Quick hits (part I)

1) Bernstein:

You want to know something really depressing? Now is the time when Republicans have the least to fear from former President Donald Trump. There’s more than a year to go until the 2022 midterm elections, and at least 10 months until the primaries for those elections. Trump left office at one of his low points in popularity. Sure, most Republican voters still like him — as most Republicans like most Republican politicians (other than congressional leaders, who are almost always unpopular).

Not only that, but Trump’s electoral defeat is still fairly recent news. If there was ever a time to move away from him, it’s now.

That, of course, is not what’s happening. Just in the last few days, angry Utah Republicans hooted at Senator Mitt Romney, who voted to remove Trump from office after his impeachment trials. Over in the House of Representatives, Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming is apparently in danger (again) of losing her leadership post because she insists on accurately saying that Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election. And believing — or at least pretending to believe — Trump’s fantastic lies about nonexistent voting fraud is increasingly the central belief Republican elected officials must share

My guess is that this has little to do with Trump. Republican complaints about fictional election fraud were central to their legislative agenda in state after state well before Trump’s 2016 campaign. It’s true that the specifics of that agenda have shifted somewhat in response to Trump’s whining. What that shows more than anything, however, is that attempts to hijack elections may only be the secondary motive for these laws; the primary reason for them is for Republican elected officials to convince their strongest supporters that they are doing their best to repress Democrats and various Democratic groups. 

That’s why fictional election fraud is such a good issue for many Republicans right now. Opposing Biden and the Democratic legislative agenda, after all, would tend to unite the party. But a united Republican Party is the last thing that Republican radicals want. They need enemies; they need apostates they can label “Republicans in name only” to prove that they are the true conservatives. The Jan. 6 Capitol riot and Trump’s continuing lies are so obviously an attack on the Constitution, the rule of law and the American republic that Republicans such as Romney and Cheney refused to go along. For the radicals, that’s exactly the kind of opportunity they rarely fail to exploit.

It’s possible, but unlikely, that any of this will seriously damage Republicans in 2022 and 2024. Elections tend to ride on what voters think about incumbents, not challengers. There is a slim possibility that the party will split and make itself unelectable. And there’s a somewhat greater chance that it will wind up throwing away a handful of elections by nominating candidates who run well behind what a generic candidate would do, as it’s done repeatedly over the last decade. For the most part, however, the out-party’s actions don’t have much to do with its electoral success.

The real damage continues to be to the party’s capacity to govern when it does win. And, even more seriously, to the party’s commitment to core democratic beliefs and procedures. Depressing, indeed — and scary.

2) Yeah, so this… “Experts: CDC’s Summer-Camp Rules Are ‘Cruel’ and ‘Irrational’”

With all this good news related to the pandemic in the U.S. and the relaxing of a number of controls, the CDC’s newly released guidance for summer camps is notable for its rigidity and strictness: Masks must be worn at all times, even outdoors, by everyone, including vaccinated adults and children as young as 2 years old. The exceptions are for eating and swimming. (The guidance helpfully notes that if a person is having trouble breathing or is unconscious, no mask need be worn.) Campers must remain three feet apart from each other at all times including, again, outdoors. Six feet of distance must be maintained during meals and between campers and staff. If you need to sneeze and you don’t have a tissue, do it into your mask. (Children presumably are expected to carry a cache of spares.) Campers and staff should be cohorted, and any interaction with a person outside the cohort must be conducted at a distance of six feet. Art supplies, toys, books, and games are not to be shared…

For much of last summer, when COVID-19 rates were on par with where they are now — before half the adult population was vaccinated and millions of children had acquired immunity naturally — many camps had far fewer restrictions and there was no corresponding wave of related outbreaks.

The combination of masking and social distancing of children outdoors, said Dimitri Christakis, an epidemiologist and the editor-in-chief of JAMA Pediatrics, the leading journal for pediatric medicine, “is unfairly draconian.” We should let kids be close and play, he said. And with rapid testing twice a week on a rolling basis, a relatively easy program to conduct, he added, we should be able to forgo masks. Even without testing, Christakis said that sports like soccer should be able to be done without masks. And that “keeping children masked for activities like baseball and tennis is ridiculous.”

Mark Gorelik, a pediatric immunologist at Columbia University and an expert on MIS-C, the rare COVID-19-related inflammatory syndrome, said, “We know that the risk of outdoor infection is very low. We know risks of children becoming seriously ill or even ill at all is vanishingly small. And most of the vulnerable population is already vaccinated. I am supportive of effective measures to restrain the spread of illness. However, the CDC’s recommendations cross the line into excess and are, frankly, senseless. Children cannot be running around outside in 90-degree weather wearing a mask. Period.”

An infectious-disease scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci’s agency, spoke with me about the CDC guidance on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. “With staff and parents vaccinated, there is no reason to continue incredibly strict mitigation efforts or put severe limitations on activities,” they said. “Charitably,” the scientist, who has an expertise in respiratory viruses, continued, “masking kids at camp outdoors is simply virtue signaling. Requiring kids to continuously wear masks at camps, even while outside playing in the heat, when it provides little additional protection is unfair and cruel to our children. Considering that children are at incredibly low risk for developing severe illness, the minimal benefits of mask wearing do not outweigh the substantial costs of discouraging children to be active and their overall health.

3) We’re doing some survey experiments with some cool PSA’s we made.  Check out this one.  At the end of the survey there’s an option for open-ended feedback.  This one was just amazing:

In case you’re wondering.  I’m not getting the vaccine any time soon because I’m pissed off about the government lockdowns and the blatant lying by the CDC, and Fauci, about the actual research studies that prompted the state mandated lockdowns.  Refusing to get the vaccine is the only thing that I have control over in this whole unconstitutional situation.  So even though I compleley trust the vaccines, and I believe that they work remarkably well, and that refusing to get the vaccine is not in my best interest nor in the best interest of society as a whole, I am still going to say no.  I’ll get the vaccine when I’m done being pissed off.

4) Speaking of vaccines, I’m so tired of the media trying to scare people about variants for clicks when the reality is more like this, “Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine is Highly Effective Against Variants, Studies Find: Two studies showed the vaccine to be more than 95 percent effective at protecting against severe disease or death from the variants first identified in South Africa and the U.K.”

5) Given the current reality, I’d be disappointed if my or my kid’s university was doing on-line only graduation.  NC State is doing multiple outdoor graduations.  I am disappointed, though, that the PS ceremony where we get to see our graduates and meet their families is not happening.  

6) The lost Franklin expedition of 1845 is fascinating.  I’ve not watched AMC’s The Terror, but read Dan Simmon’s novel upon which it’s based.  Now there’s this, “His Ship Vanished in the Arctic 176 Years Ago. DNA Has Offered a Clue.: For the first time, researchers have identified the remains of a sailor from the doomed 1845 Franklin expedition of the fabled Northwest Passage.”

7) I gotta say, I’m not impressed by the prison abolition movement.  There’s so much we need to do a lot better, but I think there’s pretty solid models in Europe rather than a utopian vision of prison abolition:

The book, which débuted on the Times best-seller list, offers an entry point into the world of abolitionist politics, beginning with an essay titled “So You’re Thinking about Becoming an Abolitionist.” It contains several basic but profound observations: “Increasing rates of incarceration have a minimal impact on crime rates. Moreover, crime and harm are not synonymous. All that is criminalized isn’t harmful, and all harm isn’t necessarily criminalized.” If there is a mismatch between punishment and crime, and crime and harm, then what is the intent of the criminal-justice system and the police it employs? Kaba refers to the “criminal punishment system” to emphasize that justice in the United States means a promise of retribution much more than an effort to understand why an infraction has occurred. She writes, “If we want to reduce (or end) sexual and gendered violence, putting a few perpetrators in prison does little to stop the many other perpetrators. It does nothing to change a culture that makes this harm imaginable, to hold the individual perpetrator accountable, to support their transformation, or to meet the needs of the survivors.” When we spoke, Kaba told me, “I am looking to abolish what I consider to be death-making institutions, which are policing, imprisonment, sentencing, and surveillance. And what I want is to basically build up another world that is rooted in collective wellness, safety, and investment in the things that would actually bring those things about.” …

Our current criminal-justice system is rooted in the assumption that millions of people require policing, surveillance, containment, prison. It is a dark view of humanity. By contrast, Kaba and others in this emergent movement fervently believe in the capacity of people to change in changed conditions. That is the optimism at the heart of the abolitionist project. As Kaba insists in her book, “The reason I’m struggling through all of this is because I’m a deeply, profoundly hopeful person. Because I know that human beings, with all of our foibles and all the things that are failing, have the capacity to do amazingly beautiful things, too. That gives me the hope to feel like we will, when necessary, do what we need to do.” Abolition is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Even the guiding lights of the movement are embedded in campaigns for short-term reforms that make a difference in daily life. For Kaba, that has meant raising funds for mutual aid during the pandemic and campaigning for reparations in Chicago. For Gilmore, it has meant working with incarcerated people and their families to challenge the building of prisons across California. For Angela Davis, it has meant lending her voice to movements for civil and human rights, from Ferguson to Palestine. The point is to work in solidarity with others toward the world as they wish for it to be. “Hope is a discipline,” Kaba writes. “We must practice it daily.”

8) Looks like MDMA (aka Ecstasy) can be remarkably effective as part of a treatment regime for PTSD.  It’s a shame to think of the human suffering we could have been alleviating without such a moralistic and binary approach to so many potentially beneficial drugs:

In an important step toward medical approval, MDMA, the illegal drug popularly known as Ecstasy or Molly, was shown to bring relief to those suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder when paired with talk therapy.

Of the 90 people who took part in the new study, which is expected to be published later this month in Nature Medicine, those who received MDMA during therapy experienced a significantly greater reduction in the severity of their symptoms compared with those who received therapy and an inactive placebo. Two months after treatment, 67 percent of participants in the MDMA group no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD, compared with 32 percent in the placebo group.

MDMA produced no serious adverse side effects. Some participants temporarily experienced mild symptoms like nausea and loss of appetite.

“This is about as excited as I can get about a clinical trial,” said Gul Dolen, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. “There is nothing like this in clinical trial results for a neuropsychiatric disease.”

Mental health experts say that this research — the first Phase 3 trial conducted on psychedelic-assisted therapy — could pave the way for further studies on MDMA’s potential to help address other difficult-to-treat mental health conditions, including substance abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, eating disordersdepressionend-of-life anxiety and social anxiety in autistic adults.

And, mental health researchers say, these studies could also encourage additional research on other banned psychedelics, including psilocybin, LSD and mescaline.

“This is a wonderful, fruitful time for discovery, because people are suddenly willing to consider these substances as therapeutics again, which hasn’t happened in 50 years,” said Jennifer Mitchell, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, and lead author of the new study.

9) The latest on Neanderthals

Estatuas cave in northern Spain was a hive of activity 105,000 years ago. Artifacts show its Neanderthal inhabitants hafted stone tools, butchered red deer, and may have made fires. They also shed, bled, and excreted subtler clues onto the cave floor: their own DNA. “You can imagine them sitting in the cave making tools, butchering animals. Maybe they cut themselves or their babies pooped,” says population geneticist Benjamin Vernot, a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA), whose perspective may have been colored by his own baby’s cries during a Zoom call. “All that DNA accumulates in the dirt floors.”

He and MPI-EVA geneticist Matthias Meyer report today in Science that dirt from Estatuas has yielded molecular treasure: the first nuclear DNA from an ancient human to be gleaned from sediments. Earlier studies reported shorter, more abundant human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from cave floors, but nuclear DNA, previously available only from bones and teeth, can be far more informative. “Now, it seems that it is possible to extract nuclear DNA from dirt, and we have a lot of dirt in archaeological sites,” says archaeologist Marie Soressi of Leiden University.

“This is a beautiful paper,” agrees population geneticist Pontus Skoglund of the Francis Crick Institute. The sequences reveal the genetic identity and sex of ancient cave dwellers and show that one group of Neanderthals replaced another in the Spanish cave about 100,000 years ago, perhaps after a climate cooling. “They can see a shift in Neanderthal populations at the very same site, which is quite nice,” Skoglund says.

In what Skoglund calls “an amazing technical demonstration,” they developed new genetic probes to fish out hominin DNA, allowing them to ignore the abundant sequences from plants, animals, and bacteria. Then, they used statistical methods to home in on DNA unique to Neanderthals and compare it with reference genomes from Neanderthals in a phylogenetic tree.

All three sites yielded Neanderthal nuclear and mtDNA, with the biggest surprise coming from the small amount of nuclear DNA from multiple Neanderthals in Estatuas cave. Nuclear DNA from a Neanderthal male in the deepest layer, dating to about 113,000 years ago, linked him to early Neanderthals who lived about 120,000 years ago in Denisova cave and in caves in Belgium and Germany.

But two female Neanderthals who lived in Estatuas cave later, about 100,000 years ago, had nuclear DNA more closely matching that of later, “classic” Neanderthals, including those who lived less than 70,000 years ago at Vindija cave in Croatia and 60,000 to 80,000 years ago at Chagyrskaya cave, says co-author and paleoanthropologist Juan Luis Arsuaga of the Complutense University of Madrid.

At the same time, the more plentiful mtDNA from Estatuas cave shows declining diversity. Neanderthals in the cave 113,000 years ago had at least three types of mtDNA. But the cave’s Neanderthals 80,000 and 107,000 years ago had only one type. Existing ancient DNA from Neanderthal bones and teeth had also pointed to a falloff in genetic diversity over the same period.

Arsuaga suggests Neanderthals thrived and diversified during the warm, moist interglacial period that started 130,000 years ago. But about 110,000 years ago, temperatures in Europe dipped suddenly as a new glacial period set in. Soon after, all but one lineage of Neanderthals disappeared. Members of the surviving lineage repopulated Europe during later, relatively warm spells, with some taking shelter in Estatuas cave.

10) The Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebasitan Aho had the team’s first hat trick of the season this week.  I was disappointed to learn that the team makes no effort to return the hats to the fans (some teams do).  

11) John Swartzwelder wrote a ton of iconic Simpsons episodes (and way more episodes than any other writer), but is known for being extraordinary private and reclusive.  Thus, a real treat to read this new interview with him.  

12) I’m entirely open to the scientific possibility that we don’t actually need to vaccinate all our kids to keep them safe and Covid well-contained (I like that formulation better than “herd immunity”).  But, the sociological/psychological reality is that there’s too many parents (and teachers) who won’t be able to relax and behave normally till all the kids are vaccinated— so let’s do it. “Do Kids Really Need to Be Vaccinated for Covid? Yes. No. Maybe.: Many experts argue that Covid-19 cannot be curbed without vaccinating children. But others aren’t so sure.”

13) I was shocked to see an ad for Dr Pepper Zero the other day.  As those who know me in real-life know, I absolutely swear by my Diet Dr Pepper (or DDP as we refer to it in the Greene household).  Fortunately, it’s not being replaced and we’ll have a Diet Coke/Coke Zero kind of thing going on here.  Also, I am curious about it.  

14) I remember being really intrigued by David Buss’ work on sex and evolutionary psychology a long time ago (in fact, I even used to discuss it in my Gender & Politics class).  I imagine it is less welcome than ever on the left.  Here’s a pretty interesting summary from his new book:

Professor David M. Buss, a leading evolutionary psychologist, states in the introduction of his fascinating new book that it “uncovers the hidden roots of sexual conflict.” Though the book focuses on male misbehavior, it also contains a broad and fascinating overview of mating psychology.

Sex, as defined by biologists, is indicated by the size of our gametes. Males have smaller gametes (sperm) and females have larger gametes (eggs). Broadly speaking, women and men had conflicting interests in the ancestral environment. Women were more vulnerable than men. And women took on far more risk when having sex, including pregnancy, which was perilous in an environment without modern technology. In addition to the physical costs, in the final stages of pregnancy, women must also obtain extra calories. According to Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, pregnant women in their final trimester require an additional 200 calories per day, or 18,000 calories more in total than they otherwise would have required. This surplus was not easy to obtain for our ancestors. Men, in contrast, did not face the same level of sexual risk.

These differences in reproductive biology have given rise to differences in sexual psychology that are comparable to sex differences in height, weight, and upper-body muscle mass. However, Buss is careful to note, such differences always carry the qualifier “on average.” Some women are taller than some men—but on average men are taller. Likewise, some women prefer to have more sex partners than some men—but on average men prefer more. These evolved differences are a key source of conflict.

One goal of the book is to highlight situations in which sexual conflict is diminished or amplified to prevent victimization and reduce harm.

Because of the increased risk women carry, they tend to be choosier about their partners. In contrast, men are less discerning. Studies of online dating, for example, find that most men find most women to be at least somewhat attractive. In contrast, women, on average, view 80 percent of men as below average in attractiveness. Another study found that on the dating app Tinder, men “liked” more than 60 percent of the female profiles they viewed, while women “liked” only 4.5 percent of male profiles.

The book provides a simple figure to understand the ongoing conflict between men and women.

Men are constantly trying to manipulate women into moving closer to their preferred optimum, and women are likewise relentlessly influencing men to inch closer toward theirs. Buss writes, “If women and men could agree in advance on a compromised middle-ground solution that was perfect for neither but acceptable for both … they could avoid many of these costs.”

Because sexual risks are higher and sexual mistakes are more dangerous for women, they prefer to wait longer to evaluate a potential partner for suitability. For men, sexual mistakes are viewed differently. Research indicates that when asked to reflect on their sexual history, women are more likely to regret having had sex with someone, while men are more likely to regret having missed out on sexual opportunities. 

Even in the most egalitarian countries, men prefer more sexual partners compared to women. In Norway, researchers asked people how many sex partners they would prefer over the next 30 years. On average, women preferred five, men preferred 25. Even the desire to kiss before intercourse differs between the sexes. About 53 percent of men report that they would have sex without kissing, while only 14.6 percent of women would have sex without kissing. These different preferences can give rise to sexual conflict.

15) Pretty interesting stuff from Gallup on proof of vaccination status:

Americans’ Preferences for Proof of Vaccination to Participate in Activities Based on COVID-19 Attitudes
% Who favor businesses requiring people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to do each over the next several months
  Travel by airplane Go to events
with large crowds
Go to your worksite
to do your job*
Stay in a hotel Dine in
at a restaurant
  % % % % %
Vaccination status  
Have been/Will be vaccinated 74 71 59 56 52
Will not get vaccinated 8 7 6 6 5
Worry about getting COVID-19  
Very/Somewhat worried 77 72 66 59 55
Not too/Not at all worried 49 48 36 37 34
*Among those employed full or part time.
Partisans’ Preferences for Proof of Vaccination to Participate in Activities
% Who favor businesses requiring people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to do each over the next several months
  Travel by airplane Go to events
with large crowds
Go to your worksite
to do your job*
Stay in a hotel Dine in
at a restaurant
  % % % % %
Party identification  
Democrat 85 82 69 66 62
Independent 47 47 38 35 30
Republican 28 25 16 22 19
*Among those employed full or part time.

16) There’s a 9 inch(!) moth in Australia.

The giant wood moth was discovered by a construction worker at the Mount Cotton State School.

Credit…Mount Cotton State School

17) This is terrific.  “‘I seek a kind person’: the Guardian ad that saved my Jewish father from the Nazis: In 1938, there was a surge of classified ads in this newspaper as parents – including my grandparents – scrambled to get their children out of the Reich. What became of the families?”

18) David Frum argues that China is actually a paper dragon and not nearly as scary as we think.

Undergirding these examples and dozens more like them is Beckley’s clarifying theoretical insight: Repression is expensive.

The lines that plot the comparative GDP of the United States and China distort the real balance of power between the two societies, Beckley argues, because China must devote such a large share of its resources to basic subsistence needs to avert the overthrow of the state.

Beckley dramatizes this point with historical context. The concept of GDP did not exist in the 19th century, but economists have retrospectively reconstructed those figures backward into time. They have found that in the 1800s, the Chinese empire had a GDP much larger than that of Great Britain. The Chinese army of 800,000 men also enormously exceeded Britain’s troop numbers. Yet when the two states clashed in the two Opium Wars, from 1839 to 1842 and again in 1858, China was crushingly defeated. Why?

A great part of the answer, then as now, was the cost of repression.

Nineteenth-century China faced an average of 25 local uprisings a year. Most of its troops had to be deployed to suppress rebellions and control banditry, leaving few available for war-fighting.

The next part of the answer is that mass is not power.

Although China’s resources were enormous in the aggregate, most were consumed by the basics of subsistence. In the 19th-century, Britain produced only half as much as China, but it did so with one-thirteenth the population—making more wealth available for more purposes.

A final piece of the answer is that technological copycats face huge disadvantages against technological innovators. They will always lag behind the more creative rival, not only in the factory, but on the battlefield. “Repeatedly during the Opium Wars … Chinese armies of thousands were routed in minutes by a few hundred, or even a few dozen, British troops,” Beckley notes.

19) Looks like I was wrong on this and I truly believe that when you opine on stuff it’s important to admit when you are wrong (and even better to grapple with why you were).  For now, here’s Drum: “Update: The J&J Vaccine Pause Probably Had No Effect on Vaccine Hesitancy”

20) Always read Ash Jha: “We may not reach herd immunity. That’s okay.”

After an unprecedented mass vaccination campaign over the past four months, vaccine demand has begun to soften, leading to hand-wringing in some quarters about whether the United States will achieve herd immunity or whether we will be living with the coronavirus months and years from now.

The answer is, it’s not that simple. And just as important, it may not matter that much.

Herd immunity is not a clear line. The virus will not be eradicated the moment we administer the shot that gets us to herd immunity. The term describes the inflection point at which each infection results in less than one additional infection and outbreaks sputter out. You can think of it like a wildfire surrounded by firebreaks, where the blaze ultimately burns out without additional interventions.

