Quick hits (part II)

1) The gender norms in Mauritania are just bizarre.  In most ways, still a deeply patriarchal culture.  Except women can seemingly get divorced all the time with almost no stigma.  So weird.  Worth a gift link

Divorce in many cultures is seen as shameful and carries a deep stigma. But in Mauritania, it is not just normal, but even seen as a reason to celebrate and spread the word that the woman is available once more for marriage. For centuries, women have been coming together to eat, sing and dance at each others’ divorce parties. Now, the custom is being updated for the selfie generation, with inscribed cakes and social media montages, as well as the traditional food and music.

In this almost 100 percent Muslim country, divorce is frequent; many people have been through five to 10 marriages, and some as many as 20.

Some scholars say the country has the highest divorce rate in the world, though there is little reliable data from Mauritania, partly because divorce agreements there are often verbal, not documented…

Many women find that divorce affords them freedoms they never dreamed of before or during marriage, especially a first marriage. Mauritanians’ openness to divorce — which seems so modern — coexists with very traditional practices around first marriages. It is common for parents to choose the groom themselves and marry daughters off when they are still young — more than a third of girls are married by the time they are 18 — allowing the women little choice in their partners.

2) Yes, please, “How to Make Flying Less Terrible: Tech has changed the airline industry. It can also help fix it.”

This is all compelling evidence that it’s time for an overhaul of our aviation system. Today’s airline industry is the smallest and most concentrated since 1914, with just four airlines—American, Delta, United, and Southwest—controlling 80 percent of the market. But a comprehensive overhaul that would ensure that airlines provide better and more consistent customer service, across their networks and throughout the year, will take time, resources, and political will that would be hard to rally. Luckily, there are more incremental steps that can still make a difference, especially when it comes to protecting consumer rights. Biden’s proposed rules are one example, as is a customer service dashboard recently launched by the Department of Transportation. Ensuring that airline networks, staffing plans, and technology are ready for different types of disruptions through occasional stress tests (as is commonly done for banks) should be the next step.

The need for reform will likely become even more apparent in the coming months, because things are only about to get more frustrating. Flight delays and cancellations always increase during the peak summer travel months—June through August are consistently the months with the worst on-time performance. But this summer, airlines are also battling with staff and tech issues, and weather disruptions could make things worse…

But this summer, consumers will also have a new tool to navigate travel chaos. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Transportation released its Airline Customer Service Dashboard in hopes of enhancing transparency and ensuring compliance with refunds related to delays and cancellations. As of now, the dashboard is nothing revolutionary, per se—just some charts with green checks and red marks that indicate airlines’ service commitments or lack thereof. But this dashboard is part of a larger aviation consumer protection initiative, and is used to signal to consumers which airlines are invested in improving their on-time performance. If an airline is willing to incur significant costs when delays and cancellations occur, it follows that it will do what it can to avoid those delays and cancellations.

It’s still early to know what the dashboard’s impact might be, but consumer rights education and regulation do have a good basis in research. When Hinnerk Gnutzmann and Piotr Spiewanowski studied European regulations that require airlines to provide assistance and cash compensation in the case of delays, they found that regulated fights experienced significantly shorter delays. Similarly, research shows that if we increase the amount of competition in the marketplace, consumers might receive better service. For example, when my former colleague Mike Mazzeo analyzed U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics in 2000, he found that both the prevalence and duration of flight delays are significantly greater on routes where only one airline provides direct services. Additional competition is correlated with better on-time performance.

3) This is fantastic.  I think I’m pretty good at this, but far from perfect, “How to discipline kids effectively”

  • When we think of discipline, we often think of punishment, and it sounds cold and scary. But discipline is actually a larger system for teaching kids acceptable behavior through warmth, structure, and appropriate consequences.

  • Warmth means showing our kids we care, structure means setting clear rules and expectations, and consequences are the ways we respond to kids’ behaviors.

  • Operant Conditioning is a psychology theory that explains how we can use consequences to increase “okay” behaviors and decrease “not okay” behaviors…

4) Just came across this for research I’m doing.  It makes me wonder how much they really care, though. “Vast majority of Republicans support abortion exceptions for rape, incest and mother’s health”

Nine in 10 Americans think a pregnant woman should be able to legally have an abortion if her health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy. An even larger majority of Republicans support that exception, with 86% agreeing that abortion should be legal in that circumstance, joining 95% of Democrats and 93% of independents.

This level of bipartisan support holds up even among respondents who live in states that have enacted restrictions on abortion. Aggregating the states where abortion is legal, 88 % of Americans think abortion should be legal in the case of rape or incest. Among the states where abortion is banned, restricted or legislation is pending, a similar 85 percent said abortion should be legal in the case of rape or incest.

Likewise, 92 % of those who live in states where abortion remains legal and 90 % of those who live in states restricting the procedure say abortion should be legal if the mother’s health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy.

5) I’m glad that the officer who shot this boy was Black, because there’s so much wrong with policing that transcend race, which we need to focus on.  For example, poorly qualified officers who are way too trigger happy, “An 11-Year-Old Boy Called 911. Police Then Shot Him.”

A family has demanded that a Mississippi police officer be fired after shooting an 11-year-old boy who was trying to follow the officer’s orders after calling 911 for help, a lawyer for the boy’s family said.

The officer shot the boy, Aderrien Murry, in the chest, resulting in numerous injuries, including a collapsed lung, lacerated liver and fractured ribs, on May 20, said Carlos Moore, a lawyer representing the Murry family.

After spending several days in the hospital and intensive care, Aderrien is home and “doing as well as he can be after being shot in the chest,” Mr. Moore said.

“Little Mr. Murry came within an inch of losing his life in the wee hours of Saturday morning because of the actions of a cop,” Mr. Moore said at a news conference this week. “He was an unarmed, young Black man who was simply following his mother’s directions.”

Aderrien’s mother, Nakala Murry, said her ex-boyfriend, the father to one of her other children, knocked on her window around 4 a.m. last Saturday and asked to be let in the home.

Once inside, he became “irate,” so Ms. Murry said she went to Aderrien’s bedroom and instructed him to call his grandmother and 911.

Officers from the Indianola Police Department responded and tried to kick down the front door before Ms. Murry let them in, she said. The officers asked if anyone was armed, and then yelled for everyone in the house to come out with their hands up.

When Aderrien rounded a corner to follow their commands, he was shot, Ms. Murry said. Mr. Moore identified the officer who fired as Greg Capers.

6) How can epidemiological studies possibly show that ice cream is good for you?  Interesting stuff:

Back in 2018, a Harvard doctoral student named Andres Ardisson Korat was presenting his research on the relationship between dairy foods and chronic disease to his thesis committee. One of his studies had led him to an unusual conclusion: Among diabetics, eating half a cup of ice cream a day was associated with a lower risk of heart problems. Needless to say, the idea that a dessert loaded with saturated fat and sugar might actually be good for you raised some eyebrows at the nation’s most influential department of nutrition.

Earlier, the department chair, Frank Hu, had instructed Ardisson Korat to do some further digging: Could his research have been led astray by an artifact of chance, or a hidden source of bias, or a computational error? As Ardisson Korat spelled out on the day of his defense, his debunking efforts had been largely futile. The ice-cream signal was robust.

It was robust, and kind of hilarious. “I do sort of remember the vibe being like, Hahaha, this ice-cream thing won’t go away; that’s pretty funny,” recalled my tipster, who’d attended the presentation. This was obviously not what a budding nutrition expert or his super-credentialed committee members were hoping to discover. “He and his committee had done, like, every type of analysis—they had thrown every possible test at this finding to try to make it go away. And there was nothing they could do to make it go away.”

Spurious effects pop up all the time in science, especially in fields like nutritional epidemiology, where the health concerns and dietary habits of hundreds of thousands of people are tracked over years and years. Still, the abject silliness of “healthy ice cream” intrigued me. As a public-health historian, I’ve studied how teams of researchers process data, mingle them with theory, and then package the results as “what the science says.” I wanted to know what happens when consensus makers are confronted with a finding that seems to contradict everything they’ve ever said before. (Harvard’s Nutrition Source website calls ice cream an “indulgent” dairy food that is considered an “every-so-often” treat.)

“There are few plausible biological explanations for these results,” Ardisson Korat wrote in the brief discussion of his “unexpected” finding in his thesis. Something else grabbed my attention, though: The dissertation explained that he’d hardly been the first to observe the shimmer of a health halo around ice cream. Several prior studies, he suggested, had come across a similar effect. Eager to learn more, I reached out to Ardisson Korat for an interview—I emailed him four times—but never heard back. When I contacted Tufts University, where he now works as a scientist, a press aide told me he was “not available for this.” Inevitably, my curiosity took on a different shade: Why wouldn’t a young scientist want to talk with me about his research? Just how much deeper could this bizarre ice-cream thing go?

“I still to this day don’t have an answer for it,” Mark A. Pereira, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, told me, speaking of the association he’d stumbled upon more than 20 years earlier. “We analyzed the hell out of the data.”

7) As a notoriously fast eater, I quite enjoyed this.  I’m among the fastest eaters I know.  My sophmore college roommate was among the slowest.  After a while, we just stopped eating together because it was too annoying.  Anyway, “Eating Fast Is Bad for You—Right? The widespread advice to go slow is neither definitive nor universal.” 

But the widespread mantra of go slower probably isn’t as definitive or universal as it at first seems. Fast eaters like me aren’t necessarily doomed to metabolic misfortune; many of us can probably safely and happily keep hoovering our meals. Most studies examining eating speed rely on population-level observations taken at single points in time, rather than extended clinical trials that track people assigned to eat fast or slow; they can speak to associations between pace and certain aspects of health, but not to cause and effect. And not all of them actually agree on whether protracted eating boosts satisfaction or leads people to eat less. Even among experts, “there is no consensus about the benefits of eating slow,” says Tany E. Garcidueñas-Fimbres, a nutrition researcher at Universitat Rovira i Virgili, in Spain, who has studied eating rates

The idea that eating too fast could raise certain health risks absolutely does make sense. The key, experts told me, is the potential mismatch between the rate at which we consume nutrients and the rate at which we perceive and process them. Our brain doesn’t register fullness until it’s received a series of cues from the digestive tract: chewing in the mouth, swallowing down the throat; distension in the stomach, transit into the small intestine. Flood the gastrointestinal tract with a ton of food at once, and those signals might struggle to keep pace—making it easier to wolf down more food than the gut is asking for. Fast eating may also inundate the blood with sugar, risking insulin resistance—a common precursor to diabetes, says Michio Shimabukuro, a metabolism researcher at Fukushima Medical University, in Japan.

The big asterisk here is that a lot of these ideas are still theoretical, says Janine Higgins, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, who’s studied eating pace. Research that merely demonstrates an association between fast eating and higher food intake cannot prove which observation led to the other, if there’s a causal link at all. Some other factor—stress, an underlying medical condition, even diet composition—could be driving both. “The good science is just completely lacking,” says Susan Roberts, a nutrition researcher at Tufts University.

8) I haven’t read the big Atlantic article on CNN’s Chris Licht yet, but this Dan Drezner take was nonetheless excellent:

The deeper story, however, is to divine what the big takeaway should be from Licht’s tenure to date. Because as much as Licht fucked up CNN’s morning show and Trump’s town hall, it is worth remembering that the network was not exactly in a great place before he came on board. There was the CNN+ fiasco, there was Zucker’s inappropriate work relationship, and there was prime time anchor Christopher Cuomo pretending that ethics were not a big deal across a wide variety of behaviors. Just as Twitter was not in great shape when Elon Musk bought it, CNN was not in the pink of health when Licht came on board.

However, like Musk, it appears that Licht inherited an unwell patient and then prescribed leeches as a remedy. To me, at least, this paragraph gets at the core of CNN’s problem:

Licht was no fascist. But he was trying to steal viewers from Fox News—and from MSNBC, for that matter. To succeed, Licht said, CNN would need to produce more than just great journalism. Reporting the news in an aggressive, nonpartisan manner would be central to the network’s attempt to win back audiences. But television is, at its essence, entertainment. Viewers would always turn on CNN in times of crisis, Licht told me. What he needed to find out was how many would turn on CNN for fun.

And here’s the problem for Licht and CNN: no one under the age of 75 will turn on CNN — or any cable news network for that mater — for fun. Younger generations will rely on social media to capture the lurid highlights of any cable news segment. Short of a real-time breaking news story, watching CNN is not on anyone’s to-do list. Licht’s ham-handed effort to cater to Fox News viewers has alienated the MSNBC demographic. And his attempt to woo those Fox watchers is bound to fail because those viewers do not want to watch the news, they want to hear reassuring conservative platitudes.

9) Really interesting insight from Ethan Mollick on another consequence of AI: “Setting time on fire and the temptation of The Button: We used to consider writing an indication of time and effort spent on a task. That isn’t true anymore.”

A lot of work is time consuming by design. Take, for example, the letter of recommendation. Professors are asked to write letters for students all the time, and a good letter takes a long time to write. You have to understand the student and the reason for the letter, decide how to phrase the letter to align with the job requirements and the student’s strengths, and more. The fact that it is time consuming is somewhat the point. The fact that a professor takes the time to write a good letter is a sign that they support the student’s application. We are setting our time on fire to signal to others that this letter is worth reading.

Or we can push The Button…

This is a good letter of recommendation, responding point-by-point to the details of the job, and suggesting a real knowledge of “Sally” (who is entirely fake). You will also notice that it makes stuff up, but in a way that is pretty plausible. It would be easy to make the letter more correct, either by providing more material in the prompt or by interacting with the AI: Incorporate the following real examples: ____. Replace the story about her extracurriculars with praise for how she did on this assignment: _____. And so on. Someone experienced with ChatGPT and Sally could make this letter factually correct in a few minutes, rather than spending ten times as much time writing a letter from scratch.

