Quick hits (part II)

1) Is semaglutide the ultimate wonder drug?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

15) I literally just do not believe this.  

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

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

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

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

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

We were wrong.

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

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

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

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

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


OTC Birth control pills

In some good and really overdue news, the FDA took a big step towards over-the-counter birth control pills last week:

In a unanimous vote, 17-0, a panel of advisers to the Food and Drug Administration recommended that the agency approve the first over-the-counter birth control pill.

If approved, the pill would be sold by Perrigo under the brand name Opill. It is a so-called progestin-only pill that contains only a synthetic version of the hormone progesterone to prevent pregnancy. Most pills also contain estrogen. While the FDA typically follows the recommendation of its advisory committees, it isn’t required to…

“More than 60 years of safe and effective use of oral contraceptives have shown that the benefits of widespread, nonprescription availability far outweigh the limited risk associated with their us — with evidence showing that pregnancy poses much greater health risks,” said Dr. Jack Resneck Jr., the president of the American Medical Association, in a statement.

I gotta say, what kills me about all this is the incredibly paternalistic attitudes that have been holding this back:

FDA scientists had questioned whether the company had provided convincing evidence that women could safely and effectively take the pill without the guidance of a health professional. Specifically, the agency researchers raised concerns that women may not take the pill at about the same time every day, which is necessary to prevent pregnancy. They also expressed concern that women who have breast cancer would fail to realize it would be dangerous for them to take the pill.

But the advisers concluded that there was a sufficient evidence to conclude that women knew enough about how to use oral contraceptives safely and effectively. Committee member also questioned how much guidance women typically get from a medical professional prescribing the contraceptive pills.

Seriously?  How can we trust women to take a pill at the same time every day and if we can’t the pill should be a prescription?  And pretty safe to say that women with breast cancer are under medical care that is advising them about all sorts of things, including not taking the pill.  So, at least common sense and good policy has won out (presumably– not quite all the way there yet).  This article doesn’t mention it, but, the pill is sold OTC without major negative implications throughout much of the rest of the world. 

Meanwhile, there was a Politico article about all this shortly before the FDA action where I was truly struck by the just awful arguments of the opponents of OTC birth control pills:

Political pressure is also coming from anti-abortion and religious groups, including the Catholic Medical Association and the National Association of Catholic Nurses. They are demanding the FDA block OTC approval of Opill.

Kristan Hawkins, president of the advocacy group Students for Life Action, said she fears dropping restrictions on birth control pills will lead to an increase in unprotected sex, adding that she is “offended” the FDA is considering the pill’s over-the-counter approval given the country’s current record rate of sexually transmitted infections.

Similar predictions of increased promiscuity were made when Plan B, the so-called “morning after” pill, was up for over-the-counter approval and, a decade after it was approved for non-prescription sale, they have yet to come true, said Carolyn Sufrin, an associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The Catholic Church wants using birth control to be considered a sin… totally fine by me.  But using that to determine public policy for all Americans is insane.  It’s also a sin not to go to mass every Sunday and to fail to properly care for the poor.  Where are their complaints about bureaucracies on those scores.  Meanwhile, I truly understand than many pro-life activists have genuine concerns for unborn human life, but, damn do they just completely undermine themselves and appear to genuinely want nothing more than to control women’s bodies with this completely disingenuous argument about STD’s. 

The whole point of the Politico article is about just how politicized this area is.  The reality is the birth control pill is legal and proven safe.  Opposition to allowing it to be OTC can only be seen as efforts to hope that women have less sex or simply punish them for doing so by making it harder to get birth control. And honestly, it’s pretty hard to imagine too many political positions regarding sex/gender that are more retrograde.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Noah Smith on American industrial policy:

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

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

Here are a few key excerpts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why are elections still so close?

Two words: Issue bundling

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

Huh? The bundle? What, you say?

Stick with me.

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

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

How is this possible?

Enter… The Ostrogorski Paradox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More cops, faster courts, better prisons


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work smarter, not harsher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12) And Yglesias on standardized tests:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t worry too much about dropping the tests


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On thin privilege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


If you want to make it harder to get an abortion, just say you want to make it harder to get an abortion

Of course, NC’s new law will not only make it harder to get an abortion after 12 weeks, but noticeably harder to get one before 12 weeks, too:

New abortion legislation proposed by North Carolina Republicans Tuesday not only imposes a 12-week ban, but also adds new appointment rules that doctors say will create huge barriers for abortion care at all stages of pregnancy.

For women seeking a medication abortion, the bill proposes two new requirements: one in-person appointment at least 72 hours before the patient swallows the pill, and an in-person appointment one to two weeks after.

In effect, these will require women to travel back and forth three separate times to an abortion clinic. They are already required to be in the office when they take the pill.

Doctors say the new requirements create financial and logistic barriers for women who live hours from a clinic. In North Carolina, more than half of women live in counties without an abortion clinic…

“It would be untenable for out-of-state patients to get a medication abortion in North Carolina,” said Dr. Jonas Swartz, a Duke OB-GYN. “Most patients who are having abortions already have kids at home. They’re taking time off work, they’re traveling.”

In the last year, as several states began tightening abortion restrictions, North Carolina became an abortion hub for women in the South…

Currently, North Carolina’s laws dictate that patients can receive state-mandated counseling in-person or by phone 72 hours before the procedure.

Swartz said the vast majority of his patients opt to hear the counseling over the phone, so they don’t have to come into the clinic multiple times. If the newly proposed abortion ban is signed into law, that option is gone.

Within North Carolina, Gray worries these new requirements will pressure more women into choosing a surgical abortion, even if that’s not necessarily what they want.

Under the proposed legislation, surgical abortions require just two in-person appointments — one 72 hours before the procedure and one the day of the procedure — potentially making it less onerous for women traveling long distances.

In North Carolina, most patients prefer taking a series of pills over undergoing a minor surgery. Nearly 60% of abortions were carried out using medications in 2020, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services…

At the press conference Tuesday night, lawmakers said the proposed changes to abortion laws were designed to “ensure the health and safety of women.” …

But several doctors interviewed by the N&O said the required appointments outlined in the legislation serve no medical purpose.

Furthermore, doctors say these extra appointments will create hours of unnecessary work for abortion clinics that already have months-long waiting lists.

“The health care system is already incredible strained,” Gray said. “How am I going to double the amount of appointments that have to happen?”

Give me a break.  These regulations are quite simply to raise barriers to abortion so that fewer women have access.  Honestly, just say so!  Don’t pretend this is about “the health and safety of women” when, in fact, it is the exact opposite.  The restrictions will assuredly cause more women to take abortion into their own hands– to avoid a completely unnecessary and burdensome 3 appointments– which is, of course, actually less safe. 

It’s okay that Republicans want fewer abortions, but actually admit that and quadruple down on comprehensive sex education and the ready availability of contraceptives.  But don’t pretend restrictions that actually make women far more likely to make unsafe choices is about women’s health and safety.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) Not wrong, “Republicans threaten to tank economy. Media blames Biden.”

House Republicans are refusing to let the government keep paying its bills unless the Biden administration rolls back some of its signature achievements.

It’s a demand that neither the Senate nor Biden will ever agree to.

Raising the debt limit is a procedural move that allows the Treasury to make good on existing commitments. It’s not a budget bill.

But House Republicans appear to be ready to default on the debt if they don’t get their way. Such a default would be catastrophic for the U.S and world economies, and could permanently damage the dollar’s status as the de facto global currency.

Explaining it that way is simply good journalism.

But as usual, extremist Republicans have been enabled by media coverage that tries to split the difference, and treats what is essentially a hostage crisis created exclusively by one side as a normal, two-sided partisan squabble.

Indeed, our top political reporters now insist that the onus is on Biden to solve the problem.

Under the headline “Biden Faces His First Big Choice on Debt Limit,” New York Times reporter Jim Tankersley writes today that the issue “has put President Biden on the defensive, forcing him to confront a series of potentially painful choices at a perilous economic moment.”

Sure, Biden says he won’t negotiate, but “business groups, fiscal hawks and some congressional Democrats” want him to make a deal. So Biden, Tankersley writes, “faces a cascading set of decisions as the nation, which has already bumped up against its $31.4 trillion debt limit, barrels toward default.”

But the nation is not “barreling toward default,” nor is it “careening,” or even “drifting” there. It is being pushed there by Republicans.

Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein set off Internet pundits and the Post’s own readers over the weekend with his article headlined “Biden is running out of time to avoid calamitous debt ceiling outcomes.”

Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall tweeted: “Has there ever been a clearer example of the ‘GOP has trained us to take their legislative terrorism as a given’ mentality so clear in so much MSM reporting?”

2) The current way the NHL uses replay is nuts.  My biggest pet peeve is calling back a goal for an offside that happened long before the actual scoring opportunity.

There was a way to do this right. When the NHL introduced expanded replay for offside and goaltender interference back in 2015, and expanded it to other stoppages in 2019, they could have made it crystal clear that they were looking for obvious misses only. Hockey is a fast game, they could have told us, and we’re not here to nitpick our officials over microseconds. If somebody gets screened out or otherwise misses an obvious call, then we want to help them out. But the replay has to be quick and conclusive, and if it isn’t then we’ll live with some close-call controversy, just like we always have.

They could have enforced that with some sort of gimmick, like time limits on reviews or real-time replays, but they wouldn’t have needed to. This was about setting expectations. We’re here to catch Matt Duchene being 10 feet offside. If it’s 10 millimeters, get lost.

They could have told us that from Day 1. Or they could have waited until it became apparent that teams were employing video coaches to find plays to challenge that nobody on the ice had even noticed. Unintended consequences, and all that.

They didn’t. Oh, they wrote a clause in the rules about how replays had to be conclusive – the current rule says the call should stand if there’s “any doubt whatsoever” – but then they pretty much ignored that. Instead, they’ve told us that all this standing around and squinting at iPads would be worth it because there’d be no more arguments about missed calls. They said they were going to just get it right. And guess what? Fans believed them.

Does it feel like we’re just getting it right? Do you feel like replay has led to less controversy?

In the wake of moments like Friday’s overtime, that’s a tough case to make. It doesn’t feel like this is working. Nobody seems to be happy.

3) So true and so frustrating, “The GOP’s Unworkable Work Requirements: House Republicans have voted to make benefits even more conditional. All that can achieve is turning off legitimately eligible recipients.”

The so-called Limit, Save, Grow Act, which House Republicans passed late on Wednesday, will never become law, because its combination of a small increase in the debt limit and a freeze on much government spending has no chance of making it through the Senate. The bill is nevertheless a statement about conservative priorities—among the most important of which, the debate over the bill suggests, is putting in place work requirements for people who get government benefits. In fact, the way Republican lawmakers speak about the issue, you’d be forgiven for thinking that work requirements were essential to revving up the U.S. economy.

As it happens, able-bodied people ages 18 to 49 and without dependents already have to meet certain work requirements in order to be eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments. The new bill would, for no obviously discernible reason, raise the age threshold for those requirements to 56. More substantively, the bill would subject similarly defined Medicaid recipients to new work requirements, including rules that recipients spend 80 hours a month either working, doing community service, or participating in a designated work program (or some combination of the latter two activities).

The argument for these requirements is straightforward: Threatening people with the loss of benefits will encourage them to get off their butt and get a job, which will be good for their well-being and better for the economy. That’s why the section of the Limit, Save, Grow Act that deals with work requirements is headlined “Grow the Economy.” Advocates of these requirements frequently point to what happened after 1996, when work requirements were attached to what had been Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits: Welfare rolls shrank dramatically, supposedly because recipients poured into the workforce and found gainful employment.

The logic here seems neat and clean. And work requirements also seem morally just to numerous voters. “I don’t think many people think it’s right to be paying billions of dollars to allow people to sit at home,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said recently, “and not work when everybody’s looking for workers.” The only problem: No good evidence exists that work requirements of the kind that are in this bill will have a noticeable impact on employment; plenty of evidence exists that what they’ll do instead is cause many thousands of people to lose their benefits despite being perfectly eligible for them.

4) Now that you mention it, you never see stretch limos any more.  Quite enjoyed this, “The Long Demise of the Stretch Limousine: Once a symbol of affluence, the stretch limo has largely fallen out of favor as the rise of Uber and Lyft, the Great Recession and new regulations hastened a shift to chauffeured vans and S.U.V.s.”

Decades ago, stretch limos were a symbol of affluence, used almost exclusively by the rich and famous. Over time, they became more of a common luxury, booked for children’s birthday parties or by teenagers heading to the prom.

These days, it seems as if hardly anyone is riding in a stretch limo. While the limousine name has stuck, the limo industry has shifted to chauffeur services in almost anything but actual stretch limos, which have largely been supplanted by black S.U.V.s, buses and vans.

And, yes, so many of my friends rented these for prom! (I borrowed by Dad’s car).

5) Such an important point from David Hopkins that people are always missing, “The Gun Lobby’s Strength Is Cultural, Not Financial”

Gun politics in the US demonstrates that a popular majority does not always get its way. Even though most Americans support stricter gun-safety laws, proposals for major new regulations reliably face impassable obstacles in Congress.

The standard explanation for this impasse is that the minority is highly mobilized and well-funded. This is only half right: The power of gun-control opponents stems more from their shared sense of identity than from their money.

Frustrated liberals are well aware of the difficulties they face in winning a major legislative battle over gun policy, but they often misunderstand the source of the obstruction. As in other policy areas, such as health care or environmental regulation, many Democrats are predisposed to view Republican opposition as primarily reflecting the supposedly undue influence of wealthy or corporate interests…

But while the NRA is a famously powerful interest group — despite some serious recent management problems — most of its influence does not derive from the money it spends on elections. As the political scientist Matthew Lacombe explains in his 2021 book Firepower, the NRA’s most transformational achievement was not financial but cultural: It successfully defined gun ownership as a distinctive form of social identity.

For decades, Lacombe writes, the NRA has encouraged gun owners to see themselves as “reputable, honest, patriotic citizens who are self-sufficient and love freedom” but who constantly face unmerited attacks from “politicians, the media and lawyers.” He concludes that gun-control supporters are at a relative disadvantage because they lack a countervailing identity of their own.

6) Not a popular position liberals want to hear, but Jesse Singal is not wrong and nicely sums it up here, “The media is spreading bad trans science”

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of studies being discussed here concern adults, while the legislative discussion mostly centres on adolescents. The most recent version of WPATH’s Standards of Care is very open about the lack of evidence when it comes to the latter: “Despite the slowly growing body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of early medical intervention, the number of studies is still low, and there are few outcome studies that follow youth into adulthood. Therefore, a systematic review regarding outcomes of treatment in adolescents is not possible.” Again, WPATH is Bowers’s own organisation — surely she is familiar with its output?

Despite the backbreaking errors of that nine-authored paper, the severe limitations of the Cornell review, and the near-utter-irrelevance of the United States Transgender Survey, all three are chronically trotted out as evidence that we know transgender medicine is profoundly helpful, or that detransition or regret are rare — or both. It’s frustrating enough that these lacklustre arguments are constantly made on social media, where all too many people get their scientific information. But what’s worse is that many journalists have perpetuated this sad state of affairs. A cursory Google search will reveal that these three works have been treated as solid evidence by the Associated PressSlateSlate againThe Daily BeastScientific American and other outlets. The NYT, meanwhile, further publicised Cornell’s half-baked systematic review by giving Nathaniel Frank a whole column to tout its misleading findings back in 2018.

Why does such low-quality work slip through? The answer is straightforward: because it appears, if you don’t read it too closely, or if you are unfamiliar with the basic concepts of evidence-based medicine, to support the liberal view that these treatments are wonderful and shouldn’t be questioned, let alone banned. That’s enough for most people, who are less concerned with whether what they are sharing is accurate than whether it can help with ongoing, high-stakes political fights.

But you’re not being a good ally to trans people if you disseminate shoddy evidence about medicine they might seek. Whatever happens in the red states seeking to ban these treatments, transgender people need to make difficult healthcare choices, many of which can be ruinously expensive. And yet, if you call for the same standards to be applied to gender medicine that are applied to antidepressants, you’ll likely be told you don’t care about trans people.

As Gordon Guyatt, who has done an enormous amount to increase the evidentiary standards of the medical establishment, told me: “You’re doing harm to transgender people if you don’t question the evidence. I believe that people making any health decisions should know about what the best evidence is, and what the quality of evidence is. So by pretending things are not the way they are — I don’t see how you’re not harming people.”

7) And Singal on the utter insanity of the trans activists who dominate the topic on twitter.

Anyway, I do try to avoid getting sucked into all this social media nonsense, but the fact is that it has an impact because journalists are so addicted to online life. Any journalist who steps out of line will get the treatment Ryan got — in this case, not even for writing anything objectionable about this subject, but for signaling he was seeking out multiple sides of the controversy. Can’t have that. Others have gotten it worse, of course: whatever complaints I have about my own annoying interactions online, the gross attempt to smear New York Times writers, who, like Ryan, really are just trying to do journalism, dwarfed my own experiences. To a bunch of actual, real-life journalists and academics, Emily Bazelon is now an evil reactionary. Emily Bazelon! I don’t know how many times I can use words like insane and deranged, but that’s what all this is.

There’s a point to it, though. These increasingly hysterical campaigns all seek to send a simple message: if you’re a journalist who is considering writing about this issue while adhering to your usual standards of critical thinking and investigating, you really might want to reconsider. Are you ready to have your reputation absolutely Swiss-cheesed in front of all your friends and colleagues on Twitter? Is it worth it?

Of course it isn’t.

8) This is really good, “This Is What Neuroscientists and Philosophers Understand About Addiction

Was my brain hijacked by drugs — or was I willfully choosing to risk it all for a few hours of selfish pleasure? What makes people continue taking drugs like street fentanyl, which put them at daily risk of death?

These questions are at the heart of drug policy and the way we view and treat addiction. But simplistic answers have stymied efforts to ameliorate drug use disorders and reduce stigma…

Research now shows that addiction doesn’t ‌‌mean either being completely subject to irresistible impulses, or making totally free choices. Addiction’s effects on decision-making are complex. Understanding them can help policymakers, treatment providers and family members aid recovery.

Claims that people with addiction are unable to control themselves are belied by basic facts. Few of us inject drugs in front of the police, which means that most are capable of delaying use. ‌‌Addicted people often make complicated plans over days and months to obtain drugs and hide use from others, again indicating purposeful activity. Those given the option will use clean needles. Moreover, small rewards for drug-free urine tests — used in a treatment called contingency management — are quite successful at helping people quit, which couldn’t be possible if addiction obliterated choice.

However, those who contend that substance use disorder is just a series of self-centered decisions face conflicting evidence, too. The most obvious ‌is the persistence of addiction despite dire losses like being cut off by family members or friends, getting fired, becoming homeless, contracting infectious diseases or being repeatedly ‌incarcerated‌‌.

‌Most people who try drugs don’t get addicted, even to opioids or methamphetamine, which suggests that ‌factors other than simply being exposed to a drug can contribute to addiction. ‌The majority of people who do get hooked have other psychiatric disorders, traumatic childhoods or both — only ‌7 percent report no history of mental illness. ‌‌Nearly 75 percent of women with heroin addiction‌‌ were sexually abused as children — and most people with any type of addiction have suffered at least one and often many forms of childhood trauma‌‌. ‌‌This data implies that ‌‌genetic and environmental vulnerabilities influence risk.

So how does addiction affect choice? Neuroscientists and philosophers are beginning to converge on answers, which could help make policy more humane and more effective.

9) David French, “Gun Idolatry Is Destroying the Case for Guns”

But the gun rights movement is changing. In many quarters of America, respect for firearms has turned into a form of reverence. As I wrote in 2022, there is now widespread gun idolatry. “Guns” have joined “God” and “Trump” in the hierarchy of right-wing values. At the edges, gun owners have gone from defending the rights of people to own semiautomatic rifles like AR-15s to openly brandishing them in protests, even to the point of, for example, staging an armed occupation of parts of the Michigan Capitol during anti-lockdown protests.

But we’re now facing something worse than gun idolatry. Too many armed citizens are jittery at best, spoiling for a fight at worst. In recent days we’ve seen a rash of terrible shootings by nervous, fearful or angry citizens. A young kid rings the bell on the wrong door and is shot. A young woman drives into the wrong driveway and is shot. A cheerleader accidentally tries to get in the wrong car and is pursued and shot, along with her friend. A basketball rolls into a man’s yard, and a neighboring 6-year-old girl and her father are shot…

All of these episodes occurred over the course of just six days.