It’s not hard to see how it came to be viewed as the pandemic finish line, but that line has shifted. Estimates of herd immunity have been adjusted upward from the 60 percent to 70 percent that we expected last year, to 80 percent more recently, largely because of new variants that are more contagious. The threshold is determined by factors beyond vaccination, including immunity due to prior infections, seasonal effects such as humidity and time spent indoors, who is immune and who isn’t, and broader behavioral factors such as whether people are engaging in any public health measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
Real-world evidence from Israel and the United Kingdom suggests that even without hitting the herd immunity threshold, vaccination can drive infections way down. Why? Because immunity in a population is not like an on-off switch. As populations begin to build up immunity, infection spread begins to slow. If people practice even modest levels of public health measures such as mask-wearing indoors or avoiding large crowds, it may be enough to drive infection numbers down substantially. To stretch the fire metaphor, even if you don’t have the flames surrounded on all sides, a little bit of a drizzle combined with some firebreaks may be enough to keep it from burning out of control…

The coronavirus pandemic marks the clearest dividing line in most of our lives. But while the pandemic had a clear beginning, the ending will be much more gradual. As vaccination rates slow, we will require a resource-intensive ground game to reach more and more unvaccinated people and push us toward herd immunity. It is indeed possible that we may not reach that elusive threshold, or we might get there for a period only to have waning immunity, new variants or changes in behavior drop us below that threshold. But with infection numbers low and modest mitigation efforts in place, we will see small outbreaks that will affect the unvaccinated and burn out quickly. The terrifying surges of the past year will be behind us. And the things we value most in our lives — time with family and friends, social gatherings with colleagues, entertainment and sports — things we have missed so much, will be possible and safe.

This pandemic will end when the risk it poses, and the strategies necessary to mitigate that risk, fade into the background and become part of normal life. To get there, we should focus less on the herd immunity threshold, vaccinate more people and get on with our lives. As the old saying goes, pandemics end with a whimper, not with a bang. This one, too, will end. With a whimper.

21) This was very interesting, but I think in some ways misguided, “The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles: A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green” Yes, there’s absolutely local, significant environmental costs to mining all that lithium.  But on a global cost/benefit scale the benefits are so much greater.  Of course we should minimize the harm we do from mining lithium, but, let’s keep this in big picture perspective.

22) I’ve been following the whole global efforts and patents controversy at some remove so I’m a little cautious, but Alex Tabarrok seems pretty right based on what I do know:

For the last year and a half I have been shouting from the rooftops, “invest in capacity, build more factories, shore up the supply lines, spend billions to save trillions.” Fortunately, some boffins in the Biden administration have found a better way, “the US supports the waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic.”
Waive IP protections. So simple. Why didn’t I think of that???

Patents are not the problem. All of the vaccine manufacturers are trying to increase supply as quickly as possible. Billions of doses are being produced–more than ever before in the history of the world. Licenses are widely available. AstraZeneca have licensed their vaccine for production with manufactures around the world, including in India, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, China and South Africa. J&J’s vaccine has been licensed for production by multiple firms in the United States as well as with firms in Spain, South Africa and France. Sputnik has been licensed for production by firms in India, China, South Korea, Brazil and pending EMA approval with firms in Germany and France. Sinopharm has been licensed in the UAE, Egypt and Bangladesh. Novavax has licensed its vaccine for production in South Korea, India, and Japan and it is desperate to find other licensees but technology transfer isn’t easy and there are limited supplies of raw materials:

Virtually overnight, [Novavax] set up a network of outside manufacturers more ambitious than one outside executive said he’s ever seen, but they struggled at times to transfer their technology there amid pandemic travel restrictions. They were kicked out of one factory by the same government that’s bankrolled their effort. Competing with larger competitors, they’ve found themselves short on raw materials as diverse as Chilean tree bark and bioreactor bags. They signed a deal with India’s Serum Institute to produce many of their COVAX doses but now face the realistic chance that even when Serum gets to full capacity — and they are behind — India’s government, dealing with the world’s worst active outbreak, won’t let the shots leave the country.

Plastic bags are a bigger bottleneck than patents. The US embargo on vaccine supplies to India was precisely that the Biden administration used the DPA to prioritize things like bioreactor bags and filters to US suppliers and that meant that India’s Serum Institute was having trouble getting its production lines ready for Novavax. CureVac, another potential mRNA vaccine, is also finding it difficult to find supplies due to US restrictions (which means supplies are short everywhere). As Derek Lowe said:

Abolishing patents will not provide more shaker bags or more Chilean tree bark, nor provide more of the key filtration materials needed for production. These processes have a lot of potential choke points and rate-limiting steps in them, and there is no wand that will wave that complexity away.

Technology transfer has been difficult for AstraZeneca–which is one reason they have had production difficulties–and their vaccine uses relatively well understood technology. The mRNA technology is new and has never before been used to produce at scale. Pfizer and Moderna had to build factories and distribution systems from scratch. There are no mRNA factories idling on the sidelines. If there were, Moderna or Pfizer would be happy to license since they are producing in their own factories 24 hours a day, seven days a week (monopolies restrict supply, remember?). Why do you think China hasn’t yet produced an mRNA vaccine? Hint: it isn’t fear about violating IP. Moreover, even Moderna and Pfizer don’t yet fully understand their production technology, they are learning by doing every single day. Moderna has said that they won’t enforce their patents during the pandemic but no one has stepped up to produce because no one else can.

The US trade representative’s announcement is virtue signaling to the anti-market left and will do little to nothing to increase supply.

What can we do to increase supply? Sorry, there is no quick and cheap solution. We must spend. Trump’s Operation Warp Speed spent on the order of $15 billion. If we want more, we need to spend more and on similar scale. The Biden administration paid $269 million to Merck to retool its factories to make the J&J vaccine. That was a good start. We could also offer Pfizer and Moderna say $100 a dose to produce in excess of their current production and maybe with those resources there is more they could do. South Africa and India and every other country in the world should offer the same (India hasn’t even approved the Pfizer vaccine and they are complaining about IP!??) We should ease up on the DPA and invest more in the supply chain–let’s get CureVac and the Serum Institute what they need. We should work like hell to find a substitute for Chilean tree bark. See my piece in Science co-authored with Michael Kremer et. al. for more ideas. (Note also that these ideas are better at dealing with current supply constraints and they also increase the incentive to produce future vaccines, unlike shortsighted patent abrogation.)

Bottom line is that producing more takes real resources not waving magic patent wands.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I’ve been a huge believer in index funds ever since I read John Bogle’s book in grad school and actually started index fund investing way back then.  Safe to say, a big part of my retirement portfolio is in index funds.  But Annie Lowery tells me they may be “worse than Marxism”?

Yet economists, policy makers, and investors are worried that American markets have become inert—the product of a decades-long trend, not a months-long one. For millions of Americans, getting into the market no longer means picking stocks or hiring a portfolio manager to pick them for you. It means pushing money into an index fund, as offered by financial giants such as Vanguard, BlackRock, and State Street, otherwise known as the Big Three.

With index funds, nobody’s behind the scenes, dumping bad investments and selecting good ones. Nobody’s making a bet on shorting Tesla or going long on Apple. Nobody’s hedging Europe and plowing money into Vietnam. Nobody is doing much of anything at all. These funds are “passively managed,” in investor-speak. They generally buy and sell stocks when those stocks enter or exit indices, such as the S&P 500, and size their holdings according to metrics such as market value. Index funds mirror the market, in other words, rather than trying to pick winners and losers within it…

This financial revolution has been unquestionably good for the people lucky enough to have money to invest: They’ve gotten better returns for lower fees, as index funds shunt billions of dollars away from financial middlemen and toward regular families. Yet it has also moved the country toward a peculiar kind of financial oligarchy, one that might not be good for the economy as a whole.

The problem in American finance right now is not that the public markets are overrun with failsons picking up stock tips on Reddit, investors gambling on art tokens, and rich people flooding cash into Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, or SPACs. The problem is that the public markets have been cornered by a group of investment managers small enough to fit at a lunch counter, dedicated to quiescence and inertia.

2) As you know, I’m a big vaccine mandate fan.  The case that, maybe, they could backfire:

A possible solution is a vaccine mandate. Omer and other public-health specialists were working on vaccine-requirement frameworks before the pandemic, particularly in connection with outbreaks of measles. In July, 2019, Omer and two of his collaborators—the social scientists Cornelia Betsch, of the University of Erfurt, in Germany, and Julie Leask, of the University of Sydney, both of whom work on medical communication—published an article in Nature urging caution in introducing compulsory vaccination. The authors warned that overly punitive or restrictive vaccine mandates could backfire. For example, when California eliminated nonmedical exemptions from childhood-vaccination requirements, many parents either secured medical exemptions or opted to homeschool their children. Omer told me that he thinks vaccine mandates should be an option in the fight against covid-19, but only following a concerted campaign for voluntary vaccination. “Mandates don’t get you from fifty-per-cent uptake to a hundred,” he said. “But they can be helpful in getting from seventy to ninety.”

Hotez is vaccine developer (he has a covid-19 vaccine currently in clinical trials) and also a longtime activist against vaccine disinformation. Last year, research to which he contributed showed that two groups without much overlap exhibited the highest levels of vaccine hesitancy: Black Americans and conservative Republicans. (Hesitancy among Black Americans has since lowered.) In response to these findings, Hotez became a regular on radio talk shows that would reach people least likely to trust the vaccines. What he discovered, he told me, was that conservative callers assumed that the government would institute a vaccine mandate—they were already in battle with this straw man. Requiring vaccination, Hotez told me, would be, at this stage, “poking the bear.” “Mandates may become necessary, but now I’d say, ‘Don’t push too hard,’ ” he said. “It may be counterproductive.” A mandate, he believes, would affirm the anti-big-government expectations of some of most vocal vaccine resisters, rather than change their minds.

3) The gender gap in public opinion on issues involving guns, military, etc., is interesting and pervasive.  My sometimes co-author Mary-Kate Lizotte (and some others) with some good stuff:

What factors influence an individual’s concern for personal security and safety? Prior research shows that women exhibit higher levels of fear, anxiety, and perceived threat. These differences in threat perceptions have important policy consequences, including the fact that women display lower support for military interventions, lower support for retaliation against terrorist groups, and lower levels of support for using torture. However, previous research has not fully investigated the origins of these differences in concern for safety and security, which we refer to as “personal security dispositions.” We ask if these differences are the result of lived experience, socialization, or both. Specifically, our analysis explores the extent to which personal security dispositions can be traced to parental warnings about safety and avoiding danger. Our findings indicate that both gender identity and parental socialization have an impact on security dispositions. We conclude the article with a discussion of avenues for further research and the policy implications of our findings, in particular with respect to public opinion on issues such as support for the international use of military force.

4) Yglesias on Georgia’s election law:

One thing is that they’ve made it less likely that people will vote absentee in Georgia — they narrowed the window during which ballots can be requested, they largely banned absentee dropboxes, and they made it illegal for local officials to adopt a policy of mailing ballots to all voters. Then they banned mobile voting centers.

The upshot is to funnel more people to normal in-person voting, which likely means longer lines. Yet they put restrictions on giving people food and water in line to encourage them to stick it out and vote. They made it harder to vote legally if you vote at the wrong polling place (perhaps deterred by long lines). And they made it harder to respond to long lines by extending voting hours.

This is all offset by a provision that expands early voting — but does so in a very particular way. Basically, it raises the floor for early voting rather than raising the ceiling. This means, in practice, that early voting should become more available in rural counties while staying the same in the high population Greater Atlanta counties. They are pretty clearly trying to make voting more burdensome and frustrating in metro Atlanta while keeping things the same or maybe even making it easier in the rural parts of the state. It’s an effort to halt the state’s leftward drift by manipulating the electorate rather than adapting to shifting opinion. It will also just make voting more annoying for the typical person, which is bad, albeit not exactly the return of Jim Crow…

After a lot of words, I think the key context on Georgia’s election changes is the ongoing claims by Donald Trump that the 2020 election was fraudulently stolen from him.

When he pushed these claims in the winter of 2020-21, the key Republicans with decision-making authority generally stood firmly against him. But a healthy minority of Republican senators backed him; most House Republicans backed him; and the general perception is that downballot GOP elected officials who did the right thing damaged their political fortunes. The Georgia restrictions represent a symbolic and practical healing of the intra-GOP divide, and they do so on Trump’s terms.

Making it harder for people to vote is bad per se, but unlikely to swing the 2024 election.

The risk is simply that in the future, GOP officials will do what Trump wanted and steal elections. The spectacular and alarming events of January 6 ended up creating what I think is an overstated sense in some people’s minds that the country is facing some kind of violent terrorist movement that might try to seize power. A much more plausible threat is just that a bunch of boring state legislators who are insulated from electoral accountability by gerrymandering will, through one means or another, assign their state’s electorate votes to the Republican candidate.

Back to Georgia, the election reform package also includes a great deal of centralization of power, further raising the risk that the GOP-dominated state legislature will try to invalidate the election…

Right now, the U.S. House of Representatives and a majority of the state legislatures in the country have badly skewed partisan gerrymanders. We just wrapped up a census last year and redistricting is imminent. Democrats have a once-in-a-decade chance to pass a tough anti-gerrymandering law that sets a partisan fairness standard. If they pass such a law, then if they win future elections 51-49 they will receive narrow governing majorities. If they do not pass such a law, then Republicans will continue to run states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin indefinitely and just laugh off the occasional 55-45 defeat.

Similarly, right now, the geographic skew of the Senate massively overrepresents non-college white voters while underrepresenting Black and Hispanic voters

This means that it is going to be very hard for Democrats to win future Senate majorities. The current 50-50 Senate is based on Democrats having held on to Senate seats in West Virginia, Montana, and Ohio back in 2018 when there was a Republican president, Democratic incumbents in each of those states, and a very favorable national political environment. That majority likely cannot be sustained past the 2022 and 2024 cycles, meaning the chance to enact reforms is slipping away very fast.

These big skews — gerrymandering and the Senate — matter much more than the marginal impact of tinkering with voter ID or absentee ballot rules. And right now, nothing at all other than timidity and paralysis is stopping Democrats from curtailing the filibuster, passing anti-gerrymandering rules, and creating a path for D.C. and U.S. territories to become states. Those would be good, highly effective, pro-democracy reforms with strong public legitimacy that would make it much harder to steal future elections. They deserve much more focus and urgency.

5) “What Bears Can Teach Us About Our Exercise Habits”

Accumulating research suggests that we humans, as a species, are apt to be physically lazy, with a hard-wired inclination to avoid activity. In a telling 2018 neurological study, for example, brain scans indicated that volunteers were far more attracted by images of people in chairs and hammocks than of people in motion.


But the extent to which we share this penchant for physical ease with other species and whether these predilections affect how we and they traverse the world has remained unclear.

So, cue grizzlies, particularly those living at the Washington State University Bear Center, the nation’s primary grizzly bear conservation and research center. University biologists affiliated with the center study how the animals live, eat and interact with humans…

Comparing the data, the scientists found that wild grizzlies, like us, seem born to laze. The researchers had expected the wild bears to move at their most efficient speed whenever possible, Mr. Carnahan says. But in reality, their average pace traveling through Yellowstone was a pokey and physiologically inefficient 1.4 miles per hour.

They also almost invariably chose the least-steep route to get anywhere, even when it required extra time. “They did a lot of side-hilling,” Mr. Carnahan says.

Taken as a whole, the findings suggest that the innate urge to avoid exertion plays a greater role in how all creatures, great and small, typically behave and navigate than we might imagine.

6) I always wash my hands after adding bird food to the feeders.  Going to be extra diligent about that now! “Salmonella Outbreak Is Linked to Wild Birds and Feeders, C.D.C. Says”

7) This is pretty damn good from Clearerthinking.org, “How to achieve self-control without “self-control””

8) Another excellent Ezra column, “Four Ways of Looking at the Radicalism of Joe Biden” in the NYT, well worth reading in full, but here’s the final section:

Biden is a politician, in the truest sense of the word. Biden sees his role, in part, as sensing what the country wants, intuiting what people will and won’t accept, and then working within those boundaries. In America, that’s often treated as a dirty business. We like the aesthetics of conviction, we believe leaders should follow their own counsel, we use “politician” as an epithet.

But Biden’s more traditional understanding of the politician’s job has given him the flexibility to change alongside the country. When the mood was more conservative, when the idea of big government frightened people and the virtues of private enterprise gleamed, Biden reflected those politics, calling for balanced budget amendments and warning of “welfare mothers driving luxury cars.” Then the country changed, and so did he.

A younger generation revived the American left, and Bernie Sanders’s two campaigns proved the potency of its politics. Republicans abandoned any pretense of fiscal conservatism, and Trump raised — but did not follow through on — the fearful possibility of a populist conservatism, one that would combine xenophobia and resentment with popular economic policies. Stagnating wages and a warming world and Hurricane Katrina and a pandemic virus proved that there were scarier words in the English language than “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,” as Ronald Reagan famously put it.

Even when Biden was running as the moderate in the Democratic primary, his agenda had moved well to the left of anything he’d supported before. But then he did something unusual: Rather than swinging to the center in the general election, he went further left. And the same happened after winning the election. He’s moved away from work requirements and complex targeting in policy design. He’s emphasizing the irresponsibility of allowing social and economic problems to fester, as opposed to the irresponsibility of spending money on social and economic problems. His administration is defined by the fear that the government isn’t doing enough, not that it’s doing too much. As the pseudonymous commentator James Medlock wrote on Twitter, “The era of ‘the era of big government is over’ is over.’”

9) Derek Thompson with a good take on the Georgia law.  It really is bad, but Democrats should be more honest about it.

Political hyperbole is neither sin nor modern invention. But suggesting that the Georgia provisions are a steroidal version of poll taxes, literacy tests, whites-only primaries, armed sheriffs patrolling voting lines, and outright domestic terrorism is not helpful. “There’s no doubt about it: This new law does not make it easier to vote,” Bullock said. “But I hear it being billed as Jim Crow 2.0, and it’s really not anywhere near that. This law does not compare to the cataclysms of the white primary or poll taxes.”…

As Delaware’s former senator, Biden would be on firmer ground excoriating Georgia for “Jim Crow 2.0” if he could hold up his home state as a model for voting rights. But Delaware has been a laggard on early voting, and its legislature is still trying to legalize no-excuse absentee voting, which allows any voter to request a mail-in ballot. Georgia, by contrast, permits many weeks of early voting and has allowed no-excuse absentee voting since 2005. Voting-rights activists may justifiably focus their outrage on a swing state like Georgia that, unlike Delaware, actually determines the balance of power. But “Jim Crow” rhetoric from northeastern politicians and media figures loses some bite when we consider that Georgia’s voting rights have long been more accommodating than those of deep-blue states including not only Delawarebut also Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York

This is what we’ve learned from the Georgia voting-rights fiasco: Corporations are still corporations, the White House’s metaphors are overheated, and the Georgia legislation is far worse. Democrats’ rhetorical embellishments pale in comparison to both the voting-fraud conspiracy theory that inspired Georgia Republicans and the needless provisions of the law itself. Lurking beneath all this confusion and incoherence is a basic partisan difference: GOP activism is about making it harder to vote; Democratic activism is about making it harder to make it harder to vote. If that is the choice before us, I for one know which box I’m prepared to check.

10) Good stuff from Sarah Zhang, “You Probably Have an Asymptomatic Infection Right Now: No, not COVID-19. Many, many viruses can infect humans without making us sick, and how they do that is one of biology’s deepest mysteries.”  I think I’m going to be boring people with anecdotes about human cytomegalovirus in my future.

But for most of human existence, we didn’t know that viruses could infect us asymptomatically. We didn’t know how to look for them, or even that we should. The tools of modern science have slowly made the invisible visible: Antibody surveys that detect past infection, tests that find viral DNA or RNA even in asymptomatic people, and mathematical models all show that viruses are up to much more than making us sick. Scientists now think that for viruses, a wide range of disease severity is the norm rather than the exception.

A virus, after all, does not necessarily wish its host ill. A dead host is a dead end. The viruses best adapted to humans have co-evolved over millions of years to infect but rarely sicken us. Human cytomegalovirus is a prime example, a virus so innocuous that it lives in obscurity despite infecting most of the world’s population. (Odds are that you have it.) Infections with human cytomegalovirus are almost always asymptomatic because it has evolved a suite of tricks to evade the human immune system, which nevertheless tries its best to hunt the virus down. By the time humans reach old age, up to a quarter of our killer T cells are devoted to fighting human cytomegalovirus. Pathogens and immune systems are in constant battle, with one just barely keeping the other in check. In the rare instances when human cytomegalovirus turns deadly—usually in an immunocompromised patient—it’s because this equilibrium did not hold…

T cell responses also weaken with age, which may help explain why COVID-19 is dramatically more deadly for the elderly. Humans have a huge diversity of T cells, some of which are activated each time we encounter a pathogen. But as we age, our supply of unactivated T cells dwindles. Immunosenescence, or the gradual weakening of the immune system over time, is influenced by both age and the system’s previous battles. Human cytomegalovirus—that otherwise innocuous virus that infects much of the world’s population—seems to play a particular role in immunosenescence. So many of our T cells are devoted to suppressing this virus that we may become more vulnerable to new ones.

Unlike human cytomegalovirus, the coronavirus doesn’t seem capable of hiding inside our bodies in the same way for decades. Once it sneaks in, its goal is to replicate as quickly as possible—so that it can find another body before it kills its host, or its host eliminates it.

Now that this coronavirus has found humans, it will have a chance to hone its strategy, probing for more weaknesses in the human immune system. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will become more deadly; the four coronaviruses already circulating among humans cause only common colds, and the virus that causes COVID-19 could one day behave similarly. Variants of the virus are already exhibiting mutations that make them more transmissible and better able to evade existing antibodies. As the virus continues to infect humans over the coming years, decades, and maybe even millenia, it will keep changing—and our immune systems will keep learning new ways to fight back. We’re at the very beginning of our relationship with this coronavirus.

