerance for certain critical differences. Saudi Arabia is one of the last absolute monarchies in the world, and a fundamentalist theocratic one at that, with very few civil liberties to speak of. And until just a few years ago, the United States and Saudi Arabia disagreed on Israel’s right to exist in what was, during Roosevelt’s presidency, British-controlled Palestine.

“This was always a high-risk business, and for a while the rewards seemed commensurate,” Joan Didion wrote in 2003 of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. “We got the oil for helping the Saudis, we got the moral credit for helping the Israelis, and, for helping both, we enjoyed the continuing business that accrued to an American defense industry significantly based on arming all sides.”…

If Saudi Arabia seems more like a frenemy than an ally these days, the Bloomberg Opinion columnist David Fickling argues it’s because the kingdom recognizes just how vital it is to America’s global superpower status. If the United States withdrew its military presence in the region, as some Democrats have suggested, Fickling believes China would most likely step in to protect Saudi oil shipments from piracy. The United States would lose much of the military and economic leverage it has over China, which would leave East Asian countries more vulnerable to Chinese influence and eliminate an important deterrent to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

“The U.S. doesn’t want China deploying the energy weapon to obtain hegemony in East Asia via a Pax Sinica,” Fickling writes. “In the circumstances, stationing a few thousand troops in the Gulf to head off those scenarios is a small price for Washington to pay.”

11) Loved this interview with Ken Jennings who is really doing a terrific job as the primary host of Jeopardy!  

12) Bivalent boosters now approved for 5-11.  I’ve read in a couple places that Moderna is half the adult dose, but, nothing on Pfizer (though, the fact that it is a different vial means it’s also surely a smaller dose).  That means I will wait for my 11 year and 10.75 month old daughter to turn 12 and get the full adult bivalent dose.  Hopefully she stays Covid free till then.  

13) The economics of making childcare work are just really, really tough!  For now, it means a big shortage of workers:

There are 100,000 fewer child-care workers than there were before the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even as private-sector employment fully rebounded over the summer from the job losses caused by Covid-19, the child care sector shrank and was 9.7 percent smaller last month than it was in February 2020, federal data shows.

Program directors point to a few explanations for the shortage: competition from other sectors, as well as regulations — including license requirements, vaccine and masking rules — that could dim the enthusiasm of some job candidates.

The typical American child-care worker earns about $13 per hour, and many earn just above minimum wage. Last year, 29 percent were so poor that they experienced food insecurity, according to a survey conducted by researchers at the University of Oregon.

Positions stocking shelves at Target, ringing up groceries at Trader Joe’s, and packing and loading boxes at Amazon warehouses now often pay more than jobs in child-care programs in many parts of the country. Working at a nail salon or managing pharmacy benefits over the phone can also lead to higher earnings.

A recession could lessen the crunch for child-care staff, if competing employers slowed hiring or cut pay. But even before the pandemic, 98 percent of occupations paid more than child care, and the sector, which was already dealing with widespread shortages and high staff turnover, was not robust enough to meet many families’ needs.

Now, signing up on an online job board as a child-care worker yields dozens of queries from interested employers in potentially higher-paying jobs in other fields — airport security, food services, hotels.

“Child care has been completely left behind as a competitive employer,” said Elliot Haspel, an early-childhood education expert at Capita, a family policy group.

The mathematics of child care are not easy to solve, in part because programs run on such tight margins. In Maryland, center directors like Ms. Reyes earn an average of $41,000 a year. And Ms. Reyes cannot simply raise tuition in order to pay herself or her workers more; child care is already a leading household expense and a service that is unaffordable for 60 percent of the families who need it, according to the Treasury Department.

Nor are there efficiencies to be found from new technologies. “You can’t cut costs — there is no automation, there’s no remote,” said Christina Peusch, executive director of the Maryland State Child Care Association. “What do you do? Not give a kid a snack? Not have an adult in the room?”

Many child care professionals find that the numbers just don’t add up.

14) This is pretty cool– just how bad Americans are at estimating population proportions of groups (really bad!) There’s a nice summary chart that’s too big for me to paste.  