Yet even worse than such shootings, which occurred because of fear or sudden rage, is the phenomenon that begins with a person who seems to want to fight, who deliberately places himself in harm’s way, uses deadly force and then is celebrated for his bloody recklessness. Take Kyle Rittenhouse. At age 17, Rittenhouse took an AR-15-style weapon to a riot in Kenosha, Wis., to, he said, “protect” a Kenosha business.

When you travel, armed, to a riot, you’re courting violent conflict, and he found it. He used his semiautomatic weapon to kill two people who attacked him at the protest, and a jury acquitted him on grounds of self-defense. But the jury’s narrow inquiry into the moment of the shooting doesn’t excuse the young man’s eagerness to deliberately place himself in a situation where he might have cause to use lethal violence.

And what has been the right’s response? Rittenhouse has gone from defendant to folk hero, a minor celebrity in populist America.

Or take Daniel Perry, the Army sergeant who was just convicted of murdering an armed Black Lives Matter protester named Garrett Foster. Shortly after the conviction, Tucker Carlson effectively demanded a pardon. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas responded the next day, tweeting that “Texas has one of the strongest ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or a progressive District Attorney.”

Yet Abbott ignored — or did not care — about the facts exposed at trial. Perry had run a red light and driven straight into the protest, nearly striking Foster’s wife with his car. Witnesses said Foster never pointed his gun at Perry. Even Perry initially told the police he opened fire before Foster pointed his gun at him, saying, “I didn’t want to give him a chance to aim at me.”

But the story gets worse. In social media messages before the shooting, it was plain that Perry was spoiling for an opportunity to shoot someone. His messages included, “I might have to kill a few people on my way to work they are rioting outside my apartment complex” and “I might go to Dallas to shoot looters.”

That is not a man you want anywhere near a gun. Kyle Rittenhouse is not a man you want anywhere near a gun.

Our nation’s gun debate is understandably dominated by discussions of gun rights. But it needs to feature more accountability for gun culture. Every single feasible and constitutional gun control proposal — including the red flag laws that I’ve long advocated (which allow law enforcement to remove weapons from people who broadcast deadly intent or profound instability) — will still leave hundreds of millions of American guns in tens of millions of American hands.

10) Way back when, I was so grateful for Harvey Karp and his Happiest Baby on the Block.  Really enjoyed this interview with him.

11) It’s insane how we expect basically no responsibility around lethal weapons. “The Largest Source of Stolen Guns? Parked Cars.: The growing number of firearms kept in vehicles has become a new point of contention in the debates over regulating gun safety.”

n a country awash with guns, with more firearms than people, the parked car, or in many cases the parked pickup truck, has become a new flashpoint in the debates over how and whether to regulate gun safety.

There is little question about the scope of the problem. A report issued in May by the gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety analyzed FBI crime data in 271 American cities, large and small, from 2020 and found that guns stolen from vehicles have become the nation’s largest source of stolen firearms — with an estimated 40,000 guns stolen from cars in those cities alone.

In some cities, organized groups of young people have swept through neighborhoods and areas around sports arenas, looking for weapons left under car seats or in unlocked center consoles or glove compartments. Their work is occasionally made easier by motorists who advertise their right to bear arms with car window stickers promoting favored gun brands, or that declare “molon labe” — a defiant message from ancient Sparta, which roughly translates as “come and take them.”

Increasingly, thieves are doing just that. The Everytown researchers found that a decade ago, less than a quarter of all gun thefts were from cars; in 2020, over half of them were. The researchers say more study is needed to understand the shift, which has occurred as more states have adopted permitless carry laws and messages in gun-industry marketing have encouraged Americans to take their weapons with them for personal protection.

And as the problem has grown, public health officials and lawmakers, including some in Tennessee, have proposed a rather prosaic solution: encouraging or mandating that gun-toting drivers store their weapons in their vehicles inside of sturdy, lockable gun boxes.

Gun control advocates are hoping that the adoption of the boxes in cars will come to be seen as a solution that both sides of the gun debate can accept, much as both sides encourage the use of gun safes and trigger locks in the home.

12) The fight between Pope Francis and the Latin Mass traditionalists.

13) It’s crazy that this is even a question, “Is Punishing Innocent People Unconstitutional? The possible Supreme Court case of a man imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit deserves to be heard.”

14) An interactive feature on how AI language models work.  Definitely check it out (I chose the Harry Potter version). Gift link.

15) Lots of people have had Covid-19 and never knew it (I really wonder about my family, as somehow I’m still the only one who’s ever tested positive).

Here are a couple more fascinating tidbits from recent North American studies:

Younger Canadians and Americans are far more likely to have antibodies from a past COVID-19 infection than their older counterparts.

Roughly 75% of kids and teens in the US had antibodies from a natural infection (data from Feb 2022). Likely, many of these kids/teens are unaware of their past infections.

Rates of COVID-19 virginity are slowly but surely dropping. In Canada, rates of past infection rose from roughly 50% in May 2022, to roughly 80% in Feb 2023, and are still rising. COVID-19 infection rates vary from region to region across Canada and the US.

16) Interesting stuff here…


Fetal life > maternal life

Or so is clearly the case for Republican pro-lifers.  If you actually believed in protecting maternal life, you would not pass laws where situations like this are a regular occurrence.  Devastating article in the Washington Post (and, cool, someone else’s gift link), “Two friends were denied care after Florida banned abortion. One almost died.”

Over the course of the day, according to medical records, Cook would lose roughly half the blood in her body.

She had intended to deliver the fetus in a hospital, a doctor by her side. When her water broke the night before — at least six weeks ahead of when a fetus could survive on its own — she drove straight to the emergency room, where she said the doctor explained that she was experiencing pre-viability preterm prelabor rupture of the membranes (PPROM), which occurs in less than 1 percent of pregnancies. Th econdition can cause significant complications, including infection and hemorrhage, that can threaten the health or life of the mother, according to multiple studies.

At the hospital in Coral Springs, Fla., Cook received antibiotics, records show. Then she was sent home to wait.

Cook’s experience reflects a new reality playing out in hospitals in antiabortion states across the country — where because of newly enacted abortion bans, people with potentially life-threatening pregnancy complications are being denied care that was readily available before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

When abortion was legal across the country, doctors in all states would typically offer to induceor perform a surgical procedure to end the pregnancy when faced with a pre-viability PPROM case — which is the standard of care, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and an option that many women choose. Especially before the 20-week mark, a fetus is extremely unlikely to survive without any amniotic fluid.

But in the 18states where abortion is now banned before fetal viability, many hospitals have been turning away pre-viability PPROM patients as doctors and administrators fear the legal risk that could come with terminating even a pregnancy that could jeopardize the mother’s well-being, according to 12 physicians practicing in antiabortion states.

The medical exceptions to protect the life of the mother that are included in abortion bans are often described in vague language that does not appear to cover pre-viability PPROM, doctors said. That’s because the risks of the condition are often less clear-cut than other medical emergencies, such as an ectopic pregnancy, in which a fertilized egg grows outside of the uterus, dooming the fetus and posing an immediate danger to the mother’s life.

2022 study on the impact of Texas’s six-week abortion ban found that 57 percent of pre-viability PPROM patients in Texas who were not given the option to end their pregnancies experienced “a serious maternal morbidity,” such as infection or hemorrhage, compared with 33 percent of PPROM patients who chose to terminate in states without abortion bans. According to 2018 ACOG guidance, “isolated maternal deaths due to infection” have been reported in early PPROM cases…

Florida’s abortion law, enacted last year, bans the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy exceptwhen an abortion would either “save the pregnant woman’s life” or“avert a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.” The law includes another exception for a “fatal fetal anomaly,” which generally would not apply in a pre-viability PPROM case, according to several doctors,because there is no fetal anomaly but a lack of amniotic fluid, which limits the fetus’s chances of survival.

The state’s Republican-led legislature is swiftly moving toward passing a far stricter law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. The new measure — which passed the Florida Senate last week and is awaiting final passage in the House — adds exceptions for rape and incest but does not address PPROM.

One of the sponsors of Florida’s 15-week abortion ban defended the currentlaw as written, saying the existing exception should be sufficient to cover cases with serious health risks. An explicit exception for PPROM is not necessary, she added.

“The bottom line is we value life, and we would like to protect life,” said former Florida state senator Kelli Stargel (R). “We don’t want to give a gaping exception that anyone can claim.”

And there’s the rub!!  They are so damn worried about people cheating the system that they will literally sacrifice women’s lives!  As I wrote just recently:

But, you know what?  If that was the law, there would undoubtedly be some people who were not “deserving” of a late-term abortion.  The woman with a healthy pregnancy who’s boyfriend dumps her at 26 weeks. Honestly, I’m willing for her to be able to “cheat” the system so that some other pregnant woman doesn’t have to risk kidney failure for a dangerous pregnancy or spend months carrying a fetus she knows is doomed to die within days of being born.  These are trade-offs.  Honestly, I think we can probably do this in a way that allows these latter woman to get their abortion but not the totally healthy 26-week pregnancy (I haven’t studied Europe in-depth, but I bet they pull it off there, pretty well). 

But, the larger point here is that there is absolutely a big tradeoff here and conservatives are in complete denial about it.  And if you are so afraid that some women will cheat the system (e.g., maybe that healthy 26 week pregnant woman get a doctor to lie for her), than you are absolutely going to make life much, much harder for many women in extraordinarily difficult situations.  And that’s a bad thing.  

Loved this metaphor for the situation:


Quick hits (part II)

1) Drum often writes of the “hack gap” and it’s on full display this week, “Who takes the law more seriously? A natural experiment can tell us.”

We have recently run an excellent natural experiment about the rule of law:

On Tuesday, Donald Trump was indicted on 34 counts of business fraud. Response was partisan, of course. Republicans unanimously blasted the legal basis for the case as both trivial and wrongheaded. Democrats . . . were split. Some defended the legal reasoning but others agreed the case was iffy.

On Friday, a federal judge in Texas ruled that the FDA had wrongly approved the abortion pill mifepristone two decades ago and ordered it taken off the market. Again, response was partisan. Democrats unanimously blasted the judge’s legal reasoning as specious and biased. Republicans . . . unanimously supported the judge.

By any sensible standard, the mifepristone ruling was farcical. The judge plainly struggled to invent a plausible argument that would allow him to make abortion pills illegal, and in the end he failed. So he just went with what he had.

And so far, Republicans are 100% behind him. He accomplished the right goal, and nothing else matters.

2) This is just wild.  Things really need to change on so many campuses, “A Black DEI Director Canceled by DEI”

This month, I was fired from my position as faculty director for the Office of Equity, Social Justice, and Multicultural Education at De Anza Community College in Cupertino, Calif.—a position I had held for two years. This wasn’t an unexpected development. From the beginning, my colleagues and supervisors had made clear their opposition to the approach I brought to the job. Although I was able to advance some positive initiatives, I did so in the face of constant obstruction.

What made me persona non grata? On paper, I was a good fit for the job. I am a black woman with decades of experience teaching in public schools and leading workshops on diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism. At the Los Angeles Unified School District, I established a network to help minority teachers attain National Board Certification. I designed and facilitated numerous teacher trainings and developed a civic-education program that garnered accolades from the LAUSD Board of Education.

My crime at De Anza was running afoul of the tenets of critical social justice, a worldview that understands knowledge as relative and tied to unequal identity-based power dynamics that must be exposed and dismantled. This, I came to recognize, was the unofficial but strictly enforced ideological orthodoxy of De Anza—as it is at many other educational institutions. When I interviewed for the job in August 2021, there was no indication that I would be required to adhere to this particular vision of social justice. On the contrary, I was informed during the interview process that the office I would be working in had been alienating some faculty with a “too-woke” approach that involved “calling people out.” (After I was hired, this sentiment was echoed by many faculty, staff, and administrators I spoke to.) I told the hiring committee that I valued open dialogue and viewpoint diversity. Given their decision to hire me, I imagined I would find broad support for the vision I had promised to bring to my new role. I was wrong…

From the beginning, efforts to obstruct my work were framed in terms that might seem bizarre to those outside certain academic spaces. For instance, simply attempting to set an agenda for meetings caused my colleagues to  accuse me of “whitespeaking,” “whitesplaining,” and reinforcing “white supremacy”—accusations I had never faced before. I was initially baffled, but as I attended workshops led by my officemates and promoted by my supervising dean, I repeatedly encountered a presentation slide titled “Characteristics of White-Supremacy Culture” that denounced qualities like “sense of urgency” and “worship of the written word.” Written meeting agendas apparently checked both boxes.

3) Fantastic deBoer post.  It’s hard to take just an excerpt that captures the spirit.  Trust me and read all of it and you won’t regret it.

I thought of that experience when I read this piece on adoption by Larissa MacFarquhar in the New Yorker. It is, I think, a pitch-perfect example of the contemporary tendency to simply wish away any sort of necessity other than moral or political necessity. The essay is a relentless chronicle of all of the ills of adoption, why adoption is alienating and traumatic for the adopted child, how adoption scars adoptees for life, divides them from their cultures, leaves the without an identity…. Yet what MacFarquhar says in parentheses and half-sentences is the most important point of all – that adoption is inherently a response to the unavoidable tragedies of human life, a necessarily imperfect solution to very real and persistent problems. Because MacFarquhar is dedicated to framing her story as the kind of simplistic victim narrative that has so much presence in contemporary magazine writing, reflecting on the fact that adoption is inevitable and necessary would get in the way. To the degree that adoptive parents are represented in the piece at all they’re implied to be clueless at best, indifferent and ignorant colonizers who snatch up children who aren’t theirs without caring about the consequences. Almost entirely undiscussed is the fact that the world houses both children who need homes and loving and nurturing adults with homes to share. That’s why adoption exists. That’s always been why adoption exists. Kids need parents and parents need kids. No facile trauma narrative can change that basic arithmetic.

This is very sad but true: some parents are shitty, abusive people who shouldn’t raise kids, and some birth parents just don’t want their children. That’s reality.

MacFarquhar of course trots out the hoary old nostrum that interracial adoption is wicked, not just complicated but actively malign. What the reader must ask for themselves (and which the average reader won’t consider at all) is the question, why has interracial adoption been common in the past? And the answer to that question is very simple: there have been more Black children in need of adoption than prospective Black adoptive parents. I mean, obviously. Of course we can talk about the sociological and economic conditions that have traditionally left Black parents more likely to give children up for adoption than to adopt, and we can lament them. I lament them. But Black kids need homes, and there’s historically been too few Black families for them. So too with adoption from Asian countries, which as the piece says have fallen off a cliff in the past two decades: there were more poor Asian kids who needed homes than there were homes to go to in their countries of origin. Again, you can discuss the global conditions that led to so many Chinese and Korean and other kids who needed adopting in the late 20th century all you want. Go right ahead. It doesn’t change the fact that in material terms untold thousands of Asian children had their lives dramatically improved through the adoption process. Including, yes, by being adopted into white families.

There’s a profound, obviously-motivated incuriosity in MacFarquhar’s piece about what the alternatives are for most children who end up adopted. The general options are childhoods spent in orphanages, in foster care, or in some cases back with birth parents who have various problems like drug addiction or a tendency to violence. There are of course dedicated and compassionate people working in orphanages and foster care. But is MacFarquhar really under the impression that those options are systematically superior to adoption? The requirements to adopt have only gotten more strict over time. Adoptive parents as a class are richer and more stable than the average American family, again owing to ever-more-exacting standards. The dream is for all kids to end up back with their birth parents, who are without exception stable, financially secure, and kind. But that’s only a dream. Some birth parents are too violent, some are too addicted, some are too mentally ill, and some are too dead. Meanwhile the essay is casually insulting to adoptive parents everywhere, barely deigning to consider their point of view at all. Some people are infertile, thanks to genetics or illness or happenstance. Should they really be barred forever from raising children? When so many of them feel so deeply and passionately that they can raise a human life in safety and comfort? Yeah, it’d be best if they could just have their own babies. And it would be nice if every birth parent was capable of raising kids the way they deserve to be raised. It would also be nice if no dogs ever died. But they do.

4) Good NYT piece on the latest in AI images.  I was regularly fooled by Midjourney.  It’s just so damn good now. “Can We No Longer Believe Anything We See?”

5) Chait, “Clarence Thomas and the Ethical Disaster of the Supreme Court Undisclosed gifts from billionaires won’t even embarrass the right.”

One of the oddest features of the American constitutional order is that it cedes the greatest level of power to the branch of government with the weakest ethical constraints. The judicial branch can, by majority vote, override any law passed by the other two branches, even those requiring supermajority support. Yet the justices of the Supreme Court, whose authority is total, do not even need to follow the ethical rules imposed on lower-ranking judges. The assumption, if there is any, is that, having ascended to the highest point in the legal-political hierarchy, the forces of corruption and influence that tug at everybody else within the system cease to operate.

The most glaring example of the Supreme Court’s ethical vacuum is Clarence Thomas. The right-wing justice has operated, in conjunction with his wife, in the center of a network of conservative activists whose project is indistinguishable from his legal work. The most recent of a string of revelations about Thomas’s disregard for ethical norms comes from ProPublica, which reports that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of luxury trips from businessman, right-wing activist, and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow.

Thomas did not disclose any of these gifts, a failure that “appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress, and federal officials to disclose most gifts,” two ethics-law experts tell ProPublica. But the important thing to understand is that there is no enforcement mechanism at all for these ethical norms. They are essentially a suggestion. Thomas did not bother responding to ProPublica’s questions, and there is no reason to believe he will face any consequences or change his behavior in any way…

One singularly unethical justice might be a containable problem. But Clarence Thomas is not seen by conservatives as an embarrassment they’re stuck with. To the contrary, they celebrate him as their moral beacon. At a tribute at the Heritage Foundation, Mitch McConnell called Thomas “a legal titan” and “the brightest possible north star.” Ron DeSantis described Thomas as the “greatest living justice.”..

The Republican Party believes that Thomas’s seamless integration of conservative-movement activism with the Supreme Court’s singularly powerful and unaccountable role in public life represents the finest and purest workings of the republican form of government. As we peer into a future of unbroken conservative control of the courts for perhaps decades to come, we should take seriously their professions of admiration for Thomas and his open contempt for the idea any ethical obligations might constrain his power.

6) No, this won’t become a law, but it’s just embarrassingly dumb, “NC senators propose eliminating participation trophies for youth sports: The bill, filed Thursday, would require that trophies in leagues operated under the authority of a local government be “based on identified performance achievements.””  The world changes.  Trophies don’t mean what they used to and now mostly mean you participated in something, not that you won.  Deal.

7) You know this is up my alley:

Diet modulates the gut microbiome, which in turn can impact the immune system. Here, we determined how two microbiota-targeted dietary interventions, plant-based fiber and fermented foods, influence the human microbiome and immune system in healthy adults. Using a 17-week randomized, prospective study (n = 18/arm) combined with -omics measurements of microbiome and host, including extensive immune profiling, we found diet-specific effects. The high-fiber diet increased microbiome-encoded glycan-degrading carbohydrate active enzymes (CAZymes) despite stable microbial community diversity. Although cytokine response score (primary outcome) was unchanged, three distinct immunological trajectories in high-fiber consumers corresponded to baseline microbiota diversity. Alternatively, the high-fermented-food diet steadily increased microbiota diversity and decreased inflammatory markers. The data highlight how coupling dietary interventions to deep and longitudinal immune and microbiome profiling can provide individualized and population-wide insight. Fermented foods may be valuable in countering the decreased microbiome diversity and increased inflammation pervasive in industrialized society.

8) I’ve really been meaning to do a whole post on the evil AR-15, based on the Washington Post’s great series, but I haven’t had the chance.  This is a tremendous article with great visuals you absolutely must check out.  Gift link. “The Blast Effect:
This is how bullets from an AR-15 blow the body apart”

9) Love, love, love this post from Brian Klass and I know a bunch of you will, too, “The Greatest Fluke of All-Time
All complex life—including humanity—owes its existence to a single accidental merger that happened just once in the history of our planet.”