11) I really kind of love how much we don’t know about the world we live in– there’s also so much to learn.  This is fascinating! “A Tiny Particle’s Wobble Could Upend the Known Laws of Physics: Experiments with particles known as muons suggest that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science.”

Evidence is mounting that a tiny subatomic particle seems to be disobeying the known laws of physics, scientists announced on Wednesday, a finding that would open a vast and tantalizing hole in our understanding of the universe.

The result, physicists say, suggests that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science. The new work, they said, could eventually lead to breakthroughs more dramatic than the heralded discovery in 2012 of the Higgs boson, a particle that imbues other particles with mass.

“This is our Mars rover landing moment,” said Chris Polly, a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, in Batavia, Ill., who has been working toward this finding for most of his career.

The particle célèbre is the muon, which is akin to an electron but far heavier, and is an integral element of the cosmos. Dr. Polly and his colleagues — an international team of 200 physicists from seven countries — found that muons did not behave as predicted when shot through an intense magnetic field at Fermilab.

The aberrant behavior poses a firm challenge to the Standard Model, the suite of equations that enumerates the fundamental particles in the universe (17, at last count) and how they interact.

“This is strong evidence that the muon is sensitive to something that is not in our best theory,” said Renee Fatemi, a physicist at the University of Kentucky.

12) Gallup’s latest PID:

Bottom Line

It is not unprecedented for Democratic Party affiliation to rise after a Democratic candidate wins the presidential election. It is also not unprecedented to see more people shift to independent political status in a nonelection year, as has occurred. With more of the gain in independent identification coming from the Republican side of the ledger, the GOP is facing its smallest share of Republican identifiers since 2018 and its largest deficit to Democrats on party identification and leaning in nearly nine years.

Republicans did recover from their 2012-2013 deficits to make gains in the 2014 midterm elections and are hoping to duplicate that feat in 2022. Like in 2014, their hopes may rest largely on the popularity level of the incumbent Democratic president.

The GOP’s hopes of regaining control of the House and Senate it lost in the past two federal election cycles may also depend on how well the party appeals to independent voters, the largest bloc in the U.S., something the Republican Party struggled to do during the Trump administration.

13) This.  “Stop Freaking Out: You Probably Already Have Some Type Of Vaccine Passport
Schools, international travel, and military service — people in the US already have to prove they are vaccinated against many diseases.”

14) Sargent on Manchin, “Why filibuster reformers aren’t (quite) ready to give up on Joe Manchin”

So where are 10 Republican votes (the amount needed to overcome a GOP filibuster) going to come from to support even a narrow infrastructure bill?

If and when they don’t materialize, that will be strike one on the Joe Manchin test…

At some point, if Republicans keep failing the Joe Manchin test, he’ll have to admit that nothing will achieve the cooperation that can supposedly be achieved by senators simply rediscovering their inner civic virtue. And he’ll either have to revise his arguments, or reconsider his opposition to filibuster reform. You’d think, anyway.

15) G. Elliot Morris on survey response:

In the 1970s, more than 80% of people called by Gallup’s interviewers answered their phones and completed their interviews. In 1997, surveys run by the Pew Research Centre—another large pollster—had a response rate of 36%. By 2018, it was 6%. It is even lower today—around 2% or 3%, according to Pew. As response rates decrease, the chance that the people answering the phone are systematically different than those who aren’t increases. In recent years, the population of respondents has been more Democratic than the population as a whole, leading to large misses in pre-election surveys. What are pollsters doing about this?

Over the past decade, the survey methodologists at Pew have embarked on a full redesign of the way they conduct public-opinion polls. In 2014, they began surveys over the internet, via a panel of respondents who answer questions repeatedly over time. Their American Trends Panel currently has 13,600 people regularly taking surveys online—some on internet-enabled tablets that Pew sent them. Online surveys have higher response rates than phone polls, and have supplanted random-digit dialling as Pew’s primary mode of collecting public-opinion data in America.

But switching to online polling has not completely solved the differential-response problem. In a recent analysis, Pew has detailed a persistent source of partisan bias in their poll: new recruits. The political composition of people who agreed to join their panel, after receiving a call or postcard soliciting their participation, has grown less Republican each year (see chart). Pew is able to fix much of this bias by adjusting the data to match the political composition of the electorate. This increases the uncertainty of the poll, and is an incomplete fix during an election year; there is still a chance that Republicans answering the phone are different from the ones who aren’t. That is what happened in 2020 when Pew’s panel was weighted by party but still understated support for Donald Trump.

In an attempt to solve the problem and provide a high-quality, less biased estimate of how many Democrats and Republicans live in the country, Pew has begun fielding an annual survey via the postal system that asks people their religious and political attitudes, among other metrics. Crucially, the national survey lets respondents answer either online or by paper in a prepaid envelope. The response rate for the mail survey is 29%, harkening back to the high response rates of the 1990s and early 2000s. According to Courtney Kennedy, Pew’s director of survey research, providing this offline response option has made the survey more representative.

Ms Kennedy hopes that using these higher-quality benchmarks to adjust their online polls will make their taking of the pulse of democracy less susceptible to a mass of Republicans refusing to answer their phones. But the methodological fixes do not change the underlying pattern. For some reason, Republicans, especially conservatives, are less likely to feel comfortable telling a pollster how they feel on the issues of the day. Although some biases can be fixed by weighting, Ms Kennedy said, “we really can’t afford to have this get much worse.” The real fix is to convince conservatives that polls are worth taking part in.

16) Watched “The Founder” (the story of Ray Kroc, “founder” of McDonald’s) playing on Netflix this week.  Great job from Michael Keaton and I found the movie very entertaining and was fascinated by the origins of the restaurant and the modern fast-food business.  The movie was really accurate.  

17) Somebody at Gallup had fun with this headline, “Global Warming Attitudes Frozen Since 2016”

18) Yglesias on America’s secularization

Religion is getting more polarized

When I shared that image on Twitter, a lot of secular liberals who don’t like right-wing evangelical politics got excited and dunked on right-wing evangelicals.

But this doesn’t really seem to be the case. Ryan Burge, a religion scholar who makes lots of great charts on Twitter, shows that evangelical or “born again” identity is holding up very well.

The decline in membership instead has two causes. One is that a growing number of people who describe themselves as non-denominational Christians aren’t members of a congregation. The other is that, as documented in Burge’s new book, we’ve seen a big increase in the number of people who say they have no religious affiliation. In the 1972 General Social Survey, the “Nones” are 5% of the population, while today they are nearly a quarter of the population.

We’re essentially looking at a more polarized religious landscape, with normie Protestants and Catholics in decline but evangelicals holding their ground in the face of the Rise of the Nones…

The racial polarization of the American electorate steadily increased for decades until bottoming out in 2012. Then somewhat contrary to what you’d guess based on the tenor of the Trump-era takes, the gap between the white and non-white vote shrunk a bit in 2016 and then shrunk more in 2020.

There are a few different reasons for this.

But a political data person I spoke to says that secularization plays a role. He says that in his firm’s data, they see “a substantial effect of no longer identifying with a religion on change in partisanship,” but the impact varies by race. When a white person goes from Christian to non-affiliated, they are more likely to become a Democrat. But when a Black person makes the same switch, the correlation goes in the other direction.

The causation here, of course, is a bit hard to tease out. Michele Margolis’ book suggests that when people leave the GOP, they tend to leave their church, too, since they see right-wing politics as having become constitutive of the religion. Ismail White and Chryl Laird have a recent book which argues that Black Americans with moderate or even conservative views tend to be Democrats out of a sense of partisan loyalty that is inculcated in Black social institutions — with Black churches very high on that list. So secularization of the Black population leads to higher levels of GOP affiliation as Black conservatives (and some Black moderates) drift right in their voting behavior without the socializing influence of the church.

Burge’s data also sees religious disaffiliation moving Hispanics to the right…

Demographics to watch out for

To me, the most interesting thing about this is that the media and political universes seem to have overreacted to the declining political salience of religion by moving to ignoring it entirely. We used to hear a lot about segmenting the white population based on religious affiliation, and now we’ve shifted almost entirely to discussing educational attainment.

But it’s not like the religious influence on politics went away just because secularization forced Republicans to become a less-overtly Jesus-first kind of political coalition.

As I noted above, the secularization trend seems to be prompting a reduction in the racial polarization of the electorate. But it’s also worth saying that since white voters outnumber non-white ones, it’s not like this is a neutral change — falling religious affiliation helps Democrats. It’s also particularly important because the geographical skew of the Senate is a huge deal in contemporary politics, and that skew is driven in part by the great overrepresentation of white voters in the upper house. So a dynamic through which Democrats gain newly unchurched white voters in exchange for losing newly unchurched non-white ones is actually very unfavorable to the GOP.

19) Radley Balko, “The Chauvin trial underscores two very different approaches to policing”

At Derek Chauvin’s trial this week, the jury heard from Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, the city’s former training commander and expert witnesses, all of whom testified that Chauvin’s treatment of George Floyd violated widely accepted use of force standards as well as Minneapolis Police Department policy, which calls for commensurate force and requires respect for the “sanctity of life.” But despite those standards, Chauvin also had a history of kneeling on suspects’ necks for long periods of time, and none of those incidents resulted in discipline. It’s an apt illustration of how, for about the past 10 years, two contradictory philosophies have been at war in American policing.

On one side are the de-escalationists, a product of the criminal justice reform movement. They accept police brutality, systemic racism and excessive force as real problems in law enforcement, and call for more accountability, as well as training in areas like de-escalation and conflict resolution. De-escalationists believe police serve their communities by apprehending and detaining people who violate the rights and safety of others, but must also do so in a way that protects the rights of the accused.

The other side — let’s call them “no-hesitationists” — asserts that police officers aren’t aggressive enough and are too hesitant to use deadly force, which puts officers and others at risk. They see law enforcement officers as warriors, and American neighborhoods as battlefields, where officers vanquish the bad to protect the good. These are the self-identified “sheepdogs,” the cops who sport Punisher gear.

No-hesitationists are more prominent in sheriff’s offices and police union leadership, and among rank-and-file officers. They’re more populist and have been successful including their policies in union contracts, honing successful legal arguments for cops accused of excessive force and leveraging political power, both to elect police-friendly judges, prosecutors and lawmakers, and to shame and intimidate politicians deemed insufficiently pro-law enforcement.

The de-escalationists successfully worked their preferred practices into official policy. But the no-hesitationists prevented meaningful enforcement of those policies. One example played out in Los Angeles in 2015. After LAPD chief Charlie Beck announced a new “Preservation of Life” award, for officers who held their fire and peacefully resolved confrontations with potentially dangerous suspects, the police union objected, claiming the award valued the lives of suspected criminals over the lives of police officers.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Heather McGhee on race and economic policy in America:

The anti-government stinginess of traditional conservatism, along with the fear of losing social status held by many white people, now broadly associated with Trumpism, have long been connected. Both have sapped American society’s strength for generations, causing a majority of white Americans to rally behind the draining of public resources and investments. Those very investments would provide white Americans — the largest group of the impoverished and uninsured — greater security, too: A new Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco study calculated that in 2019, the country’s output would have been $2.6 trillion greater if the gap between white men and everyone else were closed. And a 2020 report from analysts at Citigroup calculated that if America had adopted policies to close the Black-white economic gap 20 years ago, U.S. G.D.P would be an estimated $16 trillion higher…

Racial integration portended the end of America’s high-tax, high-investment growth strategy: Tax revenue peaked as a percentage of the economy in 1969 compared with the average O.E.C.D. country. Now, America’s per capita government spending is near the bottom among industrialized countries. Our roads, bridges and water systems get a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Unlike our peers, we don’t have high-speed rail, universal broadband, mandatory paid family leave or universal child care.

And while growing corporate power and money in politics have certainly played a role, it’s now clear that racial resentment is the key uncredited actor in our economic backslide. White people who exhibit low racial resentment against Black people are 60 percentage points more likely to support increased government spending than are those with high racial resentment. At the base of this resentment is a zero-sum story: the default framework for conservative arguments, rife with references to “makers and takers,” “taxpayers and freeloaders.”

2) I’ve been relying on sound machines since my 18-year old son was a baby (and wish I had one for his older brother).  Never realized that “random nonrepeating white noise” was a key. 

3) Speaking of background noise, Wired, “The Brain’s ‘Background Noise’ May Be Meaningful After All: By digging out signals hidden within the brain’s electrical chatter, scientists are getting new insights into sleep, aging, and more.

4) Leonhardt on vaccinating teachers and getting kids back in school (one of mine will be on Monday for the first time in almost a year– yes, elementary, where evidence clearly suggests its the least risky school environment):

There are enough vaccine doses

The country now has enough vaccine doses to move teachers to the front of the line without substantially delaying vaccinations for everyone else.

Nationwide, about 6.5 million people work inside a K-12 school. It’s a substantially smaller group than the 21 million health care workers, many of whom were in the first group of Americans to become eligible for vaccines.

As a point of reference, Moderna and Pfizer have delivered an average of more than one million new doses to the federal government every day this month. That daily number is on track to exceed three million next month. Immediately vaccinating every school employee would push back everybody else’s vaccine by a few days at most.

A few states have already prioritized teachers, with Kentucky apparently the furthest along, according to Education Week. It has finished administering the first dose to the bulk of K-12 staff who want one. “This is going to help us safely get our kids back in school faster than just about any other state,” Gov. Andy Beshear said, “and it’s going to allow us to do it without risking the health of those that come in to serve those children.”


Schools have reopened safely

Even before teachers are fully vaccinated — a process which can take more than a month after the first shot — many schools have shown how to reopen.

It involves “masking, social distancing, hand-washing, adequate ventilation and contact tracing,” as Susan Dominus wrote (in a fascinating Times Magazine story on how Rhode Island mostly kept its schools open). It also involves setting up virtual alternatives for some students and staff members who want them. When schools have followed this approach, it has typically worked, according to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others.

In one of the most rigorous studies, a group at Tulane University looked at hospitalizations (a more reliable measure than positive tests) before and after school reopenings. The results suggest that at least 75 percent of U.S. communities now have Covid well enough under control to reopen schools without sparking new outbreaks, including many places where schools remain closed.

The evidence is murkier for places with the worst current outbreaks, like much of the Carolinas. And some schools do seem to have reopened unsafely, including a Georgia district that is the subject of a new C.D.C. case study.

Still, Douglas Harris, the Tulane economist who runs the research group, told me, “All the studies are suggesting we can do this, if we put our minds to it.” He added: “We can’t do school the old way, but we can do better than this.”

5) Some cool science history, “Researchers looking for mRNA were ridiculed by colleagues. Luckily, that didn’t stop them.: Sixty years ago, the scientists who were pioneering the technology that would make today’s COVID-19 vaccines possible were mocked and dismissed”

6) What we pay state legislators in NC is a joke and, generally, just a horrible idea, “Getting What We Pay For: How North Carolina’s legacy of a “citizen legislature” endures, with far-reaching effects on the state and its General Assembly”

I want to tell you about a job. Do it right and you could help reduce poverty, increase life expectancy, make our roads safer, and improve our schools. Interested? There are a few catches.

The first is the salary—the job pays $13,951 a year, a figure that hasn’t changed since 1995. You’ll receive a small stipend for every day you work, but that stipend won’t be enough to pay for a place to stay unless you prefer motels that end in the number six. Some of your colleagues cope by camping at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds on workdays.

The number of days you work will be unpredictable. Normally, you’ll work January through August. But maybe through October. Or perhaps only until July. Your schedule changes every other year, but sometimes the year that’s expected to be shorter ends up being the longer one. Also, the boss in another division can call you back whenever he likes.

Staff support? You won’t have a lot of it. You will have an assistant, and from time to time, floating staff in the office will offer some help. But the current management team just fired 14 highly educated staffers who were supposed to help you with the more wonky aspects of the job.

Interested in the position? Congratulations! You can now raise money from your friends, campaign for over a year, and potentially serve as a member of the North Carolina General Assembly.

That’s the current recruitment pitch to fill the most powerful branch of government in a state with more than 10 million residents. It’s a model that was designed in a different century and different era, and it no longer serves our state or its citizens; it’s time for a change.

For political scientists, “professionalism” in state legislatures doesn’t mean decorum and polish. Instead, professionalism is increased when a state pays its legislators more money, stays in session longer, and provides more staff. The assumption is that those resources will produce a legislative body composed of people who consider service in the legislature as their primary occupation…

Today, the logic for a less professional legislature rests on the idea that legislators should understand what it’s like to be one of us: Legislators shouldn’t trade the daily toil of the average citizen for the high life in the state Capitol. One might argue that low pay creates an incentive for legislators to reject overly long legislative sessions—to spend more time at home where they, theoretically, have a job that pays the bills. But in reality, it just weakens the system.

Consider how the current setup limits who can serve. It is impossible for vast swathes of the citizenry to take a low-paying job with few resources, requiring you to be away from your primary source of income for an unknown number of days each year. The system skews toward lawyers, retirees, business owners, investors—folks with comfortable incomes, flexible schedules, and the ability to take extended and sudden leaves of absence.

7) Plenty or reasons Black people are vaccine-hesitant, but Tuskegee is not the big factor is often made out to be.  

8) 538 look at why the Congressional polling was so off in 2020.  

So what happened? Were the polls just terribly off in 2020? Not dramatically, no. Yes, polls once again underestimated Donald Trump’s performance, but the magnitude of that error (about 4 percentage points) wasn’t all that different from past presidential contests, such as in 2012 when polls underestimated Barack Obama’s margin of victory by almost 4 points. And there have, of course, been much larger polling errors, too.

But one reason the polling in 2020 has received so much attention is that down-ballot polling, namely the generic ballot — which asks respondents whether they plan to vote for a Democrat or Republican in their local race for the U.S. House of Representatives — was also off by a similarly large margin in 2020. In fact, as the table below shows, the House popular vote was 4.2 points more Republican-leaning than the polls anticipated, making it the largest generic ballot polling miss in a presidential or midterm cycle since 2006…

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, told me he’s still in the process of understanding which voters aren’t responding to polls, but he thinks issues of non-response bias may be the likeliest culprit for polling error in 2020. Nailing down just how much of a role non-response bias played in that error won’t be easy, though. “If the error is due to non-response bias caused by a portion of the electorate that came out only to support Donald Trump, then the polls may be basically fine in 2022 and we really won’t know why,” said Murray. Remember, too, that the size and direction of polling error has historically been unpredictable, so we can’t just bank on Democratic bias being the new normal for pollsters to adjust to. That said, Murray did say this could all be a much bigger issue if the polls are “about 3 to 4 points more left-leaning in their responses because a skewed cohort of folks [have] tuned out from participating in traditional venues of political discourse.”

At this point, we don’t know how widespread of an issue non-response in polling is. But one thing we do know is that what happened down-ballot in 2020 was at least partially tied up in the outcome of the presidential race, as Trump also outperformed his polls and most voters voted for the same party for president and the House. In fact, presidential and generic ballot polls have largely moved in the same direction: In total, in five of the seven presidential elections since 1996, the polling error in the presidential race has gone in the same direction as the error in the House contest (which was true in 2020 as well).

9) EJ Dionne makes the case for the right kind of partisanship (he’s right):

In her book “On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship,” the political philosopher Nancy L. Rosenblum notes that partisans accept “pluralism and political conflict” as a positive good. Partisans, she writes, “see themselves as firmly on the side of the angels,” but acknowledge their partiality. This encourages them to embrace both “political self-restraint” and “mental and emotional discipline.”

And that gets at our problem now — not partisanship as such, but a flight from those disciplines. And while you are free to accuse me of partisanship, I’d insist that what is happening in the Republican Party is objectively a grave threat to the proper functioning of the party system.

Functional partisanship demands, at the bare minimum, commitments to abide by the results of free elections, to tell the truth about those elections and to offer all citizens equal opportunities to participate in the electoral process…

The best kind of partisanship, based on those universal values, promotes fierce but constructive arguments. It acknowledges that in a good society, most political differences involve not a choice between good versus evil, but among competing goods — efficiency, security, entrepreneurship, fairness, individualism and solidarity, to name a few. Compromise (along with, yes, bipartisanship) is easier when we’re honest about the trade-offs we’re making.

But that brand of small-D democratic partisanship requires agreement on certain fundamentals, not the least being a shared commitment to truth and a willingness to let the voters decide — all the voters, not an electorate rigged through voter suppression.

10) Helen Branswell, “Schools may see a burst of the common cold when they reopen, research suggests”

A curious thing happened when Hong Kong reopened schools after closing them because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It bears watching here.

Hong Kong closed its schools to in-person learning from late January 2020 to late May — and then again in early July, when more Covid cases were detected. Within a few weeks of schools reopening in October, they started to see large numbers of kids getting sick, despite mandatory mask-wearing, additional spacing between desks, and other measures to lower the risk of spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

But the children weren’t infected with the virus. Nor did they have influenza, which would have been another possibility. They were infected with rhinoviruses — one of the most common causes of the common cold.

11) This is so cool, “Octopuses Have a Secret Sense to Keep Their 8 Arms Out of Trouble: Even when an octopus can’t see light with its eyes, its arms seem to know it is there.”  You should totally click through and check out the video. 12) Also cool.  Scientists are using cloned black-footed ferrets to add genetic diversity to the super-threatened species.  