And the terrible, horrible thing about it is THIS IS A GOOD LETTER. It is better than most letters of recommendation that I receive. This means that not only is the quality of the letter no longer a signal of the professor’s interest, but also that you may actually be hurting people by not writing a letter of recommendation by AI, especially if you are not a particularly strong writer. So people now have to consider that the goal of the letter (getting a student a job) is in contrast with the morally-correct method of accomplishing the goal (the professor spending a lot of time writing the letter). I am still doing all my letters the old-fashioned way, but I wonder whether that will ultimately do my student’s a disservice.

Now consider all the other tasks where the final written output is important because it is a signal of the time spent on the task, and the thoughtfulness that went into it. Performance reviews. Strategic memos. College essays. Grant applications. Speeches. Comments on papers. And so much more.

10) This is fantastic, “Undergraduate excuses, used in other contexts:

Owing to the death of my grandfather—whom I loved dearly—I will not be able to land the plane. Thank you for your understanding.”

“Because I am literally stuck in traffic at this very moment, I will not be able to perform your heart surgery this morning. Would it be possible to get an extension? Let me know.”

“I went to the wrong building, and I totally just did someone else’s taxes. So sorry—my bad!”

“Owing to the death of my boyfriend’s grandfather—whom I loved dearly—I will not be able to finish filling your cavity. Thank you so much for your compassion.”

“Given my anxiety about public speaking, I am hoping that you’ll be open to me proclaiming the ‘Hear ye, hear ye’ via e-mail. If that’s an issue for you, then perhaps I could prerecord something and you could show the video in the town square? You could just set up a projector and a screen and a P.A. system? Should be fairly straightforward.”

11) David Wallace-Wells with some real doom and gloom about the health of our oceans. This was tough to read, “The Ocean Is Looking More Menacing”

There are a lot of unsettling signals coming from the world’s oceans right now.

Even for those of us who watch things like temperature anomalies and extreme weather events as likely portents of the climate to come, the off-the-charts rise of global sea surface temperature this spring has been eye-popping. As is much of the language recently used to describe it: “record breaking,” “huge,” “alarming,” “unprecedented,” “uncharted,” “an extreme event at a global scale.” Perhaps most simply: “trouble.”..

But some news from ocean science may prove more surprising still — perhaps genuinely paradigm-shifting. In a paper published in March, researchers suggested that under a high-emissions scenario, rapid melting of Antarctic ice could slow deepwater formation in the Southern Ocean by more than 40 percent by 2050, disrupting the “conveyor belt” that regulates and stabilizes not just the temperature of the oceans but much of the world’s weather systems. And after 2050? This key part of the circulation of the Southern Ocean “looks headed towards collapse this century,” study coordinator Matthew England told Yale Environment 360. “And once collapsed, it would most likely stay collapsed until Antarctic melting stopped. At current projections that could be centuries away.”


Then, last week, some of the same researchers confirmed that the process was already unfolding — in fact, that the Southern Ocean overturning circulation had already slowed by as much as 30 percent since the 1990s. “The model projections of rapid change in the deep ocean circulation in response to melting of Antarctic ice might, if anything, have been conservative,” said Steve Rintoul, a co-author on the new paper and one of the researchers who’d published the previous paper back in March. “Changes have already happened in the ocean that were not projected to happen until a few decades from now.”

The oceans have lately produced a number of other curiosities to chew over, as well: record low levels of Antarctic sea ice, with the “mind boggling fast reduction” scientists have called “gobsmacking” also potentially signaling a “regime shift” in the oceans; some perplexing trends in the El Niño-La Niña cycle, suggesting that warming may be making La Niñas more frequent and thereby scrambling some expectations for future extreme weather; and questions about the role large icebergs may be playing in the warming patterns of the world’s water.

12) I think the “everyone should learn to code” advice has been completely undone by AI. Farhad Manjoo:

Though I did find it fascinating to learn to think the way computers do, there seemed to be something fundamentally backward about programming a computer that I just couldn’t get over: Wasn’t it odd that the machines needed us humans to learn their maddeningly precise secret languages to get the most out of them? If they’re so smart, shouldn’t they try to understand what we’re saying, rather than us learning how to talk to them?

Now that may finally be happening. In a kind of poetic irony, software engineering is looking like one of the fields that could be most thoroughly altered by the rise of artificial intelligence. Over the next few years, A.I. could transform computer programming from a rarefied, highly compensated occupation into a widely accessible skill that people can easily pick up and use as part of their jobs across a wide variety of fields. This won’t necessarily be terrible for computer programmers — the world will still need people with advanced coding skills — but it will be great for the rest of us. Computers that we can all “program,” computers that don’t require specialized training to adjust and improve their functionality and that don’t speak in code: That future is rapidly becoming the present.


A.I. tools based on large language models — like OpenAI Codex, from the company that brought you ChatGPT, or AlphaCode, from Google’s DeepMind division — have already begun to change the way many professional coders do their jobs. At the moment, these tools work mainly as assistants — they can find bugs, write explanations for snippets of poorly documented code and offer suggestions for code to perform routine tasks (not unlike how Gmail offers ideas for email replies — “Sounds good”; “Got it”).

But A.I. coders are quickly getting smart enough to rival human coders. Last year, DeepMind reported in the journal Science that when AlphaCode’s programs were evaluated against answers submitted by human participants in coding competitions, its performance “approximately corresponds to a novice programmer with a few months to a year of training.”

“Programming will be obsolete,” Matt Welsh, a former engineer at Google and Apple, predicted recently. Welsh now runs an A.I. start-up, but his prediction, while perhaps self-serving, doesn’t sound implausible:

I believe the conventional idea of “writing a program” is headed for extinction, and indeed, for all but very specialized applications, most software, as we know it, will be replaced by A.I. systems that are trained rather than programmed. In situations where one needs a “simple” program … those programs will, themselves, be generated by an A.I. rather than coded by hand.

13) I love this finding and it totally reflects my experience, “Minimal Social Interactions with Strangers Predict Greater Subjective Well-Being”

Past empirical work has repeatedly revealed that positive social interactions including expressing gratitude and socializing are associated with greater happiness. However, this work predominantly focused on prolonged interactions with close relationship partners. Only a few studies demonstrated hedonic benefits of forming social connections with strangers. The present research investigated whether minimal social interactions with strangers—just taking a moment to greet, thank, and express good wishes to strangers—contribute to happiness of individuals who initiate these interactions. Study 1 (N = 856) provided correlational evidence that commuters who reported engaging in minimal positive social interactions with shuttle drivers experienced greater subjective well-being (life satisfaction and positive affect). Moreover, hedonic benefits of positive social interactions went beyond relatively more neutral social interactions, Big-Five personality factors, and age, speaking to the robustness of the effect. Study 2 (N = 265) provided experimental evidence that commuters who greeted, thanked, or expressed good wishes to shuttle drivers experienced greater momentary positive affect than those who did not speak with drivers. These findings add to the burgeoning literature on hedonic benefits of interacting with strangers by showing that even very minimal social interactions with strangers contribute to subjective well-being in everyday life.

The night I saw this tweet I had spent a few hours scanning tickets at a soccer tournament.  The scanners were awful and frustrating, but I loved having nice little 5-10 second interactions with lots of nice folks.

14) I really, really hate the, “be nice to trans teens or else they will all kill themselves” theme that underlies so much of the political messaging on this from the left.  Thus, I really liked this, “Don’t Try to Stop Me or I’ll Kill Myself” from a frustrated parent (all emphases in original)

At the initial meeting the gender therapist sized us up as doubtful and talked a good game: she claimed to be very careful and open minded and wouldn’t jump to conclusions; she wanted to extensively explore all the relevant issues.  Still, it struck me as odd that she already seemed to be testing our receptivity to the idea of going along with hormones and surgery.  Towards the end of the meeting she hit us with the hammer.  Maybe we had not shown sufficient faith in the wisdom of the affirmative approach.  She leaned over, pinched her face into an expression of deep concern, lowered her voice and dramatically uttered, “One thing we do know is that these kids attempt suicide at incredibly high rates.”  The implied message was as clear as it was shocking:  Listen to us experts.  If you don’t accept your daughter as a boy and allow her to proceed with medical interventions, there’s a good chance she will kill herself.

Every parent with a gender-confused child has heard some version of this threat from multiple sources.  It’s part of what Everybody Knows because Experts Say So.  It’s also a big part of how the radical Affirmation Only approach has steamrolled over all resistance to become the de facto policy of nearly every relevant major institution in North America. 

The basic argument for Affirmation Only is roughly this: 

  • Untreated gender dysphoria leads to an extreme suicide risk.  
  • Medical transition (in conjunction with social acceptance) is the only effective treatment for gender dysphoria.  
  • Therefore: The benefits of offering medical transition on demand outweigh the expected likelihood of medical risks (like damaged health or regret). 

Both premises of this argument are false but the first one has been particularly effective in persuading people who should know better to look the other way, to forgo due diligence, and to accept surprising new policies on only the skimpiest evidence.   Questioning the actual evidence that is supposed to justify Affirmation Only policies is rarely met by good faith discussion of the nature and strength of that evidence.  Instead the person raising such questions is much more likely to be accused of being motivated by bigotry and of perpetuating immoral beliefs directly responsible for many suicides (and even murders), deaths that would not occur if society would only universally affirm gender identity and offer medical transition on demand.

This is the suicide myth I want to examine.  The vague but ubiquitous presumption that the risk of suicide by trans-identified people, especially youth, is so extreme that it justifies bypassing established standards of decision making whenever those standards pose a barrier to immediately gratifying the trans-person’s desire for medical intervention or social accommodation…

In the context of gender affirmation, the bailey is the expansive belief that extreme suicide risk justifies Affirmation Only policy across all of society, including medicine.  It posits that lack of social and medical accommodation causes persons with gender dysphoria to commit suicide at extremely high rates (i.e. these factors independently and significantly increase the real suicide rate).  Additionally, it implicitly holds that the aggregate harm of suicide that can be reduced by social and medical accommodation is greater than the aggregate harm (health damage and normal life opportunity lost) that may be increased by on-demand medical transition.   In contrast, the motte consists of much more modest claims such as people who self identify as transgender also self report suicidal ideation or unsuccessful attempts at higher than normal rates, and blame it on lack of acceptance.  The large gap between the bailey and the motte begs that we address these questions: How predictive of completed suicides are self-reports of suicidal ideation or attempts?  How reliably can we attribute suicidality of trans identified people just to lack of social acceptance and medical transition?

To be clear, gender-questioning teens should be treated with kindness and empathy and not used as political pawns. But that does not mean suicide scaremongering is supported by research, or, appropriate.

15) Really good stuff from Katherine Wu on the upcoming Covid vaccines and the science of monovalent vs bivalent:

The switch in strategy—from two variants to one, from original SARS-CoV-2 plus Omicron to XBB.1 alone—would be momentous but wise, experts told me, reflecting the world’s updated understanding of the virus’s evolution and the immune system’s quirks. “It just makes a lot of sense,” said Melanie Ott, the director of the Gladstone Institute of Virology, in San Francisco. XBB.1 is the main coronavirus group circulating today; neither the original variant nor BA.5, the two coronavirus flavors in the bivalent shot, is meaningfully around anymore. And an XBB.1-focused vaccine may give the global population a particularly good shot at broadening immunity.


At the same time, COVID vaccines are still in a sort of beta-testing stage. In the past three-plus years, the virus has spawned countless iterations, many of which have been extremely good at outsmarting us; we humans, meanwhile, are only on our third-ish attempt at designing a vaccine that can keep pace with the pathogen’s evolutionary sprints. And we’re very much still learning about the coronavirus’s capacity for flexibility and change, says Rafi Ahmed, an immunologist at Emory University. By now, it’s long been clear that vaccines are essential for preventing severe disease and death, and that some cadence of boosting is probably necessary to keep the shots’ effectiveness high. But when the virus alters its evolutionary tactics, our vaccination strategy must follow—and experts are still puzzling out how to account for those changes as they select the shots for each year.

In the spring and summer of 2022, the last time the U.S. was mulling on a new vaccine formula, Omicron was still relatively new, and the coronavirus’s evolution seemed very much in flux. The pathogen had spent more than two years erratically slingshotting out Greek-letter variants without an obvious succession plan. Instead of accumulating genetic changes within a single lineage—a more iterative form of evolution, roughly akin to what flu strains do—the coronavirus produced a bunch of distantly related variants that jockeyed for control. Delta was not a direct descendant of Alpha; Omicron was not a Delta offshoot; no one could say with any certainty what would arise next, or when. “We didn’t understand the trajectory,” says Kanta Subbarao, the head of the WHO advisory group convened to make recommendations on COVID vaccines.

And so the experts played it safe. Including an Omicron variant in the shot felt essential, because of how much the virus had changed. But going all in on Omicron seemed too risky—some experts worried that “the virus would flip back,” Subbarao told me, to a variant more similar to Alpha or Delta or something else. As a compromise, several countries, including the United States, went with a combination: half original, half Omicron, in an attempt to reinvigorate OG immunity while laying down new defenses against the circulating strains du jour.

16) Save the world, eat more beans! “Eat more beans. Please.: Beans are protein-rich, sustainable, and delicious. Why doesn’t the US eat more of them?”

17) This is an amazing story and you should read it.  Gift link. “A catatonic woman awakened after 20 years. Her story may change psychiatry.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) I quite like this Chait take on the debt ceiling:

Republicans obtained spending cuts only slightly deeper than what they likely would have won in a normal budget process absent the threat of default, but were able to avoid giving even a token offer to Democrats, preserving their core objective of demonstrating that the only thing Democrats would “win” was freeing the hostage.

The Washington press corps, like Wall Street, has trained its focus almost entirely on the short-term objective of avoiding default. By this measure — the short-term objectives that Democrats pursued — the deal is a triumph. And yet the principle Republicans were fighting to establish, and unambiguously won, has a long-term significance that has largely escaped attention. Hardly anybody has given a thought as to what happens next.