That growing scientific consensus leads, unavoidably, to a puzzle. If life can emerge repeatedly, and survive unimaginably harsh conditions, then why can’t we see it elsewhere beyond Earth? Why haven’t we been visited by aliens, and why don’t our telescopes ever seem to detect extraterrestrial forests?

Nick Lane has helped establish an answer to that question—with plenty of evidence to back it up. The emergence of life, it seems, wasn’t necessarily nature’s improbable bottleneck. Rather, the bottleneck came from the power plants within our cells. That microbial power plant makes complex life possible.

Here’s the magical, awe-inducing bit: complex cells that give rise to complex life, powered by a microbial power plant, emerged precisely once. We’re direct descendants of that singular, unique fluke.

Without it, we’d all be stuck as bacteria—and your ability to read this sentence, or my ability to write it, would be rather undermined. (If you’re ever feeling bored because there’s nothing on TV, remember that you only narrowly escaped from the dull existence of life as a bacterium).

Perhaps life has arisen repeatedly on other planets, popping up over and over across the vast endlessness of space. But odds are that most of it is stuck in simple mode, never evolving into the complexity of, as Darwin put it, “endless forms most beautiful.” That would provide a compelling answer to the puzzle; life abounds beyond Earth, but it’s mostly stuck at low levels of complexity, so it’s invisible to us.

If, as the name of this newsletter suggests, living life is like wandering through a garden of constantly forking paths, well, this was arguably the biggest fork in the history of life on Earth.

How did it happen?

III: Mergers and Acquisitions


About two billion years ago, two microbes bumped into each other, but one of them ended up shacking up inside the other. They produced an endosymbiont, which is the fancy biology term for an organism that lives within the body or cells of another organism. (If you want the technical detail, the working theory suggests that this microbial merger happened between a bacterium and a member of the Archaea lineage, a single-celled prokaryote).

What likely happened was strange, but miraculous. The bacterium set up shop inside the other microbe. The bacterium then became the mitochondria within the other cell. The powerhouse of complex life was born.

The theory suggests that this merger gave rise to the eukaryotes, a club that you’re a member of, even if you’ve never paid your dues. Eukaryotes are organisms with cells that contain a nucleus and other membrane-bound organelles. All animals, plants, fungi, etc., are eukaryotes. That decisive trait, about how our cells are organized, connects you to me, but it also connects us to everything from manatees to mushrooms…

Why am I, a political scientist by training, writing about the evolution of mitochondria? There are two answers — one more banal, the other grander. The banal reason is that I find it fascinating. Every birth, every death, every war and invention, the entirety of the human saga, may be traced back to a microscopic evolutionary accident that has happened just once in billions of years. How humbling a thought!

But the more intellectual reason is that it highlights the uncertainty and messiness of life—not just of life in general, but of our lives. Everything we read tells us why something happened. The stock market plunged today because of an earnings report, or Trump became president because of a backlash against globalization. We crave simple explanations that fulfill two crucial criteria:

  1. One identifiable cause produced one identifiable effect;

  2. We know it to be true, with certainty, or can convince ourselves that we do.

The real world isn’t like that. Social science is an inherently flawed project because it too often requires meeting those two criteria even when it’s impossible to do so. Take the unimaginable complexity of life and cram it into a neat and tidy equation if you’re an economist, or a neat and tidy narrative if you’re a historian. We love the word because.

The origin of complex life on Earth, likely derived from the greatest fluke of all-time, reminds us of a profound but often forgotten truth: sometimes there is no because. Things just happen, often with extraordinary consequences. And occasionally, in those moments, all you can really do is marvel at it with a sense of awe, as I do when I contemplate that hidden hero that made our lives possible: the accidental mitochondria.

10) And I’ll wrap up with some good stuff from twitter:


11) Happy Easter!


Quick hits (part I)

Busy week political science-wise plus an Easter trip, so I’ll do my best:

1) For starters, I’m still leaning towards skepticism of the wisdom of the NY prosecution of Trump, but I honestly think there’s pretty good arguments for both.

2) Chait… don’t:

The specific danger that Comey avoided, but that Bragg wanders directly into, is the criminalization of politics. Elected officials ought to be held to the same standard as other Americans. While their standing does not give them license to commit crimes, it also shouldn’t expose them to criminal liability that a regular person would never face.

Trump is in this position because hemaneuvered to keep quiet a tawdry story about his infidelity. That is not a crime. The allegedcrime is disguising the source of the payment and, thereby, evading campaign-finance law. But it is not easy for a candidate to pay off a mistress while complying with campaign-finance laws. Trump is in a position where an activity he could have done legally became a crime simply because he was a candidate for office. The entire scheme follows from his effort to cover up an alleged affair. That is the definition of being below, not above, the law.

The best case I’ve seen for why Trump’s hush money should be considered a serious and prosecutable offense, rather than a technicality, was made by Amanda Carpenter. “The hush money did what Trump wanted it to do: It kept the women from talking,” she argues, referencing the National Enquirer’s “catch and kill” of Karen McDougal’s story of sex with Trump, which was, like Daniels’s encounter, fully consensual. That may be true, but even if you assume that the public had some important right to know about Trump’s affairs, campaign-finance laws are neither designed nor intended to enforce that right.

It may feel frustrating or pointless to insist on fair treatment for Trump when he and his devotees observe no such distinction themselves. It is true that most Trump defenders would denounce even a bulletproof legal case against him. (They are, in fact, already trying to paint the much stronger looming charges against Trump as equally weak.) It is likewise true that they need no “precedent” to justify their attempts to criminalize Democrats for spurious reasons — that corruption of justice already began under Trump’s administration, in fact.

Yes, the first criminal charge against Trump carries special symbolic importance. Yet we are loading more social and political weight on these charges than they can bear. The world can be a complicated place. Sometimes people with good intentions do bad things, and sometimes bad people are the victims of unfairness.

The correct response to Trumpist hypocrisy is to wait for it to manifest rather than abandoning standards of fairness. Since Trump faces a high likelihood of being charged for one or more solid crimes in the very near future, the only price of intellectual consistency is a modest degree of patience.

3) Frum… don’t:

Falsifying documents is illegal. Also illegal is committing perjury and inducing others to commit perjury on your behalf. Yet when President Bill Clinton was accused of doing both of those things to cover up an affair with a White House intern, the majority of Americans shrugged off the accusations. Perjury is wrong, they seemed to feel, but the motive for the perjury matters. Perjury to conceal a murder or fraud: very wrong. But perjury to conceal adultery?

Poorly considered prosecutions may offend the public’s sense of fairness, regardless of whether the target is popular. Clinton had won not even 50 percent of the vote in the prior presidential election, in 1996. Two years later, his 73 percent approval rating represented a repudiation of the Ken Starr investigation and the Newt Gingrich–led impeachment. Clinton, too, benefited from a “This?” verdict.

The first criminal indictment of an ex-president is bound to split American society along partisan, ideological, and cultural lines. Trump’s fiercest supporters would defend him against any charge—even, as Trump himself famously said, if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. But not all Trump supporters are so fierce. A just indictment for a major and consequential crime would pry more of them away than an indictment for a light and technical offense.

Prosecutors would have been wiser to see Trump brought to justice on the most serious legal issues. This Manhattan indictment may, through its sheer pettiness, inadvertently diminish Trump’s misdeeds. It may, even more worryingly, diminish his accusers by casting them—much as Clinton successfully did Starr’s team a generation ago—as prurient snoops.

Prosecutors do not think like politicians, and they should not. Yet they do have leeway to decide which offenses to pursue. As a businessman and as a politician, Trump has broken so many rules that prosecutors in different states and at the federal level can, should, and must reflect on their buffet of options. But if this is indeed all there is, it doesn’t justify inviting the destructive rancor about to explode around us.

4) Charlie Sykes… do.

5) Karen Friedman Agnifilo and Norman Eisen… definitely do, “We Finally Know the Case Against Trump, and It Is Strong”

The books and records counts laid out in the charging papers against Mr. Trump are the bread and butter of the D.A.’s office. Mr. Trump, who pleaded not guilty to all charges on Tuesday, is the 30th defendant to be indicted on false records charges by Mr. Bragg since he took office just over a year ago, with the D.A. bringing 151 counts under the statute so far. Indeed, the Trump Organization conviction and the Weisselberg plea included business falsification felonies.

The 34 felony books and records counts in the Trump indictment turn on the misstatement of the hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels arranged by Michael Cohen in the waning days of the 2016 election and the repayment of that amount by Mr. Trump to Mr. Cohen, ostensibly as legal expenses. There are 11 counts for false invoices, 11 for false checks and check stubs and 12 for false general ledger entries. This allegedly violated the false records statute when various entries were made in business documents describing those repayments as legal fees.

Moreover, the statement of facts alleges that deals, including one for Ms. Daniels and another for Karen McDougal that involved The National Enquirer, which had longstanding ties to Mr. Trump, were for the purpose of helping him win the presidency. If that is proved, then the deals would be “attempts to violate state and federal election laws,” as Mr. Bragg said in a statement, such as on their amount and disclosure. In this theory, the false records in the indictment covered up the campaign finance violation.

While the particulars of Mr. Trump’s case are unique, his behavior is not. Candidates and others have often attempted to skirt the disclosure and dollar limit requirements of campaign finance regulations and falsified records to hide it. Contrary to the protestations of Mr. Trump and his allies, New York prosecutors regularly charge felony violations of the books and records statute — and win convictions — when the crimes covered up were campaign finance violations, resulting in false entries in business records to conceal criminal activity.

6) Richard Hasen… don’t: “Donald Trump Probably Should Not Have Been Charged With (This) Felony”

First, the legal problems.

Back in 2018, I wrote at Slate that Donald Trump’s payments of hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep her from speaking and hurting his 2016 U.S. presidential chances was likely a federal campaign finance crime. The feds should have charged him, but they did not, perhaps because of political interference from Trump’s then-attorney general, Bill Barr.

The federal case would not have been a slam dunk, because there were big legal and factual issues. Legally, some have argued that these payments were personal expenses, not campaign expenses, even if shutting Daniels up would have helped Trump politically, too. Factually, to turn a campaign finance violation into a criminal one, prosecutors would have to prove that Trump knew he was violating campaign finance laws and did so willfully. Proving intent can always be tricky. Just ask those who (unsuccessfully) prosecuted former Senator John Edwards…

Nonetheless, this new theory still has the old problems the federal case would have, but it also has new, more serious ones. Most importantly, it is far from clear that Trump could be liable for state campaign finance crimes as a federal candidate. Moreover, state prosecutors may be precluded from prosecuting federal candidates for federal crimes under a rule called “preemption,” meaning they have to be brought by federal authorities rather than state authorities. These are thorny issues that likely will have to be resolved by appeals courts over years.

These legal problems raise the political issues with bringing these claims against Trump as a felony based on proving “other crimes” that might not be proven and which rely on complex legal theories.

It is said that if you go after the king, you should not miss. In this vein, it is very easy to see this case tossed for legal insufficiency or tied up in the courts well past the 2024 election before it might ever go to trial. It will be a circus that will embolden Trump, especially if he walks.

7) Good stuff from Yglesias on gun laws, “The illegally carried handguns are the problem”

The widespread ownership of guns in the United States is the predominant reason we have so much more homicide than the developed countries of Europe and Asia. Differential availability of guns also largely explains why, inconveniently for Republicans, there is generally more murder happening in red states than in blue ones.

The standard GOP cope is to argue that the murders are happening in “blue cities,” but that just reflects the fact that essentially all cities are blue in the contemporary United States. When you look at the rare city with a Republican mayor like Jacksonville in Florida, you see a lot more homicide than in New York. That’s because criminals aren’t magicians or kung-fu masters; their ability to kill people depends on their access to lethal weapons. And unfortunately there is substantial interplay between the legal market for guns and the black market for guns. The NYT ran a great piece last week about the large number of guns used in crimes that are stolen from parked cars — the more guns floating around, the more people get shot. Morgan Williams has a great paper looking at a gun policy reform in Missouri where the state legislature made it easier to buy guns legally with the result that shootings surged in Kansas City and St. Louis. Non-gun homicides actually fell because assailants were equipping themselves with better weapons. But precisely because guns are more deadly than knives or bats, this generates an overall increase in death.

Do note, though, that essentially all of this action is being driven by handguns.

The big long guns, including those with features that would get them tagged as “assault weapons” and also long guns without those features, are collected by hobbyists for use in tacky family photos. They’re stockpiled for use in a hypothetical civil war. They’re used for fun. And occasionally (though still far too often), they are used in a rare-but-spectacular spree killing that electrifies the nation because it affects middle-class suburbanites who are unaccustomed to having their lives impacted by violence. These guns are too big and too expensive, though, to be the weapons of choice for “ordinary” crime — the type responsible for the overwhelming majority of gun deaths in the U.S.

That they are so frequently at the center of our national gun debate strikes me as an understandable reaction to horrific events. I’m a dad with a kid in school and I feel this anguish in my gut and I see it in the eyes of my fellow parents all the time. I get it. But the focus on the very most spectacular events to the exclusion of “normal” shootings generates bad policy analysis. We have policy solutions at our disposal that would address the proliferation of illegal handguns that drives the bulk of gun deaths in this country…

When guns are outlawed …


Something that I don’t think most normie Democrats realize is that at some point in the past 10 years, the criminal justice reform wing of the progressive coalition decided that arresting people for carrying guns illegally is bad. In the Prison Policy Institute’s mass incarceration pie chart, weapons charges are listed as non-violent public order crimes.

Keith Alexander recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post about the shocking discovery that the US Attorney for D.C., Matthew Graves, is declining to prosecute two-thirds of the cases that MPD brings to his office. In response to Alexander’s question, Graves reassures us that these are not violent crimes he’s letting slide:

Graves saidthe declinations are mostly coming after arrests in cases such as gun possession, drug possession and misdemeanors — not in violent crimes. Hesaid his office last year prosecuted 87.9 percent of arrests made inhomicides, armed carjackings, assaults with intent to kill and first-degree sexual assault cases. According to figures provided to The Washington Post, that percentage is higher than the 85.7 prosecuted cases in 2021,but down from 95.6 percent of prosecuted cases in 2018.

Note, again, that in this framework, gun possession is considered a non-violent offense. Just before the latest mass shooting re-ignited a national debate about assault weapons, the Marshall Project published a big feature complaining about gun possession arrests, arguing that this drives the racial disparity in incarceration. Larry Krasner, the progressive prosecutor running the show in Philadelphia, takes the same view and, like Graves, has cut down on gun possession prosecutions.

The view that having lots of people walking and driving around town while in possession of firearms isn’t a problem is, of course, a relatively mainstream view in American politics. But it’s the conservative view. If conservatives had their way, anyone living on the South Side of Chicago could easily walk into a gun shop and buy a handgun that he’s then free to carry, openly or concealed, wherever he wants. Most residents of Illinois and of other progressive jurisdictions recognize that this would have the downside consequence of a lot more murders. Again, per Williams’ paper, this is exactly what happened when Missouri liberalized gun laws — more people got guns legally, which meant more people got guns, which meant more people got shot. Note that in Williams’ data, virtually all of the additional homicides had Black victims.

I really think the leaders of the progressive movement need to get a bunch of stakeholders and smart people around a table and try to decide what we’re saying here.

  • If the incarceration generated by arresting and imprisoning people for carrying guns is intolerable, we should legalize carrying guns, aware that this will lead to more murder.

  • If “guns are the problem” and the high level of gun violence in the United States is intolerable, we should insist on arresting and prosecuting people carrying illegal guns…

The goal of strict enforcement of the handgun rules, at the end of the day, isn’t really to incarcerate some huge class of handgun carriers and keep them off the streets. It’s to create a situation where fewer people have guns, and therefore various neighborhood disputes and gang beefs are less likely to turn into shootings. It seems to work pretty well. But if you think it’s unconscionable to put people in prison for carrying guns, then it would make more sense to throw in with the conservatives and actually make it legal. To be clear, though, that’s a bad idea. Progressives are right about guns, and we ought to act like we’re right and re-embrace the successful strategy of enforcing gun laws.

It’s also just a fact of life that as long as the country is more awash with guns than other peer democracies, we are going to have a higher risk of violence and we’re going to need more policing and more incarceration. That’s regrettable, and I would hope over time to tighten the gun laws at both the state and federal levels. A good part of an iterative campaign to achieve that, though, is to demonstrate that gun regulation can work and can be vigorously enforced and that trafficking and carrying illegal guns is not a harmless activity.

8) This is a phenomenal piece from Ezra Klein.  Just trust me and read it (gift link), “The Problem With Everything-Bagel Liberalism”

9) Helen Lewis, “The Hogwarts Legacy Boycott That Wasn’t”

When Hogwarts Legacy was released in February, the verdict from video-game sites was close to unanimous: The latest spin-off from the Harry Potter series was a heartless mess, the product of a bigoted worldview, and playing it involved an uncomfortable act of moral compromise—or at least holding your nose and reassuring yourself that J. K. Rowling was not directly involved.

The tech magazine Wired gave the game 1/10, and said its “real-world harms are impossible to ignore.” (These were left unspecified, but let’s presume the reviewer wasn’t talking about repetitive-strain injury from too many spell battles.) TheGamer declined to review the title at all, and suggested that readers should not play Hogwarts Legacy “if you care about your trans friends.” The British outlet Rock Paper Shotgun pointedly reviewed games by trans developers instead. The Mary Sue reported on an alleged fan boycott, in an article that began with the Potteresque incantation “Accio controversy!”

Even the walk-throughs—those helpful guides telling players how to solve the game’s puzzles and defeat its bosses—carried panicked disclaimers. “On numerous occasions in recent years, billionaire and Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling has taken public stances against inclusive transgender laws and trans rights,” reads a note at the bottom of a Polygon guide to finding the magic keys scattered around Hogwarts. “The game has been embroiled in controversy due to transphobic remarks from Harry Potter author JK Rowling,” GameSpot warns its readers, in an apologetic tone. Neither outlet joined a boycott of the game—walk-throughs are a reliable source of web traffic for months or even years—but both wanted you to know that they deplored it nonetheless. The headline of an Axios article by the former Kotaku editor Stephen Totilo even declared that the Hogwarts Legacy launch had become a “referendum” on the author.

If so, the votes are in: J. K. Rowling wins by a landslide. The views she has expressed on Twitter and elsewhere—for instance, that women’s spaces, such as prisons and domestic-violence shelters, should be protected on the basis of biological sex rather than self-declared gender, and that some young people are rushed toward medical transition with insufficient gatekeeping—are clearly not fatally repulsive to normie consumers…

What’s going on? The most obvious explanation is the emergence of a class of internet critics who are completely out of touch with their audiences. This dynamic isn’t unique to video games. In recent years, I have become a student of what I think of as the “Rotten Tomatoes split”—that is, the gulf between critical and audience reactions to various pieces of art. Hannah Gadsby’s progressive demolition of stand-up comedy, Nanette, scored 100 percent with critics but just 26 percent with fans. For Dave Chappelle’s The Closer, which reflects on the comedian’s own experience of being ostracized for his jokes about trans issues, the reverse was true. It scored 40 percent with critics and 95 percent with audiences. (My own review was ambivalent; Chappelle’s sour anger dulled his undoubted gifts as a comic.)…

The explanation for this gulf’s persistence is simple. “Much of the current divergence between elite discourse and popular preference can be reduced to a simple heuristic: Most critics are on Twitter; most consumers are not,” my Atlantic colleague Yair Rosenberg argued last year. “Just as most people do not watch CNN and have no idea what’s in President Biden’s proposed Build Back Better Act, most people are not even aware of J. K. Rowling’s tweeted views on transgender topics, let alone have had those views color their engagement with her writing.”

Because political takes go viral more easily than aesthetics assessments do, we end up with rafts of commentary on whether an artwork is problematic, with the question of whether it’s interesting or well made trailing a long way behind. Some of the Hogwarts Legacy reviews barely touched on its gameplay mechanics—largely lifted from the Batman: Arkham series, as far as I can see, with a dash of the Eagle Vision from Assassin’s Creed—because they were so busy delivering a verdict on its political credentials. I’m currently 40 hours in and having so much fun kidnapping hippogriffs that I haven’t finished the game’s main quest, but unless something catastrophic happens in hour 41, no remotely fair-minded reviewer would rate this game as low as 1/10.