12) This is quite interesting, “The unequal impact of parenthood in academia”
Across academia, men and women tend to publish at unequal rates. Existing explanations include the potentially unequal impact of parenthood on scholarship, but a lack of appropriate data has prevented its clear assessment. Here, we quantify the impact of parenthood on scholarship using an extensive survey of the timing of parenthood events, longitudinal publication data, and perceptions of research expectations among 3064 tenure-track faculty at 450 Ph.D.-granting computer science, history, and business departments across the United States and Canada, along with data on institution-specific parental leave policies. Parenthood explains most of the gender productivity gap by lowering the average short-term productivity of mothers, even as parents tend to be slightly more productive on average than nonparents. However, the size of productivity penalty for mothers appears to have shrunk over time. Women report that paid parental leave and adequate childcare are important factors in their recruitment and retention. These results have broad implications for efforts to improve the inclusiveness of scholarship.
13) Love this idea from Noah Smith, “Why not tie minimum wage to local rent?”

This is a good solution, but I think we might be able to do even better. My idea is to tie local minimum wage hikes to increases in local rent. There are two reasons to do this:

  1. Because rent is a good proxy for the cost of living for poor people, and

  2. Because tying minimum wages to rent provides an incentive for cities to build more housing.

Rent is the biggest single expense that low-income Americans have, and they spend more of their income on rent than people with higher incomes do. Via Eli Dourado, here’s a chart showing the percent of consumption spending that goes to rent, for all the income deciles:

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Of course the y-axis is truncated, so the difference isn’t huge, but you can see that people at the bottom of the distribution spend over a quarter of their income on rent, while people at the top spend maybe one-sixth. A quarter of your income is a huge amount!

Also, inflation includes luxury items and stuff that people can make do without. But no one can make do without shelter, so it seems like if we want to make sure that minimum wage keeps up with the cost of living, we should look at the cost of the most essential items, like shelter and food, instead of inflation overall.

So indexing minimum wage to the cost of shelter would be better than indexing it to inflation. But what about indexing it to median wage? Well, tying minimum wages to (market) rent would have another added benefit: It would push cities to build more housing.

Currently, many American cities have an affordability crisis — high-income people have been moving in, but powerful homeowners dominate local politics, and these homeowners tend to fight against any new housing development. Rising demand for housing with stagnant supply has caused rents to spiral.

The solution, of course, is to build more housing, in order to accommodate the inflow of people. But NIMBYs block this at the local level. The federal government would like to get involved, but because of America’s federalist system, they don’t have many policy levers for forcing states and cities to build more housing. The best federal policy that people have been able to suggest is to hand out money, e.g. through HUD, and then making it conditional on hitting housing targets. But this is a pretty weak lever.

Suppose, though, that minimum wage increases were tied to (market) rents. Businesses that pay low wages — especially restaurants — want to keep minimum wage as low as possible. If they could only do this by lowering market rents, they would become a powerful pro-housing lobby! You’d see local NIMBY homeowners show up to planning meetings, only to get shouted down by local restauranteurs!

And the beauty of this system is, even if business lobbies DID succeed in holding down minimum wages by forcing local governments to build more housing and reduce local rents, it wouldn’t matter. Because rent would be so cheap, it would still work out in poor people’s favor; their wages would be lower, but so would their rent.

14) Carl Zimmer’s essay on viruses and what is easy to be “alive” is great.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) A great NYT science reporter was fired, for, apparently actually saying the n-word while discussing racist language.  In absolutely no way using the word as a slur on someone, simply using the word in a conversation about racist language.  This is insane!  It really is completely crazy that there is this one word in the English language that you can’t say period.  That makes no sense.  Of course, I don’t say it because I’m trying to live in society here, but, NYT literally said “regardless of intent.”  What the hell?  Intent is the difference between a life sentence for first degree murder and going home to sleep with your family unpunished for justifiable homicide.  Liked Omar Wasow’s brief thread.

2) Kristof on child poverty:

Imagine you have some neighbors in a mansion down the road who pamper one child with a credit card, the best private school and a Tesla.

The parents treat most of their other kids decently but not lavishly — and then you discover that the family consigns one child to an unheated, vermin-infested room in the basement, denying her dental care and often leaving her without food.

You’d call 911 to report child abuse. You’d say those responsible should be locked up. You’d steam about how vile adults must be to allow a child to suffer like that.

But that’s us. That household, writ large, is America and our moral stain of child poverty.

Some American children attend $70,000-a-year nursery schools, but 12 million kids live in households that lack food. The United States has long had one of the highest rates of child poverty in the advanced world — and then the coronavirus pandemic aggravated the suffering.

“The American Rescue Plan is the most ambitious proposal to reduce child poverty ever proposed by an American president,” Jason Furman, a Harvard economist, told me.

A couple of decades from now, America will be pretty much the same whether direct payments end up being $1,000 or $1,400. But this will be a transformed nation if we’re able to shrink child poverty on our watch.

So the most distressing part of 10 Republican senators’ counterproposal to Biden was their decision to drop the plan to curb child poverty. Please, Mr. President, don’t budge on this.

3) Edsall rounds up the social scientists to talk about Q Anon.  Including some good friends of mine:

The “loser” thesis received strong backing from an August 2020 working paper, “Are Conspiracy Theories for Losers? The Effect of Losing an Election on Conspiratorial Thinking,” by Joanne MillerChristina E. Farhart and Kyle Saunders, political scientists at the University of Delaware, Carleton College and Colorado State University.

They make the parallel argument that

People are more likely to endorse conspiracy theories that make their political rivals look bad when they are on the losing side of politics than when they are on the winning side, regardless of ideology/partisanship.

In an email, Miller compared polling from 2004, when John Kerry lost to George W. Bush, to polls after the 2020 election, when Trump lost to Biden:

A 2004 a Post-ABC poll that found that 49 percent of Kerry supporters but only 14 percent of Bush supporters thought that the vote wasn’t counted accurately. But this year, a much larger percentage of Trump voters believe election fraud conspiracy theories than voters on the losing side in previous years. A January 2021 Pew poll found that approximately 75 percent of Trump voters believe that Trump definitely or probably won the election.

Over the long haul, Miller wrote, “I find very little correlation between conspiratorial thinking and party identification or political ideology.” But, she quickly added. “the past four years are an outlier in this regard.”

Throughout his presidency, Miller wrote,

former President Trump pretty much governed as a “loser.” He continued to insist that he would’ve won the popular vote in 2016 had it not been for widespread election fraud. So it’s not surprising, given Trump’s rhetoric, that Republicans during the Trump presidency were more likely to endorse conspiracy theories than we’d have expected them to, given that they were on the winning side.

The psychological predispositions that contribute to a susceptibility to conspiracy thinking are complex, as Joshua Hart, a professor of psychology at Union College, and his student, Molly Graether, found in their 2018 paper “Something’s Going on Here: Psychological Predictors of Belief in Conspiracy Theories.”

Perhaps more interesting, Hart and Graether argue that conspiracy theorists are more likely “to perceive profundity in nonsensical but superficially meaningful ideas,” a concept they cite as being described by academics in the field as “b.s. receptivity.”

4) My co-author/friend Laurel got a great quote and our research got a link in this NYT essay on Covid and motherhood.  My favorite part was telling my wife about this yesterday, and, she’s like “you were in the article with the mom in the closet?!”

“It’s a recipe for madness,” said Laurel Elder, a political scientist at Hartwick College in New York who has been studying the mental health effects of parenting in the pandemic. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true: You don’t get a day off from being a mom.

Also, kind of cool to see that roughly 300 people have followed the NYT link to our paper since I checked mid-day Friday.

5) It is way too easy to completely falsely destroy someone’s reputation on the internet.  No good excerpts, just read this one: “A Vast Web of Vengeance: Outrageous lies destroyed Guy Babcock’s online reputation. When he went hunting for their source, what he discovered was worse than he could have imagined.”

6) Pretty sure it was in reference to #1 that Jesse Singal shared this Freddie deBoer post from 2017:

The woke world is a world of snitches, informants, rats. Go to any space concerned with social justice and what will you find? Endless surveillance. Everybody is to be judged. Everyone is under suspicion. Everything you say is to be scoured, picked over, analyzed for any possible offense. Everyone’s a detective in the Division of Problematics, and they walk the beat 24/7. You search and search for someone Bad doing Bad Things, finding ways to indict writers and artists and ordinary people for something, anything. That movie that got popular? Give me a few hours and 800 words. I’ll get you your indictments. That’s what liberalism is, now — the search for baddies doing bad things, like little offense archaeologists, digging deeper and deeper to find out who’s Good and who’s Bad. I wonder why people run away from establishment progressivism in droves.

7) Thanks to JP for sharing this John Moe substack with me.  Good stuff on Covid and mental health.  

8) Just because Netflix was telling me to watch Inception again today (I did not), but I did watch this musical selection.  I think this is probably my favorite bit of score-film combination that does not involve John Williams.

9) Good practical advice on mask use from Zeynep and Charlie Warzel.  But, honestly, we should have been getting this kind of advice from the CDC, etc., for months.  

10) And NPR with mask hacks.  Just get a clip in back and breathe.  

11) Annie Lowrey, “Earmarks Are Good: Why shouldn’t Democrats curry Joe Manchin’s favor with a few sky bridges and concert halls?”  Build a palace in WV or whatever it takes.  Just get Manchin on-board.

12) I don’t think Bari Weiss is even worth the extremely detailed takedown from Will Wilkinson, but it does nicely reveal how so much anti-wokeness is just as intellectually bankrupt as over-wokeness.  Hey, there’s a nice middle ground on this one, folks.

Bari Weiss’s latest New York Post column, “10 ways to fight back against woke culture,” is a pretty wild ride. I honestly can’t make out the argument that leads to Weiss’ conclusion that “It’s time to stand up and fight back” against woke scolds and her ten tips for beating them back. That said, the column is just jam packed with confident declarations advanced in a grand spirit of resounding moral authority that are, upon inspection, pretty puzzling. Yet I’m intrigued.

I doubt that Weiss’ piece hangs together intellectually, but now that I’ve read it a few times, I feel that it has a strong impressionistic emotional/moral/ideological coherence that bubbles up from the column’s jumble of assertion, admonition, and exhortation. I want to understand it! Maybe if I can make sense of the Bari Weiss gestalt, I can finally begin to understand the moral panic about “wokeness” and “cancel culture.” Maybe? Seems worth having a go. Even if I can’t bottle the ghost, I’m bound to learn something, right? So let us plunge into the unknown and proceed to parse and interrogate this New York Post column with a spirit of analytically rigorous adventure!

Weiss begins:

I realize the faddish thing to say these days is that we live in the worst, most broken and backward country in the world and maybe in the history of civilization. It’s utter nonsense.

Can it be faddish to say something literally no one says? It cannot. I think we’re all happy to allow for a bit of vivacious hyperbole, but I’ve never heard or read anyone make a claim that comes within a million miles of this. But, yeah, if anybody ever did say that the United States of America is the worst place on Earth, and maybe in all of human history, it would be nonsense. So there’s a point of agreement. Anyway, it’s clear enough that Weiss believes that too many Americans see their country in an excessively negative light, and she strongly disapproves of this.

Weiss doesn’t need to provide evidence that the U.S. circa 2021 is not in fact hellish beyond compare, because no one thinks that it is. Yet she goes ahead and offers a bit of evidence anyway, lest anyone is inclined to doubt that America is not in fact the absolute pits.

I have a few basic litmus tests in my own life: Can I wear a tank top in public? Can I walk down the street holding the hand of my partner, a (beautiful) woman, in many places in America without getting a second glance? Can I wear a Jewish star without fear?

I do not take those things for granted. I know very well that in many other places, the answers would be different, and my life wouldn’t be possible at all.

Yup, America’s definitely not the worst country on the planet or of all time. So ….?

13) This is pretty wild (and use photos at the article), “New Jersey man gets first successful face and double hand transplant”

14) I try and not to spend too much time posting on stuff that not only do I disagree with, but just isn’t that thought-provoking.  But, for some reason Karen Attiah’s “the first world is morally monstrous” schtick just really bugs me.  And its not that I particularly dislike being called morally monstrous.  Rather, “Wealthy nations are gobbling up vaccines. This moral failure will come back to haunt us.” I mean, wait until the wealthy nations aren’t under extreme vaccine scarcity before you blame them for not sending vaccines to Africa.  If we’ve reached this summer and the US is mostly vaccinated and we’ve done nothing to help poorer nations– sure, complain.  But now, it really makes no sense.

15) G. Elliot Morris, “Democrats will win more votes passing popular policies than compromising for bipartisanship’s sake”

As it turns out, political scientists are pretty smart and insightful people, and their research has a lot to say about these political calculations that many Democratic officials are making right now. Is it worth delaying progress to pursue bipartisan solutions?

Let’s briefly discuss two things: the popularity and positive electoral consequences of macroeconomic expansion, and the concerns about the appearance of unilateral policy-making.

For starters, we should recognize that a healthy economy confers a significant advantage to the party in power. We find evidence for this claim across disciplines: political prognosticators have long used economic measures like growth in the gross domestic product and per-capita disposable income as predicts in election-forecasting models; economists have evaluated claims that presidents manipulate the economy to boost their re-election prospects; and political scientists have shown that improvements in economic conditions (typically from pork-barrel spending) increase support for Congressional legislators. In 2020, it seems like the relative stability of per-capita income (eg when compared to, say, the unemployment rate) may have helped Donald Trump fare better in his re-election attempt than economic growth otherwise predicted.

What should we take away from this? The finding that presidents benefit from improved economic conditions maps pretty neatly on the Democratic dilemmas both over whether to eliminate the filibuster and if they ought to unilaterally pass a nearly $2T economic stimulus, or whether they should “compromise” with Republicans and pass a much smaller $600b bill. The research we’ve reviewed so far would suggest that Biden and his Senate co-partisans should just go for the bigger bill and disregard concerns over processes.

Further, it’s worth considering that almost every element of Biden’s agenda enjoys plurality support among all American adults, and most are popular with a majority.

16) I think this is the first time I’ve got a quick hit courtesy of my oldest son, “How an Eight-Sided ‘Egg’ Ended Up in a Robin’s Nest.”

It’s not as uncommon as you’d think for robins to find foreign objects in their nests. They play host to cowbirds, a parasitic species that lays eggs in other birds’ nests, where they hatch and compete with the robins’ own offspring for nourishment. Confronted with a cowbird egg, which is beige and squatter than its blue ovals, parent robins will often push the parasite’s eggs out. That makes the species a good candidate for testing exactly what matters when it comes to telling their own eggs apart from other objects, Dr. Hauber said.

The researchers 3-D printed two sets of decoy eggs. One group got progressively thinner, and the other got more and more angular. They carefully painted them robin’s egg blue, so birds could rely only on shape to tell the difference. Then they deployed these fake eggs in nests scattered around tree farms. As they revisited the nests, they kept track of which shapes had been removed by the nest’s owner.

The robins had a good eye for eggs that were too thin. Eggs that were about 75 percent the usual width were accepted more often than they were rejected. Eggs that were less than 50 percent the usual width were almost always kicked out.

But the pointed objects were not rejected nearly as often. In fact, only the very pointiest decoy, the eight-sided die shape, got pushed out almost every time.

“It was very surprising for us,” Dr. Hauber said.

The birds seem to be responding to variables that matter in nature. Cowbird eggs, for instance, are noticeably wider than their own, so robins may have evolved a canny sense of when width is off.

“They seem to be quite hesitant about rejecting eggs when the variable that we changed was not natural,” Dr. Hauber said, referring to the angular, pointed eggs. “Robins don’t know what to do with it, because they’ve never evolved to respond to it.”

And rather than toss out one of their own eggs by mistake, they let it lie.

17) Annie Lowrey again, “The Counterintuitive Workings of the Minimum Wage: The benefits of a $15 minimum would greatly outweigh the costs.”

Yet minimum wages have a way of screwing with economic intuition, and complicating the simple logic of supply and demand. The benefits of a $15 minimum would greatly outweigh the costs. More than that, new economic evidence suggests that those costs might be small ones anyway: Even in low-wage, low-density, low-cost-of-living parts of the country, a $15 minimum might not be a death knell for small businesses or a job killer for low-wage workers…

Even if the $15 minimum wage were to shrink payrolls in some places, low-wage workers—including those who experience joblessness—would still end up better off financially. Low-wage jobs tend to have tons of churn: Workers quit, get hired, and leave or get fired frequently. In any given month, one in ten low-wage workers leaves or starts a gig; fast-food restaurants have annual employee-turnover rates as high as 150 percent. That means a large share of low-wage workers experiences a spell of unemployment in any given year. Raising the minimum wage might extend that period of unemployment, Heidi Shierholz, the former chief economist at the Department of Labor, told me, as competition for the jobs heats up. But a worker earning $15 an hour for six months is stillbetter off than a worker earning $7.25 an hour for twelve months.

18) Stop with the hygiene theater, “COVID-19 rarely spreads through surfaces. So why are we still deep cleaning?”

19) I did quite enjoy this 7 year old article on the evolution of bees:

The first bees evolved from wasps, which were and remain predators today. The word ‘wasp’ conjures up an image of the yellow-and-black insects that often build large nests in lofts and garden sheds and which can be exceedingly annoying in late summer when their booming populations and declining food supplies force them into houses and on to our picnic tables. Actually, there are enormous numbers of wasp species, most of whom are nothing like this. A great many are parasitoids, with a gruesome lifestyle from which the sci-fi film Alien surely took its inspiration. The female of these wasps lays her eggs inside other insects, injecting them through a sharply pointed egg-laying tube. Once hatched, the grubs consume their hosts from the inside out, eventually bursting out of the dying bodies to form their pupae. Other wasp species catch prey and feed them to their grubs in small nests, and it is from one such wasp family, the Sphecidae, that bees evolved. In the Sphecidae the female wasps stock a nest, usually an underground burrow, with the corpses, or the paralysed but still living bodies, of their preferred prey. They attack a broad range of insects and spiders, with different wasp species preferring aphids, grasshoppers or beetles. At some point a species of sphecid wasp experimented with stocking its nest with pollen instead of dead insects. This could have been a gradual process, with the wasp initially adding just a little pollen to the nest provisions. As pollen is rich in protein, it would have provided a good nutritional supplement, particularly at times when prey was scarce. When the wasp eventually evolved to feed its offspring purely on pollen, it had become the first bee.

20) Some nice social science on politics and mass incarceration: “Who Punishes More? Partisanship, Punitive Policies, and the Puzzle of Democratic Governors”

The growth of the carceral state over the last few decades has been remarkable, with millions of Americans in prison, jail, on parole or probation. Political science explanations of this phenomenon identify partisanship as a key explanatory variable in the adoption of punitive policies; by this theory, Republicans are the driving force behind growing incarceration. This article argues this explanation is incomplete and instead emphasizes the bipartisan coalition that constructed the carceral state. I argue Democratic governors are incentivized to pursue more punitive policies to compete with Republicans when those Democrats are electorally vulnerable. I test this proposition using a series of regression discontinuity designs and find causal evidence for Democrats’ complicity in the expansion of the carceral state. Democratic governors who barely win their elections outspend and outincarcerate their Republican counterparts. This article highlights Democrats’ role as key architects in the creation of vast criminal justice institutions in the states when those Democrats are electorally vulnerable.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Great stuff from Jamelle Bouie, “I’m Not Actually Interested in Mitch McConnell’s Hypocrisy: To make his case for the filibuster, he has essentially rewritten the history of the Senate.”

On Tuesday, Mitch McConnell, now the Senate minority leader, spoke in defense of the legislative filibuster.

“When it comes to lawmaking, the framers’ vision and our history are clear. The Senate exists to require deliberation and cooperation,” McConnell declared. “James Madison said the Senate’s job was to provide a ‘complicated check’ against ‘improper acts of legislation.’ We ensure that laws earn enough buy-in to receive the lasting consent of the governed. We stop bad ideas, improve good ideas and keep laws from swinging wildly with every election.”

He went on: “More than any other feature, it is the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to end debate on legislation that achieves this.”

It’s hard to take any of this seriously. None of McConnell’s stated concern for the “lasting consent of the governed” was on display when Senate Republicans, under his leadership, tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act by majority vote. Nor was there any interest in “deliberation and cooperation” when Republicans wanted a new round of corporate and upper-income tax cuts.

If anything, the filibuster stymies that deliberation and cooperation by destroying the will to legislate at all. It makes bipartisanship less likely by erasing any incentive to build novel coalitions for particular issues. If, under the filibuster, there’s no difference between 51 votes for immigration reform and 56 votes (or even 59), then what’s the point of even trying? Why reach out to the other side if there’s almost no way you’ll reach the threshold to take action? And on the other side, why tinker with legislation if you know it’s not going to pass? When there’s no reason to do otherwise, why not act as a rigid, unyielding partisan?

It’s obvious that McConnell’s commitment to the filibuster is instrumental…

The truth is that the filibuster was an accident; an extra-constitutional innovation that lay dormant for a generation after its unintentional creation during the Jefferson administration. For most of the Senate’s history after the Civil War, filibusters were rare, deployed as the Southern weapon of choice against civil rights legislation, and an occasional tool of partisan obstruction.

Far from necessary, the filibuster is extraneous. Everything it is said to encourage — debate, deliberation, consensus building — is already accomplished by the structure of the chamber itself, insofar as it happens at all.

In the form it takes today, the filibuster doesn’t make the Senate work the way the framers intended. Instead, it makes the Senate a nearly insurmountable obstacle to most legislative business. And that, in turn, has made Congress inert and dysfunctional to the point of disrupting the constitutional balance of power. Legislation that deserves a debate never reaches the floor; coalitions that could form never get off the ground.

2) This is fabulous.  Such a little-appreciated but important issue.  The police can brazenly lie to suspects to coerce false confessions.  And the Supreme Court is good with that.  

Most Americans don’t know this, but police officers in the United States are permitted by law to outright lie about evidence to suspects they interrogate in pursuit of a confession. Of all forms of subterfuge they deploy — like feigning sympathy and suggesting that a suspect’s confession might bring leniency — this one is particularly dangerous.