When people’s average perceptions of group sizes are compared to actual population estimates, an intriguing pattern emerges: Americans tend to vastly overestimate the size of minority groups. This holds for sexual minorities, including the proportion of gays and lesbians (estimate: 30%, true: 3%), bisexuals (estimate: 29%, true: 4%), and people who are transgender (estimate: 21%, true: 0.6%). 

It also applies to religious minorities, such as Muslim Americans (estimate: 27%, true: 1%) and Jewish Americans (estimate: 30%, true: 2%). And we find the same sorts of overestimates for racial and ethnic minorities, such as Native Americans (estimate: 27%, true: 1%), Asian Americans (estimate: 29%, true: 6%), and Black Americans (estimate: 41%, true: 12%)…

A parallel pattern emerges when we look at estimates of majority groups: People tend to underestimate rather than overestimate their size relative to their actual share of the adult population. For instance, we find that people underestimate the proportion of American adults who are Christian (estimate: 58%, true: 70%) and the proportion who have at least a high school degree (estimate: 65%, true: 89%). 

The most accurate estimates involved groups whose real proportion fell right around 50%, including the percentage of American adults who are married (estimate: 55%, true: 51%) and have at least one child (estimate: 58%, true: 57%).

Misperceptions of the size of minority groups have been identified in prior surveys, which observers have often attributed to social causes: fear of out-groupslack of personal exposure, or portrayals in the media. Yet consistent with prior research, we find that the tendency to misestimate the size of demographic groups is actually one instance of a broader tendency to overestimate small proportions and underestimate large ones, regardless of the topic. 

15) Ian Milhiser with a great summary of the many and complex issues involved in a Supreme Court case about California trying to require humanely-raised pork:

In 2018, California’s voters enacted Proposition 12, a ballot initiative that imposes strict animal welfare requirements on much of the meat sold in California. Among other things, Prop 12 forbids the sale of any pork in California unless the farm that produced that pork provided its breeding sows with at least “24 square feet of usable floor space per pig.”

The overwhelming majority of pork produced in the United States is produced outside of California. So this law primarily impacts pork farmers in the other 49 states.

The pork industry’s lawyers speak of Prop 12 in almost apocalyptic terms, claiming that it will “increase farmers’ production costs by over $13 per pig, a 9.2% cost increase.” They also claim that it is “impracticable” for pork farmers to know in advance which cuts of pork will ultimately be sold in California — so the farmers will have no choice but to raise all of their pigs in compliance with Prop 12.

But this claim — essentially an argument that California’s law could raise the price of bacon by nearly 10 percent in all 50 states — has never been tested. And at least some large pork producers have put out statements that seem to contradict the pork industry’s alarming economic claims. For this reason, the easiest way for the Court to resolve the Pork Producers case would be to simply send it back down to a trial court and require the pork industry to actually prove that their economic predictions are reliable before the case proceeds.

Should the pork producers do so, however — or should the Court decide to bypass this trial and rule immediately on the constitutional questions presented by the case — then the justices’ decision could transform each state’s relationship with the other 49 states. The justices spent Tuesday morning struggling with the question of just how much one state’s law may impact the economy of other states. And they received few good answers to this question.

16) Pretty curious how health reporter Gretchen Reynolds ended up at the Post after the NYT (moves almost always happen the other way), but, anyway, this is pretty interesting, “Have you exercised your body fat lately? Everyone has fat cells. But the more exercise you do, the more likely you are to have healthy and small fat cells.”

Is your body fat fit?

It could be, if you start or continue exercising, according to rousing new science, which shows that being physically active alters fat at a molecular level in ways that improve the fat’s health. The findings have broad implications for the state of our metabolisms, muscles and even how well our bodies deal with the approaching holiday season of cheery gluttony.

Many of us may not realize that body fat can be metabolically healthy — or the reverse — no matter what someone’s weight or shape.

“Healthy fat is not about the amount of fat” someone carries, said Jeffrey Horowitz, a professor at the University of Michigan, who studies exercise and metabolism. It is about how well that fat functions, he said. “A person who has healthier fat is much better off than someone with the same body fat percentage whose fat is unhealthy.”