Quasi-relatedly, I was curious, so I started watching Nanette after reading this.  Actually, I found it mildly entertaining, but about the only stand-up specials I have made it all the way through are Dave Chappelle and Jarod Carmichael.

10) Even if you stipulate that Kansas’ new law restricting trans youth participation in sports is mean-spirited and unnecessary I find it so frustrating that liberals feel the need to lie about it.  If you are right on the merits, you shouldn’t have to lie.  And just because you are sure of your virtue, does not make lying to support your cause okay!  No, the new law will not mandate “genital inspections” for all student athletes.  Of course, if you only read liberal twitter, you’ll think it does.  Also, I arguably had such a test when I had a physical before trying out for the tennis team (I wasn’t close), but, I did have to take the cough test. 

11) Krugman, “Putin’s Energy Offensive Has Failed”

In some ways, though, Russia’s most important defeat has come not on the battlefield but on the economic front. I said that Russia has launched four great offensives; the fourth was the attempt to blackmail European democracies into dropping their support for Ukraine by cutting off their supplies of natural gas.

There were reasons to be concerned about this attempt to weaponize energy supplies. While the Russian invasion of Ukraine initially disrupted markets for several commodities — Russia is a major oil producer, and both Russia and Ukraine were major agricultural exporters before the war — natural gas seemed like an especially serious pressure point. Why? Because it isn’t really traded on a global market. The cheapest way to ship gas is via pipelines, and it wasn’t obvious how Europe would replace Russian gas if the supply were cut off.

So many people, myself included, worried about the effects of a de facto Russian gas embargo. Would it cause a European recession? Would hard times in Europe undermine willingness to keep aiding Ukraine?

Well, the big story — a story that hasn’t received much play in the news media, because it’s hard to report on things that didn’t happen — is that Europe has weathered the loss of Russian supplies remarkably well. Euro area unemployment hasn’t gone up at all; inflation did surge, but European governments have managed, through a combination of price controls and financial aid, to limit (but not eliminate) the amount of personal hardship created by high gas prices.

And Europe has managed to keep functioning despite the cutoff of most Russian gas. Partly this reflects a turn to other sources of gas, including liquefied natural gas shipped from the United States; partly it reflects conservation efforts that have reduced demand. Some of it reflects a temporary return to coal-fired electricity generation; much of it reflects the fact that Europe already gets a large share of its energy from renewables…

So what can we learn from the failure of Russia’s energy offensive?

First, Russia looks more than ever like a Potemkin superpower, with little behind its impressive facade. Its much vaunted military is far less effective than advertised; now its role as an energy supplier is proving much harder to weaponize than many imagined.

Second, democracies are showing, as they have many times in the past, that they are much tougher, much harder to intimidate, than they look.

Finally, modern economies are far more flexible, far more able to cope with change, than some vested interests would have us believe.

For as long as I can remember, fossil-fuel lobbyists and their political supporters have insisted that any attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be disastrous for jobs and economic growth. But what we’re seeing now is Europe making an energy transition under the worst possible circumstances — sudden, unexpected and drastic — and handling it pretty well. This suggests that a gradual, planned green energy transition would be far easier than pessimists imagine.

12) David Wallace-Wells, “It’s Not ‘Deaths of Despair.’ It’s Deaths of Children.”

But increasingly the American mortality anomaly, which is still growing, is explained not by the middle-aged or elderly but by the deaths of children and teenagers. One in 25 American 5-year-olds now won’t live to see 40, a death rate about four times as high as in other wealthy nations. And although the spike in death rates among the young has been dramatic since the beginning of the pandemic, little of the impact is from Covid-19. Over three pandemic years, Covid-19 was responsible for just 2 percent of American pediatric and juvenile deaths.

Firearms account for almost half of the increase. Homicide accounted for 6.9 percent of deaths among that group, defined as those 19 years old or younger, and suicide accounted for 6.8 percent, according to a January analysis published in JAMA Network Open. Car crashes and accidental drug overdoses — which the National Center for Health Statistics collates along with other accidental deaths as “unintentional injuries” — accounted for 18.4 percent. In 2021, according to a JAMA essay published in March, more than twice as many kids died from poisoning, including drug overdoses, as from Covid-19. More than three times as many died of suicide, more than four times as many died from homicide, and more than five times as many died in car crashes and other transportation accidents (which began increasing during the pandemic after a long, steady decline)…

The new data tells a somewhat different story. In the big picture, opioids still play a large role, and suicide contributes, too. But that pattern of elevated middle-aged mortality is giving way to a growing crisis of juvenile death. The demographics are shifting away from those narrow markers of class and race identified by Case and Deaton, as well.

Mortality is still increasing more quickly for those without a college degree, but as John Burn-Murdoch demonstrated vividly in The Financial Times, except for a few superrich Americans, individuals at every percentile of income are now dying sooner than their counterparts in Britain, for instance. For the poorer half of the country, simply being an American is equivalent to about four full years of life lost compared with the average Brit. For the richer half, being an American is not quite as bad but is still the equivalent of losing, on average, about two years of life. And this is even though an American earning an income in the 75th percentile is much richer than a Brit at the same income percentile, since American incomes are much higher.

13) “The Finnish Secret to Happiness? Knowing When You Have Enough.: The Nordic nation has been ranked the happiest country on earth for six consecutive years. But when you talk to individual Finns, the reality is a bit more complicated.”

14) This is just ridiculous.  Sometimes this country is just so frustrating and depressing, “After two years of freedom, a man is ordered back to prison for life”

Crosley Green has had two years outside of prison walls. Two years of having cookouts with family, going to church on Sundays and dreaming of staying free for the rest of his life.

That seems to be all the time he’ll get. The 65-year-old Titusville, Fla., man, whose 1990 murder conviction was vacated in 2018 before being reinstated after the state’s appeal in 2022, must surrender himself to the Florida Department of Corrections by April 17, a judge ruled this week. U.S. District Judge Roy Dalton of the Middle District of Florida wrote that Green, having run out of appeals, will have to complete the remainder of his sentence: life behind bars.

Green, who has clung to his faith and remained optimistic despite the looming possibility of returning to prison,said of the court’s decision, “If it wasn’t for the Lord, I’d be down and out right now. I have so much faith and trust and belief, it’s hard for me to let my guard down.”

In a video shared by his attorneys, Green said of his time out, “I saw a lot, and I did a lot. There’s a lot more I’d like to do, but you know, in reality one day I’m going to get to do it. Right now I’m going to abide by the rules, abide by what was set forth.”

Green has long denied involvement in the killing of 21-year-old Charles “Chip” Flynn Jr. No physical evidence linked him to the crime, in which the victim’s ex-girlfriend reported that an assailant she described as “a Black guy” kidnapped the two of them and shot Flynn. Green had spent decades in prison, including 19 years on death row, by the time Dalton threw out the verdict of the all-White jury, saying the prosecutor had withheld information suggesting investigators suspected someone else: the ex-girlfriend.

The judge ordered the state to retry Green or release him. But Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) appealed, and Green remained behind bars until 2021, when Dalton released him amid the coronavirus pandemic. A year later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision, finding that the evidence withheld was immaterial to the case…

Green had served 28 years when Dalton ruled that then-prosecutor Chris White had not turned over handwritten notes that might have changed the outcome of the case — a violation of Green’s constitutional rights. The notes, in which White documented a conversation with two on-scene investigators, said that they “suspect the girl did it” and that “she changed her story a couple times.”

Dalton’s ruling said it was “difficult to conceive of information more material to the defense and the development of the defense strategy” than the fact the initial investigators thought someone else might be responsible. The 11th Circuit disagreed, writing that concerns over the withheld evidence had already been exhausted at the state court level and that Green had not proved the notes would have changed the outcome of his trial.

15) Brave new world, “Ozempic Is About to Be Old News”

All of a sudden, Ozempic is everywhere. The weight-loss drug that it contains, semaglutide, is a potent treatment for obesity, and Hollywood and TikTok celebrities have turned it into a sensation. In just a few months, the medication has been branded as “revolutionary” and “game-changing,” with the power to permanently alter society’s conceptions of fatness and thinness. Certainly, a drug like semaglutide could be all of those things: Never in the history of medicine has one so safely led to such dramatic weight loss in so many people…

But not everyone who takes these drugs can achieve that level of weight loss. More than 60 percent of those on Wegovy experience smaller changes, in part because the drug can’t account for the complex drivers of obesity that aren’t related to food. The next generation of drugs is reaching for more. The first leap forward is Mounjaro, known generically as tirzepatide, a diabetes drug from Eli Lilly that the FDA is expected to approve for weight loss this year. In one study, it led to 20 percent or more weight loss in up to 57 percent of people who took the highest dose; The Wall Street Journal recently called it the “King Kong” of weight-loss drugs. People on Mounjaro tend to lose more weight more quickly and generally have a “better experience” than those on Wegovy, Keith Tapper, a biotech analyst at BMO Capital Markets, told me. It’s also cheaper, though by no means cheap, at roughly $980 for the highest-dose option, he said; a dose of Wegovy costs about $1,350

These leaps in potency are happening on the molecular level. Like semaglutide, Mounjaro mimics the effects of GLP-1, but it also hits receptors for another hormone—GIP. That leads to even more weight loss by further attenuating focus on food and potentially also increasing the activity of a fat-burning enzyme, Tapper said. So-called dual-agonist drugs “offer a step change” in both weight loss and blood-sugar control, he added.

And why stop at two receptors when so many others are involved in regulating hunger? “This area is exploding in terms of research and testing different combinations of hormones,” which are still poorly understood, Shauna Levy, a professor specializing in bariatric surgery at Tulane University School of Medicine, told me. Eli Lilly has another drug in the works that targets three receptors; one from the drugmaker Amgen works by “putting the brakes” on the GIP receptor and “putting the gas” on GLP-1’s, a company spokesperson told me. Several other companies have already joined what some have dubbed a “race” to develop the next great obesity drug, in which Lilly, Pfizer, Amgen, Structure Therapeutics, and Viking Therapeutics are expected to be the front-runners, Tapper said.

16) I really want to read Tim Urban’s new book, but, he’s not releasing it as a hardcopy as of now.  So, I won’t be for now.  Also sounds like he maybe leans a little too hard into anti-wokeness. But, I think the conceptualization summarized here is really useful:

Tim Urban’s new book What’s Our Problem? offers an excellent analysis of the current American political malaise. It breaks down the history of first how the Republican party got overrun by low-rung thinking from the mid-90s forward, then how equally low-rung thinking got the other side in the past decade or so. It’s a light, humorous recap of modern American political history. I highly recommend it.

It’s central contribution is adding a second dimension to the political spectrum. What we’re dealing with is not just far-left, left, center, right, far-right. That spectrum is about contesting “what is” and “what ought to be”. Our current problem is not so much disagreeing about those two central elements. All democracies will and should continue to do that. It’s how that disagreements manifest themselves in political tactics. Especially the concept of idea supremacy:


Yeah, that about sums it up. Which is what Urban does so well in this book, sums it up. Not just concepts like idea supremacy, high-rung vs low-rung thinking, ideological golems vs intellectual genies, or the Liberal Games vs the Power games. He also sums up the feeling of having been made politically homeless, as a long-term, progressive-leaning individual, once the low-rung thinking of the woke nonsense conquered one important institution after another.

In this effort, Urban shares a lot of his analysis with the likes of John McWhorter, whose book Woke Racism also came from the perspective of a progressive dismayed by what he saw his “own side” turn into. But Urban zooms further out. Trying to analyze not just a particular dysfunction, such as a woke nonsense, but all forms of nonsense that occurs once our baser instincts take over.

So I think it might be easier for progressives sitting on the fence, not sure what to think about the woke nonsense, to consider Urban’s analysis. It’s less testy out the gate. It starts with an account of “the other side started it”. The mood is lighter, at least in the beginning, and the drawings are funny. So by the time you get to the serious critique, your progressive guards might just have been lowered enough to consider the claims with an open mind.

17) Sorry, alcohol lovers, “Moderate Drinking Has No Health Benefits, Analysis of Decades of Research Finds”

18) I have two Gen Z children who drink a ton of milk (it’s expensive, but I’m glad for all the protein they get) and two who don’t drink milk or milk alternatives at all. “Got Milk? Not This Generation.: Alarmed by dwindling sales to Gen Z, the dairy industry is going all out to get younger Americans on the milk train.”

19) I think in coming years we are going to see some pretty cool biotech innovation that makes a real difference. Stuff like this, “This Blood Test Targets 50 Types of Cancer

BLEAK STATISTICS ACCOMPANY the world’s leading cause of death: 1 in 2 of us will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime. Earlier diagnosis drastically improves survival, but unfortunately unscreened cancers account for 80 to 90 percent of cancer deaths, says Harpal Kumar, president of the European wing of Grail, a health care company whose mission is to detect cancer earlier.

Of the more than 200 types of cancer, we currently only screen for cervical, breast, and bowel cancer, says Kumar. He calls this the streetlight problem: “We’re looking for cancer in the light, but four-fifths are happening in the dark.” But even if we did check for all these cancers, people aren’t going to turn up for 200 screenings. “We cannot continue the paradigm of looking for these cancers one at a time,” he says.

The dream is a single test that can identify every cancer from a single draw of blood—and that’s roughly what Grail has been developing: a test that is sensitive to early stage cancers, can detect and locate many different cancer types, gives very few false positives, and can hone in on the most serious cancers.

Galleri is the result. The company says it can detect more than 50 types of cancer with a single blood sample. Just as regular cells shed DNA when they die, so do tumor cells, and this DNA is traceable in the blood. The test has been validated by Grail in clinical trials: If the test detects something, there’s a 45 percent likelihood that it’s cancer—an extremely high predictive rate for a cancer test. Galleri says it can predict where a cancer is in the body with 90 percent accuracy.

The test has been available commercially in the US for 18 months. The next step is the NHS-Galleri clinical trial—to demonstrate that the test works at scale “We will get first data from this trial next year, then if that data looks good, they will extend the pilot to a million people over the next few years, then complete it in the next three years,” says Kumar.

20) I’m running low on NYT gift links, but this interactive feature on Venice and how it’s seawalls could actually ruin it, is phenomenal.  Trust me and follow the link.

But even as Italy now hails its against-all-odds success, MOSE’s story — 50 years in the making — and Venice’s — some 1,500 — are still being written. MOSE has already become much more than an engineering project. It came to embody Italy’s ambition and technical ingenuity, but also its political instability, bad governance, bureaucracy, corruption, debt and defeatism as delays mounted.

Now, though celebrated as the city’s sentinel, it may yet stand as a monument to the inexorable nature of climate change and the futility of man’s efforts to stop it. MOSE’s walls, costing 5 billion euros, about $5.3 billion, took so long to come together that the pace of climate change is already outstripping the projections they were built to withstand.

After all of the effort to get the barriers up, the future challenge will be finding ways to keep them down. Venice is already using MOSE more than expected, and faces the prospect of needing it much more than it had ever imagined against rising seas, so often that it would threaten to seal the city from the waters that are its lifeblood.

Its incessant deployment, experts warn, could render Venice’s lagoon a fetid swamp choked by noxious algae, turning the city’s charming canals into stinking open sewers.

Yet if the waters are not held at bay, there is little doubt that Venice will eventually be submerged and uninhabitable, its sublime palaces and churches eroded by the sea’s salt, its history essentially washed away.

Quick hits (part II)

1) You’re probably never going to read Freddie deBoer’s book The Cult of Smart, but you’d do well to at least read this post that hits a lot of key points, “Education Commentary is Dominated by Optimism Bias”

There’s a bias that runs throughout our educational discourse, coming from our media, academia, and the think tanks and foundations that have such sway in education policy. It’s a bias that exists both because of a natural human desire to see every child succeed and because the structural incentives in the field make rejecting that bias professionally risky. The bias I’m talking about is optimism bias, the insistence that all problems in education are solvable and that we can fix them if only we want to badly enough. At least a half-century of research, spending, policy experimentation, and dogged effort has utterly failed to close the gaps that so vex our political class. But still we hear the same old song about how we could close those gaps tomorrow if we really wanted to, an attitude that has distorted education policy and analysis for decades.

My first book, The Cult of Smart, was a commercial failure. It was released during the height of the pandemic and thus my ability to promote it was limited, but by any measure the market rejected it. It’s tough to produce a labor of love like that and find that few people were interested in it.

But there was a silver lining: since publication in 2020 I’ve heard from dozens and dozens of teachers, thanking me for putting their thoughts to print. These educators come from public, private, and charter schools, from schools with affluent study bodies and schools that are mired in poverty, from big city school districts and from low-population regional rural schools. And again and again, these teachers shared the same perspective: they agreed with the book’s overall argument, and often had thought similar things themselves for years, but felt they could not express them publicly for fear of professional consequences.

The essential argument of the book is that overwhelming empirical evidence shows that students sort themselves into academic ability bands in the performance spectrum early in life, with remarkable consistency; that the most natural and simplest explanation for this tendency is that there is such a thing as individual academic potential; and that the most likely source of this individual academic potential is [edit] likely influenced by genes. When we look at academic performance, what we see again and again is that students perform at a given level relative to peers early in schooling and maintain that level throughout formal education. (I make that case at considerable length here.) A vast number of interventions thought to influence relative performance have been revealed to make no difference in rigorous research, including truly dramatic changes to schooling and environment. Meta-analyses and literature reviews that assess the strength of many different educational interventions find effect sizes in the range of .01 to .3 standard deviations, small by any standards and subject to all sorts of questions about research quality and randomization. Even the most optimistic reading of the research literature suggests that almost nothing moves the needle in academic outcomes. Almost nothing we try works.

This implies that common sense is correct and that individual students have their own natural or intrinsic level of academic potential, which we have no reason to believe we can dramatically change. I believe that we can change large group disparities in education (such as the racial achievement gap) by addressing major socioeconomic inequalities through government policy. But even after we eliminate racial or gender gaps, there will be wide differences between individual students, regardless of pedagogy or policy. When Black students as a group score at parity with white students, there will still be large gaps within the population of Black students or white or any other group you can name, and we have no reliable interventions to make the weakest perform like the strongest.

2) And, then, if you want to dive even deeper into education policy, a follow-up post:

My recent post on education and optimism bias received a lot of attention, mostly positive. It occurred to me that, as I’ve written so much on this topic, it may be hard for new readers to get caught up. So here I’m laying out my gloss on the overall state of American education research, policy, and discourse, and pointing you in the direction of evidence for these ideas. This is more of a series of various observations than a conventional argument. The most thorough exploration of my thoughts on the politics and philosophy of education can be found in my first book, The Cult of SmartThe most thorough exploration of the available research can be found in the posts linked here, particularly the piece below, which contains a comprehensive argument about how position in the academic performance hierarchy is largely fixed.

3) And let’s just stick with education, this was a great guest post in Yglesias’ substack, which is, in large part, a rebuttal to deBoer, “Good schools (still) matter for low-income kids: What schools can and cannot do for the students who need the most help”

As someone who’s had firsthand experience in the ups and downs of the education reform movement, I agree with Matt calling it a “strange death.” Reformers did over-promise, and they did fail at scaling up once-promising ideas.

But we’ve now let the pendulum swing back too far, to a “lol, nothing matters” view on schools, and that’s wrong, too. The left has coalesced around the idea that schools just need more money and support and not much else. The right is using schools as a culture war scapegoat as it wins school choice battles. National media outlets are adding more fuel to those fires, rather than soberly monitoring how students are recovering from the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the essential insights behind the education reform movement have only gotten stronger: Schools matter for kids, schools can get better, and these questions are especially important for the disadvantaged students who rely on public schools the most…

To be clear, the school quality effects are not large enough to “end poverty in our lifetimes” or any other such bold claims. But that’s setting an impossibly high standard, and we need to be open to a lot of small improvements rather than aiming for one policy to solve all of our problems.

Education Reform Nihilism

The downfall of the education reform movement, such as it was, stems from a lot of causes.

But we’ve now entered into what I think of as education reform nihilism, where nothing that we could possibly do to improve schools would matter all that much. This is best captured by a recent Freddie deBoer piece where he concludes that, “almost nothing moves the needle in academic outcomes. Almost nothing we try works.” 