In Frazier v. Cupp (1969), the Supreme Court made it lawful for the police to present false evidence. “The victim’s blood was found on your pillow,” “You failed the polygraph,” “Your fingerprints were on the knife” and “Your friend said she wasn’t with you like you said” are some common but brazen lies told. There is almost no limit to the type or magnitude of deception permitted — one lie or many; small lies and whoppers; lies aimed at adults or anxious and unwary teenagers.

In the United States and elsewhere, confession evidence serves an important function in the administration of criminal justice. Yet the history of wrongful convictions points to countless innocent people induced to confess to crimes they did not commit.

bill awaiting legislative action in New York, Senate Bill S324, would finally put a stop to this in the state. It would bar police deception in the interrogation room and require courts to evaluate the reliability of confession evidence before allowing it to be used.

In the database of the Innocence Project, false confessions contributed to the convictions in 29 percent of its 375 DNA exonerations. Over all, 8.26 percent of these wrongful convictions originated in New York State; 45 percent of these New York cases involved false confessions.

Historically, New York City has been something of a hot spot. On Aug. 28, 1963, two young professional women on the Upper East Side were killed. Eight months later, with these “career-girl murders” still unsolved, homicide detectives interrogated George Whitmore, a 19-year-old African-American man and produced an exquisitely detailed 61-page confession to those murders and other crimes.

Whitmore signed the statement attributed to him but then later recanted. It turned out that he had a solid if not ironic alibi: He had been with friends on the South Jersey shore watching the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech televised from the Lincoln Memorial. After spending nine years in and out of prison, he was finally exonerated of all charges. His false confession was notable. In Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Supreme Court cited the Whitmore case as the “most recent conspicuous example” of police coercion in the interrogation room.

Twenty-five years later, the Central Park jogger case elicited five false confessions, four on videotape for everyone to see — five in a single investigation, in the spotlight of Manhattan, while the world watched.

3) Great stuff from Julia Marcus, “Vaccinated People Are Going to Hug Each Other: The vaccines are phenomenal. Belaboring their imperfections—and telling people who receive them never to let down their guard—carries its own risks.”

But in the United States, the prevailing message is that, because vaccines aren’t perfect, people who have received them shouldn’t let down their guard in any way—not even at gatherings with just a few other vaccinated people. “Based on science and how vaccines work, it certainly is likely that [such a gathering] will end up being lower-risk,” a pharmacologist from Johns Hopkins University told The Washington Post. “But right now, we just don’t know.” Government officials are no more upbeat. In response to the question of whether a vaccinated person needs to continue taking precautions, the CDC states that “not enough information is currently available” to say when—or even if—it will stop recommending the use of masks and distancing.

The message that vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective in preventing disease, and that the data are still out on how much they reduce transmission, is an accurate and important one. Risk-mitigation strategies are needed in public spaces, particularly indoors, until more people are vaccinated and infections wane. But not all human interactions take place in public. Advising people that they must do nothing differently after vaccination—not even in the privacy of their homes—creates the misimpression that vaccines offer little benefit at all. Vaccines provide a true reduction of risk, not a false sense of security. And trying to eliminate even the lowest-risk changes in behavior both underestimates people’s need to be close to one another and discourages the very thing that will get everyone out of this mess: vaccine uptake.

As for me, I’m happy to hug anybody who is vaccinated (and hopefully they’ll be willing to hug me and my J&J 72% efficacy).

4) NC’s (truly nuts) Lieutenant Governor believes that US history is not racist because we had a black president and he is a black Lieutenant Governor.  Sure, it’s possible to go overboard in teaching the sorry and sordid history of the US with regard to race.  But, that’s not exactly the problem we’ve had up until this point:

Republican State Board of Education members charged Wednesday that proposed social studies standards are “anti-American” and will teach North Carolina public school students that the nation is oppressive and racist.

The board on Wednesday reviewed new K-12 social studies standards that include language such as having teachers discuss racism, discrimination and the perspectives of marginalized groups. Multiple GOP board members argued that the new standards are divisive and have a leftist political agenda.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican, said that the standards would inaccurately teach that the United States is a racist nation.

“The system of government that we have in this nation is not systematically racist,” Robinson said. “In fact, it is not racist at all.”

Robinson noted how he’s the state’s first Black lieutenant governor and that the United States previously had elected a Black president.

State board member Amy White said North Carolina social studies teachers should be telling students that America is the greatest nation on Earth. She blamed the news media for promoting an anti-American viewpoint.

“While I think some of the revisions have been helpful, I still see an agenda that is anti-American, anti-capitalism, anti-democracy,” said White, who was appointed by former GOP Gov. Pat McCrory. She is a former social studies teacher.

5) I endorse this from Derek Thompson, “The Truth About Kids, School, and COVID-19: We’ve known for months that young children are less susceptible to serious infection and less likely to transmit the coronavirus. Let’s act like it.

I think a fair reading of the evidence is that the costs of keeping elementary school kids out of school substantially outweighs the benefits of letting them back in school.  For older grades, it’s a tough calculation and a tougher discussion.  But not having the elementary school kids in does not strike me as a rational weighing of policy.  

6) Jonathan Last lets loose and it’s damn good:

The lockdown of the Capitol makes me sad.

I’ve been drifting away from my love affair with Washington for a long time. I got married. I had kids. I moved to the suburbs and no longer had time to spend my nights reading books on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, even if I still lived five minutes away.

Washington changed. Cities are always changing, but the pace of Washington’s transformation in the early ’00s was fast and the direction was not great. The city simultaneously became both more glamorous and less interesting. The intellectual energy began to dissipate, replaced by the same sort of naked rapaciousness for status and money that you see in Manhattan.

So over the last decade or so, Washington was more like a lover I’d lost touch with, a romance from a different part of my life. And when you see something you once loved have something terrible happen to it, it makes you sad. Even if that thing is no longer the thing you loved.

But it also makes me angry. And I want to explain why:

Our government has two ways to make the Capitol more secure.

The first is to explain to Americans that Joe Biden is the fairly elected president of the United States. That his victory was quite large. That the former president and many of his enablers lied about the outcome of the election.

In so doing, this would leach the poison out of our political life and remove the impetus for mobs to attack the Capitol.

The second option is to put fences and razor wire around the Capitol to discourage people whose minds have been poisoned from attacking it again.

Faced with these alternatives, our government chose the latter.

The Republican party did this.

They lied to America for months about the 2020 election. They are still lyingright now.

And they would rather perpetuate this lie than try to explain to their voters what the truth is. Because the lie brings them nearer to power and the truth would repel the people they most need to vote for them.

Even if the price is insurrection. Even if the lie costs people their lives. Even if it means turning our Capitol into Fort Knox.

Because Republicans would rather lose freedom than tell the truth.

7) Really enjoyed this interview with Fauci on surviving the Trump administration.

8) OMG I hate this.  “San Francisco Scraps 44 School Names, Citing Reckoning With Racism: The school board said the move would shed homages to figures including Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Dianne Feinstein.” We’re not exactly talking schools named after Jefferson Davis or Nathan Bedford Forrest!  

The commission had decided that schools named after figures who fit the following criteria would be renamed: “engaged in the subjugation and enslavement of human beings; or who oppressed women, inhibiting societal progress; or whose actions led to genocide; or who otherwise significantly diminished the opportunities of those amongst us to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

By the criteria here, you probably cannot name much of anything after almost any white American who lived before 1950. It’s just so intellectually dishonest to judge people by the standards or our time; not theirs.

9) I mean this is definitely good from Brownstein, but again too much “Democrats…” and not acknowledging, really “Manchin (and Sinema)…”, “The Decision That Will Define Democrats for a Decade: Will they get rid of the filibuster if it means passing their voting-rights and election-reform agenda?”  Whether M&S are truly up for this approach seems key:

Still, passing the bill, and perhaps the new VRA, will almost certainly require every Senate Democrat agreeing to end the filibuster in some fashion—and at least two of them, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, have been adamantly opposed to that action. Merkley’s strategy for convincing Democrats to reconsider—at least for the democracy-reform legislation—is to encourage an extended debate on the bill, both within the committee and on the Senate floor, and to allow any senator to offer amendments. If Republicans still block final passage with a filibuster after that process, Democrats could either vote to “carve out” election-reform legislation from the filibuster, or require Republicans blocking the bill to actually filibuster in person, he told me. Democrats could change the rules to tell Republicans “you better be here day and night, because we are going to go for weeks and if you are not here, we are going to a final vote on the bill.”

10) Damn I always love reading Arthur Brooks on happiness and the meaning of life.  I love this take on looking at it through the lens of two ancient Greek philosophers Epicurus and Epictetus (especially since I literally started reading a book about living life by Stoic philosophy yesterday).  (I feel like DJC and I need to have a future conversation about this one).

For epicurus, unhappiness came from negative thoughts, including needless guilt, fear of things we can’t control, and a focus on the inevitable unpleasant parts of life. The solution was to banish them from the mind. To this end, he proposed a “four-part cure”: Don’t fear God; don’t worry about death; what is good is easy to get (by lowering our expectations for what we need to be happy); what is terrible is easy to endure (by concentrating on pleasant things even in the midst of suffering). This is made all the easier when we surround ourselves with friendly people in a peaceful environment.

Epicurus promoted hedonia, from which we derive the word hedonism. However, he would not have recognized our current usage of the term. The secret to banishing negative thoughts, according to Epicurus, is not mindless debauchery—despite the baseless rumors that he led wild parties and orgies, he taught that thoughtlessly grabbing easy worldly pleasures is a mistake, because ultimately they don’t satisfy. Instead, reason was Epicurus’s best weapon against the blues. For example, here is the mantra he suggests we tell ourselves when the fear of death strikes: “Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.”

Moralism is the principle that moral virtue is to be defined and followed for its own sake. “Tell yourself, first of all, what kind of man you want to be,” Epictetus wrote in his Discourses, “and then go ahead with what you are doing.” In other words, create a code of virtuous conduct for yourself and live by it, with no loopholes for convenience.

Epicureans and Stoics are encouraged to focus their attention on different aspects of life—and death. Epicurus’s philosophy suggested that we should think intently about happiness, while for Stoics, the paradox of happiness is that to attain it, we must forget about it; with luck, happiness will come as we pursue life’s purpose. Meanwhile, Epicurus encourages us to disregard death while we are alive, and Epictetus insists that we confront it and ponder it regularly, much like the maranasati meditation in Buddhism, in which monks contemplate their own deaths and stages of decay…


Finally, it is important to pursue life goals in which each happiness approach reinforces the other. That portfolio is simple, and I have written about it before: Make sure your life includes faith, family, friendship, and work in which you earn your success and serve others. Each of these elements flexes both the Stoic and the Epicurean muscles: All four require that we be fully present in an Epicurean sense and that we also work hard and adhere to strong commitments in a Stoic sense.

11) Very similar to #8.  The beloved Cameron Village shopping center in Raleigh is changing it’s name to drop the Cameron because, apparently, the Cameron family had slaves 160 years ago.  

“There are so many beautiful words in our vocabulary. Why use one that is a tinder box?” Goode asked, noting that there are African Americans today who can find the names of their ancestors among the Cameron family slave inventories.

“The shopping center might never have been named for Duncan Cameron,” Goode said. “But his descendants are still living off the wealth that he gained off of slavery.”

Tinder Box?  Oh, I’m guessing that a miniscule fraction of Raleigh residents, including Black residents, have any idea about what the Cameron family did in the 1850’s.  I mean find real ways to do something about racial inequality in this country.

12) I really don’t have a strong opinion on whether Pit Bulls are actually more violent or not.  What I do know is that when they are, they are far more dangerous.  I mean, yeah, a small handgun and an AK-47 are both guns and deadly, but not exactly the same thing when someone is coming after you with one.  The seriously injured person and dog in this first-person account would have been much less injured with a different breed. 

13) EJ Dionne on Biden and America’s Catholic bishops:

Instead, President Biden’s rise has underscored deep divisions within the U.S. church: the emergence of an increasingly hard right within the U.S. hierarchy now being met by a more vocal progressive Catholicism represented by Pope Francis and the cardinals and bishops he has appointed.

The day of Biden’s inauguration brought a dramatic confrontation between the two forces…

The conflict — called a “functional schism” by the Catholic writer Michael Sean Winters — encompasses more than a half-century of Catholic history. Biden embodies the Catholicism of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, a period when the American Catholic imagination was shaped by the “two Johns,” in the writer Garry Wills’s evocative phrase, Pope John XXIII and John F. Kennedy.

But a more conservative leadership appointed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI coincided with a Reagan-era push by intellectuals and activists on the church’s right to ally with the White evangelical political movement in opposition to abortion and advances in LGBTQ rights. The effect was to play down the church’s social justice teachings and to create what Cathleen Kaveny, a Boston College theologian, called “an American fusion of Catholicism with certain conservative and nationalist forms of evangelical Protestantism.”

Now the tables have turned again with Francis. He sharply shifted the church’s public witness toward a crusade against poverty, social injustice and climate change. Francis regularly speaks against abortion, but he has repeatedly criticized those who cast abortion as, in the phrase Gomez invoked, the church’s “preeminent priority.” Francis, like the more liberal bishops of the 1970s and 1980s, regularly links abortion to his broader agenda.

Biden did not run for president to transform the politics of the Catholic Church. But the devout kid from Scranton, Pa., is already having that effect.

As for those who think the Church should be focusing more on abortion and LGBTQ issues I suggest they familiarize themselves with something called the New Testament, or heck, just the Sermon on the Mount.

14) This Eric Levitz article on the current and future Democratic Party is terrific.  I should summarize it in its own post, but, really, just read it.

The basic problem facing the Democratic Party is simple: Barring an extraordinary change to America’s political landscape, it will lose control of Congress in 2022 and have a difficult time regaining control for a decade thereafter.

To be sure, the assumption that existing political trends will continue indefinitely has been leading pundits astray since the advent of our loathsome profession. And in certain respects, the future of our politics looks more uncertain than at any time in recent memory. For example, the fact that a critical mass of Republican voters now belong to the personality cult of a narcissistic con man — who has no real investment in the conservative movement’s well-being — makes the prospect of the GOP fracturing more thinkable than it’s been in about a century.

This said, the trends bedeviling Democrats have been in motion for decades and are rooted in America’s most durable political divides. To summarize the party’s predicament: As a result of 19th-century efforts to gerrymander the Senate, the middle of our country is chock full of heavily white, low-population, rural states. This has always been a problem for the party of urban America — by boasting stronger support in rural areas, Republicans have long punched above their weight in the race for control of state governments and the Senate. But for most of the 20th century, this advantage was mitigated by the Democrats’ (1) vestigial support in the post-Confederate South and (2) ability to render local issues more salient than national ones in Senate elections. Over the past two decades, however, urban-rural polarization in U.S. politics has reached unprecedented heights, while the collapse of local journalism and rise of the internet has made all politics national. Voters have never been less likely to split their tickets, and white rural areas have never been more likely to vote for Republicans. This is plausibly because the (irreversible, internet-induced) nationalization of politics has increased rural white voters’ awareness of the myriad ways that urban, college-educated Democrats differ from them culturally. If this is the case, then the Democratic Party may have only a limited ability to reverse urban-rural polarization in the near-term future.

It took a series of minor miracles for the party to eke out its current 50-vote majority. By coincidence, Democrats happened to have their most vulnerable incumbent senators on the ballot two years ago, when the party rode anti-Trump fervor to one of the largest midterm landslides in American history. And yet: Winning the House popular vote by 8.6 percent was not sufficient to prevent the party from losing Senate seats. And although Jon Tester and Joe Manchin won reelection in their deep-red states, both underperformed the national environment: In a year when the nation as a whole favored Democrats by more than eight points, both Democratic incumbents won their races by a bit over three points. Which is to say, had those senators been on the ballot last year instead, when the national environment favored Democrats by “only” 4.4 percent, they likely would have lost. Or, to put the matter more pointedly: Unless the Democratic nominee orchestrates an extraordinary landslide in 2024, Manchin and Tester will likely return to the private sector by mid-decade.

Meanwhile, attempts to mint new “Joe Manchins” – i.e., idiosyncratic Democrats whose strong local ties overwhelm the taint of the party’s brand in white rural America — have invariably failed in the post-Trump era. Two years after Tester won reelection in Montana, the state’s Democratic governor didn’t come within ten points of winning his Senate race in 2020.

The party’s outlook in the House of Representatives isn’t much better. The abundance of predominantly white rural states doesn’t just give Republicans an advantage in the Senate; it also gives them an advantage in fights over redistricting. Since there are more solidly red states than there are solidly blue ones, Republicans have more opportunities to gerrymander House maps than Democrats do. What’s more, even in the absence of gerrymandering, the convention of drawing geographically compact districts naturally underrepresents Democrats, since their support is more geographically concentrated in urban centers than the GOP’s support is in low-density areas.

This is one reason why Democrats lost House seats in the 2020 election. Now, with the new Census set to empower the GOP to produce an even more biased House map before 2022, Republicans have an excellent chance of retaking the House two years from now.

Graphic: FiveThirtyEight/Brookings Institution

Making matters even more dire: (1) The Electoral College now has a four-point pro-GOP bias, meaning that if Biden wins the two-way popular vote by “only” 3.9 percent in 2024, he will have a less than 50 percent chance of winning reelection, and (2) the Republican Party has grown more openly contemptuous of democracy since Donald Trump’s defeat. If the GOP does gain full control of the federal government in 2024, there is a significant risk it will further entrench its structural advantages through anti-democratic measures, so as to insulate right-wing minority rule against the threat of demographic change.


15) This is cool, “Understanding Human Cognitive Uniqueness”

Humanity has regarded itself as intellectually superior to other species for millennia, yet human cognitive uniqueness remains poorly understood. Here, we evaluate candidate traits plausibly underlying our distinctive cognition (including mental time travel, tool use, problem solving, social cognition, and communication) as well as domain generality, and we consider how human cognitive uniqueness may have evolved. We conclude that there are no traits present in humans and absent in other animals that in isolation explain our species’ superior cognitive performance; rather, there are many cognitive domains in which humans possess unusually potent capabilities compared to those found in other species. Humans are flexible cognitive all-rounders, whose proficiency arises through interactions and reinforcement between cognitive domains at multiple scales.

16) Really looking forward to reading Daniel Lieberman’s new book on exercise.  Sounds like I’m doing pretty good with my approach:

For example: Is sitting the new smoking? Not really. Of course 150 years of machines assisting humans in everything from walking upstairs to opening doors has meant we burn fewer calories in a day, but the act of sitting is not nearly as lethal as that of inhaling burning tar into your lungs. On the flip side, standing desks won’t save us. Instead, fidgeting, which burns calories and promotes blood flow to arms and legs, may help.

Another example: Should we really work out to look like our caveman ancestors? Not if you know what they actually looked like. They certainly didn’t resemble bodybuilders, because that wouldn’t have made any sense. “The ability to lift above your head something twice or more your body weight is a bizarre, dangerous feat that probably had little practical value in the Stone Age,” Lieberman writes. Instead, cavemen probably looked more like the current Hadza hunter-gatherer tribe, based in Tanzania, a tribe that Lieberman has studied extensively and lived among himself. They’re strong but lean so as not to waste calories on activities that do not contribute to acquiring food. Fueling glamour muscles would never make the cut. Strike those paleo diets too, which he calls illogical…

So what works? It’s not especially complicated, and Lieberman outlines the science behind his prescription of a mix of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, strength training and high-intensity interval training. This is probably the best bet for most of us. 

17) I was not actually surprised to learn that attending an elite high school is over-rated.  

“The major advantage of selective schools is that they provide a more desirable school environment,” the paper explains. “Students are more likely to feel positive about their high school experiences at selective schools.”

Still, that didn’t translate into higher high school graduation, college attendance, or college completion rates. Students from low-income neighborhoods actually ended up at less-selective colleges, on average, as a result of going to a top high school.

“Schools can look like they have a large effect on student outcomes, while these apparent successes should actually be attributed to the students themselves,” the Chicago researchers say.

We can’t say for sure whether the results would look the same today, though, or if the schools’ selection criteria were changed.

18) This is pretty good, ““Anti-Racist” Education Is Neither”

Take, for instance, the anti-racist materials that schools are using to train their K-12 teachers. The materials used by the Denver Public Schools teach educators that “the belief that there is such a thing as being objective,” distinguishing between “good/bad” and “right/wrong,” and valuing an “emphasis on being polite” are all distinctive characteristics of white culture. The same is true of the “individualist” mindset that “if something is going to get done right, I have to do it.” In Loudoun County, Virginia, one of the nation’s wealthiest counties, the Dismantling Racism Workbook used to train teachers this summer highlighted “15 Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture,” including a weird admixture of positive and negative stereotypes, including “perfectionism,” “progress is bigger, more,” “right to comfort,” and “defensiveness.”

Anti-racists also want to end traditional grading practices, which they deem “profoundly discriminatory.” Cornelius Minor, a leading “Grading Equity Advocate,” is an author and speaker who has worked with Columbia Teachers College and the International Literacy Association. He seeks to dismantle “pernicious” grading practices, such as teachers reserving A’s for students who demonstrate understanding of the subject matter. This, he explains, is because one “cannot separate grading practices” from “the history of classism, sexism, racism, and ableism in the United States.” To Minor, a teacher’s inability to perceive a student’s knowledge is evidence of the teacher’s racism, not the student’s ignorance. While Minor is fuzzy regarding the remedies, he is sure that teachers must abandon problematic ideologies such as expecting that students “should know” things.

When it comes to facilitating tough discussions about race, a favored practice among anti-racist educators is, ironically, to sort students and staff by race. These “affinity groups” typically involve one group for black participants, a second for “non-black people of color,” and a third for white participants. Such racially determined groupings are regularly utilized at universities, by Teach For America, and even in high schools. Without a hint of irony, Teach For America makes this exercise in apartheid part of its “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” training for new teachers. Absent is any acknowledgment by these self-avowed anti-racists that they’re resurrecting practices that would’ve been applauded in the Jim Crow south.