The argument over the legitimacy of debt-ceiling extortion may be settled now, but at the outset of the year, it was very much a contested thing. The two parties each pointed to dueling precedents. In 2011, the Republican Congress threatened default, and the Obama administration tried to steer this process into a negotiated grand bargain over fiscal policy. Only after it was too late did President Obama grasp that what he mistook for a negotiation was actually extortion, and he escaped catastrophe by handing Republicans spending cuts without any concessions…

Democrats believed they had solved the extortion problem: simply refusing to negotiate with hostage-takers would force them to release the hostage, since the alternative — default and an economic crisis — would impose harm on the Republican Party’s own economic elites.

But Republicans either ignored the 2013 precedent or chalked it up to their party’s own internal disorganization at the time. A more unified and effective hostage demand, they believed, would succeed. And in Biden they saw a more inviting target. Republicans always preferred negotiating with Biden to negotiating with Obama, and Biden’s statement the previous fall that it would be “irresponsible” to abolish the debt ceiling confirmed their impression of his pliability…

When you are holding a gun to the head of the global economy, and both sides understand the president has no option but to pay off the hostage-takers, there’s no natural limit to the size of the ransom. Arguably, Republicans were constrained this time by the desire of most of their caucus to posture against a deal rather than support it, but there’s hardly an iron law requiring such a dynamic.

2) Brian Beutler is definitely no fan of the deal:

Nobody can say how the politics of default would unfold, because we’ve never tested it, but in terms of ransom potential, these scenarios are unalike. One amounts to taking hostages with a gun to your own head, the other while wearing a suicide vest. Because the threats are different in kind, we can’t assume they’d yield identical concessions, and shouldn’t imbue the resulting “deal” to free the hostages with legitimacy. 

As I wrote last month (apologies for quoting myself):

There’s no win here; just the cutting of losses…. even if those losses seem tolerable when the deal sees the light of day, there’s no credible way to argue that the debt limit was merely incidental. The idea that the GOP’s default threat had no effect on the outcome misconstrues the very nature of corruption. It’s a perverse repurposing of the right-wing defense of Clarence Thomas, where his allies say was always going to rule the way he has. The bribes meant nothing! Liberals are rightly unsatisfied with that justification, and we should similarly reject any suggestion that the GOP’s default threats were meaningless. Extortion is the coercive counterpart of bribery; an agreement struck under that kind of duress is no less suspect than a Supreme Court vote cast under the influence of Harlan Crow’s filthy lucre.  

The ransoms Biden paid might be small, but if we declare them foregone and meaningless, we’re not being honest with ourselves. We’re myth-making as a plea for intra-coalition peace, and to absolve him for agreeing to negotiate…

But he did negotiate, and he did concede, and in so doing he violated a principle and promise that Democratic voters should have been able to count on their leaders to uphold. The promise was to never again cough up policy concessions under threat of default—no negotiating with terrorists. The principle is that one set of rules—including the obligation to share power in divided government—must bind both parties. 

Kevin McCarthy gets a lot of flack for being in over his head and, well…a somewhat limited person. But he called an incredibly consequential bluff, and the significance of that isn’t lost on him or anyone else in his party. McCarthy rallied House Republicans, after Biden relented, with a video montage of the many times Biden insisted he never would. Yes, he did this to placate his bloodthirsty members, but he wasn’t bullshitting them, and that’s partly why it worked. 

They know they can come back for more, perhaps as soon as two years from now, and they know that Biden probably won’t even gesture at refusing to negotiate if he’s still president then. Any refusal after what just happened would lack credibility. 

Biden’s defenders can take solace in the fact that he didn’t concede a great deal, that his concessions staved off near-term calamity, and might even give him a brief sugar high, as headlines commemorate yet another bipartisan deal. But those headlines won’t outlast the longer-term indignity of accepting a dual standard that’s incompatible with democratic government. The silver linings here were purchased by mortgaging the future. 

3) Good stuff in a free post from Yglesias, “”Misinformation” isn’t just on the right”

The moral of all these stories is that people are prone to bias-confirmation and groupthink, and the mass public tends not to pay much attention to policy issues, even ones they find interesting enough to march in the streets about.

This is a kind of tragic aspect of the human condition and not a specific failure of your political enemies.

I think back sometimes at my own misinformation on the Michael Brown point. A big part of the reason I didn’t know the truth about this is it didn’t matter to me, practically speaking. During the five years or so between the Ferguson protests and Lopez’s articles about the tweet, I didn’t write anything for which the DOJ inquiry into the shooting was relevant. I was actually so disengaged from this topic that when I started work on this 2019 article making the case for increased police funding, I was a little surprised to learn how controversial the thesis was. After all, I was making the case for the merits of federal police funding initiatives that were pushed by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and opposed by Donald Trump. The progressive conventional wisdom had moved on from that Clinton/Obama consensus without me realizing it, but I hadn’t moved on even though I also didn’t realize Wilson had been exonerated — it wasn’t actually policy-relevant, so I hadn’t been paying attention.

And the average citizen has much less reason than I do to pay attention to news developments.

This is why people mostly don’t do it and thus why people are pretty misinformed. Ideally, actual U.S. Senators and their communications teams would take a second to say “wait, are we sure this is true?”, just as in my police funding piece I didn’t type from pure memory — I actually looked into the research and got my facts in order before writing.

But all kinds of political elites act impulsively or irresponsibly at times. Or they share things like that NPR article, which was perfectly accurate but also played directly into a widespread misconception. These problems, unfortunately, are not unique to any one faction or party — they are part of life.

4) Interesting, “Where the ‘Wood-Wide Web’ Narrative Went Wrong: A compelling story about how forest fungal networks communicate has garnered much public interest. Is any of it true?”

The three of us have studied forest fungi for our whole careers, and even we were surprised by some of the more extraordinary claims surfacing in the media about the wood-wide web. Thinking we had missed something, we thoroughly reviewed 26 field studies, including several of our own, that looked at the role fungal networks play in resource transfer in forests. What we found shows how easily confirmation bias, unchecked claims, and credulous news reporting can, over time, distort research findings beyond recognition. It should serve as a cautionary tale for scientists and journalists alike. 

First, let’s be clear: Fungi do grow inside and on tree roots, forming a symbiosis called a mycorrhiza, or fungus-root. Mycorrhizae are essential for the normal growth of trees. Among other things, the fungi can take up from the soil, and transfer to the tree, nutrients that roots could not otherwise access. In return, fungi receive from the roots sugars they need to grow.

As fungal filaments spread out through forest soil, they will often, at least temporarily, physically connect the roots of two neighboring trees. The resulting system of interconnected tree roots is called a common mycorrhizal network, or CMN…

Other widely reported claims — that trees use CMNs to signal danger, to recognize offspring, or to share nutrients with other trees — are based on similarly thin or misinterpreted evidence.How did such a weakly sourced narrative take such a strong grip on the public imagination?

5) I’ve got some skepticism about “healthy” donuts, but the UK’s new food rules certainly make sense to me:

Wait … healthy doughnuts? Surely not. Everyone knows that doughnuts are deeply unhealthy. That’s the whole point. Take away the sugary glaze and oily smoosh of dough and what are you left with? Nothing. You’ll have to prize our sugared rings from our caramel-coated fingers. Some things are too sacred to give up.

Or maybe we don’t have to. A shake-up of food rules in the United Kingdom has sparked a new kind of doughy disruption: the quest for healthy confectionery. Or, if not healthy exactly, then at least much healthier than the fried goods currently on offer. The winds of change are blowing, and they smell a lot like delicious steam-baked dough.

Leading the charge is British doughnut brand Urban Legend. “I picked doughnuts because their health credentials are genuinely quite dreadful,” says founder Anthony Fletcher. In the UK, most prepackaged food is labeled according to a “traffic light” system where products are rated for their fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt content per 100 grams. If the nutrients are over a certain threshold—for fat it’s 17.5 grams, for sugar it’s 22.5 grams—then the product gets a red traffic light label for that category. Deep-fried and sugar-coated, doughnuts have labels that are a sea of red and orange.

These blazing traffic lights were the beacon that led Fletcher to his current venture. In previous roles he’d helped reinvent fruit juice and sparked a craze for healthier snacking, but by 2020 he finally felt ready to tackle the one frontier that health food fads had barely touched: the baked goods aisle. “Having spent 20 years trying to sell healthy food to consumers, it’s really hard to get people to change,” he says. The UK bakery market is worth £4.4 billion ($5.5 billion)—more than its markets for potato chips, breakfast cereal, or sliced meats—and almost all of it is unremittingly unhealthy. “If you want to make the largest change to public health, then you’ve got to take the junk out of junk food,” Fletcher says. He thought that a healthier doughnut might be a way to nudge people toward diets that were lower in fat and sugar without asking them to give anything up. A have-your-doughnut-and-eat-it approach to nutrition, if you will.

It just so happens—and Fletcher maintains that this timing was a coincidence—that as he was mulling over the prospect of a low-fat, low-sugar doughnut, the UK government was limbering up to introduce legislation to restrict how and where unhealthy foods are sold.

The new rules, which came into force in October 2022, ban the sale of certain foods high in fat, sugar, and salt near supermarket entrances, on the ends of aisles, or near checkouts. An ocean of prime supermarket real estate awaited anyone who could make a doughnut that avoided certain thresholds for fat, sugar, and salt. With a stroke of a legislator’s pen, the stage for the new doughnut wars was set.

6) It’s getting really hard to hire police these days.  This suggests to me that, in part, we really need to rethink policing in ways that change who the job is appealing to (way more female officers would help, for one thing). 

7) I’m not entirely sure how much I buy this, but it’s a topic worth some thinking about, “Anatomy of a Murder: How the Democratic Party Crashed in Florida

8) Was Adnan Syed (of Serial podcast fame) actually wrongly exonerated?  There’s a pretty good case for that. 

9) Back in the day when I really wanted to run fast, I would listen to the Rocky theme.  Science: “Put Some Music on: The Effects of pre-Task Music Tempo on Arousal, Affective State, Perceived Exertion, and Anaerobic Performance”

Research on the ergogenic effects of music on athletic performance usually includes multiple antecedents simultaneously. Consequently, this study set out to isolate a single antecedent using a highly controlled experiment. More specifically, the aim of the study was to investigate the effect of pre-task, slow- and fast-tempo music on arousal, affective state, perceived exertion, and anaerobic rowing performance by isolating music tempo as the sole intrinsic musical factor. Forty young adults (male = 23, female = 17) participated in three trials where they all were exposed to no-music, slow-tempo, and fast-tempo music conditions in a randomized order. The music was exclusively composed for this study and equally novel for all participants. It was based on the same electronic track with a techno-orientation rendered to both 110 (slow-tempo) and 140 (fast-tempo) BPM. Following music exposure, the participants were momentarily asked to report levels of felt arousal and affective state before being instructed to perform a 30-s maximal rowing test on an ergometer. Upon completion of each rowing test, subjects were then asked to report their perceived exertion. Both fast- and slow-tempo pre-task music exposure led to increased arousal and positive affective state when compared to no music. Fast-tempo music led to a significantly higher mean power output than slow-tempo music. No significant differences were found for peak watt output or rating of perceived exertion when comparing all conditions. These findings suggest that exposure to pre-task music may offer positive psychological benefits prior to commencing anaerobic sporting tasks. Results also suggest that fast-tempo music may have an ergogenic effect on anaerobic performance.

10) I thought this was pretty interesting as given Amazon’s abominable search engine, I had some real success using BingGPT to help me shop. “I Asked AI Chatbots to Help Me Shop. They All Failed”

11) The whole pipeline and permitting thing is complicated politics.  And this lays it out nicely, “The Real Climate Defeat in the Debt Ceiling Deal: It’s not the pipeline. It’s the power lines.”

Yet despite the chatter, the pipeline was not, in fact, the most important climate concession exacted in negotiations. The deal also made a number of changes to federal permitting law, especially the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. These changes have been described as relatively small, common-sense reforms to the federal process — and in some cases they are. But they also represented critical leverage that Democrats just lost.

Democrats might have secured many other objectives in the debt-ceiling talks, including minimal cuts to some federal programs and a potential expansion of food stamps. But the deal’s permitting reforms are an uneven trade in which Democrats gave up much more than they gained and made virtually no progress on one of their biggest goals: making it easier to build long-distance power lines. When Congress revisits permitting reform in the next few months — as Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has promised – Democrats will find that they have little room to bargain.

12) Drum is not wrong, “The debt ceiling fiasco is Joe Manchin’s fault”

The real story is that the Senate was split 50-50 and Democrats were missing a vote even for reconciliation. I’m sure you can guess whose vote it was:

The administration has determined that if it were to go the reconciliation route on the debt limit, it would face likely opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

….Already, Manchin has expressed reluctance to act on the debt limit with only Democratic votes, though he’s declined to rule it out completely. “I don’t think it should go to reconciliation,” he said Tuesday. “My goodness, it’s something we’ve always worked together on.”

According to Politico at the time, “That’s left White House officials to all but abandon efforts for a lame-duck move they once hoped might head off a potentially disastrous showdown with the House GOP majority next year.”

In short, we are now facing a debt ceiling crisis thanks to Joe Manchin. That’s it.

13) Love this take on “Succession“– among other things the funniest show, period, on TV the past few years:

The other angle of Succession is that it’s a comedy, and not just because Tom occasionally says things like “king of edible leaves, his majesty the spinach.” More often than not, Succession is structurally a sitcom with episodes bounded by themes and character arcs rather than closed procedural plotting. It’s why, despite its perpetual busyness, Succession has also been a show about nothing actually happening. The Roy siblings spend three seasons caught in stasis: the fictional one created by their father’s weaponized ambivalence, and the stasis of Succession’s class commentary, which shelters them from repercussions as a way to demonstrate their untouchable bubble of wealth. Succession fell into a circling, repeating pattern of playing with its own genre, threatening to pile up into something like a plot while remaining a dark comedy of wealthy goons, forever fired up by incompetent ambition, reaching for the gold ring, failing, and then continuing around the carousel to try again. (In the worst of all possible worlds, Succession could’ve been Seinfeld, moseying along as a beautiful, consequence-free sitcom about bad people living their lives, only for the finale to wallop everyone with the abrupt, unearned return of all the people they’ve harmed.)