He’s right, up to a point. But he misses the mark on two fronts. One, at the macro level student achievement has improved over time, and gaps are narrowing. DeBoer points to one study suggesting that achievement gaps have remained the same over time, but a more recent, peer-reviewed version of that same paper concludes, “Gaps in math, reading, and science achievement between the top and bottom quartiles of the SES distribution have closed by 0.05 standard deviation per decade.” Other papers come to similarly positive conclusions: Achievement scores are rising, and gaps are closing across income and racial lines.1

True, the progress here is painstaking and slow. As one of the papers noted, “At the current pace of closure, the achievement gap would not be eliminated until the second half of the 22nd Century.”

And this is where DeBoer, federal policymakers, and wealthy philanthropists have learned the wrong lessons. It’s not that reforms don’t “work” or that schools cannot improve. It’s more complicated than that. Lots of things can work—there’s a whole federal website called the What Works Clearinghouse documenting thousands of successful reform efforts—but they may not work the same way everywhere.

This is an important distinction, because it means policymakers need to keep their eyes focused on marginal improvements rather than trying to find one big fix.

4) And a great post in Persuasion from transgender physician, Erica Anderson, “Why We Need a Serious Debate About Healthcare For Transgender Youth”

Having been quoted in the aforementioned pieces, and being steeped in the issues surrounding trans healthcare, I would like to offer my view on both.

First, the accusations of bias and transphobia against journalists at the Times are unconvincing. Each of the journalists with whom I spoke (in some cases multiple times) stressed their intention to illuminate the complexities of the issues. Their motivation was to cover the issues with accuracy, clarity and compassion. They were clearly trying to understand all the nuances of the issues and stressed that they were talking to many people representing a diverse range of views. In each case we discussed the precise language to be used in the articles.

The Times did the right thing by responding quickly with a full-throated defense of the pieces and their journalists. As executive editor Joe Kahn suggested, while the open letters were coordinated by activists whose mission is to advocate for a cause—in this case, the rights of transgender persons, particularly trans youth—the Times has a different mission: namely, the coverage of important issues as fairly and humanely as possible.

I would also note that writing about these topics is extremely difficult. If one seeks to discuss the nuanced aspects of trans medical treatments, it is even more difficult. As recently as two years ago, many journalists admitted to me that they were afraid to cover transgender healthcare at all, let alone weigh in on the substance and particulars of the issues. In America it would seem that one is cast as either pro-trans or transphobic. Part of the problem is the kind of reactiveness displayed by the letters. One of the journalists who signed bragged that she received the invitation at 11:02 PM and agreed to sign at 11:04 PM. That timing strikes me as reflex rather than reflection.

This unwillingness to deal with nuance is hugely problematic, and lately I have been appealing for more light and less heat. The truth is that nothing is binary about gender. In particular, a false narrative has emerged about one of the most contentious issues: the status of research on trans youth, and the rigor behind current guidelines…

Major medical organizations agree that gender affirming care for youth is necessary and appropriate. Some people have taken this to mean that all the issues surrounding such care are settled. But this is not the case. A recent British Medical Journal investigation notes that the research evidence for certain forms of care has come under question in several Western European countries—countries known to be progressive and motivated to help gender-questioning youth. A full systematic review by the Swedish health authority, for example, concluded that the evidence for medicines like puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for youth is currently weak, and that the risks currently outweigh the benefits. Sweden’s health authority has updated their recommendations to severely curtail the use of puberty blockers for those under 18, pending further systematic study. They did not do this because they are transphobic: they did it because they are responsible.

Meanwhile, a minority of overzealous practitioners in the United States have blurred activism with responsible professional conduct. Youth presenting at gender clinics represent a heterogeneous population of young people, but many parents have told me directly about their experience of providers who eschew the standard of practice requiring an individualized comprehensive biopsychosocial evaluation prior to initiating the deployment of medicines with minors. Such an evaluation, as described by the WPATH Standards of Care, entails multiple interviews over time assembling a clinical picture of the child’s development, family dynamics, history of psychiatric issues, autism spectrum disorder, and trauma. I’ve called such abdication “sloppy,” and for this I have been criticized. But the fact remains some medical providers have launched into a discussion with minors about puberty blockers or hormones from the very first interaction, obliterating any distinction between gender questioning/incongruent and gender dysphoric youth.

5) This is really good. And important when you consider how many adults now have no close friends, “You May Need That Procedure. But Do You Really Need an Escort? Following even basic screenings and operations, patients often must arrange for someone to deliver them home. For older people, it can be a tall order.”

Transportation itself isn’t the difficulty; Mr. Lewinger could summon an Uber or a Lyft, call a car service or hail a cab. What he needs is “someone to escort me out of the building, take me back to my apartment and see me into it,” he explained. “It shouldn’t be so hard.” 

It is, though. Mr. Lewinger is divorced and lives alone, like a growing number of older Americans. His daughter lives in Boston; the cousin who brought him home after cataract surgery a few years ago has moved away. He doesn’t have friends to help. Phone calls to Aetna, his Medicare Advantage insurer, revealed that Medicare doesn’t cover a medical escort. He struck out with home-care agencies, too.

He even offered maintenance workers in his apartment building $100 to pick him up after their shifts. “They lost interest when I couldn’t be specific about what time they’d have to be there,” Mr. Lewinger said.

Older people across the country describe similarly maddening efforts to find “door-through-door” escorts for outpatient surgery and screenings that involve anesthesia — especially if facilities require those escorts to remain on the premises until the patient’s discharge…

Doctors explain that door-through-door requirements are a safety measure. With a colonoscopy, for instance, patients often receive an anesthetic, like propofol, or a narcotic such as Demerol or fentanyl, combined with anti-anxiety medication like Versed or Valium.

“They affect the brain, and they can stay in the system for four to six hours,” said Carol Burke, a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic and a past president of the American College of Gastroenterology. “You’re not in full control of your faculties.”

On a bus or in an Uber, she said, “what if you fall asleep or you start to vomit or you don’t remember where you’re going?”

Is such caution truly necessary? “A very hard question,” said Thomas Oetting, an ophthalmologist at the University of Iowa School of Medicine and a spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Though liability fears clearly play a role, “how safe do we have to be?” he asked. He specializes in cataract surgery, which also often involves intravenous anesthesia. After the operation, “if there’s a one-in-a-million chance that someone falls and breaks a hip, should everybody have to have someone take them home?”

For now, though, they usually do, forcing older patients without nearby family, or friends who still drive, to scramble.

6) Mississippi and the racist white Republicans that run the state and immiserate their people are just the worst, “‘We’re Going Away’: A State’s Choice to Forgo Medicaid Funds Is Killing Hospitals”

GREENWOOD, Miss. — Since its opening in a converted wood-frame mansion 117 years ago, Greenwood Leflore Hospital had become a medical hub for this part of Mississippi’s fertile but impoverished Delta, with 208 beds, an intensive-care unit, a string of walk-in clinics and a modern brick-and-glass building.

But on a recent weekday, it counted just 13 inpatients clustered in a single ward. The I.C.U. and maternity ward were closed for lack of staffing and the rest of the building was eerily silent, all signs of a hospital savaged by too many poor patients.

Greenwood Leflore lost $17 million last year alone and is down to a few million in cash reserves, said Gary Marchand, the hospital’s interim chief executive. “We’re going away,” he said. “It’s happening.”

Rural hospitals are struggling all over the nation because of population declines, soaring labor costs and a long-term shift toward outpatient care. But those problems have been magnified by a political choice in Mississippi and nine other states, all with Republican-controlled legislatures…

In Mississippi, one of the nation’s poorest states, the missing federal health care dollars have helped drive what is now a full-blown hospital crisis. Statewide, experts say that no more than a few of Mississippi’s 100-plus hospitals are operating at a profit. Free care is costing them about $600 million a year, the equivalent of 8 percent to 10 percent of their operating costs — a higher share than almost anywhere else in the nation, according to the state hospital association.

Expanding Medicaid would uncork a spigot of about $1.35 billion a year in federal funds to hospitals and health care providers, according to a 2021 report by the office of the state economist.

And it would guarantee medical coverage to some 100,000 uninsured adults making less than $20,120 a year in a state whose death rates are at or near the nation’s highest for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease and pneumonia. Infant mortality is also sky-high, and the Delta has the nation’s highest rate of foot and leg amputations because of diabetes or hypertension.

Health officials blame those numbers in part on the high rate of uninsured residents who miss out on preventive care…

Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, and key G.O.P. state lawmakers argue that a bigger Mississippi program is not in taxpayers’ best interest. The governor says the state’s $3.9 billion surplus would be best used to help eliminate Mississippi’s income tax.

“Don’t simply cave under the pressure of Democrats and their allies in the media who are pushing for the expansion of Obamacare, welfare and socialized medicine,” Mr. Reeves said in his annual State of the State address in January.

What awful humans. And you know they are all convinced what damn good Christians they are, too.

7) This is cool– fake beehives, with audio– to limit elephant-human conflict:

It’s a familiar, dreaded scenario in many parts of Africa and Asia: An elephant shows up, wanders into farmers’ fields, and tramples and eats crops. Sometimes farmers fight back, and elephants are killed.

That series of events seemed likely to play out recently when a forest elephant bull emerged from the dense jungle surrounding Gbarnjala village in northwestern Liberia.

But this time, things went differently. The munching bull heard an angry buzzing sound. It froze mid-chew, then turned trunk and high-tailed it out of there.

The bull had heard the sound of a disturbed hive of bees — and like elephants all over the world, it had learned to avoid the insect sound at all costs. But in this case, no bees were actually present. He had triggered a BuzzBox, an audio technology that aims to keep elephants and people apart…

Conflict between humans and elephants is an urgent problem across Africa. As human populations grow, people are encroaching on formerly wild areas, including some game reserves and national parks. “Elephants are getting more and more compressed into smaller spaces,” said Lucy King, head of the human-elephant coexistence program at Save the Elephants, which is helping to deploy the BuzzBox.

Elephants can take an entire year’s harvest overnight and occasionally even kill people they encounter. This breeds fear, anger and intolerance for the animals, eroding community support for their conservation and sometimes leading to retaliation.

“Human-elephant conflict feeds into the issue of local people being recruited into poaching gangs,” said Francesca Mahoney, founder and director of Wild Survivors, a nonprofit based in England that developed the BuzzBox.

Bees are an increasingly popular means of trying to quell that conflict.

8) This article obviously checking two boxes for me, “ChatGPT struggles with Wordle puzzles, which says a lot about how it works”

9) I really loved this from Dan Kois.  Phones, social media, what have you.. the reality is that teenagers simply need to hang out more in real life (like we did back in the day!!)

Jason was tall and skinny, Mark shorter and muscular. Jason played the cello; Mark played volleyball. Somehow, my sophomore year of high school, I fell in with Jason and Mark—and Jen and Erin and Jason B. and Jon and Candi, the cohort of juniors and seniors who dominated the youth group at our Methodist church. I was welcomed into their gang, even though I couldn’t drive yet. They picked me up on snowy evenings to do doughnuts in the mall parking lot. They picked me up after work to go to the movies. They picked me up on Saturday mornings to play tackle football on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, a thing I still can’t believe I did. That no one broke a leg astonishes me.

I don’t really think I had that much in common with Jason and Mark, and while I remember them with great fondness, I don’t remember them well. I recall that they both were fans of heavy metal and found the success of Extreme’s ballad “More Than Words” excruciating, because they’d so loved the band’s aggro sound. (I exclusively listened to R.E.M., a band they scoffed at.) I don’t remember how religious they were; God wasn’t a thing we talked about outside of the fellowship hall, and even there we left most of the talking to the youth minister. I remember that Jason’s mom was nice. I don’t recall anything about Mark’s family.

It wasn’t that kind of friendship—the kind where you are intimately connected and know everything about one another. We met up, we hung out, and then they graduated and I basically never saw them again.

I thought of Jason and Mark this past weekend, after my wife and I spent another half-hour encouraging our teenagers to Make some plans! Get out of the house! As is often the case, little came of it. Halfhearted texts receive halfhearted responses. School friends have crew practice or something else going on. No one wants to go out into the cold. Maybe they can just talk on the phone while playing video games?

I am torn, in the debate about teenage isolation and smartphone use, between my dislike for seeming a fuddy-duddy and my real concern about how friendship works among teenagers in 2023. Yes, there are still some teens who go out with friends, hang out in basements, throw the occasional kegger. But I see many, including my older daughter, spending most of their time at home rather than out with their peers. Even my younger kid, who’s much more willing to try to make plans, ends up by herself much more often than I ever did at that age.

I remind myself that it’s folly to compare their childhoods with memories of my own—memories that are surely weighted toward fun outings, rather than the many unmemorable nights I must have spent at home. (It’s not an accident I know so many episodes of The Simpsons by heart.) And anyway, much of the time that my kids spend in their rooms, which I instinctively see as “wasted,” is, in fact, social. It’s just social in a way that doesn’t make natural sense to me. It’s spent texting people they met on the internet, or watching and making TikToks, or chatting in a Discord with people who love the exact same animes or whatever.

Indeed, when my fellow parents bemoan the time our children spend online, I often make an optimistic counterargument: When we were growing up, we were stuck with whatever kids were in our high school, whether we had anything in common with them or not. These days, the entire world of teenagers is open to you. My 17-year-old, for example, has a direct line to people who share her identity, who understand her experience, who love the things she loves. Could she pluck from the haystack of her high school the needle of a person who analyzes Madoka Magica, rages about politics, and listens to Carly Rae Jepsen on loop? Maybe. More likely, no such needle exists. But she can find plenty such people online. What a gift!

And yet, the crisis in teen mental health deepens, and teens spend less and less time hanging out. We parents try to figure it out. Is there a causal connection between these two facts, and could it be related to smartphone use? Is it the pressure of social media? Perhaps the problem is a society that doesn’t offer enough “third spaces,” where kids can be out of the house but not hassled by authorities or salespeople. Or that every kid’s calendar is packed with SAT tutoring or crew practice. (It is wild how much time the crew team spends practicing! Really, aren’t they just rowing?) Is it the pandemic, or climate anxiety, or grade stress, or economic panic, or a car-centric world? Almost certainly, the problem is a combination of all these things, in different measures for every kid. That’s what most parents I know say when we discuss it, which is all the time. “But mostly it’s the phones,” we add…

I don’t want to discount those friendships, which, in an atomized age, are fun, nurturing, meaningful—everything you’d want a close relationship to be. Yet it’s striking to me how frequently teenagers are able to avoid navigating the awkwardness of real-world connection. As one respondent to a recent New York Times survey of kids pointed out, “When I’m online, I can mute myself, and they can’t really see me. I can’t just mute myself in real life.”

I never had that, and maybe such online friendships of the heart would have changed my high school experience. But I wonder if they would have changed it for the better. I couldn’t mute myself with those good-enough friends. They really saw me. I had to learn to deal with them and their Extreme fandom; they had to learn to deal with my fussiness and nerdiness. That was the bargain we made, to have people to hang out with. I wonder what version of childhood, of life, offers more happiness: the one spent with perfect friends whom you never see, or the one spent with good-enough friends who, as I was, are up for whatever.

10) Such a good idea.  Every state should be doing this.  So much benefit! “Illinois’ Bold Move: 60,000 HEPA Air Purifiers To Be Distributed In Schools To Battle Respiratory Viruses”

Studies have shown that cleaner air can improve students’ abilities to think, learn, read, and solve math problems, as well as reduce absentee rates. IDPH issued ventilation guidance last year to educate the community on the impact of ventilation systems and to provide information about low-cost and DIY interventions for ventilation upgrades.

11) Great stuff from Noah Smith: “Progressives need to embrace progress”

But the problems are deeper than semantics. Many current progressive approaches are detrimental to progress not as others would define it, but as many progressives themselves would. Whether it’s a social safety net, green energy, or affordable housing, progressives are often committed to a set of procedures and methods that end up being detrimental to their goals. And yet these procedures and methods are rarely questioned, because they weren’t planned but accumulated over time — sometimes in response to pressures from specific interest groups, sometimes as compromises with the political constraints of the past, sometimes for reasons unknown. But whatever the reason, it’s increasingly clear that many progressive approaches will simply not “get ‘er done”. And this puts the entire modern progressive project in danger of frustration and failure.

So let’s talk about some of these problematic approaches…


They used to say that money is just little green slips of paper. Well, now money isn’t even that; it’s just numbers in a ledger. Those numbers sometimes have the power to motivate human beings to produce real tangible things — if you pay construction workers to build a building, then now you have a building. But the numbers don’t inherently produce more stuff — simply writing down the words “Green energy gets $400 billion” does not actually specify the number of kilowatt-hours of power that become available to consumers.

In a frustrated post last month, I talked about how the unprecedented spending in the Inflation Reduction Act is having trouble creating actual green energy, because local communities are holding up solar and wind projects and transmission lines using environmental review laws (NEPA) and various other veto points. The entire push for green energy is now in danger of failing, because progressives focused entirely on writing the checks and not on creating the institutional capacity necessary for translating those checks into physical goods. The IRA is now threatening to go the way of California’s High Speed Rail project, a progressive dream that received its first big checks 14 years ago, and yet which has yet to produce a single mile of usable train line.

I’ve been mentally using the word “checkism” to describe the progressive belief that all we need is the political will to write bigger checks. Checkism is clearly on display with California HSR, whose estimated cost has ballooned to over $128 billion thanks to the same real-world obstacles that have held up its construction. This has not prompted calls for revising our institutions in order to make construction cheaper and easier and quicker; instead, progressives have simply called for more “investment”, i.e. writing bigger checks…

Stasis subsidies for everyone

NEPA is what I call a “stasis subsidy” — a way of making Americans feel richer by giving them the option to block any changes in their lives. A stasis subsidy has real value to the people who receive it, because it gives them a bit of control over the world around them. It’s also a very easy subsidy to hand out; unlike most welfare programs, you don’t have to actually do anything, you just have to make rules that stop things from being done. The costs are enormous — higher consumer prices, higher rents, lower wages — but they’re hidden costs, which often don’t show up until later, or show up in ways that normal people don’t recognize…

The laundry list

The final progressive approach that has started to be self-defeating is the insistence on tying every progressive project to a long-standing list of unrelated priorities. For example, former Obama advisor Steven Rattner recently noted all the riders that are being attached to the CHIPS Act spending:

12) And we’ll finish off with a few tweets…




Quick hits (part II)

1) This was really good on the myth of the Alpha Wolf:

Different wolf populations have packs of different sizes, but the basic structure is the same: a mom, a dad, and their offspring. Sometimes the one-year-olds set out on their own, hoping to find a mate and start their own pack; sometimes they stick around and, as yearlings, help raise the next set of pups. As Kira Cassidy, an associate research scientist with a National Park Service research program in Yellowstone, explained, “The wolves generally in those dominant positions are not there because they fought for it. It’s not some battle to get to the top position. They’re just the oldest, or the parents. Or, in the case of same-sex siblings, it’s a matter of personality.” Cassidy specializes in wolves’ sociality, both within and between packs. Wolves do fight one another—in Yellowstone, where humans can’t hunt them, fights are the primary cause of mortality—but most fights are between packs, for territory. “In Yellowstone, maybe because there’s a lot to eat and it’s a protected area, our packs are larger, more complex family units,” she said. Where conditions are harsh, a wolf pack might number four—two parents, two pups—because so few pups survive. In Yellowstone, a pack often includes aunts, uncles, and sometimes even more than one breeding pair.

Cassidy said that one finding that surprised her came when she looked into battles between packs. She suspected that pack size would be important in determining victors. “We found that even more important than pack size was whether a pack had an old individual, male or female,” she said. At six years old, a Yellowstone wolf is considered an elder—only about one in five lives to that age. “If they have one or two older individuals, they are more likely to win—which was not what we’d expected to find.”

After that, she looked into the literature on other animals, and discovered similar findings. In times of droughts, elephant herds with a matriarch older than thirty-five do better. When there’s a salmon shortage, orcas follow the grandmother. “In the pack fights, we see that the elders don’t panic,” Cassidy said. “It seems to match up with this idea of them having past knowledge that helps the pack. They can ease their pack mates and bring them together. Or maybe the older ones help the pack avoid fights that they know they can’t win—which brings up their winning rate over all.”…

The Schenkel study that gave rise to the terminology began in 1934, looking at wolves living at the Basel Zoological Garden. The conditions, as described in the study, were rough: “Up to ten wolves were kept together in a small area with a floor space of approximately 10 metres by 20 meters.” Not only were the wolves in captivity but they had been brought in from different zoos, and were unrelated to one another. This might be the equivalent of studying the human family by observing the culture of prisoners in a holding cell. Schenkel noted that “this space as a whole was regularly defended against the zookeeper by the whole pack.”