19) Interesting research:

Scholarly journals are often blamed for a gender gap in publication rates, but it is unclear whether peer review and editorial processes contribute to it. This article examines gender bias in peer review with data for 145 journals in various fields of research, including about 1.7 million authors and 740,000 referees. We reconstructed three possible sources of bias, i.e., the editorial selection of referees, referee recommendations, and editorial decisions, and examined all their possible relationships. Results showed that manuscripts written by women as solo authors or coauthored by women were treated even more favorably by referees and editors. Although there were some differences between fields of research, our findings suggest that peer review and editorial processes do not penalize manuscripts by women. However, increasing gender diversity in editorial teams and referee pools could help journals inform potential authors about their attention to these factors and so stimulate participation by women.


Quick hits (part II)

Okay, lots of links, but fewer pull quotes this week.  If you want to know more, just click and read them.

1) Paul Waldman, “Imagine if Trump’s influence over the GOP faded away”

2) Waldman again.  So sadly true, “Republican politics is now defined by the threat of murderous violence”

You may have heard this aphorism about the parties: Democrats hate their base and Republicans fear their base. We must now confront a sinister new reality. Republicans are no longer just afraid that their base will force them to defend the politically indefensible or send them packing in a primary challenge.

They’re afraid that their base, or at least certain elements of it, will literally kill them.

Each party has its own complex internal dynamics, as different factions jockey for influence and attempt to convince the party as a whole to adopt their own perspectives on ideology and tactics. In the GOP, that dynamic is now being shaped by QAnon, the new face of the Republican opposition. As The Post reports:

Even as Trump is set to exit the White House, QAnon’s grip on the conservative psyche is growing. Two freshman Republican members of Congress, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (Colo.), have voiced support for QAnon, while others have tweeted its slogans. State legislators across the country have further lent it credence while also backing Trump’s claims of electoral theft despite a lack of evidence and dozens of swift rejections in court.

QAnon is deranged in its beliefs about the world, opposed to the operation of the American democratic system, and built on the threat of deadly violence against anyone it considers an enemy.

This has now been incorporated into the thinking of every Republican as they navigate each new controversy: not just, “Will this vote anger my constituents and get me a primary challenge from the right?”, but also, “If I oppose my party’s base on this, will they murder me and my family?”

This is not an exaggeration or a metaphor. In December, the majority leader of the Pennsylvania Senate said that if she didn’t support Republican efforts to nullify the state’s electoral votes, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.” With the attack on the Capitol, the murderous threat to the life of every elected official came home for members of Congress.

Don’t forget that just hours after Trump supporters rampaged through the Capitol to overturn the election through violence, eight senators and 139 members of the House — fully two-thirds of the GOP caucus in the lower chamber — voted to reject legitimate electoral votes, essentially telling the rioters that they were right.

3) Jennifer Rubin, “Bullied into voting against impeachment? Tell the cops and then resign.”

4) Zeynep, “Most House Republicans Did What the Rioters Wanted: The most dangerous thing that happened Wednesday occurred after the mob dispersed.”

But the most important, most dangerous part of all this was Trump’s successful attempt to convince millions of his supporters that he’d won and was being cheated out of his win—and the fact that many leaders of the Republican Party, at all levels, went along. That claim is somewhat akin to a charge of child abuse—the very accusation is also a demand for immediate action to stop it. The mob that gathered last Wednesday took that accusation seriously, and acted to “stop the steal.”

The storming of the Capitol also included many ridiculous elements—silly costumes worn together with tactical gear, a grinning man making off with a stolen lectern. But like the effort preceding it in the months before, it was also deadly serious: The mob was beaten back with lethal force, when some of its members were just steps away from legislators. The president, meanwhile, watched it all unfold on television, resisting calls to bring in the National Guard.

But the polite facade of what happened just a little later on the floor of the House, as it considered throwing out the results of an election, should not mask the seriousness of the threat this whole effort poses to our democracy. There is a great desire to blame Trump—who is certainly very much to blame—and move on, without recognizing and responding to the dire reality: that much of the GOP enlisted in his attempt to steal an election.

The 139 representatives and eight senators who voted to reject the results of a democratic election, were certainly well mannered—speakers wore formal clothes such as ties and suits rather than the outlandish outfits of the mob. The legislators adhered to time limits rather than putting their feet on desks while hamming it up for photos. But this veneer of respectability makes what happened on the floor more dangerous, by making it harder to recognize as a violation of democracy.

5) NYT Editorial, “The First Step Toward Unity Is Honesty: More Republicans need to be honest that the election wasn’t stolen. Law enforcement needs to be transparent about the threats facing the nation.”

6) Or, as Senator Brian Schatz just put it.

“The election wasn’t rigged. I was wrong to imply it was. This has gotten out of hand. I didn’t sign up for an armed insurrection. I swore an oath to the Constitution, and I let the moment blind me and imperil democracy itself. I am sorry.” – Actually no one has said this yet.

7) Great Noah Smith post on minimum wage.

Over this time period, economists changed their beliefs about the minimum wage. As the chart at the top of this post shows, the percent of economists who think minimum wage is a substantial job-killer went from an overwhelming majority in the late 70s to a modest minority by the mid 2010s. That data is from an older version of a presentation by Arin Dube, an expert on minimum wage research. Here’s the slide from the most recent version:

That’s a pretty dramatic change, and you can see that it started before Card and Krueger did their famous study. So it’s not immediately clear how much of the shift was due to economists’ changing ideological views, and how much was due to the accumulating mountain of evidence.

But a mountain of evidence was accumulating.

8) How to share a car in Covid-world?  Open up front right window and rear left and have driver and one passenger sit opposite from open windows.  Creates a curtain of air.  

9) Zeynep is right that it’s nuts that we are still relying so much on cloth masks.  Or, at least, totally non-regulated, non-certified cloth masks.  

10) Fortunately, it’s been a while since I’ve had a fever.  But, if I can manage, I will eschew the ibuprofen next time I do.  Evidence is increasingly clear that fever is an important natural defense mechanism that, for the most part, we should not try to undermine.  

11) Richard Hasen on how to fix the clear vulnerabilities in our elections and on how to more broadly try and save our democracy.

12) I did not realize that there was now an at-home colon screening that is as effective as a colonoscopy.  Hurray– looks like I’ll get to skip that when I turn 50 next year.  

13) Historical perspective, “How Trumpism May Endure: The Confederacy built a lasting myth of victory out of defeat. Trump and his followers may, too.”

14) Alex MacGillis watched Parler videos of the Capitol Riot so you don’t have to. 

He didn’t appear to know about the deaths and extent of the violence. He had only his vantage point. But we now have many more vantages. And they give us the picture of what happens when something that was gathering across the land for years, and recklessly and cynically fomented by those who knew better, reached a culmination. There undoubtedly were some dangerous organized elements within the mob that attacked the Capitol. But what is scariest about these videos is that they show the damage that can be done by a crowd of unorganized Americans goaded and abetted by the leaders of an organized political party. The radical fringe is a cause for concern. The thousands of regular people whipped into a murderous rage is the real nightmare.

15) And a New Yorker reporters edited footage from inside.  I watched this.  Just wow.  

16) A bunch of really smart political scientists, several of whom I’m friends with, “Pro-Trump Capitol riot violence underscores bipartisan danger of dehumanizing language: Dehumanization is more than just disagreement or incivility — it is the express denial of humanity. And it’s on the rise across America.”

17) When I’m not working on political science with Laurel Elder, I’m… blogging?  When she’s not working with me, she’s got another whole cool research agenda on political families.  Thus, she’s prominently featured in this NYT article on Kamala’s blended family:

When Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president, she will represent many firsts: First woman vice president. First Black woman. First woman of Indian descent. But there is another milestone that will be on display: that of her family.

As Ms. Harris ascends to this barrier-breaking role, with her loved ones looking on, millions of Americans will see a more expansive version of the American family staring back at them — one that could broaden rigid ideas of politically palatable family dynamics or gender roles.

Her family is ready for the moment. Ms. Harris’s niece, Meena Harris, has been sporting a “Vice President Aunty” T-shirt in the lead-up. Her stepdaughter, Ella Emhoff, an art student in New York, planned to knit a suit for the occasion (she opted for a dress). Kerstin Emhoff, the mother of Ms. Harris’s stepchildren — yes, Ms. Harris and her husband’s ex are friends — may tuck a sprig of sage in her purse; she is quite sure the Capitol could use a smudging.

And, of course, Ms. Harris’s husband, Doug Emhoff, will be there — proud husband, supportive vice-presidential spouse, likely to be snapping photos of his wife as he begins his own history-making role as the nation’s first Second Gentleman (and now with the Twitter handle to prove it)…

Professor Elder, a professor of political science at Hartwick College and co-author of the book “American Presidential Candidate Spouses,” called it the “new traditionalism”: the idea that Americans prefer spouses who are active and visible in support of their partners (the new part), but who don’t veer outside of their supporting roles (the traditional part).“Even though women are now doing everything, people’s expectations for presidential and vice-presidential spouses are very traditional,” she said. “Americans are very split on whether they should even have a career — and they really don’t want them being a policy adviser.”

18) Good stuff from Adam Serwer about who the rioters are:

They were business ownersCEOsstate legislatorspolice officersactive and retired service members, real-estate brokersstay-at-home dads, and, I assume, some Proud Boys.

The mob that breached the Capitol last week at President Donald Trump’s exhortation, hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, was full of what you might call “respectable people.” They left dozens of Capitol Police officers injured, screamed “Hang Mike Pence!,” threatened to murder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and set up a gallows outside the building. Some were extremists using the crowd as cover, but as federal authorities issue indictments, a striking number of those they name appear to be regular Americans.

And there’s nothing surprising about that. Although any crowd that size is bound to include people who are struggling financially, no one should be shocked to see the middle classes so well represented among the mob.

The notion that political violence simply emerges out of economic desperation, rather than ideology, is comforting. But it’s false. Throughout American history, political violence has often been guided, initiated, and perpetrated by respectable people from educated middle- and upper-class backgrounds. The belief that only impoverished people engage in political violence—particularly right-wing political violence—is a misconception often cultivated by the very elites who benefit from that violence…

The members of the mob that attacked the Capitol and beat a police officer to death last week were not desperate. They were there because they believed they had been unjustly stripped of their inviolable right to rule. They believed that not only because of the third-generation real-estate tycoon who incited them, but also because of the wealthy Ivy Leaguers who encouraged them to think that the election had been stolen.

19) And last, David Graham, “We’re Just Finding Out How Bad the Riot Really Was: More than a week after insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, video recordings, news reports, and federal charges are revealing a situation even more dire than it seemed at the time.”

Every day since, as more videos and reporting have emerged, it’s become clear how dangerous the insurrection truly was. As my colleague Elaine Godfrey, who was in the crowd, wrote, “The violence could have been even worse. Some of the rioters clearly wanted it to be.” This was more than a group of people swept up in the emotions of the moment. Within the mob were radicals plotting to kill or kidnap the vice president and members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The rioters came within moments of catching up to Vice President Mike Pence.

And the violence was far worse than first reported. One Capitol Police officer died following the assault, another died by suicide soon after, and dozens of officers were injured, some seriously.

We also now know more about President Donald Trump’s response. While it was clear from the start that he had incited the crowd, further reporting has indicated that he watched the attempted coup with delight. He actively resisted calling out the National Guard, a task that reportedly fell to the besieged Pence. He was induced by his horrified staff to condemn the mob, but reportedly regrets doing so.

In short, January 6 not only could have been much worse—it was much worse than was initially apparent. Sometimes real-time coverage of news events leans toward the sensational and overstates what happened. But because reporters were unprepared for the violence, and because of the fog of war (and tear gas), the horror of this event has emerged slowly. Many people were able to see the stakes on January 6, but it was much harder to see how close a larger catastrophe was to occurring, much less how much harm was actually done.

Moms and guns meet fragile masculinity

So my NC State PR friend did a really nice release on my guns and motherhood research.  Not much attention to it (though, people in my college noticed, which is nice) given the larger world events, but it is good to have this excellent summary out in the world.  At least one person outside my university noticed, as I got this lovely email.  Wow:

In every country on Earth regardless of the law when you look at demographics the crime rate is the same. The rule of law doesn’t matter that much. Passing gun laws will not change homicide rates, nor will citing data ever convince white rural conservatives to turn in their guns and join the communist party. The black cities of America have plenty of gun control, and the same murder rates as African countries. Indeed 95% of the interracial violence in America is black on white.

America is not a democracy, it is a republic. There is no right to vote away the gun rights of anyone else anyway.

There is no historical example of a multicultural society in which the rule of law did not break down.

Since WW2 sperm counts have declined by 50% and testosterone levels have fallen by 30%. College professors have the lowest testosterone levels of any profession tested. Get your testosterone levels checked.
I know motherhood makes women more red pill cause I’ve made a lot of women mothers. BAHAHAHAHAHA enjoy virginity u cucks. 😎

As one of my co-authors put it, pretty much textbook fragile masculinity.  I mean seriously, what does it say about you not only think this way, but feel the need to send this missive to a total stranger.  Just wow.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) While seemingly everybody was complaining about Wonder Woman over Christmas, I couldn’t help thinking they should’ve been watching “Soul.”  So good!  (And I don’t even like jazz).  It’s from Pete Doctor, the man who brought us “Up,” (including the voice of Dug) “Inside Out,” and “Monsters, Inc.”  Anyway, watch it.  

2) Why is the new Covid variant so bad even if it’s no more deadly?  Math.  Zeynep lays it out:

A more transmissible variant of COVID-19 is a potential catastrophe in and of itself. If anything, given the stage in the pandemic we are at, a more transmissible variant is in some ways much more dangerous than a more severe variant. That’s because higher transmissibility subjects us to a more contagious virus spreading with exponential growth, whereas the risk from increased severity would have increased in a linear manner, affecting only those infected.

Increased transmissibility can wreak havoc in a very, very short time—especially when we already have uncontrolled spread in much of the United States. The short-term implications of all this are significant, and worthy of attention, even as we await more clarity from data. In fact, we should act quickly especially as we await more clarity—lack of data and the threat of even faster exponential growth argue for more urgency of action. If and when more reassuring data come in, relaxing restrictions will be easier than undoing the damage done by not having reacted in time.

To understand the difference between exponential and linear risks, consider an example put forth by Adam Kucharski, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who focuses on mathematical analyses of infectious-disease outbreaks. Kucharski compares a 50 percent increase in virus lethality to a 50 percent increase in virus transmissibility. Take a virus reproduction rate of about 1.1 and an infection fatality risk of 0.8 percent and imagine 10,000 active infections—a plausible scenario for many European cities, as Kucharski notes. As things stand, with those numbers, we’d expect 129 deaths in a month. If the fatality rate increased by 50 percent, that would lead to 193 deaths. In contrast, a 50 percent increase in transmissibility would lead to a whopping 978 deaths in just one month—assuming, in both scenarios, a six-day infection-generation time.

Transmissibility increases can quickly—very quickly—expand the baseline: Each new infected person potentially infects many more people. Severity increases affect only the infected person. That infection is certainly tragic, and this new variant’s lack of increase in severity or lethality thankfully means that the variant is not a bigger threat to the individual who may get infected. It is, however, a bigger threat to society because it can dramatically change the number of infected people. To put it another way, a small percentage of a very big number can easily be much, much bigger than a big percentage of a small number.

3) Loved Noah Smith taking on the techno-pessimists on the issue of life expectancy.  

But in fact, the disconnect between technology and life expectancy is far stronger than even these charts would imply.

The reason is that much of the big increase in life expectancy was actually a drop in infant mortality (and to a lesser extent, child mortality). We all hear about how people used to only live to age 35 back in Ancient Rome, or whatever. But that’s not right. Basically, if you made it past the danger zone, you could expect to live to age 60 or so.

Now, technologies that reduce infant mortality are very important and very good. These include things like vaccines and antibiotics. But the drop in infant mortality was really a rapid, one-time thing:

Infant mortality rates are really low in developed countries right now, and can’t go much lower. So the contribution to life expectancy from that big one-time drop in infant mortality is over. You can call that technological stagnation if you want, but it really just means “mission accomplished”.

What about the rise in adult life expectancy? Adults used to live to be 60, now they live to be 80. That’s a big improvement!

But when we look at when that improvement happened, it doesn’t really line up with the epic productivity boom of the Industrial Revolution.

4) The webpage title is much better than the article title, “Cowards are Destroying the Republican Party” from Pete Wehner:

Those who have hoped that Republicans like Senator Hawley would begin to break free from Trump once he lost the election have not understood the nature of the change that has come over the party’s base.

Trump was the product of deep, disturbing currents on the American right; he was not the creator of them. Those currents have existed for many decades; we saw them manifested in the popularity of figures such as Sarah Palin, Patrick J. Buchanan, Newt Gingrich, Oliver North, and many others. But their power grew in force and speed over the past decade. In 2016, Trump tapped into these currents and, as president and leader of the Republican Party, he channeled those populist passions destructively, rather than in the constructive ways that other Republicans before him, such as Ronald Reagan, had done. (Even if you’re a progressive who loathed Reagan, the notion that he was a pernicious and malicious force in American politics in the style of Trump is simply not credible.)  

What is happening in the GOP is that figures such as Hawley, along with many of his Senate and House colleagues, and important Republican players, including the former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, are all trying to position themselves as the heirs of Trump. None of them possesses the same sociopathic qualities as Trump, and their efforts will be less impulsive and presumably less clownish, more calculated and probably less conspiracy-minded. It may be that not all of them support Hawley’s stunt; perhaps some are even embarrassed by it. But these figures are seismographers; they are determined to act in ways that win the approval of the Republican Party’s base. And this goes to the heart of the danger…

The problem with the Republican “establishment” and with elected officials such as Josh Hawley is not that they are crazy, or that they don’t know any better; it is that they are cowards, and that they are weak. They are far more ambitious than they are principled, and they are willing to damage American politics and society rather than be criticized by their own tribe. I’m guessing that many of them haven’t read Nietzsche, but they have embraced his philosophy of perspectivism, which in its crudest form posits that there is no objective truth, no authoritative or independent criteria for determining what is true or false. In this view, we all get to make up our own facts and create our own narratives. Everything is conditioned on what your perspective is. This is exactly the sort of slippery epistemic nihilism for which conservatives have, for more than a generation, reproached the academic left—except the left comes by it more honestly.

5) I often find the “Five Myths” series strained, but liked this set about nutrition.  Sugar is not addictive and to say all “processed foods” are bad is to lump a huge number of healthy foods with unhealthy foods.

6) Eric Levitz with a great interview from earlier this year, “Why Humanity Will Probably Botch the Next Pandemic, Too”

But at least we will emerge from this having finally learned our lesson. And when the next, potentially more lethal bug hops the species barrier, we will be prepared. Do you find solace in such reasoning?

Let me start with an analogy. Let’s take the case of wildfires and earthquakes, which I write about a lot, at least insofar as they affect California. In both those cases, the learning curve is either flat or negative. There may be some slight reform that comes out of it. But at the end of the day, we repeat the same bad policies. We keep doing the same things that made people vulnerable to the previous fire or to the previous earthquake. And that’s because of the huge inertia built into the system. Right now, in San Diego County where I live, we’ve had two of the largest wildfires of the 21st century. And there’s 100,000 homes in development in high- or critical-fire-risk areas.

The last great earthquake of the 1990s led to only minor improvements in structural safety. So there are these inertial interests that oppose lesson learning and reform on a serious scale. Now, the record with epidemic disease is mixed. But go back to SARS. SARS initially created a greater scare than the avian flu had. One guy got it at an airport hotel. Everyone he came in contact with got infected, and within 24 hours this thing had appeared in five different countries. So there was research done. There were two candidate vaccines developed for SARS. But there was no money to take them any further. And so these vaccines sat in refrigerators. There was no profit to be had from them. Those vaccines might confer cross-immunity to the current coronavirus. But we’ll never know.

And that’s what tends to happen: When world trade or the lives of people in rich countries is threatened, you see this huge flurry of activity. But once the threat declines, the money or funding disappears.

We’ve disinvested in public health. The private sector has been unable to develop the lifeline medicines that we need. In terms of international coordination, I don’t think the WHO is going to exist in the present form a year from now, not after the withdrawal of American support.

During the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union put a lot of effort into world public health as part of their respective efforts to influence nonaligned countries (ex-colonial countries). So the U.S. launched its famous malaria campaign, and the Soviet Union, in 1958, launched the campaign that eventually rendered smallpox extinct. After the Cold War ended, there was no geopolitical or foreign-policy reason to pay that much attention to public health in the poorer part of the world. Now who’s going to rebuild an international infrastructure to raise the capacities of poorer countries to detect and respond to diseases? To ensure that the stockpiles are adequate to meet the challenge anywhere on the globe? I don’t see anybody doing that.

The United States has abdicated. China is very equivocal about this. Although they are now the first responder in 18 or 20 countries, they’ve been very equivocal about investment. They never put that much into the World Health Organization. They never stepped into America’s shoes. Will they now? That’s totally unclear. Because nationalism is everywhere. And it’s defeated international public-health cooperation in this outbreak. So we’re going to be left with a research community that is more spirited and international and willing to cooperate with each other than at any time in history, but with governments that have turned their backs on all the post-World War II institutions [of global cooperation]. Except for the World Bank and IMF, of course. And it’s the World Bank whose structural-adjustment programs destroyed health systems throughout the debtor world in the 1980s and 1990s.

So out of this mist, can you find a silver lining? Is there any indication that the destruction of tropical rainforests will stop? That we will stop eating the beef that destroys the forests that protect us from emergent viruses? That we will end factory farming on its present scale? That we will invest a trillion dollars to provide potable water and sanitation to everybody on Earth?

No, of course not. None of this will happen.