What principally differentiates healthy from dysfunctional fat, Horowitz continued, is the size of the fat cells. “The more small fat cells, the better,” he said.

And notably, you don’t have to lose weight or fat to make the body fat you already have metabolically healthier.

Why fat cell size matters

Large fat cells, he said, are already filled with fat. They cannot store much more and tend to leak some of their overstuffed contents into the bloodstream as fatty acids. From there, the fatty acids slosh toward and lodge in other organs, such as the heart, muscles or liver. Fatty, well-marbled livers, muscles or hearts are undesirable (unless, perhaps, you raise steers).

Small fat cells, on the other hand, can expand, essentiallyslurping fat from your blood. You want fat to stay inside fat cells, Horowitz said.

Healthy fat cells also contain reams of active mitochondria, the power centers of any cell. Mitochondria convert oxygen and food into cellular energy. In general, the more mitochondria, the healthier and more resilient any cell will be, including fat cells.

Finally, healthy fat tissue teems with blood vessels, to ferry oxygen and nutrients to fat cells, along with battalions of other cells, most related to immunity, that help fight inflammation. Without sufficient blood supply and immune protection, fat tissue often becomes inflamed and scarred and releases substances into the bloodstream that initiate similar, unhealthy inflammation elsewhere in our bodies, even in people who are not overweight.

17) I hate the idea of sentencing drug suppliers to first-degree murder type sentences because someone overdosed.  I mean, maybe if you knowing say, hey, there’s no opioids in here, but it’s pure fentanyl.  But, if you tell someone, here’s some fentanyl and they overdose on fentanyl, that’s on them.  “Eric Kay sentenced to 22 years for role in death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs”

18) The universe may actually be a hologram??  Cosmology is weird.  

For the last century the biggest bar fight in science has been between Albert Einstein and himself.

On one side is the Einstein who in 1915 conceived general relativity, which describes gravity as the warping of space-time by matter and energy. That theory predicted that space-time could bend, expand, rip, quiver like a bowl of Jell-O and disappear into those bottomless pits of nothingness known as black holes.

On the other side is the Einstein who, starting in 1905, laid the foundation for quantum mechanics, the nonintuitive rules that inject randomness into the world — rules that Einstein never accepted. According to quantum mechanics, a subatomic particle like an electron can be anywhere and everywhere at once, and a cat can be both alive and dead until it is observed. God doesn’t play dice, Einstein often complained.

Gravity rules outer space, shaping galaxies and indeed the whole universe, whereas quantum mechanics rules inner space, the arena of atoms and elementary particles. The two realms long seemed to have nothing to do with each other; this left scientists ill-equipped to understand what happens in an extreme situation like a black hole or the beginning of the universe.

But a blizzard of research in the last decade on the inner lives of black holes has revealed unexpected connections between the two views of the cosmos. The implications are mind-bending, including the possibility that our three-dimensional universe — and we ourselves — may be holograms, like the ghostly anti-counterfeiting images that appear on some credit cards and drivers licenses. In this version of the cosmos, there is no difference between here and there, cause and effect, inside and outside or perhaps even then and now; household cats can be conjured in empty space. We can all be Dr. Strange.

19) Some day we really will figure out how to defeat most cancers. “After Giving Up on Cancer Vaccines, Doctors Start to Find Hope: Encouraging data from preliminary studies are making some doctors feel optimistic about developing immunizations against pancreatic, colon and breast cancers.”

It seems like an almost impossible dream — a cancer vaccine that would protect healthy people at high risk of cancer. Any incipient malignant cells would be obliterated by the immune system. It would be no different from the way vaccines protect against infectious diseases.

However, unlike vaccines for infectious diseases, the promise of cancer vaccines has only dangled in front of researchers, despite their arduous efforts. Now, though, many hope that some success may be nearing in the quest to immunize people against cancer.