2) An interesting argument that they way schools teach books does not foster a love of reading (I’m very grateful that my 12-year old daughter loves reading– I wish her brothers read more, but they could be worse)

What I remember most about reading in childhood was falling in love with characters and stories; I adored Judy Blume’s Margaret and Beverly Cleary’s Ralph S. Mouse. In New York, where I was in public elementary school in the early ’80s, we did have state assessments that tested reading level and comprehension, but the focus was on reading as many books as possible and engaging emotionally with them as a way to develop the requisite skills. Now the focus on reading analytically seems to be squashing that organic enjoyment. Critical reading is an important skill, especially for a generation bombarded with information, much of it unreliable or deceptive. But this hyperfocus on analysis comes at a steep price: The love of books and storytelling is being lost.

This disregard for story starts as early as elementary school. Take this requirement from the third-grade English-language-arts Common Core standard, used widely across the U.S.: “Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.” There is a fun, easy way to introduce this concept: reading Peggy Parish’s classic, Amelia Bedelia, in which the eponymous maid follows commands such as “Draw the drapes when the sun comes in” by drawing a picture of the curtains. But here’s how one educator experienced in writing Common Core–aligned curricula proposes this be taught: First, teachers introduce the concepts of nonliteral and figurative language. Then, kids read a single paragraph from Amelia Bedelia and answer written questions.

For anyone who knows children, this is the opposite of engaging: The best way to present an abstract idea to kids is by hooking them on a story. “Nonliteral language” becomes a whole lot more interesting and comprehensible, especially to an 8-year-old, when they’ve gotten to laugh at Amelia’s antics first. The process of meeting a character and following them through a series of conflicts is the fun part of reading. Jumping into a paragraph in the middle of a book is about as appealing for most kids as cleaning their room.

But as several educators explained to me, the advent of accountability laws and policies, starting with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and accompanying high-stakes assessments based on standards, be they Common Core or similar state alternatives, has put enormous pressure on instructors to teach to these tests at the expense of best practices. Jennifer LaGarde, who has more than 20 years of experience as a public-school teacher and librarian, described how one such practice—the class read-aloud—invariably resulted in kids asking her for comparable titles. But read-alouds are now imperiled by the need to make sure that kids have mastered all the standards that await them in evaluation, an even more daunting task since the start of the pandemic. “There’s a whole generation of kids who associate reading with assessment now,” LaGarde said.

3) I agree with Drum on this, “How about if we indict Donald Trump for something serious?”

I would really like to see Donald Trump indicted over his efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia. The problem is that it would be a tough case since Trump was savvy enough to avoid saying outright, “Hey, just invent the extra votes I need.” Still, everyone knows that’s exactly what he meant, and it’s a serious crime. Trump deserves to go to prison for that.

Ditto for the classified documents case. The problem is not that Trump took the documents when he left office. That might have been a mistake, after all. The problem is that even when he knew he had classified documents in his possession and he knew that the government wanted them back, he refused to return them. That’s why the FBI had to get a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago. Trump deserves to go to trial for that too.¹

But you go to war with the charges you have, not with the charges you wish you had. And right now, the charges we have are related to payoffs Trump made to a porn star. Here’s my understanding of the case:

  • In 2006 Trump (allegedly) had an affair with Stormy Daniels. This is not illegal.
  • Daniels threatened to tell her story while Trump was running for president in 2016. This is not illegal. (Not for Trump, anyway.)
  • Trump agreed to pay her off. This is not illegal.
  • But Trump wanted to keep it a secret, so he asked Michael Cohen to handle the payoff money. Trump would then reimburse Cohen. This is not illegal.
  • Trump reimbursed Cohen via payments from the Trump Organization. If this were a public company, that would be illegal. But it’s not, so apparently it isn’t.
  • However, in order to maintain the secrecy, the payments to Cohen were labeled “legal expenses.”

And that’s illegal. Moreover, you can argue that the payoff was a campaign expense that Trump didn’t report. That would be illegal too.

So the case against Trump is this: In order to keep his payoff of a blackmailer secret, he had it labeled as a legal expense.

This strikes me as pretty trivial, and I have my doubts that a jury would convict Trump if it goes to trial. We should probably save our legal firepower for something more serious.

And like it or not, public opinion matters too. One of the mistakes that Republicans made in their impeachment jihad against Bill Clinton was misjudging public opinion. To them, Clinton lied under oath, and a lie is a lie. It was an open and shut case.

But the public never really agreed. To them, it mattered what the lie was about. In Clinton’s case, he was lying about having an affair with a White House aide. To most people, this seemed (a) not all that big a deal, (b) completely unrelated to his fitness as president, and (c) something that of course he lied about. Anybody would. Come on.

Democrats may be making the same mistake here. To us, Trump falsified his business records, and a lie is a lie. It’s an open and shut case.

But the public, as usual, will care what the lie was about. They’re likely to think it’s (a) not all that big a deal, (b) completely unrelated to his fitness as president, and (c) something that of course he lied about. He was being blackmailed! Come on.

So tread carefully here.

4) This story is just nuts.  You read the headline and think its exaggerating. But nope. “This Principal Investigated a Sexting Incident. So the Police Charged Him With Possessing Child Porn.”

A Brush, Colorado, man is facing 12 years in prison for possessing child pornography. Even more fraught is that no one, including the government, thinks he had child pornography.

At least not in any traditional sense. Bradley Bass allegedly ran afoul of state law when he was found with explicit images of a local girl. But the 32-year-old high school principal came to have those photos in the course of a school sexting investigation carried out as a part of his job. The girl says she isn’t a victim of Bass’ and both she and her parents have pled with law enforcement to stop the prosecution.

Those requests have fallen on deaf ears. The law criminalizes possessing such photos, even if someone comes to have them while conducting a probe. There is one notable exception, however: “peace officers or court personnel in the performance of their official duties.” In other words, when law enforcement carries out such an investigation, it’s OK. When Bass carried out a similar investigation, he was hit with the potential of more than a decade behind bars, sex offender status, and the loss of his kids and job.

5) I read this headline and thought surely one of these was leaded gasoline. Indeed. “The Brilliant Inventor Who Made Two of History’s Biggest Mistakes

Each of these innovations offered a brilliant solution to an urgent technological problem of the era: making automobiles more efficient, producing a safer refrigerant. But each turned out to have deadly secondary effects on a global scale. Indeed, there may be no other single person in history who did as much damage to human health and the planet, all with the best of intentions as an inventor.

What should we make of the disquieting career of Thomas Midgley Jr.? There are material reasons for revisiting his story now, beyond the one accidental rhyme of history: the centennial of leaded gasoline’s first appearance on the market in 1923. That might seem like the distant past, but the truth is we are still living with the consequences of Midgley’s innovations. This year, the United Nations released an encouraging study reporting that the ozone layer was indeed on track to fully recover from the damage caused by Midgley’s chlorofluorocarbons — but not for another 40 years.

6) Recently came across this idea of “primal world beliefs” on a podcast. I think it is a very, very cool idea:

Your beliefs about a place strongly impact your behavior while in that place. For example, if you see a place as a battleground, you’re jumpy and ready to fight. If you see a place as a playground, you play. You feel good. You make friends.

What happens if you see the whole world as a battleground? Just like beliefs about local contexts, world beliefs could impact us, but constantly. If that’s true, then depression, success, optimismextraversion—honestly, most parts of psychology people care about—could be affected…

But all primals are not equally important. Most collapse for statistical and conceptual reasons into three big ones:

1. Safe World Belief

Those low on Safe world belief see the world as dangerous. These people don’t necessarily feel more scared or threatened in response to dangers, they are just of the honest opinion that there’s a lot more danger out there than the rest of us suspect—from germs to sharks to terrorism to getting insulted. So being alert seems responsible, and relaxing isn’t a great idea. Better safe than sorry.


Those high on Safe world belief see really dangerous threats as few and far between. Thus, they feel that constant vigilance is neurotic, risk is not that risky, and, in general, people should calm down.

Grey Matter Group
Source: Grey Matter Group

Safe world belief is very strongly correlated to things like greater trust, higher agreeableness, and lower depression. Interestingly, men and women on average see the world as equally Safe. In fact, Safe is correlated surprisingly little to actual experiences of danger. This suggests that Safe world belief may be more like a lens used to interpret our life than a mirror reflecting what our life has been.


2. Enticing World Belief

Those low on Enticing world belief see the world as dull. In their view, truly beautiful and fascinating things are rare. Therefore, treasure-hunting, social exploration, risk-taking, and so forth, are only appropriate when it’s a sure bet.

Those high on Enticing world belief are of the opinion that treasure is around every corner, in every person, under every rock, and that beauty permeates everything. Therefore, exploration and appreciation are not naïve. It’s simply the rational way to live.

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Grey Matter Group
Source: Grey Matter Group

Enticing is very strongly correlated to things like curiosity, gratitude, and happiness. Like SafeEnticing is uncorrelated to wealth or privilege; anyone can see the world as Enticing.

3. Alive World Belief

Those low on Alive world belief see the world as a machine with no awareness or intentions. Since the universe never sends messages, it makes no sense to try and listen for any. Just as machine parts are interchangeable, so too are people: the world doesn’t need you for anything special.


Those high on Alive world belief think everything happens for a purpose and listen constantly for those purposes. To them, life is a relationship with an active universe that animates events, communicates, and has a role for each of us to play.

Grey Matter Group
Source: Grey Matter Group

Alive is strongly correlated to things like spirituality and having purpose in life. Though religious people tend to see the world as Alive, plenty of non-religious people do, too.

You can probably guess that I see the world as safe, enticing, and mechanistic.  Fun quiz here

7) Paul Waldman, “How much does charisma matter? DeSantis is putting it to the test.”

Liberals are horrified by Ron DeSantis, both in terms of what he has done so far as governor of Florida and what he might do as president. But many take comfort in this frequently repeated idea: Whatever his appeal to the Republican base, DeSantis is so lacking in charisma that winning the presidency would be exceedingly difficult.

This observation has come from both DeSantis’s critics and admirers. He is “reserved and dry” and has a challenge “forging connections with people.” He’s “pinched and humorless.” He “just doesn’t have the charisma to command a national political stage.” He “has the charisma of a pair of cargo shorts.”

It hasn’t seemed to hurt him so far, though. He was narrowly elected governor in 2018, reelected by a large margin in 2022 and has become the most prominent contender for the 2024 presidential nomination not named Donald Trump.

Ever since German sociologist Max Weber theorized about charisma in the early 20th century, scholars have considered its impact on politics — though many struggle to define it. Some describe it as “personal magnetism.” Others locate it in the bond between the leader and their followers; as historian David A. Bell wrote, “charisma is not just an individual quality but a relationship.” It only exists insofar as others perceive it.

Even if Republican voters are attracted to DeSantis, they don’t seem to be getting swept off their feet. They like what he’s done in Florida; they like his crusades against liberals; and they think he would be a smarter, more disciplined version of Trump. It’s all exceedingly rational.

Yet all those who made it to the White House in recent decades have possessed at least one of two kinds of charisma. On the personal level, many had a charm that enabled them to connect with people individually.That was especially true of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The other form of charisma was a more distant version — the kind you can see through your TV or on a jumbotron. They could hold a rapt crowd in their hands and move them emotionally. That was especially true of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.

8) Yglesias on poverty: “Don’t overthink poverty in the United States”

American anti-poverty programs do a lot to reduce poverty


What shifts my read of Desmond’s work from “somewhat annoyed” to “actually angry” is his claim that the United States has made no progress against poverty in 50 years.

That’s just not true. It is true that there are flaws in the way the official poverty measurement is calculated, and I assume this is why Desmond mentions an additional metric called the Supplemental Poverty Measure. But then he implies, without quite saying so, that SPM poverty hasn’t fallen either, which also isn’t true:

In the past 50 years, scientists have mapped the entire human genome and eradicated smallpox. Here in the United States, infant-mortality rates and deaths from heart disease have fallen by roughly 70 percent, and the average American has gained almost a decade of life. Climate change was recognized as an existential threat. The internet was invented.

On the problem of poverty, though, there has been no real improvement — just a long stasis. As estimated by the federal government’s poverty line, 12.6 percent of the U.S. population was poor in 1970; two decades later, it was 13.5 percent; in 2010, it was 15.1 percent; and in 2019, it was 10.5 percent. To graph the share of Americans living in poverty over the past half-century amounts to drawing a line that resembles gently rolling hills. The line curves slightly up, then slightly down, then back up again over the years, staying steady through Democratic and Republican administrations, rising in recessions and falling in boom years.

What accounts for this lack of progress? It cannot be chalked up to how the poor are counted: Different measures spit out the same embarrassing result. When the government began reporting the Supplemental Poverty Measure in 2011, designed to overcome many of the flaws of the Official Poverty Measure, including not accounting for regional differences in costs of living and government benefits, the United States officially gained three million more poor people. Possible reductions in poverty from counting aid like food stamps and tax benefits were more than offset by recognizing how low-income people were burdened by rising housing and health care costs.

I’m concerned that this passage won’t come in for the vigorous criticism it deserves. Desmond is a big deal in scholarship and the New York Times Magazine is a big deal in journalism, and most people aren’t going to want to call them out for how irresponsible this is. It’s also not the kind of academic/journalistic error that conservative or “heterodox” people like to get mad about — Tucker Carlson isn’t going to do a segment about how irresponsible it is.

But I am.

Over the past 50 years, the United States has spent a considerable amount of money on new programs designed to lift the living standards of low-income people. The reason this hasn’t reduced OPM poverty is that OPM poverty excludes those benefits by definition. The SPM includes them, and the SPM does in fact show poverty falling over time. Desmond elides this by saying that SPM poverty indicates a higher rate than OPM poverty, but that’s neither here nor there. A time series of the SPM shows a Great Society drop, then a Clinton drop, and then an Obama drop. When the welfare state expands, SPM poverty goes down…

An expansive welfare state is expensive

I think the best answer is that just as all kids in America are entitled to K-12 schooling whether or not we think their parents have made great life choices, all kids in America should be entitled to some basic material living standards. There should be a monthly child allowance for all kids, probably one that starts quite large, then tapers when the kid hits kindergarten and again when the kid turns 14 or 15. You should get this allowance whether you’re rich or poor or anything in between; we can make the system progressive through taxes.

A program like that would be relatively simple to get people signed up for because eligibility is easy to determine.

It would avoid any “poverty trap” or “welfare dependency” perverse incentives, and I would hope it would minimize the toxic pitting of people against each other based on their circumstances in life. Kids have needs — policy should account for that. And just as Social Security massively reduces elder poverty without being “an anti-poverty program,” a Social Security benefit for kids would massively reduce poverty among children.

The problem is that while it’s analytically simple and easy to describe, it comes with a hefty price tag. I don’t think it would be costly in economic terms to finance a program like this with broad-based taxes. Indeed, in a lot of ways I think it would be superior to the current practice of bolting together a jumble of different programs for families. But the numbers involved are big and scary, GOP elites think it’s a bad idea, and Democratic Party advocacy groups who like this idea generally have higher priorities.

So policy entrepreneurs are left trying to improve life for low-income people with a mix of means-tested programs that are either in-kind (SNAP) or work-linked (EITC) and really sweating the details to try to maximize the benefits of scarce program dollars. That work is very complicated and technical because these programs all have their own legislative histories and design parameters, and some of them interact with each other.

But to say that the state of American anti-poverty programs is complicated is very different from saying that the persistence of poverty itself is complicated. Poverty persists because straightforward, highly effective solutions are politically untenable in the short term, leaving people in the trenches to deal with a very complex situation. Part of the role of those of us in the article-writing community should be to clarify this, not to layer new levels of complexity onto it.

9) Patricia Schroeder was awesome.  I used to assign a great excerpt from her memoir to my Gender & Politics class, “Patricia Schroeder, Feminist Force in Congress, Dies at 82”

10) Honestly, it seems truly crazy to me that people would honestly think women are more erratic than men. “Guess Which Sex Behaves More Erratically (at Least in Mice): A new study finds male mice more unpredictable than females, challenging century-old assumptions used to exclude females from research because of their hormones.”

For decades, male mice have been the default in scientific experiments that test new drugs or examine the connections of the brain. The reason? Female mice, which experience a four- to five-day cycle of fluctuating ovarian hormones, were thought to be too complicated. Accounting for the hormonal changes was viewed as too cumbersome and too expensive.

But the estrous cycle has little to do with how female mice behave, according to a new study that used machine-learning software to track the second-to-second behavior of animals exploring an open space. Male mice actually exhibited more erratic behavior than females did.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology on Tuesday, challenges century-old stereotypes that kept female animals out of laboratory research — and, until the 1990s, barred women from clinical trials.

The new research is “tipping all of these assumptions about sex differences and the influence of hormones on their head,” said Rebecca Shansky, a behavioral neuroscientist at Northeastern University and a co-author of the new study.

11) “Parental Nonadherence to Health Policy Recommendations for Prevention of COVID-19 Transmission Among Children”


People are not always honest about their medical information1 or adherent to medical recommendations,2 including the public health measures (PHMs) against COVID-19 (eg, not reporting symptoms, breaking quarantine).3 During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents experienced greater increases in stress compared with nonparents due to additional child-related PHMs (eg, school closings, quarantine rules for children).4 We examined the prevalence of misrepresentations of and nonadherence to COVID-19–related PHMs by parents regarding their children (eg, breaking quarantine rules by sending their child to school so that the parent can work), their reasons, and associations of individual characteristics with these behaviors.


This survey study recruited a national, nonprobability sample of US adults through Qualtrics for an online survey about COVID-19 experiences (participation, 1811 of 2260 [80.1%]) from December 8 to 23, 2021. The survey asked whether parents had ever engaged in 7 types of misrepresentation and nonadherence behaviors regarding COVID-19 PHMs for their children (Table 1) and reasons for these behaviors (Table 2). Additional methodological information is published elsewhere.3 The University of Utah Institutional Review Board deemed the study exempt and granted a waiver of informed consent owing to no risk or minimal risk to participants. The study followed the AAPOR reporting guideline.

The final sample consisted of 1733 US adults. The analyses included the 580 parent participants (33.5%) who had children younger than 18 years living with them during the pandemic. Race and ethnicity data were collected because COVID-19 and public health measures disproportionately impacted individuals from underserved populations. Descriptive statistics examined the prevalence of and reasons for misrepresentation and nonadherence, and multiple logistic regression was used to explore potential associated characteristics. Significance was set at 2-sided α = .05 with P values adjusted using Holm-Bonferroni correction. Analyses were performed using R Studio, version 1.4.1106 (R Program for Statistical Computing).


Among the 580 participants, the mean (SD) age was 35.9 (8.8) years; 403 (70.2%) identified as women compared with 171 (29.5%) men and 6 (1.0%) other or missing. In terms of race and ethnicity, 80 participants (13.8%) were Hispanic, 5 (0.9%) non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaskan Native, 14 (2.4%) non-Hispanic Asian, 86 (14.8%) non-Hispanic Black, 389 (67.1%) non-Hispanic White, 5 (0.9%) more than 1 race, and 1 (0.2%) White with no ethnicity specified.

One hundred fifty participants (25.9%) reported misrepresentation and/or nonadherence in at least 1 of 7 behaviors; the most common behaviors were not telling someone who was with their child that they thought or knew their child had COVID-19 (63 of 263 [24.0%]) and allowing their child to break quarantine rules (67 of 318 [21.1%]) (Table 1). The most common reason was wanting to exercise personal freedom as a parent. Additional reasons included wanting their child’s life to feel normal and not being able to miss work or other responsibilities to stay home (Table 2). In an exploratory multiple logistic regression, no characteristics (eg, education, religiosity) were associated with misrepresentation or nonadherence.


In this survey study of US parents, one-quarter engaged in misrepresentation or nonadherence regarding PHMs for their children. The most common reason was to preserve parental autonomy. Additional reasons included wanting to resume a normal life for their child and the inability to miss work or other responsibilities, among other reasons.