7) More good stuff from Noah Smith (loving his newsletter), “Why immigration doesn’t reduce wages”

A positive labor supply shock pushes wages down. A positive labor demand shock pushes up wages. Maybe one of those effects is a little bigger; maybe the other. But they’re going to mostly cancel out.

And to see why this is true, just think about babies. Each new generation is bigger than the one that came before it. If those young people were just a labor supply increase, then as population went up, wages would go down. But obviously that’s not what happens, because young people also buy stuff, which pushes up labor demand, which pushes wages back up.

Immigrants are just babies from elsewhere.

8) Is dairy farming cruel to cows?  Probably, mostly, yes… but it doesn’t have to be.  We need to do better.

9) In what some may see as a paradox, I’m a very happy person (and any of you that know me personally can attest to this), but I also complain all the time, (as you also know).  The secret is that I vent all the time, but rarely ruminate:

The trick to doing it right starts with understanding how the word “complaining” is often misused to describe a variety of behaviors, with some being more harmful or helpful than others. Teasing apart these distinctions requires vocabulary that varies between experts, but there are roughly three categories: venting, problem solving and ruminating, otherwise known as dwelling. Knowing which behavior you’re engaging in, and with what purpose, can help you put in place habits that will not only make your complaining much more strategic, but also help improve your emotional health and build stronger relationships with the people around you…

Negatively obsessing over something isn’t healthy, but Dr. Kowalski said that “expressive complaining” — blowing off steam — and “instrumental complaining” — which is done with an actionable goal — can both be beneficial. Venting can help us gain perspective and put words to our feelings, Dr. Grice said. When done effectively, it can even help you clearly realize what, specifically, about a situation is bothering you.

Research on experiential avoidance backs this up, since trying not to feel bad is associated with negative physiological effects. The simple act of naming your feelings can help reduce your distress around them.

“Acknowledging feelings is healthy, it’s good for you physiologically and it’s good for your emotional health,” Ms. Gilbertson said.

On top of social bonding, feedback from others can help us gain perspective — like figuring out if a boss’s comments were truly out of line — or notice patterns in the things that bother us, which might point to a larger unidentified problem.

How much complaining is good for you? How long is a piece of string? You want to avoid what Dr. Grice calls wearing “muddy glasses,” where no matter what’s going on you always find something to complain about. The same goes with rehashing a problem over and over again, whether with friends or in the echo chamber of the internet.

Ultimately, Dr. Bastin said, “emotional disclosure is important,” but “the way in which you disclose” is what determines whether the interaction has a positive or negative impact, not just on the complainer but also the person who is listening.

10) So much good stuff here, “The Wildest Animal News From 2020”

11) As you know, I’m a big fan of nuclear power.  Good stuff on it in Persuasion:

Several hundred nuclear reactors exist for research and medical purposes, as well as 440 commercial power reactors and an untold number powering ships. All emit radiation, but shielding protects the tens of thousands of people who work around those reactors. Years after Fukushima, the Japanese government had attributed only one death to radiation. The only certain cases of serious radiation poisoning from a reactor were in the Chernobyl disaster, the worst nuclear accident in history. But those Soviet reactors were badly designed, shoddily built, lacked proper safety shielding, and the operators did everything wrong. The steam explosion ejected huge quantities of radioactive material into the atmosphere, yet the only deaths from direct radiation were about 60 people working at the site. Modern designs are far safer. Even with poor design and no shielding, direct radiation from a disaster would only affect those very near (i.e. plant workers). The reason is that radiation loses potency by the square of the distance it travels: The intensity at 200 yards is one-quarter of that at 100 yards. In short, direct radiation is not a serious hazard beyond the reactor proper. An explosion at a chemical factory or a fire at an oil refinery is a vastly greater danger.

The next generation of advanced reactors due out later this decade will have even fewer vulnerabilities than today’s pressurized water-cooled reactors. Almost all advanced designs use no water and are “walk-away-safe,” which means that no operator or mechanical intervention is necessary to ensure safety. The physics of the fuel automatically stop the reaction if it gets too hot, and most designs cannot create radioactive fallout.

Even better, some small designs operate automatically, requiring no operator: They can be buried in the ground and just hum along generating energy for 10, 20 years or more. Advanced reactors promise an almost unlimited availability of clean heat and power, inherently safe, dispersible, and reliable 24/7, regardless of the weather.

Some environmental campaigners still insist on a decades-old horror of reactors that traces back to a justified hatred of nuclear bombs. But that has never been warranted for energy plants. If they—and all of us—are to find a way out of our climate crisis, we must recognize that we already have a large part of the solution.

12) I hope someone caught this on video.  Also, I’ve got six ceiling fans in my house, so, this would be dramatic, “More Than 190,000 Ceiling Fans Are Recalled After Blades Detach”

13) This, this, this!!  “We Have to Let Teenagers Make Mistakes and Grow: One teenager used a racial slur in a video, another made it go viral, and adults made the whole thing worse”

14) Loved watching David Attenborough’s “A Life on Our Planet.”  One thing I really appreciated learning about was the massive Concentrated Solar Thermal power station in Morocco.  I remember reading about this technology seemingly decades ago and thinking it was just the coolest (molten salt!!) so I’m very glad to see it’s actually in use.  

15) This is good, “No, Professors Are Not Brainwashing Their Students: On the myth of faculty indoctrination”

16) The issues facing trans teenagers are complicated and deserve to be treated as such.  Not a simplistic “if you question any individual transition you are killing people!” approach.  

In summary, the country’s leading suicide prevention charity tells journalists not to ‘normalise’ suicide, especially among young people, by presenting it as an understandable or inevitable response to crisis. The country’s leading medical authority on transgender young people says they are not at unusual risk of suicide, and called suggestions to the contrary unhelpful. The same clinic’s evidence shows that the use of puberty blocking medication does not improve the mental health of trans children.

Now that I’ve loaded you down with that context, dear reader, consider how the BBC this week reported on that court ruling and its implications for children with gender issues.

I very much recommend reading the piece in full, bearing in mind the facts above. But here are some especially interesting extracts from the article, headlined ‘Puberty blockers: Parents’ warning as ruling appealed’. The third paragraph of the story says this:

‘Doctors and parents have told the BBC the ruling could cause distressed trans teens to self-harm or even take their own lives.’

Doctors, eh? That’s quite a thing to report. If ‘doctors’ are indeed saying that a court ruling could ’cause’ children to commit suicide, that’s surely something that should be reported, in the public interest. So who are these doctors?

Well, first the BBC offers us ‘a clinician who currently works within the NHS GIDS’ and does not wish to be named: She is reported as saying ‘I know of several young people who have tried to take their lives, some successfully, and that was before these legal challenges which will only slow down and block our services even more.’

That’s suggestive, but still falls some way short of asserting that the ruling ‘could cause’ children to kill themselves. But the next quote the BBC offers is a little more definitive. It comes from Dr Adrian Harrop. He’s cited as saying this:

‘It makes me terribly worried that there is now nothing there for those children, and nothing that can be done to help them. Parents are being left at a point where they’re having to struggle to cope with these children who are in a real state of distress and anxiety. Sadly, there is a very real risk of seeing more suicides.’

Dr Harrop is a GP in Liverpool. He has a record of expressing strong opinions on transgender issues via social media. What he does not have is a history of publishing peer-reviewed medical research on mental health and self-harm among trans children. Nor has he worked as a clinician at a clinic such as GIDS. Yet the BBC deems his speculation about child suicide more worthy of reporting than the views of experts such as Polly Carmichael, head of the GIDS and a world-recognised authority in the care of trans children.

She is on the record, in a speech to a medical conference on gender in October 2017 as challenging those who seek to create a narrative that trans children are uniquely at risk of suicide and self harm. (Sample quote: ‘I also question the discourse that is being created around young people experiencing gender diversity, that it is unbearable, intolerable. This is quite unhelpful. While recognising distress, we need not to be buying into a narrative that is so imbued with negativity and lack of resilience and remember that many of the young people here are coping quite well.’)

Still, the BBC report doesn’t stop there. It also breathlessly reports a letter ‘seen exclusively by the BBC’ to NHS England from GenderGP, which the BBC calls ‘one of the only private healthcare providers for transgender people in the UK’.

That letter laments the court ruling and, the BBC reports, concludes: ‘The mental health implications of this cannot be underestimated, and the risk of self-harm and suicide must be acknowledged.’

Quick hits (part I)

1) Everybody was saying I needed to read this piece about the Bucatini (a type of pasta I didn’t know existed but now just have to have) shortage.  They were right.

2) Eric Levitz re-tweeted his favorite stories he wrote this year and I caught up on some great ones I missed.  Here he is on, “Why Americans Don’t Vote Their Class Anymore”

The left has good reason to lament the decline of class politics. Class-based political organizations were the muscle behind virtually every major progressive reform in U.S. history. And a radicalized working class is a much more plausible agent for democratizing capital ownership than are affluent liberals (however comfortable the latter may be with western European–style social democracy). More mundanely, unless the Democratic Party staunches its bleeding with non-college-educated voters, it will struggle to assemble Senate majorities.

But in the absence of a strong trade-union movement or laborite media, class position exerts a much weaker influence on voting behavior and policy preferences than some socialists have assumed — while higher education exerts a much stronger one. Some of America’s most ardent dialectical materialists are themselves affluent college graduates whose politics grew more radical during their time at university. If academic socialization could teach such children of the upper-middle class to prioritize Marxist convictions above their 401(k)s, why couldn’t it also teach millions of “normie” college-educated Democrats to prize progressive principles above their marginal tax rates?

None of this is to say that leftists shouldn’t be fighting for the hearts and minds of white high-school graduates. Class position does not mechanically determine ideology. But neither does race or education. Tens of millions of white non-college-educated voters cast their ballots for Democrats every election year, and the party could not survive without their support. There is no inherent reason why a larger percentage of this demographic group can’t be won over to progressive politics. But there’s little evidence that mere advocacy for social-democratic reform will overwhelm the contingent reasons for the prevalence of white working-class conservatism and/or nonvoting. Only left-wing institutions with a footprint in non-college-educated voters’ workplaces and communities can plausibly overwhelm the hegemony that right-wing media exercises over the median white American’s political imagination. Whatever flaws the left’s account of class depolarization may have, its critique of the Democratic Party’s malign indifference to organized labor’s fate is unimpeachable. The failure of every unified Democratic government since the Second World War to prioritize labor-law reform doubtlessly exacerbated the rightward drift of the white working class.

Nevertheless, for the purposes of near-term electoral strategy, the left must presume that the class composition of the Democratic coalition cannot be drastically changed in the course of a single campaign — and that college-educated Democrats are as “natural” a constituency for the party’s progressive wing as any other.

3) Damn those misanthropic psychopaths who won’t wear masks on airplanes.  We need to get rid of the loopholes.  Also, the psychology here is interesting:

Experts in psychology and decision-making say hostility toward wearing masks, even within the shared confines of a passenger jet, has been fueled by politicization — but also by skewed incentives and inconsistent messaging.

“The reinforcement principles are backward,” said Paul Slovic, who studies the psychology of risk at the University of Oregon.

The usual signs of danger, and rewards for following potentially bothersome rules, are thrown off by a virus that is spread easily by people who don’t know they have it, Slovic said.

“You get an immediate benefit for not following the guidelines because you get to do what you want to do,” Slovic said. “And you don’t get punished for doing the wrong thing” because it’s not immediately clear who is being harmed.

The “squishiness of the requirement” to wear masks on planes also undermines the message that they are critical for public health, Slovic said. In contrast, he cites the rigid clarity of the ban on flying with a firearm. “It’s not, ‘You can carry it as long as you don’t use it,’ ” Slovic said.

4) Good stuff from Yglesias on culturally-relevant pedagogy on literature:

What do we really know? Unfortunately, there has not been a ton of research focus on this topic. But here are some findings:

  • Tucson ran a politically controversial Mexican-American Studies program that the state legislature eventually killed, but logistic regression analysis suggests that taking the MAS course was associated with greater likelihood to pass Arizona’s standardized testing regime and greater odds of graduating high school.
  • fuzzy regression discontinuity study of an ethnic studies course for ninth graders suggests that enrolling in the course “increased ninth-grade student attendance by 21 percentage point … and credits earned by 23 [i.e., about 4 additional courses passed in the ninth grade].”
  • Back in 2012, we got an honest-to-god randomized control trial of culturally relevant training for second-grade math teachers focused on Alaska Natives, and the modules “significantly improved students’ mathematics performance, with relatively robust effect sizes (0.82 and 0.39 standard deviations, respectively, both statistically significant at the .001 level).”

I particularly like this last study because it would be very easy to make it sound absurd. Even more so than language arts, on some level math is math, and you don’t need Yup’ik cultural context to know that 7 x 9 = 63.

And yet, it turns out that teaching children is a non-trivial task that is related to, but not identical to, understanding the content itself. You can have ways of doing it that are more or less effective. And sensitivity to cultural content seems to make a difference. At the collegiate level, Nicholas Bowman’s meta-analysis of studies finds that “students who take at least one diversity course have greater gains in their general interest in ideas and effortful thinking than those who take no courses” but that beyond one there are no further effects.

It’s important to actually research things

They probably don’t care what I think, but my advice to proponents of decolonizing language arts curricula would be to remember that in a democracy, they need to communicate these ideas to an electorate that is mostly white, mostly over 50, and mostly did not graduate from college.

I think a phrase like “we need to give kids material that’s interesting to them, which means stuff they identify with” is probably more compelling than a highly politicized vow to combat white supremacy.

But people on both sides of this argument have an obligation to take curriculum development seriously and actually study which ideas work and which don’t. There has been an incredible proliferation of diversity training programs in a variety of contexts, most of which don’t achieve anything useful and some of which actually backfire. Yet on the flip side, here we have evidence that culturally relevant curricula do achieve something useful. The excesses of the Great Awokening have produced a kind of moral panic where any sign of “woke” language or prioritization of social justice concerns in a somewhat unfamiliar context is immediately dismissed. The Tucson MAS course was seemingly the victim of a right-wing cancel culture that shut down an effective pedagogical tool for political reasons.

Teaching children is hard, and not every idea that flies under the banner of culturally relevant pedagogy will be effective. Its proponents should be rigorous and make sure their ideas continue to be tested — expand the successful math curriculum for Alaska Natives to other marginalized groups and run the RCT again to check and see if you’re doing it right. But skeptics need to engage with evidence; “everyone should be as smart and self-motivating as Frederick Douglass” is not a real answer.

If you’re of a centrist or center-right perspective, it might be interesting to you to learn that the widely praised KIPP charter school network believes in culturally relevant pedagogy, and I think there’s a good chance they know what they’re talking about.

5) The post also contained two good links on how so many diversity programs actually fail at improving diversity and attitudes towards diversity.  Short version: reactance.  People hate being told what to do and what to think.  There’s better ways.

6) Good stuff from Jon Cohn about how worried we should be by the slow vaccine roll-out.  Worried; not panicked.  I’m so tired of the “at this rate…”  Yes, it makes the point of how slow we’re going, but it was never going to be at this rate without accelerating.

7) I quite enjoyed this, “The Life in The Simpsons Is No Longer Attainable: The most famous dysfunctional family of 1990s television enjoyed, by today’s standards, an almost dreamily secure existence.”

8) Joseph Allen, “Yes, the new variant of coronavirus is alarming. But kids should stay in school.”

The emergence of a new variant of coronavirus has the world’s attention — and rightly so. The new variant seems significantly more transmissible than earlier strains of viruses, leading some scientists — including those who discovered that the new variant spreads faster — to make a bold but shortsighted recommendation: Close the schools.

That’s the wrong answer. The right answer is enhanced controls in schools.

Calls for school closures do not factor in the alarming risks for kids: reports of hundreds of thousands of kids missing from the U.S. school system; drops in literacy gains; billions of missed meals, kids failing. These impacts are compounding over time, and we’re on the verge of some kids being out of school for a year or more.

While the extent to which this new variant is more transmissible in kids in still unknown, even if it ends up being more transmissible in school-age children, the evidence so far is that it won’t be deadlier for them. And there’s research suggesting a biological reason that this is so…

The biology of kids explains why this is so — and why this new variant likely won’t change the risk of dying. The novel coronavirus is dangerous only when it latches on to a part of a cell known as an ACE2 receptor. That’s the lock-and-key mechanism for how this virus gets into our cells. But new research published as a preprint found that the cells in an immature lung have fewer of these ACE2 receptors than those in adults do (the formal way of saying this is that the cells express less of the gene that produces the ACE2 receptor). The same is true in cells lining the inside of the nose. The virus is left holding a key to a door that is bolted shut and has no keyhole.

Even if kids do get infected, they have a second line of defense that might begin to explain why they have such a low risk of death: Infected lung cells in kids self-destruct faster than adult cells. This process — known as apoptosis, or programmed cell death — is a normal part of how the body defends itself. A cell that dies rapidly after being infected doesn’t produce as much virus that can infect additional cells.

So, we know the kids will be all right, but two issues remain: how to keep adults safe in schools and how to limit transmission in the community.

set of controls must be used to limit how much within-school transmission is happening. By now, this is well understood: masks, hand-washing and enhanced ventilation and filtration. This is what hospitals do, too.

9) Related, “Are schools safe? A growing body of evidence suggests that, with the right measures, they contribute little to virus spread.”  With the right measures.  So, lets make damn sure our schools use them.  Yes, any child of mine going back in the building this year will have a C02 monitor with them.

10) The riots/vandalism around the protests this summer was huge.  “Exclusive: $1 billion-plus riot damage is most expensive in insurance history.”  Protesting for greater racial equality is a good thing.  Wanton destruction of property is not.  It’s really not hard.

11) The key to managing procrastination is managing your emotions around procrastination.

The psychologists Timothy Pychyl and Fuschia Sirois have discovered that procrastination isn’t about avoiding work; it’s about avoiding negative emotions. We procrastinate when a task stirs up feelings like anxiety, confusion or boredom. And although it makes us feel better today, we end up feeling worse — and falling behind — tomorrow.

This means that if you want to procrastinate less, you don’t have to increase your work ethic or improve your time management. You can instead focus on changing your habits around emotion management…
Procrastination is not a disease that can be permanently cured — it’s a challenge we all have to manage. There will always be undesirable tasks that conjure unwanted emotions. Avoiding those feelings is a habit we can work on breaking. And although Mr. Adams never conquered procrastination, he did get ahead of schedule on writing his own epitaph: “He finally met his deadline.”

12) With the 737 Max back in the air again this week, I did a deep dive into learning more about it.  “A committee’s Democrats say two fatal crashes were a “horrific culmination” of engineering flaws, mismanagement and oversight lapses.”  And “Boeing Built Deadly Assumptions Into 737 Max, Blind to a Late Design Change.”  I was particularly intrigued to read about what actual changes had been made:

The Federal Aviation Administration has provided more insight into how updated flight computers on Boeing’s 737 Max respond to angle-of-attack (AoA) indicator failures.

The updates, described in an 18 November airworthiness directive (AD), are central to the FAA’s decision, also on 18 November, to lift the Max’s grounding.

Broadly, the AD approves Boeing’s Max updates. Those include making the Max’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation Systems (MCAS) receive data from two, not one, AoA sensor.

MCAS can now only fire once when the system senses a high AoA, and flight control computers now disable MCAS if the two AoAs disagree.

The changes address a core contributing factor to the crashes of Lion Air flight 610 in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 in March 2019. Those accidents, both involving 737 Max 8s, killed 346 people.

The jets crashed after MCAS, responding to faulty AoA data from a single sensor, repeated applied nose-down stabiliser input.

13) And finally read Alec MacGillis‘ terrific Pro Publica piece on it.
14) This seems not great, “A Student Mob Took Over Bryn Mawr. The College Said Thank You.”

Last week marked the end of a chaotic semester at Bryn Mawr College, a small women’s liberal arts college located outside Philadelphia. During the final weeks, Bryn Mawr students, including my own child, scrambled to pick up the pieces following a student “strike” that exacerbated the serious preexisting disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. For a period of three weeks, few regular classes were held, activities were suspended, and student life (such as it was) became marked by the same toxic spirit of racism that the strikers claimed to oppose.

Bryn Mawr is affiliated with nearby Haverford College, whose parallel meltdown in November was documented recently by Quillette. These two selective and well-funded schools are part of a so-called Bi-Co arrangement, which allows students to participate in joint classes and activities. Both share a similarly progressive commitment to such causes as diversity, equity, and inclusion. And students at both schools generally are well-steeped in doctrines of intersectionality, “white fragility,” anti-racism, and all the rest. Yet following the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. in Philadelphia, activists at Haverford and Bryn Mawr embraced the dubious claim that their extremely progressive campuses were actually contaminated by a dangerous climate of racism that (quite literally) threatened the survival of black students. In many cases, the ire was directed not only at administrators and non-ideologically-compliant faculty, but also at any student suspected of not supporting the strikers’ apocalyptic rhetoric, dramatic postures, and inflated demands. Anyone who sought to attend class, go to the dining hall, or even turn in schoolwork was denounced as a “scab,” and often faced acts of bullying.

As the parent of a Bryn Mawr student (and the parent of a Bryn Mawr alumna), I found this profoundly unsettling. I kept expecting that, at some point, the administration would take decisive steps to restore order on campus (where, as at Haverford, in-person learning was supposed to be occurring, under COVID-19 testing and social-distancing protocols). But that never happened. Instead, a small group of largely unidentified students effectively shut down the campus—not because their views attracted majority support (only about a quarter of the student body seemed to really be on board, from what I could tell), but because the administration simply never pushed back.

15) Gallup on changing attitudes about marriage:

Doctor vs MD vs PhD

So, I’ve been tardy on weighing in on the “Dr” Jill Biden controversy given my strong opinions on the topic.  Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of academics being addressed as “Dr Jones” or whatever.  I strongly prefer that my students call me “Professor Greene.”  Sometimes I let the “Dr Greene” go, depending upon the context, but, in general, try and make clear I prefer “Professor.”  In an academic environment, though, I don’t sweat it at all, nor particularly begrudge others going by doctor.