14) Some good stuff from twitter…


15) I did a couple volunteer shifts at The Soccer Tournament the past couple days. Fun!  I love the feature where every game ends with a goal. 




Quick hits (part I)

1) Michael Tomasky on DeSantis:

He’s declared himself the field marshal of a cultural civil war. A decade or so ago, this too would have scared me. But in today’s United States, my bet is that most people don’t want to live in an intolerant society that basically outlaws abortion and bans books and allows nearly anybody to carry a permit-less firearm and gives the state the right to take children away from their parents in the name of “freedom.” I think that’s a loser—provided Joe Biden and the Democrats directly and aggressively challenge this twisted idea of freedom, should DeSantis emerge the GOP nominee, and advance an alternative definition of their own.

Why has DeSantis chosen this course? I offer to you the following five explanations:

1. He lives deep inside an echo chamber where everyone he ever talks to is terminally online and fully in agreement that “wokery” will spell the end of civilization.

2. He thinks that it polls well (it actually doesn’t, for the most part, but pollsters can cook numbers however they want).

3. His wife, Casey, urges him in this direction. She is said to hold an unusual amount of power in the relationship and has spent the past few years cosplaying as a first lady.

4. He’s of the mind that all of this has worked for him so far. (Although his approval numbers aren’t great—he’s just above the waterline in a recent YouGov/Economist poll, but a hefty 26 percent had a very unfavorable view of him, six points higher than the very favorable number.) 

5. He genuinely believes all this.

Don’t discount that last one. All politicians do certain things to please the base. But the zeal with which DeSantis has taken on these fights suggests a man obsessed. Molly Ball, in her insightful profile of DeSantis in last week’s Time, quotes an adviser: “He has a providential belief that he will talk sincerely about. He believes he is exactly where God planned him to be at all times.” That’s not a guy who spends countless hours watching focus groups.

Whatever his motivation, the question we care about most is whether this brand of moral-panic politics can get a hard right-winger into the White House in 2022. Never say never in a country that elected Donald Trump president, but I don’t think America wants that. It’s not simply that large majorities support more liberal abortion rights than DeSantis’s draconian six-week law or oppose permit-less concealed carry (on transgender issues, the polling is more ambiguous, but I seriously doubt your average person thinks the state ought to be able to steal a transgender child away from their parents, which is now the law in Florida). It’s also that DeSantis is in people’s faces incessantly, making them choose sides.

2) Chait on standardized tests:

3) I actually finally took a look at the whole Catalist take on the 2022 elections.  It’s really good:


The 2022 election defied conventional wisdom and historical trends. In a typical midterm election year with one-party control of the presidency, House and Senate, the incumbent party would expect major losses. Instead, Democrats re-elected every incumbent senator and expanded their Senate majority by a seat, won the overwhelming majority of heavily contested gubernatorial elections, gained control of 4 state legislative chambers, and only narrowly lost the U.S. House.

Democrats won in the majority of heavily contested races, with electorates in these contests looking more like the 2020 and 2018 electorates than a typical midterm. Unlike recent midterms, which were wave elections with across-the-board, national swings, there was less of a national trend in the 2022 midterm. In this analysis we will present national results based on the U.S. House vote, where Republicans outperformed Democrats, as well as analysis from states that had highly contested races, according to the non-partisan Cook Political Report, where Democrats outperformed Republicans. Unlike other recent midterm years, our analysis shows a stark contrast between the electorate in areas with one or more highly contested House, Senate or gubernatorial races versus those with less contested races. 

Gen Z and Millennial voters had exceptional levels of turnout, with young voters in heavily contested states exceeding their 2018 turnout by 6% among those who were eligible in both elections.1 Further, 65% of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 supported Democrats, cementing their role as a key part of a winning coalition for the party. While young voters were historically evenly split between the parties, they are increasingly voting for Democrats. Many young voters who showed up in 2018 and 2020 to elect Democrats continued to do the same in 2022. 

Extreme “MAGA” Republicans underperformed. Across heavily contested Senate, Gubernatorial, and Congressional races, voters penalized “MAGA” Republicans. Candidates who were outspoken election deniers did 1 to 4 points worse than other Republicans, contributing to their losses in important close races. Of course, election denial is one of many extreme positions associated with “MAGA” Republicans, so this analysis likely reflects relatively extreme stances on other issues, including abortion rights, as well as Republicans such as Kari Lake (Arizona gubernatorial) and Doug Mastriano (Pennsylvania gubernatorial) who ran relatively insular campaigns. 

Women voters pushed Democrats over the top in heavily contested races, where abortion rights were often their top issue. After Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court overturned abortion rights, a disproportionate number of women voters registered to vote in states with highly contested elections. At the same time, polls showed Democratic women and men indicating they were more engaged in the election. While relative turnout by gender remained largely stable, Democratic performance improved over 2020 among women in highly contested races, going from 55% to 57% support. The biggest improvement was among white non-college women (+4% support).

Democrats largely retained their winning 2020 coalition in heavily contested races, with some exceptions. Turnout and support among voters by race, education, gender, and other demographic factors remained relatively stable in heavily contested races. Such stability does not usually occur between presidential and midterm years, demonstrating how the Democratic coalition blunted a Republican “red wave.” One notable shift includes Black voters. While they continued to play an outsized role in contributing to Democratic victories, Black turnout largely fell in contested races. Meanwhile, Democratic support among Black voters rose in Southern states with heavily contested elections, but fell in less contested states.

4) I hate the NHL offside reviews that find somebody was offsides by 1 inch a good 30 seconds before the goal was scored. It’s just so stupid.  But Jack Han with a really good explanation on how getting rid of offsides completely would probably ruin the sport. 

5) Some interesting social science:

What explains the contents of political belief systems? A widespread view is that they derive from abstract values, like equality, tolerance, and authority. Here, we challenge this view, arguing instead that belief systems derive from political alliance structures that vary across nations and time periods. When partisans mobilize support for their political allies, they generate patchwork narratives that appeal to ad-hoc, and often incompatible, moral principles. In the first part of the paper, we explain how people choose their allies, and how they support their allies using propagandistic tactics. In the second part, we show how these choices and tactics give rise to political alliance structures, with their strange bedfellows, and the idiosyncratic contents of belief systems. If Alliance Theory is correct, then we need a radically different approach to political psychology—one in which belief systems arise not from deep-seated moral values, but from ever-shifting alliances and rivalries.

6) I am quite convinced that climate protesters who pull stunts like this are only setting the cause back, “Trevi Fountain water turns black in Rome climate protest”

7) Great stuff from Ryan Burge, “Given the Rise of the Nones, Why Aren’t Democrats Winning Most Elections? Why Secularization Does Not Lead to Perpetual Liberal Government”

There are still more White Christians than nones in the United States. White Christians used to be fairly mixed politically. In the 1970s, a majority of them were Democrats and about a third were Republicans. In the 1980s, the average White church was evenly mixed, about 45% from both parties.

Today? An entirely different story. Now, just a third of White Christians align with the Democratic Party, while a majority now say that they are Republicans. It’s almost been a complete reversal from the early 1970s.

The Democrats have gained a ton of new voters from the rise of the nones. They have also lost a ton of voters with the defection of millions of White Christians. (Whether this is a function of vote switching or generational replacement is a debate for a different time.)…

But here’s another part of the puzzle, too. In the 2022, 6% of folks were atheists, 6% were agnostics, and another 23% were nothing in particular. That means that two-thirds of nones are not atheist/agnostic. And that’s a problem when it comes to election day.

To put this in context, in 2020 there were nearly as many nothing in particulars who said that they voted for Trump as there were atheists who said that they voted for Biden.

While atheists are the most politically active group in the United States in terms of things like donating money and working for a campaign, the nothing in particulars are on another planet entirely…

They were half as likely to donate money to a candidate compared to atheists. They were half as likely to put up a political sign. They were less than half as likely to contact a public official.

This all points to the same conclusion: they don’t vote in high numbers. So, while there may be a whole bunch of nothing in particulars, that may not translate to electoral victories because:

  1. They aren’t overwhelmingly Democrats.

  2. Many of them probably don’t vote.

8) I love when people take an appropriately expansive approach to cost/benefit analysis.  And the costs of mass shootings are just so much bigger than we typically discuss. Katelyn Jetelina:

Impact on survivors

As you can imagine, survivors suffer from mental health problems following mass shootings. This is particularly the case among children with direct exposure (heard gunshots, saw bodies, saw the gunman) or risk factors (pre-event traumatic exposure). Scientific literature shows school shootings result in:
  • Increases in prescription antidepressants up to two years

  • High levels of PTSD; after a 1988 elementary school shooting, the prevalence of PTSD among child survivors reached 91% 14 months after the mass shooting

  • Declines in overall health and well-being

  • Engagement in more risky behaviors

These traumatic experiences can bleed into children’s education and employment years later. After school shootings, children experience:

  • Increased absenteeism and grade repetition

  • Lower rates of high school graduation, college enrollment, and college completion

  • Lower employment and earnings at ages 24-26

  • Decreased test scores in math and English that persist for up to three years post-shooting…

  • Impact on survivors’ parents


    Then there are the parents of the survivors. Those who get a call or text message that there was a mass shooting without knowing whether their child is okay. They are tasked with helping their child cope with this trauma. Parents of survivors report:

    • Reduced general well-being; in fact, we see the effect on parents regardless of whether their child was in the tragedy

    • Increased levels of PTSD—nightmares, flashbacks, severe anxiety; in one study, one in two parents of elementary school survivors reported PTSD

    • Increase in other psychological diagnoses for years to come, as seen among parents and siblings in Norway after a mass shooting…

Bottom line

There are tremendous costs to mass shootings, even for those not directly involved. These tragic events, like in Uvalde, set off a cascade of collective traumas that result in physical, mental, and emotional impairment for thousands; far more extensive and for far longer than critics portray. If you’re feeling it like me, you’re not alone.

9) What’s using all the water from the Colorado river?  It not nuts.  55% goes to livestock feed.  Eat less meat!

10) Tom Nichols on the Republican primaries:

The United States desperately needs a normal presidential election, the kind of election that is not shadowed by gloom and violence and weirdos in freaky costumes pushing conspiracy theories. Americans surely remember a time when two candidates (sometimes with an independent crashing the gates) had debates, argued about national policy, and made the case for having the vision and talent and experience to serve as the chief executive of a superpower. Sure, those elections were full of nasty smears and dirty tricks, but they were always recognizable as part of a grand tradition stretching all the way back to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams—rivals and patriots who traded ugly blows—of contenders fighting hard to secure the public’s blessing to hold power for four years…

Such an election, however, requires two functional political parties. The Republicans are in the grip of a cult of personality, so there’s little hope for a normal GOP primary and almost none for a traditional presidential election. Meanwhile, Republican candidates refuse to take a direct run at Donald Trump and speak the truth—loudly—to his voters; instead, they talk about all of the good that Trump has done but then plead with voters to understand that Trump is unelectable. (Hutchinson, who is unequivocal in his view of Trump, has been an honorable exception here and has called for Trump to drop out.)…

These Republicans are likely waiting for a miracle, an act of God that takes Trump out of contention. And by “act of God,” of course, they mean “an act of Fani Willis or Jack Smith.” This is a vain hope: Without a compelling argument from within the Republican Party that Fani Willis and Jack Smith or for that matter, Alvin Bragg, are right to indict Trump—as Bragg has done and Willis and Smith could do soon—and that the former president is a menace to the country, Trump will simply brush away his legal troubles and hope he can sprint to the White House before he’s arrested.

No one is going to displace Trump by running gently. A candidate who takes Trump on, with moral force and directness, might well lose the nomination, but he or she could at least inject some sanity into the Republican-primary process and set the stage for the eventual recovery—a healing that will take years—of the GOP or some reformed successor as a center-right party. DeSantis would rather be elected as Trump’s Mini-Me. (It might work.) Hutchinson has tried to speak up, but too quietly. Haley, like so many other former Trump officials, is too compromised by service to Trump to be credible as his nemesis. Tim Scott is perfectly positioned to make the case, but he won’t.

A Republican who thinks Trump can be beaten in a primary by gargling warm words such as electability is a Republican in denial. Trump is already creating a reality-distortion field around the primary, as he will again in the general election. Is it possible that the GOP base would respond to some fire and brimstone about Trump, instead of from him? We cannot know, because it hasn’t been tried—yet.

11) You know I only pay tangential attention to urban housing issues (mostly because a lot of people I follow are really into it), but this was quite interesting: “How DC densified”

12) I don’t think I’ve ever read anything John Stuart Mill has written, but insofar as I’m familiar with the guy, always considered myself a fan. Definitely more so after reading this nice Richard Reeves essay on Mill and his latest detractors:

Mill’s view on tradition and custom, then, is that they are very likely to contain the wisdom of the ages, of the accumulated weight of human experience and, yes, of experiments in living. That’s why it would be absurd to ignore them, and why they have a presumptive claim to our deference. But Mill also insists that we should not follow tradition and custom blindly. We should “use and interpret experience.” Mill believes that customs and traditions not only can change over time, but that they should. The alternative, which is Deneen’s only defensible position, is that somebody somewhere should decide, at some point in time, that our traditions and customs be cast in stone. 

Deneen is wrong about Mill, and thus wrong about liberalism, and therefore wrong about everything.

Even though the post-liberals are unwilling to engage with the real Mill, as opposed to their ersatz version, it is a testament to his lasting value that he is still the primary target. Mill spent his life thinking about and working for a society that could balance the value of continuity with the necessity for innovation and progress. Again, nobody said it was easy, a lesson we seem to be learning all over again. But if we need inspiration, we’ll always have Mill. 