These results suggest that some PHMs implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19 may have been compromised due to misrepresentation and nonadherence by parents on behalf of their children, contributing to COVID-19–related morbidity and mortality. In addition, some children appear to have received a vaccine that was not fully tested and approved in their age group.

12) This story is wild! “Last year, a fox broke into a bird enclosure in D.C. and killed 25 flamingos. The zoo refused to let him strike again.”

At the back of Bird House, the fox may have noted the way the 74 flamingos ambled across their nearly 10,000-square-foot enclosure. Something about their movements may have struck him as curious. Great hunters of birds, foxes have cognitive processes that may contain an algorithm alerting them when an animal’s wings aren’t working. In the wild, some flamingos power up to Andean peaks or glide, pelicanlike, for miles along the coast. But not these flamingos. They were permanently grounded when zoo staffers removed their flight feathers three days after they were born, to make sure they wouldn’t escape their enclosure.

Wing clipping is cruel in part because it shrinks a bird’s world: A land animal’s range is a two-dimensional shape on a map, but a flying being can explore a truly voluminous chunk of the Earth’s atmosphere. Grounded birds are also more vulnerable to mass slaughter. If a fox came upon a flamingo flock in the wild, he’d be lucky to get his teeth into one before the rest flew away. But the zoo’s flamingos would never fly away, even under direct attack. They couldn’t. They were trapped like hens in a coop…

Flamingos are large birds; some weigh nearly half of an adult male fox. Their size did not deter him. “Foxes are the ultimate opportunists,” Dan Rauch, a wildlife biologist for D.C., told me. “They’re happy to make meals of field mice, snakes, Canada geese, and everything in between.” Keeping low to the ground, the fox would have moved toward the birds in quick, measured steps. If he saw one of the birds glance in his direction, he would have stilled every muscle. When he got within leaping range, an adrenal thrill would have surged through his limbs. Feeling playful, like a kit romping around in the den again, he would have sprung forward in a lethal pounce.

13) This book review from Scott Alexander is just something else:

Around the wide world, all cultures share a few key features. Anthropologists debate the precise extent, but the basics are always there. Language. Tools. Marriage. Family. Ritual. Music. And penis-stealing witches.

Nobody knows when the penis-stealing witches began their malign activities. Babylonian texts include sa-zi-ga, incantations against witchcraft-induced impotence. Ancient Chinese sources describe suo yang, the penis retracting into the body because of yin/yang imbalances. But the first crystal-clear reference was the Malleus Maleficarum, the 15th-century European witch-hunters’ manual. It included several chapters on how witches cast curses that apparently (though not actually) remove men’s penises…

So as a nature documentary, The Geography of Madness is kind of a bust. Still, Bures rescues it with some great analysis of culture-bound mental illness.

A culture-bound mental illness is one that only affects people who know about it, and especially people who believe in it. Often it doesn’t make sense from a scientific point of view (there’s no such thing as witches, and the penis can’t retract into the body). It sometimes spreads contagiously: someone gets a first case, the rest of the village panics, and now everyone knows about it / believes in it / is thinking about it, and so many other people get it too.

Different cultures have their own set of culture-bound illnesses. Sometimes there are commonalities – many cultures have something something penis something witches – but the details vary, and a victim almost always gets a case that matches the way their own culture understands it.

THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT MAKING IT UP. I cannot stress this enough. There are plenty of examples of people driving metal objects through their penis in order to pull it out of their body or prevent the witches from getting it or something like that. There is no amount of commitment to the bit which will make people drive metal objects through their penis. People have died from these conditions – not the illness itself, which is fake, but from wasting away worrying about it, or taking dangerous sham treatments, or getting into fights with people they think caused it. If you think of it as “their unconscious mind must be doing something like making it up, but their conscious mind believes it 100%”, you will be closer to the truth, though there are various reasons I don’t like that framing.

In Rajasthan, India, people come to the hospital with gilahari (lizard) syndrome. Patients say a lizard-like mass, sometimes visible as a skin swelling, is crawling around the body. They express terror that it will reach their airway and suffocate them.

Japanese people may contract jikoshu-kyofu, a debilitating fear that they have terrible body odor. No amount of reassurances by friends and psychiatrists can convince these people that they smell normal, nor will any number of deodorants or perfumes make them comfortable.

The French suffer from bouffée délirante, where a perfectly healthy person suddenly becomes completely psychotic, with well-formed hallucinations and delusions – then recovers just as suddenly, sometimes over hours or days. This is not how psychosis works anywhere except France and a few former French colonies.

Traditional Chinese medicine monitors the balance between yin and yang. The male orgasm can deplete yang, and sure enough in China (but nowhere else) some men suffer traditional symptoms of yang depletion after they orgasm. “The symptoms can last weeks to months after a single orgasm, [and include] chills, dizziness, [and] backache”.

The phrase “run amok” comes from Malaysia, where it referred to a specific phenomenon: some person who had been unhappy for a long time would suddenly snap, kill a bunch of people, then say they had no memory of doing it. Malaysian culture totally rolls with this and doesn’t hold it against them; the unhappiness is a risk factor for possession by a tiger spirit, which commits the killings. Although Malays have been doing this since at least the 1700s, there are some fascinating parallels with modern US mass shootings that suggest the damn tiger spirits have finally made it to the US common psychological origins.

14) NYT, “Conservatives Aim to Build a Chatbot of Their Own: After criticizing A.I. companies for liberal bias, programmers started envisioning right-wing alternatives, making chatbots a new front in the culture wars.”

15) Terrific from Josh Barro, “Why Won’t the Editors of Nature Follow the Data and Listen to the Science?”

So why does Nature still believe that “science” must speak out?

 Theirnew editorial never explains why. It rehashes arguments about why Trump (and other right-wing leaders like Jair Bolsonaro and Viktor Orban) are bad. But it does not even try to marshal an argument for why actions like running their pro-Biden editorial constitute a useful response to that badness:

The study shows the potential costs of making an endorsement. But inaction has costs, too. Considering the record of Trump’s four years in office, this journal judged that silence was not an option…

At a time when the world needed to unite to deal with these and other global threats, he took an axe to international relationships, pulling the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement and the United Nations science agency, UNESCO. He moved to defund the World Health Organization, and he walked away from a deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) that the United States had carefully negotiated with Europe, China and Russia to prevent Iran’s government from enriching weapons-grade uranium. It is hard not to think of a worst-case scenario for public health, climate change or nuclear security had Trump remained in office today…

Nature doesn’t often make political endorsements, and we carefully weigh up the arguments when considering whether to do so. When individuals seeking office have a track record of causing harm, when they are transparently dismissive of facts and integrity, when they threaten scholarly autonomy, and when they are disdainful of cooperation and consensus, it becomes important to speak up.

For people who prattle on about the importance of listening to the science, the editors of Nature sure haven’t done that here — they have looked at scientific evidence that the thing they did had effects counter to their own stated objectives, and they have cast that evidence aside, responding with a conclusory argument that “silence is not an option.”

Of course, there is the real reason the editors of Nature felt they had to run the Biden endorsement editorial: It made them feel good.

Freddie deBoer had a useful post last week about the word “woke” and what exactly people mean when they throw it around. It’s not my favorite word — I agree with Freddie that it would usually be more clear to talk about “social justice politics” — but I think he’s right that the problem with the vagueness and slipperiness with “woke” isn’t that much greater than problems with other terms like “liberal” or “moderate.” Lots of political terms mean different things to different people while still being a useful shorthand when discussing trends and tendencies in our politics.

In explaining what he thinks “woke” means, I think Freddie is right to focus on the fact that “woke” politics is inherently performative — more about holding the right views than about doing anything to turn those views into policy. He wrote:

“Wokeness” centers “the personal is political” at the heart of all politics and treats political action as inherently a matter of personal moral hygiene — woke isn’t something you do, it’s something you are. Correspondingly all of politics can be decomposed down to the right thoughts and right utterances of enlightened people. Persuasion and compromise are contrary to this vision of moral hygiene and thus are deprecated. Correct thoughts are enforced through a system of mutual surveillance, one which takes advantage of the affordances of internet technology to surveil and then punish. Since politics is not a matter of arriving at the least-bad alternative through an adversarial process but rather a matter of understanding and inhabiting an elevated moral station, there are no crises of conscience or necessary evils.

Nature’s idea that they had an obligation to speak out against Trump in the forum they control — that “silence is not an option” — flows directly from this idea that the purpose of politics is to declare good moral ideas. By this measure, Nature’s editorial endorsing Joe Biden was a success; it demonstrated that Nature’s editors have the right moral commitments and that they hate Donald Trump for the right reasons. That the editorial persuaded readers of the wrong thing — to listen less to the scientists at Nature — is immaterial, because woke politics is not about convincing people and influencing their behavior; it’s about separating the morally upright from the deplorable.

16) Excellent post from Emily Oster on the calculations involved in thinking about when to get a mammogram.

17) Loved this from Derek Thompson on how to think about AI:

Recently I gave myself an assignment: Come up with a framework for explaining generative AI, such as ChatGPT, in a way that illuminates the full potential of the technology and helps me make predictions about its future.

By analogy, imagine that it’s the year 1780 and you get a glimpse of an early English steam engine. You might say: “This is a device for pumping water out of coal mines.” And that would be true. But this accurate description would be far too narrow to see the big picture. The steam engine wasn’t just a water pump. It was a lever for detaching economic growth from population growth. That is the kind of description that would have allowed an 18th-century writer to predict the future.

Or imagine it’s 1879 and you see an incandescent light bulb flutter to life in Thomas Edison’s lab in New Jersey. Is it a replacement for whale oil in lamps? Yes. But that description doesn’t scratch the surface of what the invention represented.  Direct-current and alternating-current electricity enabled on-demand local power for anything—not just light, but also heat, and any number of machines that 19th-century inventors couldn’t even imagine.

Maybe you see what I’m getting at. Narrowly speaking, GPT-4 is a large language model that produces human-inspired content by using transformer technology to predict text. Narrowly speaking, it is an overconfident, and often hallucinatory, auto-complete robot. This is an okay way of describing the technology, if you’re content with a dictionary definition. But it doesn’t get to the larger question: When we’re looking at generative AI, what are we actually looking at? …

Here is another analogy that comes to mind, grandiose as it might initially seem. Scientists don’t know exactly how or when humans first wrangled fire as a technology, roughly 1 million years ago. But we have a good idea of how fire invented modern humanity. As I wrote in my review of James Suzman’s book Work, fire softened meat and vegetables, allowing humans to accelerate their calorie consumption. Meanwhile, by scaring off predators, controlled fire allowed humans to sleep on the ground for longer periods of time. The combination of more calories and more REM over the millennia allowed us to grow big, unusually energy-greedy brains with sharpened capacities for memory and prediction. Narrowly, fire made stuff hotter. But it also quite literally expanded our minds.

Our ancestors knew that open flame was a feral power, which deserved reverence and even fear. The same technology that made civilization possible also flattened cities. The ancient myths about fire were never simple. When Prometheus stole it from the gods, he transformed the life of mortals but was doomed to live in agony. The people building artificial general intelligence today don’t need media mythmaking to inflate their ego; they already clearly believe in the humanity-altering potential of their invention. But it is a complex thing, playing at Prometheus. They have stolen from the realm of knowledge something very powerful and equally strange. I think this technology will expand our minds. And I think it will burn us.


Quick hits (part I)

[Well, damn, could’ve sworn I cued this up for a standard Saturday 6:00 ET posting, but it didn’t happen.  So, here you go 6 hours late]

1) Noah Smith on the case for banning (or forcing a foreign buyer) Tik Tok. It’s damn compelling:

It’s important to point out that it’s not clear how much this propaganda matters right now. We have plenty of evidence that biased media outlets can change people’s votes, opinions, and behavior. But it’s less clear whether subtle algorithmic nudges on video platforms are capable of effectively shifting the opinions of whole populations; research into the much-feared possibility of YouTube right-wing radicalization hasn’t found any measurable effect.

But it’s clear that in an emergency situation like a conflict over Taiwan, the effect of TikTok propaganda might be much greater; the Chinese government could easily lean on ByteDance to block TikTok content in support of Taiwan, preventing it from developing the kind of sympathetic international audience that Ukraine developed following Russia’s invasion. An increasing number of Americans, including a quarter of young people, regularly get news from TikTok:

I'm pretty sure that short video apps are a terrible place to get news, even without any CCP propaganda.
Source: Pew

And in such an emergency, with TikTok spreading Chinese government messaging to much of the American population at a critical moment, it would be very hard to ban the app. Not only would the courts probably hold up an emergency ban (as they held up Trump’s attempted ban in 2020), but the app’s users and influencers represent a major constituency. Right now, TikTok is attempting to fight the ban by shipping a bunch of influencers to Washington D.C.

In other words, even if the TikTok issue seems largely symbolic right now, the app’s dominance of American media gives China’s government a considerable amount of option value in the event of a crisis. TikTok could become really important, really fast. We shouldn’t let things get to that point. So that’s the best argument in favor of banning it now; it gives us lead time to navigate the legal aspects of the ban, to psychologically prepare the American people for the realization that this app isn’t going to be around forever, and to force the app’s defenders to exhaust their political capital now.

As for the downsides of a TikTok, there really aren’t many. Even if TikTok doesn’t get sold to a non-Chinese buyer, there are plenty of other very similar video apps Americans can use. Ad if none of those satisfy, I’m sure someone can whip up a TikTok clone very quickly and make a lot of money. In short order, users will be back to browsing the exact same videos. The only people who lose out will be the few who spent years building up big followings on TikTok; but this could actually be a good thing, since social media influencer hierarchies tend to get ossified after a while, so clearing out the old would create opportunity for everyone else. A reset of social media status every once in a while could be a good thing.

2) Wiiliam Hanage on lessons from Covid:

GAZETTE: Is the path ahead more of what we’ve been seeing: Milder surges as the years go by?

HANAGE: This is what I think more than 80 to 90 percent of folks in the field would say: Absent a black-swan event like a super variant of some kind, we expect diminishing waves in terms of severe outcomes. It may be a bumpy road sometimes, but overall, we expect the trend to be down because people will keep encountering the virus, they will keep upping their immune response, their T cells will be extremely active at preventing severe illness. Most specialists expect it to become like one of the other seasonal coronaviruses. But we don’t know how long that’s going to take…

GAZETTE: Are we doing enough, as a society, to think about pandemic lessons?

HANAGE: I don’t think we are, and that’s allowing people to frame narratives in ways that minimize it. We are getting more received wisdom that particular interventions did or didn’t work.

For instance, quality masks as an intervention definitely work for individuals if you are wearing them correctly. Masks at a community level can work, though it does not necessarily mean they will. But by getting into the tizzy that we have over them — for reasons which are mostly not scientific — we are actively getting in the way of future responses to infectious disease emergencies.

Handwashing turned out to not be a big deal for COVID — it doesn’t really spread via the fomite route. But that is not going to help you in the future if you’re worried about Shigella. There’s received wisdom now that school closures were overkill. Even if they were, that would be true only some of the time for this virus, and if we have a flu pandemic next, flu tends to spread a lot in younger kids and age groups in schools.

We’re also getting relitigation of lockdowns — a phrase which I’d never liked. Lockdowns were never expected to completely expel the virus, but they were expected to slow it down, and the actions that were taken in the spring of 2020 meant the virus did not arrive and get started in places like Florida or Arizona until the summer. That meant that when people there got sick, they could be treated with dexamethasone, which, by then, we knew would work because a trial had been done. So those people who got infected then had a better chance than they would have had in the spring. A delay, even if only for a few months, can save a lot of lives. And amazingly, just six months after that, we had multiple vaccines.

3) Nate Cohn is usually just a polling guru, but I think his take on “woke” is spot-on (and it’s so tiresome to have “woke” liberals always complaining that it really means just being against racism and sexism):

On class and economics, it’s easy to delineate the new left. Mr. Sanders helpfully embraced the democratic socialism label to distinguish himself from those who would incrementally smooth out the rough edges of capitalism. It’s harder to distinguish the new left from Obama-era liberals on race, gender and sexuality. There is no widely shared ideological term like democratic socialism to make it easy.

And yet the differences between Obama-era liberals and the new left on race, sexuality and gender are extremely significant, with big consequences for American politics.

Here are just a few of those differences:

  • The new left speaks with righteousness, urgency and moral clarity. While liberals always held strong beliefs, their righteousness was tempered by the need to accommodate a more conservative electorate. Mr. Obama generally emphasized compromise, commonality and respect for conservatives, “even when he disagreed.”

    As Obama-era liberalism became dominant, a more righteous progressive discourse emerged — one that didn’t accommodate and even “called out” its opposition. This was partly a reflection of what played well on social media, but it also reflected that progressive values had become uncontested in many highly educated communities.

  • The new left is very conscious of identity. Obama-era liberals tended to emphasize the commonalities between groups and downplayed longstanding racial, religious and partisan divisions. Mr. Obama was even characterized as “post-racial.”

    Today’s new left consciously strives to include, protect and promote marginalized groups. In everyday life, this means prioritizing, trusting and affirming the voices and experiences of marginalized groups, encouraging people to share their pronouns, listing identities on social media profiles, and more. This extension of politics to everyday life is a difference from Obama-era liberalism in its own right. While the Obama-era liberals mostly focused on policy, the new left emphasizes the personal as political.

    Today’s new left is conscious of identity in policymaking as well, whether it’s arguing against race-neutral policies that entrench racial disparities or advocating race-conscious remedies. Obama-era liberals rarely implemented race-conscious policies or mentioned the racial consequences of racially neutral policies.

  • The new left sees society as a web of overlapping power structures or systems of oppression, constituted by language and norms as much as law and policy. This view is substantially informed by modern academic scholarship that explains how power, domination and oppression persist in liberal societies.

    Indeed, almost everything debated recently — critical race theory, the distinction between sex and gender, we can go on — originated in academia over the last half-century. Academic jargon like “intersectional” has become commonplace. It can be hard to understand what’s going on if you didn’t read Judith Butler, Paulo Freire or Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in college.

    Academic scholarship is also the source of the expanded, academic meanings of “trauma,” “violence,” “safety” and “erasure,” which implicitly equate the psychological harm experienced by marginalized groups with the physical harms of traditional illiberal oppression.

    This does not readily lend itself to a “politics of hope,” as virtually everything about America might have to change to end systemic racism. No law will do it. No candidate can promise it. But it does imbue individual actions that subvert oppressive hierarchies with liberatory and emancipatory implications, helping explain the urgency of activists to critique language and challenge norms in everyday life.

  • The new left view that racism, sexism and other oppressive hierarchies are deeply embedded in American society all but ensures a pessimistic view of America. This is quite different from Obama-era liberalism. Indeed, Mr. Obama himself was cast as a redeeming figure whose ascent proved American greatness.

  • When in conflict, the new left prioritizes the pursuit of a more equitable society over enlightenment-era liberal values. Many of the academic theories, including critical race theory, critique liberalism as an obstacle to progressive change.

    In this view, equal rights are a veneer that conceal and justify structural inequality, while some liberal beliefs impede efforts to challenge oppression. The liberal value of equal treatment prevents identity-conscious remedies to injustice; the liberal goal of equal opportunity accepts unequal outcomes; even freedom of speech allows voices that would offend and thus could exclude marginalized communities.

4) Quite the headline (and story), “53 rescue dogs survived a plane crash. Now you can adopt them.”

Tony Wasielewski pulled crate after crate from the wreckage of a plane that was supposed to carry 53 rescue dogs from New Orleans to Waukesha, Wis., on Tuesday morning. Instead, it crash-landed on a snow-covered golf course just outside of Milwaukee.

As the deputy fire chief went to grab yet another crate, one of the rescues — roaming the fuselage after freeing herself during the crash — leaped into his arms and slathered him with kisses.
Wasielewski, 47, didn’t know it yet, but less than 48 hours after leaving the crash site, he would welcome that dog into his family.

It all started around 9 a.m. Tuesday when several employees at the Western Lakes Golf Club in Pewaukee, Wis., watched a twin engine turboprop airplane crash onto the green of the fifth hole, Jason Hoelz, the club’s general manager, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The plane then shot through some trees — snapping off the wings — before plowing through a marsh, skidding across the second hole fairway and ramming into a tree on hole No. 3, where it came to rest.