The first vaccine involves people with a frightening chance of developing pancreatic cancer, one of the most difficult cancers to treat once it is underway. Other vaccine studies involve people at high risk of colon and breast cancer.

Of course, such research is in its early days, and the vaccine efforts might fail. But animal data are encouraging, as are some preliminary studies in human patients, and researchers are brimming with newfound optimism.

“There is no reason why cancer vaccines would not work if given at the earliest stage,” said Sachet A. Shukla, who directs a cancer vaccine program at MD Anderson Cancer Center. “Cancer vaccines,” he added, “are an idea whose time has come.” (Dr. Shukla owns stock in companies developing cancer vaccines.)

That view is a far cry from where the field was a decade ago, when researchers had all but given up. Studies that would have seemed like a pipe dream are now underway.

“People would have said this is insane,” said Dr. Susan Domchek, the principal investigator of a breast cancer vaccine study at the University of Pennsylvania.

Now, she and others foresee a time when anyone with a precancerous condition or a genetic predisposition to cancer could be vaccinated and protected.

20) Remember the dog killing in Brooklyn? Freddie deBoer has thoughts, “The Existence of Random Dog-Killings Would Seem to Imply the Need for Some Sort of Constabulary Force”

As the Times story runs, “one of the disrupters, a woman calling herself Sky, said, ‘Crime is an abstract term that means nothing in a lot of ways,’ according to Common Sense.” Perhaps! Perhaps crime is abstract. A dog, though, is entirely corporeal. And I’m sorry to say that so is a stick.

Sad that I need to write this, but here are some things you can believe, without believing that a man who beat a dog to death should go entirely uncorrected:

  1. That we badly need criminal justice reform.

  2. That we are a vastly over-incarcerated nation.

  3. That existing police departments exhibit endemic racism, corruption, unequal enforcement, and impunity from consequences.

  4. That those who are mentally ill deserve special dispensation within the criminal justice system, as their condition complicates questions of culpability.

  5. That ordinary citizens should be careful about when and why they contact the police, and should do so understanding the potential for violence and racism that so often stem from police interactions with people of color.

You can believe all of that, and still also believe that the man who beat a woman’s dog to death for no reason should be arrested and treated appropriately by the criminal justice system. “Treated appropriately” doesn’t mean we lock him up and throw away the key. In fact, if psychiatrists thought it was appropriate, treating that man appropriately might very well involve only compulsory psychiatric care, with no formal legal punishment. (Compulsory psychiatric treatment has a bad reputation, particularly among the activist left, but has saved untold thousands of lives.) But you would need to have some sort of formal system in place through which that psychiatric evaluation would be adjudicated, and you’d need to ensure that the accused was compliant in that treatment. Criminal justice has to be formalized, not only for the good of victims of crime but also for the accused. Without formal systems, there can be no standards, and without standards, there is no possibility of the punishment fitting the crime and of equity in consequences. And what we have here, where you still have the police and the prisons but also have a bunch of guilt-ridden white liberals who think they should never play ball with those systems, seems like a worst-of-both-worlds scenario – no real dent made in mass incarceration, but a lack of immediate personal justice for those who need it, as well as community confusion.

21) I just got over “medium cold” that kept me under the weather for the better part of two weeks.  Good stuff here on “medium Covid”

Recently, I’ve begun to think that our worries might be better placed. As the pandemic drags on, data have emerged to clarify the dangers posed by COVID across the weeks, months, and years that follow an infection. Taken together, their implications are surprising. Some people’s lives are devastated by long COVID; they’re trapped with perplexing symptoms that seem to persist indefinitely. For the majority of vaccinated people, however, the worst complications will not surface in the early phase of disease, when you’re first feeling feverish and stuffy, nor can the gravest risks be said to be “long term.” Rather, they emerge during the middle phase of post-infection, a stretch that lasts for about 12 weeks after you get sick. This period of time is so menacing, in fact, that it really ought to have its own, familiar name: medium COVID.