13) I’ve long been skeptical of High School debate (the more I learn about it, the worse it seems to look). But damn is this ridiculous, “At High School Debates, Debate Is No Longer Allowed: At national tournaments, judges are making their stances clear: students who argue ‘capitalism can reduce poverty’ or ‘Israel has a right to defend itself’ will lose—no questions asked.”  Lest you think this is just anti-woke propaganda, you need only read the debate judge’s own statements on their judging philosophy:

First, some background. Imagine a high school sophomore on the debate team. She’s been given her topic about a month in advance, but she won’t know who her judge is until hours before her debate round. During that time squeeze—perhaps she’ll pace the halls as I did at the 2012 national tournament in Indianapolis—she’ll scroll on her phone to look up her judge’s name on Tabroom, a public database maintained by the NSDA. That’s where judges post “paradigms,” which explain what they look for during a debate. If a judge prefers competitors not “spread”—speak a mile a minute—debaters will moderate their pace. If a judge emphasizes “impacts”—the reasons why an argument matters—debaters adjust accordingly. 

But let’s say when the high school sophomore clicks Tabroom she sees that her judge is Lila Lavender, the 2019 national debate champion, whose paradigm reads, “Before anything else, including being a debate judge, I am a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist. . . . I cannot check the revolutionary proletarian science at the door when I’m judging. . . . I will no longer evaluate and thus never vote for rightest capitalist-imperialist positions/arguments. . . . Examples of arguments of this nature are as follows: fascism good, capitalism good, imperialist war good, neoliberalism good, defenses of US or otherwise bourgeois nationalism, Zionism or normalizing Israel, colonialism good, US white fascist policing good, etc.” 

How does that sophomore feel as she walks into her debate round? How will knowing that information about the judge change the way she makes her case?

Traditionally, high school students would have encountered a judge like former West Point debater Henry Smith, whose paradigm asks students to “focus on clarity over speed” and reminds them that “every argument should explain exactly how [they] win the debate.” 

In the past few years, however, judges with paradigms tainted by politics and ideology are becoming common. Debate judge Shubham Gupta’s paradigm reads, “If you are discussing immigrants in a round and describe the person as ‘illegal,’ I will immediately stop the round, give you the loss with low speaks”—low speaker points—“give you a stern lecture, and then talk to your coach. . . . I will not have you making the debate space unsafe.” 

Debate Judge Kriti Sharma concurs: under her list of “Things That Will Cause You To Automatically Lose,” number three is “Referring to immigrants as ‘illegal.’ ”

Should a high school student automatically lose and be publicly humiliated for using a term that’s not only ubiquitous in media and politics, but accurate?

14) This is great. Gift link. “See why AI like ChatGPT has gotten so good, so fast”

15) This is a truly amazing scientific advance.  I think it portends great things for the future. “Brain Implants Allow Paralyzed Man to Walk Using His Thoughts”

16) So good from Jeff Maurer: “When Politics is Just Virtue Signaling”

The politics of performance is never the politics of progress. It can’t be, because progress isn’t the goal — the goal is to enhance one’s status. It’s a politics of ostentatious culture war nonsense that’s content to fight the same battles indefinitely because the purpose isn’t to win; the purpose is just to show which side you’re on.

There’s no denying that virtue signaling has become a big part of progressive politics. Sometimes, it feels like it’s the whole ballgame; La Sombrita was one of those times. I find virtue signaling obnoxious whether it’s left, right, or center, but it strikes me as obnoxious and antithetical when it comes from the left. I think conservatism is compatible with virtue-signaling wankery: After all, when you’re unable to stand athwart history yelling “stop!”, dragging the national dialogue into some stupid fight about woke M&Ms will work almost as well. But I think progressives should be more purposeful. We’re trying to build the future, not conserve the past, so we need to convince people that we have a clear vision and good ideas. Unfortunately, we often devolve into unhinged virtue signaling, like this truly bananas floor speech from a state Senator in Nebraska (the speech flies off the rails and crashes into an orphanage around 1:30).

This type of cultish lunacy squanders trust that’s difficult to win back. To most people, progress means things like better functioning services and a higher standard of living. When they see their public officials engaging in a pattern of activist-babble virtue signaling — while real needs go unmet — they suspect that those officials can’t deliver results. And they’re probably right, because the only “result” the official is seeking is “popularity among their peers”.

(and yes, watch the video, it’s insane!!)

17) So wrong… “Indiana board fines doctor for discussing rape victim’s abortion”

Indiana’s medical licensing board decided late Thursday to discipline a doctor who made headlines last year for performing an abortion for a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim, saying she violated state and federal privacy laws by discussing the case with a reporter. The board gave Caitlin Bernard, an OB/GYN and an assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine, a letter of reprimand and ordered her to pay a $3,000 fine for violating ethical standards.

The board cleared Bernard on two other counts, determining that she did not improperly report child abuse and that she is fit to practice medicine.

For nearly a year, Indiana’s Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) pursued punishment for Bernard, who carried out the abortion in June 2022, less than a week after Roe v. Wade was struck down, enacting trigger laws…

Bernard broke patient privacy laws by telling an Indianapolis Star reporter about the patient’s care, the board decided Thursday night after a roughly 14-hour hearing that ended shortly after 11:30 p.m. Bernard’s lawyers argued that she properly reported the incident to an Indiana University Health social worker and did not run afoul of privacy laws when she discussed the patient’s case in a general and “deidentified” manner that is typical for doctors…

Mahler, who used to work for the federal Office of Civil Rights, said Bernard violated HIPAA when she told a colleague general details of the case at a rally, and when she did the same to a reporter, disclosing information that Mahler said could have conceivably identified the 10-year-old.


But the HIPAA expert called by Bernard’s attorneys disagreed.

“The information that she shared was age, gender and state,” said Paige Joyner, who has done hundreds of HIPAA risk assessments and also used to work in the Office of Civil Rights. “That’s not protected health information. There was nothing that was individually identifiable.”

18) This is terrific, “What Gen Z teens like me are getting wrong about mental health”

I grew up with a mom who’s a therapist, which meant that feelings moved through the air in our home like oxygen. It’s not that we talked about feelings all the time, or that I’d say something about my day and she’d ask, “How do you feel about that?”

Instead, it was more that no matter what I felt — sad, worried, mad, confused, lonely, whatever — it was never something to fix or make disappear. The world didn’t stop when I was unhappy or uncomfortable. It was never a big deal. I’d just have to feel whatever I felt — good or bad — and that, my mom believed, was the key to emotional health.

But this isn’t what I saw in many of my friends’ families. Ironically, it was homes with no therapists in them where feelings were constantly monitored. If friends were upset that a teacher gave them a bad grade, or they were left out of a social event, their parents would spring into action. First, they’d try to fix it — by talking to the teacher, or calling another parent — and if that didn’t work, they’d try to cheer up their kids by letting them have extra screen time or distracting them with a trip to the mall or allowing them to take off for what schools started calling a mental health day…

Ever since the surgeon general sounded the alarm on youth mental health in 2021, parents and educators have been trying to figure out how to help teens in my generation who are struggling amid rising rates of depression and anxiety. That’s an understandable goal. What worries me, though, is the possibility that many in my generation are confusing mental health issues with normal discomfort, to the point that the term “mental health” is becoming so diluted that it’s starting to lose meaning.

Social media play a large role in this, promoting pseudo-technical and pathologizing language — often leading to cancellation — as the antidote to emotional discomfort. Someone disagrees with you? They’re “gaslighting” you! Someone has the “wrong” point of view or perspective? They’re “toxic”! Someone declines to do what you ask? They have “no boundaries”! Instead of talking through these situations or trying to understand another perspective better, we run away to the supposed comfort of not having to deal with them. Click — they’re blocked…

All of the warnings are well-intentioned and supposedly in service of our mental health. And of course, many people my age face mental health stressors that go far beyond the disappointments and conflicts of daily life. Anxiety and depression are serious concerns that need to be addressed, and treatment should be encouraged and accessible.

But I wonder if, more broadly, we’re normalizing an almost hyper-vigilant avoidance of anything uncomfortable. By insisting that the mere mention of something difficult is bad for our mental health, are we protecting ourselves from emotional damage — or damaging ourselves emotionally? Are we really that emotionally fragile, or are we teaching ourselves to become more fragile than we actually are?

Wrapping up with a little twitter

19) Great thread on conservatism in America vs. the UK:

20) Amazing finding.  Get your Shingles vaccine!

21) Show up and try.



Quick hits (part II)

1) Is semaglutide the ultimate wonder drug?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

15) I literally just do not believe this.  

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

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

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

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

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

We were wrong.

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

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

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

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

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


AI Quick Hits

1) I really enjoyed this recent post from AI guru Ethan Mollick, “On-boarding your AI Intern”

In previous posts, I have made the argument that, for a variety of reasons, it is better to think of AI as a person (even though it isn’t) than a piece of software. In fact, perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of our current AI moment is that several billion people just got free interns. They are weird, somewhat alien interns that work infinitely fast and sometimes lie to make you happy, but interns nonetheless.

So, how can you figure out how to best use your intern

? Just like any new worker, you are going to have to learn its strengths and weaknesses; you are going to have to learn to train and work with it; and you are going to have to get a sense of where it is useful and where it is just annoying. The stakes for this are quite high. People using AI have 30-80% higher productivity in some writing and coding tasks, and often feel happier having offloaded their most annoying work. That is a big incentive to learn to work with your intern.

What would an AI intern be great for?  Choosing the best excerpts of articles for quick hits. So, let’s see how it goes.  If you don’t like the excerpts, you know who to blame.

2) It’s crazy how Scientific American is far more interested in pushing an ideological agenda than interesting science these days.  The latest was sharing this fascinating article about White-throated sparrows as somehow relevant for human gender debates (it’s really interesting on its own):

The White-throated Sparrow is common and familiar, hopping on the ground under bird feeders all over the eastern states in winter. But this seemingly ordinary backyard bird has a secret identity—or, actually, four secret identities. And it’s these multiple personalites that place the White-throat at the center of mysteries scientists are still working out.

Watch a flock of White-throats in spring and you’ll notice they have two kinds of head patterns. Some wear snappy stripes of black and white across the top of the head. Others have more modest head stripes of dark brown and tan. That superficial difference might not seem like a big deal, but it reflects a remarkable divergence in the lifestyles of these individuals.

As Lowther discovered, mated pairs of White-throats almost always involved one bird of each color morph: Either a tan-striped male with a white-striped female, or a white-striped male with a tan-striped female. Intrigued, Lowther extended his research, joined by biologist J. Bruce Falls and others.

They found that the color differences were more than skin deep. The two morphs had different personalities, different behaviors, different hormones, and even different chromosomes.

3) On the 25th anniversary of Seinfeld:

But they also presented an irreverent version of adulthood that I had never seen on TV or in life: a playful yet sophisticated world where grown-ups joked and laughed together and didn’t take themselves too seriously, even when everyone around them was being very serious indeed.

For the somehow uninitiated, “Seinfeld,” created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, stars Seinfeld as a fictionalized version of himself and follows his shenanigans with his three closest friends: his childhood buddy, George Costanza (Jason Alexander); his former girlfriend turned pal, Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus); and his oddball neighbor, Kramer (Michael Richards). It is regarded as one of the greatest shows of all time.

It has consistently been framed as a comedy about four terrible people, with good reason. Jerry and his fellow misfits lied, cheated and stole. They were petty and shallow. They created a framework for “bad” sitcom characters that shows like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” would embrace with great relish and success.

But what if they were also onto something? What if their refusal to conform to the expectations of adulthood — marriage, children, career advancement — was not just a sign of immaturity, but also a form of resistance? What if their rejection of the conventional markers of success was not just a flaw, but also a strength?

3) Not going to have GPT summarize an abstract, though, “Individual Empowerment, Institutional Confidence, and Vaccination Rates in Cross-National Perspective, 1995 to 2018”

In the past decade, before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, rates of childhood vaccination against diseases such as measles, diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus declined worldwide. An extensive literature examines the correlates and motives of vaccine hesitancy—the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines—among individuals, but little macrosociological theory or research seeks to explain changes in country-level vaccine uptake in global and comparative perspective. Drawing on existing research on vaccine hesitancy and recent developments in world society theory, we link cross-national variation in vaccination rates to two global cultural processes: the dramatic empowerment of individuals and declining confidence in liberal institutions. Both processes, we argue, emerged endogenously in liberal world culture, instigated by the neoliberal turn of the 1980s and 1990s. Fixed- and random-effects panel regression analyses of data for 80 countries between 1995 and 2018 support our claim that individualism and lack of institutional confidence contributed to the global decline in vaccination rates. We also find that individualism is itself partly responsible for declining institutional confidence. Our framework of world-cultural change might be extended to help make sense of recent post-liberal challenges in other domains.

4) Good stuff from NYT, “The Greatest Wealth Transfer in History Is Here, With Familiar (Rich) Winners”

n 1989, total family wealth in the United States was about $38 trillion, adjusted for inflation. By 2022, that wealth had more than tripled, reaching $140 trillion. Of the $84 trillion projected to be passed down from older Americans to millennial and Gen X heirs through 2045, $16 trillion will be transferred within the next decade.

The pandemic has only accelerated this trend. The stock market has soared to record highs, while home prices have risen at their fastest pace in 15 years. These gains have disproportionately benefited older Americans who own more stocks and real estate than younger generations.

The result is a widening gap between the haves and have-nots that is likely to persist as wealth is handed down from one generation to the next. According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the wealthiest 10 percent of American families owned 77 percent of total family wealth in 2019, up from 71 percent in 1989. The bottom half of families owned just 2 percent of total wealth, down from 4 percent in 1989.