5) Why were rescue dogs on a plane? Because among the most prominent geographic differences is that people in Southern states are awful dog owners, on average. It’s not okay. 

6) Pretty wild story here.  Gift link. “DNA From Beethoven’s Hair Unlocks Medical and Family Secrets”

7) This sounds great.  The frustration is that we are slow-walking this stuff.  After Operation Warp Speed on vaccines, it’s been all Impulse Drive. “A nasal spray protects against coronavirus infection – Effective also against recent immune-evasive variants”

In laboratory animal studies, a molecule known as TriSb92, developed by researchers at the University of Helsinki, has been confirmed as affording effective protection against coronavirus infection. The molecule identifies a region in the spike protein of the coronavirus common to all current variants of the virus and inhibits its functioning.

“When administered nasally, the TriSb92 molecule is extremely effective in preventing infection, and experiments carried out in cell cultures indicate that it also encompasses the very latest variants, including XBB, BF7 and BQ.1.1,” explains Postdoctoral Researcher Anna R. Mäkelä from Professor Kalle Saksela’s research group.

Animal models have also demonstrated that, unlike face masks, the molecule can, when sprayed into the nose, prevent infection even after a few hours of exposure.

According to the researchers, the molecule remains fully functional at room temperature for at least 18 months, making it well suited for use as a nasal spray.

The results have been published in the Nature Communications journal.

8) Why is America so bad at this? “Law Enforcement Beat This Innocent Man to a Pulp. Will the Supreme Court Allow Him To Seek Recourse? James King is once again asking the high court to rule that two officers should not receive immunity for choking him unconscious and temporarily disfiguring his face.”

It has been almost a decade since James King, then a college student in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was choked and beaten by an FBI agent and a local police detective after they mistook him for a suspect with whom he shared no resemblance. And yet, after all this time, it is unclear if King will be permitted to merely ask a jury if he deserves some compensation for the government’s misconduct, the likes of which left his face temporarily disfigured.

That legal odyssey is finally nearing a conclusion as King asks the U.S. Supreme Court to consider his case for a second time. If the justices choose to hear his plea, they’ll have to decide if FBI agent Douglas Brownback and Grand Rapids detective Todd Allen are immune from facing a civil suit for their actions, simply because of their government status.

In 2014, King was walking from one job to the next when Brownback and Allen, who were not in uniform, accosted him without identifying themselves as law enforcement. “Are you mugging me?” King asked. He then ran. The two officers, who were part of a police task force, responded by tackling him to the ground, beating his face to a pulp, and choking him unconscious. But they were looking for someone named Aaron Davison, who had been accused of stealing alcohol from his former employer’s apartment, and who, perhaps more importantly, looked nothing like King.

Even still, police arrested King and handcuffed him to a hospital bed as he received treatment, despite the fact that the only malfeasance here was committed against, not by, King.

What followed in the proceeding years is a case study in the level of protection given to rogue government actors and the byzantine obstacle course that victims of government misconduct have to navigate should they want the privilege of achieving any sort of recourse. Indeed, King’s case has ricocheted up and down the ladder of the U.S. legal system, from the bottom to the top and back again.

9) I’m sure it’s actually quite frustrating to be super-tall and have every stranger you meet ask if you play basketball. “Yes, They Are Tall. No, They Do Not Play Basketball.: For the vertically gifted, every day of the year means standing out. But March can be particularly maddening.”

10) Trademark law is complicated, “The Supreme Court ponders a surprisingly difficult case about poop jokes: A case about a silly, poop-themed dog toy is also a case about free speech and judicial humility.”

The Supreme Court will take a break on Wednesday from the unusually political mix of cases it decided to hear during its current term, to consider a case about poop jokes.

Jack Daniel’s v. VIP Products asks whether VIP Products, the nation’s second-largest maker of dog toys, infringed upon the whiskey maker’s trademarked bottle shape and label when it sold dog toys that resemble a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. The dog toy, named “Bad Spaniels,” juxtaposes imagery drawn from the whiskey maker’s trademarks with a gag about a dog dropping “the old No. 2 on your Tennessee carpet.”

Jack Daniel’s seeks a court order prohibiting VIP from continuing to sell this toy.

A side-by-side photo of a Jack Daniels whiskey bottle and a dog toy in the shape of the bottle, featuring similar design elements.Petitioner’s brief in Jack Daniel’s v. VIP Products

Jack Daniel’s is, on the surface, a very silly case, which prompted some very silly attempts by the whiskey maker’s lawyers to explain why their client is so offended by this dog toy. Sample quote from their brief: “Jack Daniel’s loves dogs and appreciates a good joke as much as anyone. But Jack Daniel’s likes its customers even more, and doesn’t want them confused or associating its fine whiskey with dog poop.”

Lurking below the surface, however, are very serious questions about the First Amendment. And about how far courts should go in second-guessing Congress’s decisions about how to balance the needs of the marketplace with the demands of free speech. VIP has strong legal arguments that it should prevail in this case, but Jack Daniel’s also raises strong claims that the lower courts did too much to undermine federal trademark law.

11) Washington Post did a big survey of transgender adults.  Interesting take-aways:

2. Most trans people consider themselves gender non-conforming or nonbinary.

A 62 percent majority of trans adults identify as “trans, gender non-conforming” or “trans, nonbinary,” while 33 percent identify as a “trans man” or “trans woman.” Nearly half ask people to refer to them with they/them pronouns, although most say they use she/her or he/him pronouns.

3. Most have not had transition-related medical treatments.

Trans Americans reported a breadth of experiences in how they present physically and what transitioning has meant for them.

About three-quarters of trans Americans say they have changed their type of clothing (77 percent) or hairstyle or grooming habits (76 percent) to better fit their gender identity. Most also have used a different name than the one on their birth certificate (57 percent). Just 31 percent have used hormone treatments, HRT or puberty-blocking hormones, and 16 percent have undergone gender-affirming surgery or another surgical treatment to change their physical appearance.

12) Enjoyed this from Dilan Esper, “Crime Is a Legitimate Political Issue: People fear getting attacked and getting their stuff stolen, and habitual thieves and violent criminals are bad people”

The Left is going through the five stages of grief on the crime issue. For awhile, they were stuck in Denial. When upticks in the crime rate first appeared, a whole lot of people started saying that it was all BS. Republican talking points! Racist propaganda! Target was going to move its stores out of San Francisco anyway! If you look at the larger crime rate rather than homicide statistics, there was no increase!

For the most part, they’ve moved on from that. Reality has pulled them out of this position- we continue to see chain stores pull out of major cities and put stuff behind locked cabinets, more statistics have come out showing the crime rate is increasing, and there have been some really vivid anecdotes such as the CNN crew who got their equipment stolen from a car while parked at San Francisco City Hall to cover the crime issue!

And at bottom, this exposes the extensive class privilege behind a lot of what is supposed to sound like pro-working class Left rhetoric about how crime isn’t so bad. If you are a wealthy elite lawyer in San Francisco like Hamasaki is, sure, you can cope if you lose 10 grand to thieves who break into your car. (Of course, in reality lawyers like Hamasaki don’t park on the street and get their stuff stolen— they park in underground garages at fancy skyscrapers and, when they can, bill their clients for it.) You know who theft hits hard? Poor and working class people.

Homeless people have their belongings stolen all the time. You see, it turns out, one of the best ways to protect your stuff from being stolen is to not have it out on the street every day, because you have an apartment or house you can put it in. And if you are poor and have a house to live in, your neighborhood is far more likely to have a high crime rate and a lot of burglaries. It turns out thieves often can’t afford penthouse apartments in Beverly Hills, and it is easier for them to rob poor people’s houses in neighborhoods with less policing and private security, less burglar alarms, and less likelihood that they will seem “out of place” in the neighborhood.

And I am sure I don’t have to tell you that poorer neighborhoods also have higher rates of violent crimes as well. Their kids have to go to school in these conditions, and their classmates will often include some thieves and even violent gang members.

At bottom Hamasaki’s class privilege is enormous. Yes, if you are a rich person in the city who can rely on security to protect yourself and your family, can take precautions to reduce the chance of theft, and can absorb an occasional loss to thieves anyway, it’s easy to dismiss crime concerns. It’s easy to say that it’s all really racism.

13) Jeff Wise on Long Covid:

Now, three years later, the research is catching up to the anecdotal reports and the early evidence, and a clearer picture of long COVID has emerged. It turns out that, like COVID-19 itself, a lot of our early guesses about it turned out to be considerably wide of the mark. This time, fortunately, the surprises are mostly on the positive side. Long COVID is neither as common nor as severe as initially feared. As the U.S. government moves to end the country’s state of emergency, it’s another reassuring sign that, as President Biden put it during his State of the Union address, “COVID no longer controls our lives.”

The researchers had gone into the project expecting to find a large number of chronic COVID aftereffects. Instead, they concluded that there were actually very few. “As we analyzed the data,” the lead authors told Stat in January, “we were surprised to find only a small number of symptoms that were related to COVID and remained for a year post infection and the low number of people affected by them.”

Other studies produced similar results. Researchers at the University of Oxford in the U.K. combed through the health records of more than a million patients in a retrospective cohort study that compared those who’d tested positive for COVID with those who’d had other respiratory infections but had not been diagnosed with COVID-19 or tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. After following patients’ symptoms for two years, they reported in the Lancet Psychiatry last August that they “found no evidence of a greater overall risk of any first neurological or psychiatric diagnosis after COVID-19 than after any other respiratory infection.” There was an elevated risk for certain symptoms, however. They found that 6.4 percent of COVID patients experienced “cognitive deficit (known as brain fog),” compared with 5.5 percent of patients who’d had other respiratory infections. Although the Oxford researchers were looking at a different set of cognitive symptoms than the Israeli researchers were, the upshot was similar: In both cases, nearly as many controls suffered the symptom as COVID patients did…

Meanwhile, researchers at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx looked at 18,811 patients who’d tested positive for COVID-19 and 5,772 who’d had influenza. The number of patients reporting new-onset neuropsychiatric symptoms after COVID-19 was 388, or 2 percent. This figure was actually less than that for patients with influenza, which was 2.5 percent.

There’s another way to look at long COVID’s impact, and that’s by examining how it has affected the workforce. “The COVID-19 pandemic will almost certainly create a substantial wave of chronically disabled people,” Ed Yong wrote in 2020. Others argued that this surge of long-haul cases would not only mean enormous suffering but would actually pose a threat to economic recovery. “Long COVID is contributing to record high numbers of unfilled jobs by keeping millions of people from getting back to work,” a Brookings report suggested last year.

There is no evidence that any of this has actually happened. Not only did disability claims not rise during the pandemic, they fell. “You see absolutely no reaction at all to the COVID crisis,” Nicole Maestas, an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard, told Benjamin Mazer of the Atlantic in June 2022. “It’s just not a mass disabling event.”

Further data bear this out. In January, the New York State Insurance Fund, which administers disability claims, released a report analyzing long COVID claims made between Jan. 1, 2020, and March 31, 2022. It found that while there were several hundred successful claims after the initial wave in March and April of 2020, the number subsequently fell to fewer than 10 per month, and spiked into the double digits only after the alpha and omicron waves. “The percentage of people meeting the report’s definition of long COVID in the overall COVID claimant population is declining,” said Gaurav Vasisht, the NYSIF’s CEO and executive director. The most recent data, from March 2022, shows that only about 5 claims for long COVID were being granted per month out of about 3,000 disability claims in the entire state.

14) “Geothermal Power, Cheap and Clean, Could Help Run Japan. So Why Doesn’t It? For decades, new plants have been blocked by powerful local interests, the owners of hot spring resorts, that say the sites threaten a centuries-old tradition.”

A treasured getaway for travelers in Japan is a retreat to one of thousands of hot spring resorts nestled in the mountains or perched on scenic coasts, some of which have been frequented for centuries.

All are powered by Japan’s abundant geothermal energy. In fact, Japan sits on so much geothermal energy potential, if harnessed to generate electricity, it could play a major role in replacing the nation’s coal, gas or nuclear plants.

For decades, however, Japan’s geothermal energy ambitions have been blocked by its surprisingly powerful hot spring owners.

“Rampant geothermal development is a threat to our culture,” said Yoshiyasu Sato, proprietor of Daimaru Asunaroso, a secluded inn set next to a hot spring in the mountains of Fukushima Prefecture that is said to date back some 1,300 years. “If something were to happen to our onsens,” he said, using the Japanese word for hot springs, “who will pay?”

Japan, an archipelago thought to sit atop the third-largest geothermal resources of any country on earth, harnesses puzzlingly little of its geothermal wealth. It generates about 0.3 percent of its electricity from geothermal energy, a squandered opportunity, analysts say, for a resource-poor country that is in desperate need of new and cleaner ways of generating power.

15) Ethan Mollick on the amazing things GPT 4 can do.

16) And on the amazing pace of AI progress

17) Helluva chart from twitter.

18) Yes, this is real.

19) And one more chart to finish us up.  Would love to know more about what’s going on here.



What’s going on with teen mental health?

As I think I mentioned, I originally had this as part of quick hits, but it’s just so good and the quick hits was already overly long, so I wanted to make it it’s own post.  

 An absolute must-must read from Jonathan Haidt, “Why the Mental Health of Liberal Girls Sank First and Fastest” (it also incorporates a great Matt Yglesias piece).  I’d strongly recommend reading the whole piece, but here’s the parts I found the most compelling:

Greg is prone to depression, and after hospitalization for a serious episode in 2007, Greg learned CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). In CBT you learn to recognize when your ruminations and automatic thinking patterns exemplify one or more of about a dozen “cognitive distortions,” such as catastrophizing, black-and-white thinking, fortune telling, or emotional reasoning. Thinking in these ways causes depression, as well as being a symptom of depression. Breaking out of these painful distortions is acurefor depression. 

What Greg saw in 2013 were students justifying the suppression of speech and the punishment of dissent using the exact distortions that Greg had learned to free himself from. Students were saying that an unorthodox speaker on campus would cause severe harm to vulnerable students (catastrophizing); they were using their emotions as proof that a text should be removed from a syllabus (emotional reasoning). Greg hypothesized that if colleges supported the use of these cognitive distortions, rather than teaching students skills of critical thinking (which is basically what CBT is), then this could cause students to become depressed. Greg feared that colleges were performing reverse CBT

Greg and I decided to expand our original essay into a book in which we delved into the many causes of the sudden change in campus culture. Our book focused on three “great untruths” that seemed to be widely believed by the students who were trying to shut down speech and prosecute dissent:

1. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker

2. Always trust your feelings

3. Life is a battle between good people and evil people. 

Each of these untruths was the exact opposite of a chapter in my first book, The Happiness Hypothesis, which explored ten Great Truths passed down to us from ancient societies east and west. We published our book in 2018 with the title, once again, of The Coddling of the American Mind. Once again, Greg did not like the title. He wanted the book to be called “Disempowered,” to capture the way that students who embrace the three great untruths lose their sense of agency. He wanted to capture reverse CBT. 

glesias tells us what he has learned from years of therapy, which clearly involved CBT:

It’s important to reframe your emotional response as something that’s under your control:

  • Stop saying “so-and-so made me angry by doing X.”

  • Instead say “so-and-so did X, and I reacted by becoming angry.”

And the question you then ask yourself is whether becoming angry made things better? Did it solve the problem? 

Yglesias wrote that “part of helping people get out of their trap is teaching them not to catastrophize.” He then described an essay by progressive journalist Jill Filipovic that argued, in Yglesias’s words, that “progressive institutional leaders have specifically taught young progressives that catastrophizing is a good way to get what they want.”

Yglesias quoted a passage from Filipovic that expressed exactly the concern that Greg had expressed to me back in 2014: 

I am increasingly convinced that there are tremendously negative long-term consequences, especially to young people, coming from this reliance on the language of harm and accusations that things one finds offensive are “deeply problematic” or even violent. Just about everything researchers understand about resilience and mental well-being suggests that people who feel like they are the chief architects of their own life — to mix metaphors, that they captain their own ship, not that they are simply being tossed around by an uncontrollable ocean — are vastly better off than people whose default position is victimization, hurt, and a sense that life simply happens to them and they have no control over their response. 

I have italicized Filipovic’s text about the benefits of feeling like you captain your own ship because it points to a psychological construct with a long history of research and measurement: Locus of control. As first laid out by Julian Rotter in the 1950s, this is a malleable personality trait referring to the fact that some people have an internal locus of control—they feel as if they have the power to choose a course of action and make it happen, while other people have an external locus of control—they have little sense of agency and they believe that strong forces or agents outside of themselves will determine what happens to them. Sixty years of research show that people with an internal locus of control are happier and achieve more. People with an external locus of control are more passive and more likely to become depressed.

[Aside to mention, you will not be surprised that I am very high on internal locus of control]

There are at least two ways to explain why liberal girls became depressed faster than other groups at the exact time (around 2012) when teens traded in their flip phones for smartphones and the girls joined Instagram en masse. The first and simplest explanation is that liberal girls simply used social media more than any other group. Jean Twenge’s forthcoming book, Generations, is full of amazing graphs and insightful explanations of generational differences…

But I think there’s more going on here than the quantity of time on social media. Like Filipovic, Yglesias, Goldberg, and Lukianoff, I think there’s something about the messages liberal girls consume that is more damaging to mental health than those consumed by other groups. 

We see something like the Gimbrone et al. pattern in which it’s the liberal girls who depart from everyone else, in the unhealthy (external) direction, starting in the early 2000s. 

Percentage of liberal and conservative high school senior boys (left panel) and girls (right panel) who agree with the statement “Every time I try to get ahead, something or somebody stops me.”

Figure 4. Percentage of liberal and conservative high school senior boys (left panel) and girls (right panel) who agree with the statement “Every time I try to get ahead, something or somebody stops me.” From Monitoring the Future, graphed by Zach Rausch.


It sure looks like the liberal girls are getting more external while the conservative girls are, if anything, trending slightly more internal in the last decade, and the boys are just bouncing around randomly. But that was just for this one item. We also found a similar pattern for a second item, “People like me don’t have much of a chance at a successful life.” (You can see graphs of all 8 items here.)..

I believe that the loss of free play and self-supervised risk-taking blocked the development of a healthy, normal, internal locus of control. That is the reason I teamed up with Lenore Skenazy, Peter Gray, and Daniel Shuchman to found LetGrow.org.) 

External Locus of Control (USA 12th graders). Locus of Control has shifted slightly but steadily toward external since the 1990s.

Figure 5. Locus of Control has shifted slightly but steadily toward external since the 1990s. Scores are on a 5-point scale from 1 = most internal to 5 = most external. 

Once again, and as with nearly all of the mental health indicators I examined in a previous post, there’s no sign of trouble before 2010. But right around 2012 the line for liberal girls starts to rise. It rises first, and it rises most, with liberal boys not far behind (as in Gimbrone et al.).

Self-derogation scale, averaging four items from the Monitoring the Future study. Scores rise first and highest among liberal girls.

Figure 6. Self-derogation scale, averaging four items from the Monitoring the Future study. Graphed by Zach Rausch. The scale runs from 1 (strongly disagree with each statement) to 5 (strongly agree). 

In other words, we have support for Filipovic’s “captain their own ship” concern, and for Lukianoff’s disempowerment concern: Gen Z has become more external in its locus of control, and Gen Z liberals (of both sexes) have become more self-derogating. They are more likely to agree that they “can’t do anything right.” Furthermore, most of the young people in the progressive institutions that Filipovic mentioned are women, and that has become even more true since 2014 when, according to Gallup data, young women began to move to the left while young men did not move either way. As Gen Z women became more progressive and more involved in political activism in the 2010s, it seems to have changed them psychologically. It wasn’t just that their locus of control shifted toward external—that happened to all subsets of Gen Z.  Rather, young liberals (including young men) seem to have taken into themselves the specific depressive cognitions and distorted ways of thinking that CBT is designed to expunge.

Okay, I’ll stop. You should read it. And right or wrong, these are really important ideas that our society needs to grapple with.

I will say, from my perch getting to spend a lot of time with 18-22 year olds over the past two decades, most of this strikes me as spot-on.  We absolutely have been teaching anti-resilience to this generation (and though I try, I will not plead “not guilty” as a parent) and they are paying the price for it. 

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