What really bugs me, though, is academics using the “doctor” honorific outside the academic environment.  When I’m visiting my kids’ classrooms or talking to their teachers or hanging with the neighbor kids or whatever, I’m “Mr Greene.”  I have a few friends (including at least one reading this post), who really enjoy calling me “Dr Greene.”  And, after a correction or two, I realize that they enjoy calling me “Dr Greene,” so, fair enough, nothing for me to get worked up about.  But, generally speaking, people who insist on being called “Dr” outside the academic environment rubs me the wrong way.

Also, words, their usage, and how they evolve is complicated.  And I hate how much of the discussion has elided this fact.  Yes, “doctor” was originally a title for academics, not physicians.  But, indisputably, in common American usage, referring to “a doctor” means referring to a physician.  And, as such, referring to a physician as “Dr Jones” makes a lot more sense than referring to an English professor as “Dr Jones.”  I’ve long said a variation on “you can call me ‘doctor’ when I raise my hand when the pilot asks if there is a doctor on the plane.”  Also, I hadn’t really thought about it much before, but the pulmonologist who visits his kids’ classroom should probably not being hung up on being called Dr Jones instead of Mr Jones.  

Last point, there really is a big gendered component here.  The simple fact is that women often get less respect for their accomplishments and credentials than men.  I have absolutely no problem at all with women on twitter using “Dr” or “PhD” in their twitter name or in any environment to make sure their credentials/expertise are respected (though, I really hope they don’t insist on being called Dr when they drop their dog off at the vet).  

I imagine being Joe Biden’s wife has all sorts of components that make this all very complicated so I will not judge Jill Biden for insisting on “Dr.”  But, the reality is that if I knew a community college professor– male or female– who insisted on going by “Dr” in all their regular life, not just the academic environment– yeah, I would judge.  

Anyway, so that’s probably more than you wanted to know on the Dr debate.

If “white women” are bad, then “white men” are even worse

The whole “white women voted for Trump” in 2016 was always ridiculous.  Yes, I blame my wife and most of my female friends for being part of a enormous demographic group that on-average, in early imprecise exit polls, voted for Trump.  And, I guess, of course, that “white men” are so iredeemably bad you don’t even hear these complaints about people like me.  But, of course, it also speaks to just how dumb– and racially essentialist– it is to try ascribe blame/accountability/etc., to people simply on the basis of their gender and skin color.  Chait is on the case:

White women voted for Trump. Or so you have probably heard. In the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, the finding from early exit polls that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump formed the basis for a million social-media posts, op-eds, and rally placards. That this “fact” is not true is not even close to the biggest problem with its ubiquitous place in progressive social-justice discourse.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, Slate’s L.V. Anderson articulated what would become a ubiquitous theme in the social-justice media world: “White women sold out their fellow women, their country, and themselves last night.”

The 53 percent figure turned out to be erroneous, and corrected analyses eventually pegged Trump’s share of the white female electorate closer to 47 percent. Nonetheless, the impulse that propelled so many writers to blame white women for electing Trump proved strong enough to survive even after the factual basis was undercut…

A Washington Post op-ed by Lyz Lenz, headlined “White Women Vote Republican. Get Used to It, Democrats.,” uses white women’s alleged support for Trump to urge Democrats to stop focusing on winning them. Lenz bemoans “the amount of money and effort that went to flip suburban women, who had no intention of voting Democratic at all, while other groups of voters were taken for granted.”…

The conceptual fallacy undergirding all these polemics is a reduction of every facet of human thought to race and gender, so that — when taken to an extreme, which it often is — a person’s beliefs and actions simply reflect the identity category to which they belong. The “white women voted for Trump” genre is simply a political application of the anti-racism liturgy that diversity trainers like Robin DiAngelo have so profitably spread, with its quasi-religious tropes and emphasis on rituals of confession and expurgation of sin.

For instance:

As a young white woman, I realize that white women did not do the work needed to keep Mr. Trump, and his boasts about sexual harassment, from the White House. They did not rise to the uncomfortable challenge of convincing other white women to support not just their own interests, but those of women and men of color, L.G.B.T. Americans, immigrants and people in poverty.

Or (in a column headlined “White Women Need to Admit We Let This Happen”):

How could white women have let this happen? … Our white privilege has us convinced that whatever happens next will not happen to us. We think our privilege will protect us.

The dogma can run so deep that its adherents who observe different political viewpoints within the “white female” category literally cannot make any sense of it. One column concluded that the white female participation in anti-Trump demonstrations must have been deceptive:

Following the 2016 election, an estimated three million women turned out in droves to protest Trump’s inauguration. Yet following the most recent election, and seeing white women’s support for Trump increase, that turnout feels performative.

Obviously, there’s no contradiction whatsoever between the facts that a subset of the white female demographic has left-wing views, expressed through attending protests and buying anti-racist books, while the total universe of white female voters could be more conservative. (Again, it isn’t: The exit-poll finding about rising white female support for Trump is almost certainly false.)

Here’s another, juxtaposing demand for anti-racist books this past summer against the supposed increase in white female support for Trump:

We received countless anti-racism book orders. And yet, despite all of the learning that supposedly took place via these books, in early November 2020 exit polls stated that among white women, Trump still held their support: An estimated 55 percent of white women voted for Trump. This is at least a two-point increase for this demographic since the previous election.

It’s not mysterious at all to imagine that some white women might have political views left wing enough to read radical books about racism, while the majority of white women might be conservative enough to vote for Trump. The population of anti-racist-book buyers is a fraction of the size of the electorate. It’s only a contradiction if you assume white women are a singular unit.

There is certainly value in prodding people who enjoy privilege to examine how being white, or male, or wealthy affords them privilege. But the crudest version of this practice flattens every other individuating characteristic into a simple binary experience of privilege versus oppression. Only a person who has been deeply inculcated into this pattern of thought would consider it normal to apologize for the fact that other people who share her skin color and gender voted differently than she did.

Even if you somehow assume that forcing people who voted Republican to apologize constitutes a viable political strategy, forcing Democrats to apologize because they share demographic traits with people who voted Republican surely does not.

Good to know– know I don’t have to apologize for being a white man :-).  And, as you know, I don’t.  As Chait suggests, and I do, I try and be aware of how my race, gender, and socio-economic status affect my place in the world and my relationships.  I think in today’s society, it is intentionally ignorant to ignore the important role race and gender play in structuring a lot of our society and thinking about how that impacts how we can improve society.  But what does not get us there at all is essentially rewarding or blaming demographic categories or the people who belong to them.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) Eric Levitz on what Democrats should do:

But I can offer a few ill-considered intuitions: Progressives should redouble their efforts at making change at the state-level – and, at leveraging state-level power for national change. Democrats are underrepresented in the Senate. But they are overrepresented in the centers of American economic power. California’s authority to set its own emission standards helped nudge national carmakers towards cleaner vehicles, lest they lose access to the Golden State’s massive market. This seems like it could serve as a potential model for more audacious assertions of state level regulatory authority. Republican administrations will doubtlessly challenge such assertions, as they have challenged California’s power to regulate emissions. But given that multiple states nullified the federal prohibition of marijuana for years with little consequence, embracing a defiant, “state’s rights” progressivism may be the best of the left’s bad options.

Meanwhile, Democrats must put serious time, energy, and resources into discerning whether there are any low-harm concessions to rural opinion and sensibilities that could staunch the party’s bleeding outside of metro areas. To the extent that Democrats can win elections by running candidates in red areas who are “anti-gun control” in the same sense that Susan Collins is “pro-choice” – loudly proclaiming the ideological stance on the campaign trail, while effectively abetting the cause one purports to oppose while in power – progressives might be wise to give such heretics some latitude. Separately, something must be done to counter the benefits that the GOP derives from Fox News, rightwing talk radio, and crypto-conservative news broadcasters like Sinclair. Bleeding-heart billionaires like George Soros and Tom Steyer might be well-advised to bankroll newspapers in swing state capitals, with hefty budgets for investigating Republicans. They could also attempt to emulate Sinclair’s strategy, and buy up local news stations, or even sports channels, and lightly season their programming with progressive propaganda.

2) Brian Beutler in his latest newsletter:

Meanwhile, down in Georgia, Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock face runoff elections against the Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both of whom traded stock based on inside information about the severity of the coronavirus threat, while publicly echoing Trump’s lies about how well he had the situation under control. 

Democrats were unable to topple these incumbents outright during the general election, when the party ran principally on kitchen-table appeals, behind Biden, who ran principally against Trump. Perhaps sensing that they can’t replay the exact same campaign over again and expect different results, or that they need to pull down Loeffler’s and Perdue’s poll numbers, Ossoff and Warnock have made greater issue in recent days of their opponents’ appalling corruption

I think this is a good strategic development: If Democrats point out that Perdue and Loeffler oppose pre-existing conditions protections, Perdue and Loeffler will lie and say they support those protections, then pivot to picking a fight over court packing. If Democrats talk relentlessly about the fact that these are two huge crooks, all they can do is pretend to be offended (because they are, in fact, huge crooks) which will entice reporters to dig deeper in their closets.

This would cut against the advice the party receives from its pollsters and data analysts, who say the ads and messages that test best center on issues like health care. But the ad testing that underlies their strategic guidance often doesn’t measure the demobilizing effect negative information has on opposition voters, and it can’t measure the so-called earned-media effect that hard-hitting anti-corruption ads (scandal, basically) can have on how the press frames what particular races are “about.”

(Think an anticorruption message can’t be effective? Tell that to these losing Democrats)

I think the disconnect here helps explain why anti-Trump Republican groups like The Lincoln Project had so much traction with grassroots Democrats during the general election. The founders of those groups might have been enriching themselves by producing web-native ads that barely ran anywhere, but the ads themselves channeled both desperation among Democratic activists for someone to make issue of Republican corruption, and excitement over the gut appeal of the content—people don’t need pollsters to tell them when a punch has landed. It makes sense that grassroots Dems had some faith that Republicans who play shameless hardball for a living know how to throw effective punches. Democrats can take that instinct, and use it to fuel real campaigning, rather than leave it to rich consultant types working a side hustle. 

On narrow strategic grounds, that’s a risk I think Ossoff and Warnock should take.

But more importantly, I think running and winning an anti-corruption campaign is the only thing that might shake the national party out of its defensive crouch and convince it not just to confront the abysmal corruption of the Republican Party, but to capitalize on it.

There’s a lot of frustration in Democratic ranks over down-ballot results right now (though not enough, apparently, to defrock the congressional leadership). It stems in part from a realization that the party’s relentless focus on normie politics wasn’t enough to deliver the GOP the landslide defeat it deserved. If Georgia Dems make Republican corruption the story of the runoffs, and it works, the national leadership might finally accept that the Republican Party being chockablock with crooks and liars is a huge liability for the Republican Party. That’s the only way we get the housecleaning we so desperately need, and the only way to discourage Republicans from trying to steal everything, from tax dollars to elections, all over again next time they have a chance.

3) The latest Michael Mina case for frequent, rapid testing., “Frequent, rapid testing could turn national COVID-19 tide within weeks.” I’m honestly surprised how little progress there’s been on this.  I have to wonder if it would’ve been different under Biden.  As slow as the vaccine roll-out will be, we may well find out.  

4) Planet Money on how we have too many political appointees.  Just one more way we are a bad outlier compared to other democracies:

The last Plum Book was published in December 2016 and it listed around 4,000 positions appointed by the president. Some of the jobs it lists everyone has heard of: like White House Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense, and Chair of the Federal Reserve. For those interested in someday becoming Fed Chair, the book says it’s Level I on the federal executive pay scale. That’s about $219,200 a year. Not bad.

But the book also lists thousands of jobs most people haven’t heard of — like Deputy Scheduler at the Department of Energy (at least $37,000 a year), Commissioner at the American Battle Monuments Commission (doesn’t disclose pay), and Chair of the Railroad Retirement Board. That chair is Level III on the federal pay scale, or about $181,500 a year.

The first Plum Book was published in 1960, though the groundwork for it began in the 1950s with the election of Dwight Eisenhower. He was the first Republican president after two decades of Democratic control of the White House. The federal bureaucracy had ballooned with the New Deal, and congressional Republicans were like, ummm, guys, where can we put our people? So they got the agencies to produce a list of government jobs. Back when they first started publishing the book, there were about 2,000 positions up for appointment — or about half of the number there are today — says David E. Lewis, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University.

Lewis studies presidents and the federal bureaucracy and is the author of The Politics of Presidential Appointments: Political Control and Bureaucratic Performance. “Most people who study this — including me — believe there are too many political appointees,” Lewis says. Sure, he says, political appointees help the president get control of the federal bureaucracy and keep it accountable to voters. They help presidents get stuff done. But, he says, there are way too many. “We can get the same amount of accountability with dramatically fewer politically appointed positions.”

Fewer appointed positions would probably be better for governing. The main problem with so many political appointees, Lewis points out, is the exodus of professionals after each president leaves office is followed by a prolonged period of vacancies. A full year into the Trump Administration, Lewis says, about two-thirds of all political positions that required Senate approval remained vacant. Two years into the Trump Administration, over a third remained vacant. It takes a while to nominate and confirm political appointees. Then they have to learn what they’re doing. This lack of continuity, Lewis says, hurts government performance. He believes we’d all be better off if more of these jobs were filled by civil servants who don’t have to leave every time there’s a new president.

Other nations, Lewis says, have nowhere near the same percentage of political appointees working in their governments. “There are countries like Denmark where there’s an election and maybe 12 administrative jobs change,” he says. “In ours, it’s multiple thousands.”

5) The case for three feet of social distancing in schools (masks and ventilation).

The requirement for six feet of distancing has forced many schools to limit the number of students attending in person due to space constraints and thus has become a key factor keeping millions of kids home. That’s a mistake.

Six feet should be the default minimum for adults, but it’s past time we recognize that kids are different and the importance of schools is different, especially for the youngest learners. Three feet should be the default distance for schools.

First, decisions about physical distancing must factor in risks beyond covid-19. The severe harms of keeping kids out of school have been known for some time, such as loss in literacy, missed meals (including more than a billion this spring), virtual dropouts and increasing inequity — all of which hit low-income children the hardest because their parents often lack flexible work schedules to care for them at home.
Second, strict six-foot distancing rules that force schools into “hybrid” models, in which students rotate days at school, might actually increase community risk, as our colleague William Hanage warned in August. The reason is that kids are not always fully isolated at home; instead, they are likely to have an even wider network of contacts, increasing the chances of the virus entering schools.

Third, six feet is not a magical cutoff. It has a weak scientific basis, coming from a fundamental misunderstanding going back decades that the tiny droplets we exhale when we breathe and talk will fall to the ground within six feet. The reality is that while some large droplets do fall out of the air, most are tiny and will stay aloft for an hour or more — traveling well beyond six feet. There is no bright-line cutoff.

Fourth, without such cutoffs, we have to turn to the science to understand risk in context. A recent evaluation of 172 studies from 16 countries found a significant reduction in risk with distancing of at least three feet, but no additional benefit at six feet so long as baseline risk is low enough. There is no question risk is higher at close range, but where community spread is low, three feet of physical distancing should suffice.

6) Get us some more damn tests so we can do stuff like this.  “New Science Suggests How to Shorten Quarantine: Testing upon exit of quarantine — ideally around day six or seven — is more effective than upon entry, and testing twice could make an eight-day quarantine as effective as a 14-day one”

7) Jay Rosen on two paths for the future of the press:

This post describes two paths forward for the professionals who report on politics for the “mainstream” media (I refer here to its national wing: ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, PBS, NPR, the AP, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Reuters, Bloomberg, Politico, The Atlantic, Time magazine…) The first path is a restoration of order as a more normal president takes office. A recent dispatch from that world: Biden is bringing back the daily briefing. Yay! The second path is a democratic breakthrough in journalism after what Masha Gessen calls an “autocratic attempt,” which failed in the 2020 elections. 

Powerful forces favor a restoration. It is by far the most likely outcome. After coping with an avalanche of news, an excess of controversy, and a hate campaign against them for five years, journalists would no doubt welcome a return to regular order, and a more human pace. 

In Washington the setting will feel excessively familiar. A Democratic president trying to enact an ambitious agenda against Republicans in Congress who would rather do nothing, unless it involves tax cuts. All the old cliches will be within easy reach. Divided government. Partisan warfare. Gridlock in Washington. The extremes on both sides. Democrats in disarray. Republicans being mean again. Why can’t they compromise? Plus a new one: Dueling realities…

Which brings me to a second path forward for the American press. 

Many presidents have tried to remove restraints on executive power. The restraint Trump tried to remove was reality itself. This was part of what Masha Gessen (following Bálint Magyar) calls an “autocratic attempt,” the stage in the process of a country’s takeover by an autocrat when things in motion are still reversible by democratic means. Many dangers remain, but two weeks out from the election, it is fair to say that a majority of Americans put a stop to Trump’s attempted subversion of their democracy. 

And they were assisted by American journalists. Now in saying that, I don’t mean to suggest that people in the news media did as much as, say, the poll workers, or the public officials who ran the elections in 50 states, or the police who kept order and prevented michief, or the voters themselves, who turned out in record numbers. 

Americans overcame Trump’s autocratic attempt, preventing it from advancing to the second stage, the autocratic breakthrough, “when it is no longer possible to reverse autocracy peacefully,” as Gessen writes, “because the very structures of government have been transformed and can no longer protect themselves.” 

It was a narrow escape. Journalists assisted. Again, I say that not to inflate their role, but to recognize that at some point in the final weeks before the vote, and especially after Trump declared that the election had been stolen from him, a critical masss in the press finally acted on what so many Americans had been trying to tell them for years: That this was a civic emergency, and American democracy really was endangered by Trump. That describing it as a propaganda presidency wasn’t campaign rhetoric or partisan reflex. That we really could lose the Republic in the sense Benjamin Franklin meant when, according to legend, he emerged from the Constitutional Convention and was asked by the citizens of Philadelphia what kind of government we have. “A Republic, if you can keep it.” …

Listen to the words once more. When democracy is under threat, objective reporters protect it as the basis upon which they can continue to discharge their professional obligations. That is the breakthrough American journalists had during the 2020 election. And it wasn’t the crew at any one network or newsroom…

So here is what I mean by another way forward: 

Trump’s attempt on the Republic was defeated by a coalition of the American people, mostly Democrats, some disaffected Republicans, and a majority of independents. The press helped to prevent an autocratic breakthrough, especially in the tense days after the voting stopped and before the victor emerged with clarity. As Ian Dunt said, “journalism was ready.” 

This was a powerful moment for the people who report on politics. It did not destroy them. It made them stronger, and restored some pride. It also illuminated a different path for political journalism after Trump leaves office. Instead of lapsing back into routines and enjoying the restoration of an old order, the press could continue with its democratic breakthrough. 

8) This is great, “”Other countries have social safety nets. The U.S. has women.”

9) More good stuff on the vaccines:

And perhaps even more monumental is the kind of vaccine that Pfizer and BioNTech are bringing across the finish line. The active ingredient inside their shot is mRNA—mobile strings of genetic code that contain the blueprints for proteins. Cells use mRNA to get those specs out of hard DNA storage and into their protein-making factories. The mRNA inside Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine directs any cells it reaches to run a coronavirus spike-building program. The viral proteins these cells produce can’t infect any other cells, but they are foreign enough to trip the body’s defense systems. They also look enough like the real virus to train the immune system to recognize SARS-CoV-2, should its owner encounter the infectious virus in the future. Up until now, this technology has never been approved for use in people. A successful mRNA vaccine won’t just be a triumph over the new coronavirus, it’ll be a huge leap forward for the science of vaccine making.

Edward Jenner and Jonas Salk weren’t just pioneers, they were cowboys. They used coarse methods (like sticking children with pus scraped from a milkmaid’s cowpox blister) that only let them see the results at the end of their research, not the mechanism by which the inoculation worked. Over the centuries, the methods got slightly more refined, but vaccinology largely maintained this culture of empirical gunslinging.

Effective immunizations are all about exposing the immune system to a harmless version of a pathogen so it can respond faster in the event of a future invasion. Vaccines have to look enough like the real thing to produce a robust immune response. But too close a resemblance and the vaccine might wind up making people sick. To strike the balance, scientists have tried inactivating and crippling viruses with heat and chemicals. They’ve engineered yeast to produce bits and pieces of viral proteins. And they’ve Frankensteined those bits and pieces into more innocuous viral relatives, like sheep in wolves’ clothing. These substitutes for a working virus weren’t exact—scientists couldn’t precisely predict how the immune system would respond—but they were close enough that they sometimes worked.

But in the last decade, the field has started to move away from this see-what-sticks approach toward something pharma folks call “rational drug design.” It involves understanding the structure and function of the target—like say, the spiky protein SARS-CoV-2 uses to get into human cells—and building molecules that can either bind to that target directly, or produce other molecules that can. Genetic vaccines represent an important step in this scientific evolution. Engineers can now design strands of mRNA on computers, guided by algorithms that predict which combination of genetic letters will yield a viral protein with just the right shape to prod the human body into producing protective antibodies. In the last few years, it’s gotten much easier and cheaper to make mRNA and DNA at scale, which means that as soon as scientists have access to a new pathogen’s genome, they can start whipping up hundreds or thousands of mRNA snippets to test—each one a potential vaccine. The Chinese government released the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 in mid-January. By the end of February, BioNTech had identified 20 vaccine candidates, of which four were then selected for human trials in Germany.

10) The weirdness that is the platypus grows, “Platypuses Glow Under Blacklight. We Have No Idea Why.”

11) Great stuff on polling from Pew, “Understanding how 2020 election polls performed and what it might mean for other kinds of survey work”



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