The concentration of wealth among a few families also raises concerns about the influence of money on politics and democracy. Some of the richest heirs in America, such as Charles Koch and George Soros, have used their fortunes to fund political causes and candidates that align with their views.

5) The kids and their subtitles these days!

Recent research is showing that the use of subtitles on TV has continued to grow, with people choosing to use them. Why is this? If the speech intelligibility of the content we mix is so bad, surely we cannot be doing our job properly. What is going wrong?

The BBC has been conducting research into this issue and has found that subtitle usage has increased from 7.5% in 2007 to 18% in 2016. However, this figure does not include online viewing, where subtitle usage is much higher. According to Netflix, more than 80% of its UK users watch with subtitles on.

The BBC research also found that the main reasons for using subtitles were not related to hearing impairment, but rather to factors such as background noise, accents, mumbling and fast speech. Some viewers also said they used subtitles to help them understand complex plots or unfamiliar vocabulary.

6) One more “Jury Duty” episode to go for me.  So good!

Jury Duty—a series starring mostly unknown performers, tucked away on a largely unknown streamer—is incredible reality television, a boundary-pushing hidden-camera program. Set inside a fake courtroom, the show follows Ronald, a guy who believes he’s participating in a documentary about jury duty but who is actually surrounded by actors roping him into progressively weirder scenarios.

Jury Duty has become a word-of-mouth hit, and Ronald a bona fide star. According to a JustWatch report, the show was the most popular streaming series the week of its finale in April, nabbing more viewers than Netflix’s Beef and The Diplomat. Ronald, meanwhile, just appeared in an ad with Ryan Reynolds.

Given the show’s triumphs, the producers have teased the possibility of a second season; they told Variety that the best aspects of their concept are “infinitely repeatable.” But as true as that may be—other hoax-driven series in the past, such as Spike’s The Joe Schmo Show, ran for multiple seasons—creating more Jury Duty would be a shame.

The magic of Jury Duty is that it doesn’t yet have a formula. It’s an experiment that worked because of its novelty and unpredictability. To repeat it would be to risk losing what made it so special in the first place.

7) Another abstract from some really interesting PS research, “Who Supports Political Violence?”

The last few years have witnessed an increase in democratic “backsliding” in the United States—a decline in the quality of democracy, typically accompanied by an influx of non-normative behavior, such as political violence. Despite the real consequences of support for violence, fairly little is known about such an extremist attitude outside studies of terrorism or aggression. Using a unique survey containing many psychological, political, and social characteristics, we find that perceived victimhood, authoritarianism, populism, and white identity are the most powerful predictors of support for violence, though military service, conspiratorial thinking, anxiety, and feelings of powerlessness are also related. These patterns suggest that subjective feelings about being unjustly victimized—irrespective of the truth of the matter—and the psychological baggage that accompanies such feelings lie at the heart of support for violence. We use these results to build a profile of characteristics that explain support for violence; the predictive validity of this profile is then tested by examining its relationship with support for the January 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot, with which it is strongly associated, even accounting for support for Donald Trump. Our findings have implications for the detection of extremist attitudes and our understanding of the non-partisan/ideological foundations of anti-social political behavior.

8) Noah Smith, “How technology has changed the world since I was young”

he world has changed a lot since I was young. Technology has changed it. And I’m not just talking about the internet and smartphones and social media. I’m talking about the deeper changes that have reshaped our society and our culture, our economy and our politics, our values and our beliefs.

The first big change is that technology has made us more connected than ever before. We can communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime, with a click of a button or a swipe of a screen. We can access a vast amount of information and entertainment, from news and podcasts to movies and games. We can share our thoughts and feelings, our opinions and experiences, our likes and dislikes, with millions of strangers online.

The second big change is that technology has made us more powerful than ever before. We can create and manipulate things that were once beyond our imagination, from artificial intelligence and biotechnology to nanotechnology and quantum computing. We can solve problems that were once unsolvable, from curing diseases and exploring space to fighting climate change and enhancing human capabilities. We can influence and shape the world around us, for better or for worse.

The third big change is that technology has made us more uncertain than ever before. We face new challenges and risks that we don’t fully understand or control, from cyberattacks and misinformation to ethical dilemmas and social unrest. We face new questions and choices that we don’t have clear answers or guidelines for, from privacy and security to identity and morality. We face new possibilities and scenarios that we don’t have adequate preparation or foresight for, from technological singularity and superintelligence to posthumanism and transhumanism.

9) Don’t know how I missed this from 2021, but it’s excellent, “Reducing gun violence: What do the experts think?”

Gun violence is a complex and multifaceted problem that requires a comprehensive and evidence-based approach. Unfortunately, the public debate on this issue is often polarized and simplistic, pitting gun rights against gun control, or law enforcement against community prevention. This binary framing obscures the diversity of perspectives and experiences among those who are most affected by gun violence, as well as the potential for common ground and collaboration among stakeholders.

To move beyond this impasse, we convened a group of experts from different disciplines and backgrounds to discuss what we know and don’t know about reducing gun violence, and what policies and programs are most promising and feasible. The group included researchers, practitioners, advocates, and policymakers who have worked on various aspects of gun violence prevention, such as public health, criminal justice, mental health, education, and civil rights.

The group agreed on several key points:

  • Gun violence is not a monolithic phenomenon, but rather a collection of different types of violence that vary by context, motive, means, and impact. Therefore, no single policy or program can address all forms of gun violence; instead, we need a portfolio of interventions that are tailored to specific populations and settings.
  • Gun violence is not only a criminal justice problem, but also a public health and social justice problem. Reducing gun violence requires addressing its root causes and risk factors, such as poverty, inequality, trauma, racism, and social isolation.

10) And a great post from Yglesias on policing:

The basic problem with policing in America is that it’s not very effective at preventing crime. The clearance rate for homicides is only about 60%, and for other violent crimes it’s much lower. That means that most criminals get away with their crimes, and most victims don’t get justice.

One reason for this low effectiveness is that police officers are not allocated to the places where they are most needed. In a new paper, Tanaya Devi and Roland Fryer show that there is a large spatial mismatch between where police officers are deployed and where crime occurs. They use data from 242 U.S. cities to measure the number of officers per square mile in each census block group, and compare it to the number of crimes per square mile in the same area.

They find that there is a negative correlation between police presence and crime: Areas with more crime have fewer officers per square mile, and vice versa. This correlation is especially strong for violent crimes like homicide, robbery, and aggravated assault. They estimate that reallocating officers to match the spatial distribution of crime could reduce homicides by 11% and violent crimes by 7%, without increasing the overall size of the police force.

Why do police departments allocate their officers so inefficiently? Devi and Fryer suggest several possible explanations, such as political pressure, union rules, historical inertia, or lack of data. They also point out some potential barriers to implementing a more efficient allocation, such as officer preferences, community resistance, or legal constraints.

11) Really great from NYT, “Does Therapy Really Work? Let’s Unpack That.”

The answer is complicated. The research shows that therapy does work for many people — but not for everyone. And it’s hard to say exactly what kind of therapy works best for whom, or under what circumstances. The effectiveness of therapy depends on many factors, such as the type and severity of the problem, the quality of the therapist-client relationship, the client’s motivation and expectations, and the therapist’s training and experience.

One way to measure the effectiveness of therapy is to use meta-analyses, which combine the results of many studies on the same topic. Meta-analyses can provide an overall estimate of how much therapy helps people improve their mental health, compared with not receiving any treatment or receiving a placebo.

According to a 2018 meta-analysis by Pim Cuijpers and colleagues, which included 421 studies with more than 36,000 participants, the average effect size of therapy was 0.69. This means that after receiving therapy, the average client was better off than 76 percent of people who did not receive therapy.

Another way to measure the effectiveness of therapy is to use benchmarks, which compare the outcomes of therapy with those of other treatments or natural recovery. Benchmarks can help answer the question: How much better off are people who receive therapy than people who receive other forms of help or no help at all?

According to a 2013 meta-analysis by Bruce Wampold and Zac Imel, which included 79 studies with more than 7,000 participants, the average effect size of therapy compared with benchmarks was 0.51. This means that after receiving therapy, the average client was better off than 69 percent of people who received other forms of help or no help at all.

12) Interesting stuff in the Lancet on how to think about obesity:

Oooof– summarized a different Lancet article!!  I’ll have to do it myself. 

In practical terms, this definition requires the health professional to answer the following question: Does this patient present with a health problem that is likely to improve with weight loss? If the answer is “yes”, then the patient has obesity. If not, then the patient may just have adiposity, which may well at some stage progress to overt obesity (hence the suggestion to refer to these individuals as having pre-obesity).
Such an approach to diagnosing obesity would of course require a clinical assessment of each patient by a qualified health practitioner. Only a comprehensive interview together with a physical exam as well as relevant laboratory and imaging tests would establish (or rule out) the diagnosis “obesity” in a given individual. While this clearly makes the diagnosis of obesity more cumbersome, it ensures that otherwise healthy individuals are no longer labeled as having obesity simply based on their size. Perhaps, more importantly, individuals presenting with health issues that are clearly linked to or likely to improve with weight loss, can be diagnosed with having obesity (and thus qualifying for obesity treatments), even when they fall below the conventional BMI cutoffs. While this introduces an element of clinical judgment into the diagnosis, this is not uncommon in medical practice, where clinical judgment is often called upon in determining the presence and severity of a medical issue and the best course of action.
Ultimately, the goal of making a proper diagnosis is to determine the right course of action for a given individual. In the case of someone presenting with a health problem closely linked to excess weight, for which we have strong evidence that weight-loss would improve it (e.g. hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnoea, etc.), we would see a “primary” indication for obesity treatment, i.e. successful reduction in body weight can essentially solve the problem (Fig. 1). However, we may also be confronted with a patient who presents with a health problem, not causally linked to obesity, but which is aggravated by or more difficult to manage due to the presence of excess weight (e.g. someone with excess weight who sustains an injury or contracts COVID). Such an individual could be considered to have a “secondary” indication for obesity treatment. While weight-loss will not solve the underlying problem, it may make management and recovery easier. Finally, we may consider individuals with excess weight, who present with a health problem that is neither related to nor likely to improve with weight loss. This person may be considered to have a “tertiary” indication for obesity treatment, which although perhaps leading to an overall improvement in health, would have no impact on the presenting complaint.

13) Ross Douthat’s case against legalizing marijuana didn’t strike me as particularly strong:

Of all the ways to win a culture war, the smoothest is to just make the other side seem hopelessly uncool. So it’s been with the march of marijuana legalization: There have been moral arguments about the excesses of the drug war and medical arguments about the potential benefits of pot, but the vibe of the whole debate has pitted the chill against the uptight, the cool against the square, the relaxed future against the Principal Skinners of the past.

All of this means that it will take a long time for conventional wisdom to acknowledge the truth that seems readily apparent to squares like me: Marijuana legalization as we’ve done it so far has been a policy failure, a potential social disaster, a clear and evident mistake.

The best version of the square’s case is an essay by Charles Fain Lehman of the Manhattan Institute explaining his evolution from youthful libertarian to grown-up prohibitionist. It will not convince readers who come in with stringently libertarian presuppositions — who believe on high principle that consenting adults should be able to purchase, sell and enjoy almost any substance short of fentanyl and that no second-order social consequence can justify infringing on this right. But Lehman explains in detail why the second-order effects of marijuana legalization have mostly vindicated the pessimists and skeptics.

First, on the criminal justice front, the expectation that legalizing pot would help reduce America’s prison population by clearing out nonviolent offenders was always overdrawn, since marijuana convictions made up a small share of the incarceration rate even at its height. But Lehman argues that there is also no good evidence so far that legalization reduces racially discriminatory patterns of policing and arrests.

I like this Dilan Esper response:

14) The WHO’s case against artificial sweeteners is even less compelling. Also, the WHO, of course, is the organization that was insisting on droplet transmission of Covid a whole damn year after everyone else knew it was airborne.

If you’re trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain, products sweetened with artificial sweeteners rather than with higher calorie table sugar may be an attractive option. Artificial sweeteners are many times sweeter than table sugar, so smaller amounts are needed to create the same level of sweetness.

But do artificial sweeteners actually help reduce calories and deliver on their promise to help you lose weight? A new report from the World Health Organization suggests that they don’t.

The report, published on Monday in The BMJ, is based on a systematic review of 56 studies that examined the effects of non-sugar sweeteners on health outcomes in both adults and children. The researchers found that there was no compelling evidence to indicate that artificial sweeteners help people lose weight over time. Nor did they find any clear evidence that they prevent obesity or other conditions such as diabetes, cancer and dental decay.

The researchers did find some evidence that artificial sweeteners may have a modest benefit for reducing body mass index and fasting blood glucose levels. But they said these findings were based on low-quality studies with a high risk of bias, and that more research is needed to confirm them.

The report also noted that there are many uncertainties about the potential harms of artificial sweeteners. Some studies have suggested that they may alter the gut microbiota and affect appetite and glucose regulation. Other studies have raised concerns about possible links between artificial sweeteners and cancer, cardiovascular disease and kidney damage.

15) Scott Alexander on the weirdness of the academic job market:

The academic job market is weird. It’s weird in a way that’s hard to explain to people who haven’t experienced it. It’s weird in a way that makes it hard for people who are in it to make rational decisions.

The weirdness starts with the fact that academic jobs are scarce and highly competitive. There are far more PhDs than there are tenure-track positions, and getting one of those positions requires not only years of training and research, but also luck, timing, networking, and strategic choices.

The weirdness continues with the fact that academic jobs are highly specialized and geographically dispersed. Unlike most other professions, where you can apply for jobs in your field in different cities or regions, academic jobs are tied to specific departments and disciplines. You can’t just decide to move to a new place and look for a job there; you have to wait for a job opening that matches your expertise and interests, and hope that it’s in a location that you like or can tolerate.