Just how much of a threat is medium COVID? The answer has been obscured, to some extent, by sloppy definitions. A lot of studies blend different, dire outcomes into a single giant bucket called “long COVID.” Illnesses arising in as few as four weeks, along with those that show up many months later, have been considered one and the same. The CDC, for instance, suggested in a study out last spring that one in five adults who gets the virus will go on to suffer any of 26 medical complications, starting at least one month after infection, and extending up to one year. All of these are called “post-COVID conditions, or long COVID.” A series of influential analyses looking at U.S. veterans described an onslaught of new heartkidney, and brain diseases (even among the vaccinated) across a similarly broad time span. The studies’ authors refer to these, grouped together, as “long COVID and its myriad complications.”

But the risks described above might well be most significant in just the first few weeks post-infection, and fade away as time goes on. When scientists analyzed Sweden’s national health registry, for example, they found that the chance of developing pulmonary embolism—an often deadly clot in the lungs—was a startling 32 times higher in the first month after testing positive for the virus; after that, it quickly diminished. The clots were only two times more common at 60 days after infection, and the effect was indistinguishable from baseline after three to four months. A post-infection risk of heart attack and stroke was also evident, and declined just as expeditiously. In July, U.K. epidemiologists corroborated the Swedish findings, showing that a heightened rate of cardiovascular disease among COVID patients could be detected up to 12 weeks after they got sick. Then the hazard went away.

22) Honestly, something doesn’t add up about this story that these dogs were owned for years and were never violent, “Dogs that fatally mauled Tennessee toddlers, injured mom were never violent, friend says.”  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again.  I’m sure most pit bulls are totally sweet dogs (as most dogs are).  But when they do get violent they are bred to have jaws to absolutely destroy flesh.  That’s not good.  Plenty of sweet dogs lack the physical potential to maul you as if they were a crocodile. 

23) 

Are mothers less racist?

Of course not!  But, that was the title of Frank Bruni’s newsletter this week, and given my research interests, you know I had some thoughts on that.  Bruni:

Nury Martinez, the disgraced former president of the Los Angeles City Council, said that there were “no excuses” for the racist remarks that she made in a leaked audio recording that has outraged residents of the city and appalled people far and wide. She got that much right. Referring to a fellow Council member’s Black child as a little monkey is purely and unequivocally vile.

She said that she was sorry, and she should be, though I always wonder: Sorry for the hate she felt and the hurt she caused or sorry that she’s now in a world of hurt herself?

But Martinez, in her necessary apology, also said something ludicrous — ludicrous but telling. “As a mother,” she confessed, “I know better.”

As a mother?

I’m not a mother. I’m not a father, either. But miraculously, I too know better. And I’m both amused and offended by the notion that having a child typically bestows on someone a greater sensitivity and a keener conscience. If that were the case, this world would be in significantly better shape than it is. It’s chockablock with parents — you can’t throw a binky without hitting one — and somehow bigotry and cruelty are doing just fine.

The statement by Martinez, who resigned from the Council on Wednesday amid a national uproar over her remarks, invoked yet another popular but debatable idea, which is that women in general and women leaders in particular aren’t as reflexively and gratuitously divisive as men. That they’re more instinctive uniters, more natural nurturers — and as such, demonstrate greater concern for the welfare of future generations.

Martinez, after all, didn’t say “as a parent.” She specified her gender and, in doing so, promoted a gendered if women-flattering conceit. It’s a conceit that, I admit, I buy into. I indeed think that we’d be well served with more women in leadership roles, in both the public and the private sectors, and not just as a matter of representation.

But I also think that our discussions about this can be softheaded and our analysis of the evidence selective.

Anyway, my obvious first thought… data!  Of course, I already have parenthood and racial attitudes coded in the 2020 American National Election study data.  

And, survey says, on the 1-5 racial resentment scale, (items such as, “over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve”) with 5 coded as most racially resentful, women who are not moms score at 2.80 and women who are moms (technically children under 18 in the home) score at… 2.77.  Unsurprisingly, nowhere near a statistically meaningful difference.  I actually do think there’s good reason to think that women may make better politicians.  But, I don’t think it’s because of childrearing.  And, it’s pretty clear being a mom is not making them less racist.  

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