The weirdness culminates with the fact that academic jobs are highly uncertain and contingent. Even if you get a tenure-track position, you still have to go through a probationary period of several years, during which you have to prove yourself by publishing, teaching, and securing grants. If you fail to meet the expectations of your department or university, you can be denied tenure and lose your job. And even if you get tenure, you still have to deal with the pressures and challenges of academia, such as increasing workloads, shrinking budgets, changing student demographics, and shifting intellectual trends.1


Republicans are going to get us all killed (vaccination edition)

The latest look at vaccines from Pew has, I think, an overly-optimistic headline, “Americans’ Largely Positive Views of Childhood Vaccines Hold Steady”

Well, that sounds good– right?  But, dig in just a little and break this down by partisanship and the trend is genuinely quite concerning:

Chart shows decline in share of Republicans who support vaccine requirement for children to attend public schools

Yes, at least it is still a majority of Republicans, but this is not good.  It’s bad enough that the entire Covid response is polarized, but we sure don’t need childhood vaccinations in general (one of the great victories of human health by any measure) to be undone by Republicans broadly losing confidence in vaccines.  I don’t know what’s the best way to counteract this, but it is really important that this trend not get any worse. 

OTC Birth control pills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part II)

1) deBoer, “Pick a Practical Major, Like French”

We may be on the verge of a recession, or we may already be in one. After decades of slack labor markets and anemic wage growth, for an all-too-brief period the post-COVID-lockdown world saw a tight job market and employers actually competing for workers. But with inflation high and the Fed having raised rates aggressively, many are projecting a serious downturn that will surely hurt workers. Under those conditions, it’s more important than ever that college students take practical majors. Like French.

Yes, French. The major that’s so often derided as the height of impractical folly, the interest of people who want to fritter their time away reciting poetry and watching New Wave cinema, in fact revolves around a skill that has a great chance to be invaluable in the coming half-century: the ability to communicate in one of the fastest-growing languages in the world. Though it’s barely discussed in American news and commentary, central and west Africa — that is to say, Francophone Africa — has seen a population explosion in recent decades that’s arguably the biggest in the world. And while birth-rate growth in the region has started to level off, declining birth rates or outright declining populations across the world mean that the French-speaking part of Africa will play a huge role in determining humanity’s future. The French language rises with it. To put things in relative terms, the Francophone world, where as many as 525 million people live, is larger than the entire European Union. And where population growth happens, economic importance tends to follow…

The broader point here is simple: We have a prevalent concept of the “practical college major” in our society, but that concept is vague, not buttressed with evidence, and shifts according to whim and prejudice. And the ultimate point of stressing the practicality of certain majors while denigrating the frivolity of others is to blame people for economic conditions they can’t control.

The first and most basic problem with the notion of the practical major is that practicality is not a static, timeless quality. Consider the story of the pharmacy major in the mid 2010s. As a very telling New Republic story from 2014 spells out, the popularity of pharmaceutical studies could stand as a cautionary tale when it comes to the very concept of the practical major, of the educational “safe haven.” In the 2000s and 2010s, dozens of new schools of pharmacy were opened thanks to the perception that pharmacy was a safe field for young graduates. Thousands of newly minted pharmacists flooded the market. Somehow, administrators in higher education were surprised to find that these new graduates had a harder time finding a good job than previous generations. But this is an inevitable outcome of telling young people an academic field is a practical choice, since you’re making that field more attractive and thus increasing the competition they have to face in the labor market.

The point isn’t that the pharmaceutical industry became a uniquely bad field to be in — it wasn’t. The point is that a supposedly safe field became less friendly to new entrants over time. And it happened fairly quickly, in a world where economic data is often lagging and where it can take four or more years to get credentialed into a given field. What were the current pharmacy majors supposed to do when it became clear there would be a lot of competition for jobs after all? Quit halfway through their majors, after investing years and tens of thousands of dollars?

For another example of the folly of practicality, look at the major of business, a serious field for serious people — or maybe not. People are often surprised when I tell them that many of the career-outcome metrics for business majors are middling at best. After all, what could be a more intuitively practical major than business? The problem is that business is by far the most popular major in American higher education; each year, we graduate something like 350,000 students with bachelor’s degrees in the field. That means that, if you’re one of those students, you’re graduating into a labor market where you have an immense amount of competition. That inevitably depresses your career prospects. (Supply and demand applies to educated labor.) “Practicality” has nothing to do with it.

Or we might look at petrochemical engineering, where the job market tracks the notoriously volatile price of oil. Sample 2015 headline: “Petroleum engineering degrees seen going from boom to bust.” Working for oil companies seems like the definition of a practical, even mercenary ambition to me. And yet that superficial practicality is no match for macroeconomic conditions individuals can’t control.

2) You better believed I enjoyed reading about completely out of control Institutional Review Boards in Scott Alexander’s substack:

IV. Hard Truths


Doctors are told to weigh the benefits vs. costs of every treatment. So what are the benefits and costs of IRBs?

Whitney can find five people who unexpectedly died from research in the past twenty-five years. These are the sorts of cases IRBs are set up to prevent – people injected with toxic drugs, surgeries gone horribly wrong, the like. No doubt there are more whose stories we don’t know. But as for obvious, newsworthy cases, there are ~2 per decade. Were there more before Ellis’ 1998 freakout and the subsequent tightening of IRB rules? Whitney can’t really find evidence for this.

What are the costs? The direct cost of running the nation’s IRB network is about $100 million per year. The added costs to studies from IRB-related delays and compliance costs is about $1.5 billion/year. So the monetary costs are around the order of $1.6 billion.

What about non-monetary costs? Nobody has fully quantified this. Some Australian oncologists did an analysis and found that 60 people per year died from IRB-related delays in Australian cancer trials. 6,000 people died from delays in ISIS-2, and that was just one study. Tens of thousands were probably killed by IRBs blocking human challenge trials for COVID vaccines. Low confidence estimate, but somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 Americans probably die each year from IRB-related research delays.

So the cost-benefit calculation looks like – save a tiny handful of people per year, while killing 10,000 to 100,000 more, for a price tag of $1.6 billion. If this were a medication, I would not prescribe it.

Whitney doesn’t want a revolution. He just wants to go back to the pre-1998 system, before Gary Ellis crushed Johns Hopkins, doctors were replaced with administrators, and pragmatic research ethics were replaced by liability avoidance. Specifically:

  • Allow zero-risk research (for example, testing urine samples a patient has already provided) with verbal or minimal written consent.

  • Allow consent forms to skip trivial issues no one cares about (“aspirin might taste bad”) and optimize them for patient understanding instead of liability avoidance.

  • Let each institution run their IRB with limited federal interference. Big institutions doing dangerous studies can enforce more regulations; small institutions doing simpler ones can be more permissive. The government only has to step in when some institution seems to be failing really badly.

  • Researchers should be allowed to appeal IRB decisions to higher authorities like deans or chancellors

These make sense. I’m just worried they’re impossible.

3) Bruni on MTG:

I don’t keep up with Marjorie Taylor Greene’s tweets, having decided long ago that there were more pleasant and constructive uses of time, like lighting fire to my eyelashes. But I’m rethinking that judgment now. M.T.G. really does have something to say — or, rather, to tell us.

She tweeted a doozy the other day. Actually, she routinely tweets doozies, which I realized when I caught up with her Twitter account, bingeing on it the way I would an overlooked HBO Max series, if the series were an endless sequence of garish sights and ghastly sounds that robbed me of my will to live. This tweet garnered headlines — that’s how I came to it — and deservedly so. Audaciously, incoherently, M.T.G. used it to try to turn Jack Teixeira, the 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard accused of leaking national security secrets, into a victim.

The leaks in question divulged classified information about U.S. surveillance of Russia that’s vital to our assistance to Ukraine, where there are true victims, an entire ravaged country of them. And Teixeira’s alleged actions didn’t seem to have any high-minded prompt. He’s more post-adolescent punk than principled dissident by my read.

But then my lens isn’t M.T.G.’s. I don’t wear her thick, cracked goggles of grievance, which reveal Teixeira as a martyr.

“Teixeira is white, male, christian, and antiwar,” she tweeted, capitalizing on her professed faith without properly capitalizing it. “That makes him an enemy to the Biden regime.” Her tweet, wanting for a good copy edit, went on to beseech its readers: “Ask yourself who is the real enemy? A young low level national guardsmen? Or the administration that is waging war in Ukraine?”

President Biden isn’t waging war in Ukraine. That’s what Vladimir Putin is doing. And Teixeira’s gender, color and religion have nothing to do with his arrest and looming prosecution, nor are they relevant to a legitimate, necessary debate about the degree, nature, costs and long-term usefulness of our aid to Ukrainians.

But they have everything to do with the manner in which an alarming fraction of Americans regard and respond to political developments today. They look for evidence of offense to, and persecution of, whatever group of people they identify with. They invent that proof when it’s not there; when it is, they upsize it. Either way, their predetermined sense of grievance is the prism through which all is passed and all is parsed. It’s their Rosetta stone. It’s their binky.

M.T.G.’s tweet is an extreme example from a self-infatuated extremist, but it’s an example nonetheless. A reckless brat is arrested, President Biden arches an eyebrow, a bluebird falls from the sky: M.T.G. can see the lefty secularism and reverse racism — the wokeness, in a polarizing word — in any turn of events.

So can many others on the right, which has no monopoly on willful misreads, but is currently conducting a scary and profoundly dangerous master class on them. Witness their conspiracy theories, their militias, their actions on — and then revisionism about — the Jan. 6 rioting. Witness the evolution of Donald Trump’s blather, which leans ever more heavily on the insistence that investigations of him are really attacks on his supporters, who confront the same horrible oppression that poor Airman Teixeira does.

Witness less flamboyant versions of this paranoid mind-set. Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, has built his brand around identifying the supposed threats to non-woke traditionalists and crafting or calling for measures that foil and punish their liberal oppressors. He trades aspiration for retribution, optimism for resentment.

He, too, wears goggles of grievance. They’re just a little bit lighter than M.T.G.’s. A little bit looser. And they’re not lined in fur.

4) This is good, “Why the Anti-Anti-Trumpers Need Ron DeSantis: His getting the 2024 GOP nomination would, they hope, validate their actions—and their inaction—since 2016”

TO UNDERSTAND WHY THIS SEGMENT of Republicans is so DeSantis-needy, let’s briefly revisit the typology of the GOP following its crackup. Donald Trump’s election and presidency split the conservative intelligentsia—the writers, think tankers, attorneys, professors, influencers, strategists, policy wonks, and other “thought leaders”—into three broad groups.

First, there were those who said “Never Trump” and meant it, opposing both the man and his movement.

Second, at the other end are some you could call “semi-fascist.” Openly anti-democracy, they try to harness Trumpist populism to their own ends. Think tankers at the Claremont Institute call for an American Caesar. The American Conservative praises Vlad the Impaler, arguing that America needs a leader “willing to be the bad guy.” Billionaire Peter Thiel argues that freedom is incompatible with democracy, and funds a variety of causes and candidates (J.D. Vance, Blake Masters, etc.). Fox News host Tucker Carlson belongs here too, with his Russia-friendly coverage of the Ukraine war, and promoting the “great replacement” conspiracy theory.

Third, there’s what is probably the largest category: the rationalizers. Here you’ll find many media figures, donors, political operatives, and politicians. Loyal partisans, committed culture warriors, and anyone chasing the MAGA audience, appealing to small donors, seeking proximity to power, or just trying to stick with the team.

Some of these accepted Trump as the avatar of the American right, and backed him until after his presidency when they could cheer a Republican challenger. Others went anti-anti-Trump, professing to disapprove of the president, and rarely defending him outright, but rarely criticizing him either, focusing instead on attacking his critics.

Rationalizers criticized Trump on background to reporters, but not in public. Or they’d express disagreement in public, but merely on political strategy, not principle. Or maybe, when things got egregious, they’d say something on principle. But not too strenuously—down that road lies excommunication, as with former Rep. Liz Cheney—and usually with caveats that Democrats are worse.

No matter what happened, no matter what they said in public or private, the rationalizers kept coming back. They could not, would not make a public break with the party or a final break with Trump.

Which brings us back to Ron DeSantis. The rationalizers need the Republican presidential nomination to go to DeSantis to validate their choice.

To show that their words, actions, and inaction since 2016 were shrewd and insightful, not obsequious and cowardly.

To demonstrate that they were engaged in a wise, noble effort to hold together the party for the good of the country.

It would let them move on from the Trump period without reckoning with their role in it.

5) Lots of good stuff on how to study better.  Gift link. 

Students don’t know much about how they learn.

In one study, researchers asked college students to select which of two scenarios would lead to better learning. For example, students were asked to compare creating one’s own mnemonic with using one the teacher provides. (Creating your own is better, previous research shows.)

For two of the six scenarios, students picked the worse strategy as often as the better one. For the other four, most students actually thought the worsestrategy was superior.

How could they be so misinformed? You would think that after years of studying and then seeing their test results, students would figure out which methods work and which don’t.

Students get studying wrong because they don’t assess whether a method works in the long run. Instead, they pay attention to whether the method is easy to do and feels like it’s working while they’re doing it.

By analogy, suppose I were trying to get stronger by doing push-ups. You watch me train, and are surprised that I’m practicing push-ups on my knees. When you suggest that push-ups on my toes are a better exercise, I reply: “I tried that, but I can do lots more on my knees. And this way they’re not so hard!”

Students try to learn by doing the mental equivalent of push-ups on their knees.

For example, student surveys show that rereading notes or textbooks is the most common way students prepare for a test. Rereading is easy because the mind can skitter along the surface of the material without closely considering its meaning, but that’s exactly why it’s a poor way to learn. If you want to learn the meaning — as most tests require you to — then you must think about meaning when you study.

Yet, insidiously, rereading feels effective.

Rereading a textbook makes the content feel familiar. But judging that content is familiar and knowing what it means — being able to describe it, being able to use that knowledge when you think — are supported by different processes in the brain. Because they are separate, familiarity can increase even if knowledge of the meaning doesn’t increase. That’s what’s happened when a person looks very familiar but you can’t identify her.

And so, as students reread their textbooks, the increasing familiarity makes them think they are learning. But because they are not thinking about the meaning of what they read, they aren’t improving the knowledge that actually builds understanding.

Psychologists have developed much better ways to study, some of them counterintuitive. For example, if you’ve only partially learned some material, trying to remember it is a better way to solidify that fragile learning than studying more.

6) I’m not a vegetarian, but I definitely try to a lot less meat these days.  It’s good for animals and good for the planet:

In the United States and beyond, giant agribusiness corporations continue raising animals in ways that disregard their welfare, never allowing pigs or chickens to walk outside, crowding hens who lay eggs into cages that prevent them from stretching their wings and breeding chickens to grow so fast that their immature leg bones struggle to bear their weight.

Boycotting this monstrous abuse of billions of animals each year is a powerful reason for not eating meat, but the outsize contribution of meat and dairy products to climate change is for me now an equally urgent part of shifting to a plant-based diet. But we need not be hard-line about avoiding all animal products. If everyone chose plant-based foods for just half their meals, we would have fewer animals suffering, and a tremendously better shot at avoiding the most dire consequences of climate change.

Meat and dairy production are major sources of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculates that releasing into the atmosphere a ton of methane will, over a century, raise the temperature of our planet by 28 times as much as releasing a ton of carbon dioxide. That would be bad enough, but the impact is even more lopsided in the shorter term: Because methane breaks down much more rapidly than carbon dioxide, over 20 years, that ton will warm the planet as much as 84 tons of carbon dioxide…

This means we can do something for the planet every time we eat. And if Americans were to replace 50 percent of all animal-based foods with plant-based alternatives by 2030, that alone would help them get a quarter of the way toward hitting the U.S. climate target under the Paris agreement.

Admittedly, slowing climate change would be much easier — and fairer — if governments were to tax animal products in proportion to the damage they do to the climate. But in the absence of meat and dairy taxes, the power lies with those who consume animal products, and with the institutions that provide food for many of us.

7) OMG do I hate seemingly every damn electronic interaction asking for a tip now.  Tips are quite appropriate for tipped employees or to reward a person/business for an extra good job.  But, no, you don’t get a tip just because you sold me a donut!

You might be wondering why I, a tech columnist, would write about tipping. The reason is that tipping is no longer just a socioeconomic and ethical issue about the livelihoods of service workers.

It has also become a tech problem that is rapidly spiraling out of control thanks to the proliferation of digital payment products from companies like Square and Toast. Since payment apps and touch screens make it simple for merchants to preset gratuity amounts, many businesses that didn’t ordinarily ask for tips now do.

And many consumers feel pressured to oblige or don’t notice the charges. This phenomenon — known as “guilt tipping” — was compounded in recent years when more privileged professionals shelled out extra to help essential workers weather the pandemic. But even as businesses have somewhat returned to normal, the gratuity requests have remained steadfast.

Tipping practices may become part of a broad government crackdown on so-called junk fees, extra costs that businesses tack on to products and services while adding little to no value. The Federal Trade Commission, which announced an investigation into the practices last year, said people could experience “junk fee shock” when companies used deceptive tech designs to inflate costs at the end of a purchase.

I have felt the pain and awkwardness of seemingly arbitrary tip requests. I was recently taken aback when a grocery store’s iPad screen suggested a tip between 10 percent and 30 percent — a situation that was made more unpleasant when I hit the “no tip” button and the cashier shot me a glare.

When a motorcycle mechanic asked for a gratuity with his smartphone screen, I felt pressured to tip because my safety depended on his services. (It still felt wrong, because I had already paid for his labor.)

I shared these instances, along with stories I had read all over the web about consumers outraged by abnormal tipping requests, with user-interface experts who work on tech and financial products. All agreed that while it was good that payment services had increased gratuities for service workers who rely on them, the technology created a bad experience when consumers felt coerced by businesses that didn’t normally expect tips…

A broader issue remains: When businesses that don’t ordinarily get tips use technology to present a tipping screen, they require the consumer to opt out.

“It’s coercion,” Mr. Selker said.

On the bright side, the gratuity screens are not considered deceptive, said Harry Brignull, a user-experience consultant in Britain, because the “custom tip” and “no tip” buttons are roughly the same size as the tipping buttons. If the opt-out buttons were extremely difficult to find, this would be an abusive practice known as “dark patterns.”

Still, if people feel unfairly pressured into tipping in situations where gratuity is unnecessary, government agencies like the Federal Trade Commission should examine that concern through a regulatory lens, Mr. Brignull said.

The F.T.C. did not immediately return requests for comment.

I recommend approaching tipping the same way that you might approach technology: Be wary of the defaults, and decide when it’s right to opt out.

8) Fine particulate matter in air is really bad for you. And there’s a lot of it in subways. 

THERE ARE PEOPLE in this world who, out of sheer curiosity, carry around scientific instruments so they can measure levels of potentially harmful airborne particulates—tiny clumps of matter that may be breathed in. “We’re sort of air pollution nerds, right?” says Terry Gordon, an environmental health scientist at New York University.

Some years ago, a colleague of his got a shockingly high reading on a particulate monitor when he entered a subway station in New York. “He thought it was broken,” recalls Gordon. But it wasn’t. That reading inspired a much-discussed study, published in 2021, on particulate concentrations in various subway stations in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and other locations in the northeastern US.

It’s just one of numerous recent papers that have documented particulate pollution in subway and metro systems around the world—reflecting a growing concern that city commuting could carry a health risk. Earlier this month, prosecutors in Paris opened a criminal investigation over allegations that air pollution in the capital’s metro was endangering people’s lives. Not only that, the operator of the underground railway system there, RATP, has been accused of deliberately underreporting pollution levels—which it denies.


The fact that particulates are present in metro systems, often at concentrations many times those found at street level, is undeniable. The rubbing of metal wheels on tracks, or brakes on wheels, shears off tiny metal particles that get kicked up into the air as trains move. The question is how the dusty tunnels of the world’s metro systems compare on this point—and whether science reveals any genuine health risks for people who travel or work in these environments. Long-term exposure to particulate matter is known to be linked to a variety of heart and lung problems, as well as premature death.

Gordon, though, was surprised to hear about the legal case in Paris. “Paris is nothing compared to London,” he says. And no metro stations anywhere, he adds, are as particulate-prone as those in and around New York—at least according to his research.

9) This was really interesting on human longevity:

JEAN-MARIE ROBINE IS not impressed by your centenarian grandma. Sure, she’s sprightly for her age, but how unusual is making it to 100, really? Robine is a demographer and longevity researcher, and in his home country of France alone there are 30,000 centenarians; 30 times more than there were half a century ago. Add up all the centenarians worldwide and you get to 570,000—an entire Baltimore’s worth of extremely long-lived humans. Having a birthday cake with 100 candles is nice, but nowadays it’s nothing special.

To really pique Robine’s interest we need to up the longevity stakes a little. He is an expert in supercentenarians: people who live to 110 or even longer. In the 1990s Robine helped validate the age of the oldest person who ever lived. Born in 1875, Jeanne Calment lived through 20 French presidents before dying in 1997 at the age of 122, five months, and 15 days. Since then Robine has become a collector of the super long-lived, helping run one of the largest and most-detailed databases of extremely old people.

For Robine, each supercentenarian is a crucial datapoint in the quest to answer a big question: Is there an upper limit to the human lifespan? “There are still many things we don’t know. And we hate that,” says Robine. But there is an even more fundamental question that undercuts the whole field of longevity research. What if—in our quest to push the limits of human lifespan—we’re looking for answers in all the wrong places?


If you’ve ever read an interview with a supercentenarian, there is one question that will inevitably come up: What’s the secret? Well, take your pick. The secret is kindness. Not having children. Connecting with nature. Avoiding men. Or, being married. Smoking 30 cigarettes a day. Not smoking 30 cigarettes a day. Drinking whisky. Abstaining from alcohol altogether. We mine the lives of the super-old for hints on how we should live our own.

But this is the wrong way to approach the question, says Robine. His style is to step back, take a look at how many supercentenarians there have been, and figure out when they lived and died. The limits of human longevity won’t be found by looking at individuals, he believes, but by examining super-long-lived people collectively. It’s a statistical puzzle: to crack it, you need to know exactly how many people died at age 111, 112, 113, and so on, to work out the likelihood that a supercentenarian won’t make it to their next birthday.

In 1825, the British mathematician Benjamin Gompertz published one of the first attempts to calculate the limits of human longevity following this approach. Armed with birth and death records from Carlisle and Northampton, Gompertz calculated how someone’s risk of dying changed as they got older. Gompertz found that after a person hit their late twenties, their risk of dying in the subsequent year kept going up, year after year. But at age 92 something curious happened. Their annual chance of death leveled off at 25 percent per year. This finding was odd. It suggested to Gompertz that there was no upper limit to human aging. Theoretically, he mused, there was nothing in his data suggesting that humans couldn’t live for many, many, centuries—just like the lives of the patriarchs in the Bible.

But statistics is a cruel science, and Gompertz knew that too. According to his data, the risk of dying at age 92 was so high that you would need an unthinkably large number of humans to reach that age before you found just one person who lived to 192. Three trillion humans, to be precise—30 times more than have ever been born. And yet Gompertz found himself hampered by his dataset. So few humans made it past the age of 90 that it was hard for him to really know what mortality rates were like at very advanced ages. Did his results point toward some insurmountable limit to human lifespan, or just a temporary cap that could be lifted with advancements in medicine?

Modern demographers have picked up where Gompertz left off, sometimes with surprising results. In 2016 Jan Vijg and his colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York concluded that mortality rates past the age of 100 start to rise rapidly, putting a cap on human lifespan of around 125 years. Two years later another group of demographers, this time led by Elisabetta Barbi at Sapienza University in Rome, came to the opposite conclusion. She argued that human death rates increase exponentially up until age 80, at which point they decelerate and then level-off after age 105. Barbi’s research raised the tantalizing prospect that there is no upper limit to human lifespan at all, just like Gompertz wondered.

If mortality rates really do plateau at a certain age, then extreme longevity is just a numbers game, Robine says. Say you had 10 people reach the age of 110, and the risk of any of them dying each subsequent year had plateaued at 50 percent. You’d expect five of them to reach the age of 111, two or three to reach 112, one or two of them to reach 113, just one to reach 114, and no one to make it to 115. To have a good shot of someone reaching 115, you need to double the number of people making it to age 110, and so on. In other words, the upper limit on lifespan is just a factor of how many people survived the previous year. But these numbers all hinge on exactly what and where the mortality plateau is. The problem is, the data available for calculating this isn’t very good.

10) Really enjoyed this about Bud Light and worrying about what products you buy:

You may have caught wind of what followed: widespread outrage from social conservatives, calls for boycotts of the beer by country stars and rappers (including Kid Rock, who released a video in which he destroyed cases of Bud Light with an assault weapon), a significant drop in Bud Light’s sales in one week and the loss of about $5 billion in market capitalization. This week, Bud Light’s owner announced that two of its executives were taking a leave of absence.

Other than some passing discomfort for shareholders, everything about what I hope no one will be tempted to call Bud Light-gate has an air of unreality. In addition to Bud Light, InBev owns Corona, Stella Artois, Michelob, Beck’s, Modelo and many other beer brands. Given the sweeping homogenization of global corporate culture and business practices, InBev’s politics are roughly the same as those of all major companies: a combination of cutthroat economic libertarianism and progressive human resources-style “sensitivity” with which few Americans wholly identify.

Despite the passionate claims about its unique identity and its conservative political profile, the only value driving Bud Light, or any other consumer good available on a global scale, is the remorseless logic of shareholder value. That makes it hard to coherently express your politics with your beer preferences.

11) With the Ed Sheeran court case, a really cool audio interactive feature on some really big music copyright cases.  The truth is, this is just hard. 

12) Was not at all surprised to read smartphone sales are way down.  Why buy a new one?!

Much of the slowdown is likely due to a confluence of pandemic-related economic factors like  chaotic supply lines and skyrocketing inflation. But another aspect that could explain why fewer people are buying phones is that, for the most part, phones are perfectly fine. Modern smartphones have plateaued, both in terms of their design and the capabilities of their software, and the future of phones is likely to involve slow, iterative improvements rather than big leaps that warrant faster upgrades.

13) Somehow, elephant seals manage to get by on 2 hours of sleep a day. 

14) Be very suspicious of polls showing high numbers for third party candidates (unless it’s 1992 and it’s Ross Perot)


Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

Explaining it that way is simply good journalism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course it isn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16) Interesting stuff here…


What Republicans can all agree upon

It should be way harder for poor people to get health care.  Yep, that’s it.


The Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023 — the House Republicans’ ransom terms for lifting the debt ceiling — would, among other things, create work requirements for people receiving Medicaid. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this measure alone would throw 600,000 low-income Americans off their insurance.

The plan is almost certainly not going to take effect — President Biden has refused to pay any ransom to lift the debt ceiling, and even if he winds up backing down from that stance, it would be unimaginable for him to accept such a draconian provision. But the fact that Republicans are voting for this does send a signal about what their party believes.

The purpose of the Limit, Save, Grow Act is to identify budget cuts that the entire Republican Party can agree on. They have ruled out cutting Medicare and Social Security because they see those programs as too popular to cut (or at least too popular to take the political heat of voting to cut when they know the cuts won’t take effect). They have likewise ruled out cutting defense because many Republicans oppose it. Several energy subsidies have been the subject of intra-Republican haggling, on the grounds that they matter to a handful of Republican districts.

But cutting Medicaid counts as a position of Republican unity. Specifically, the Republican plan is to require people receiving Medicaid to prove they are working or taking steps toward finding a job or training for one. In practice, this means they must fill out a bunch of additional complicated paperwork to keep getting their insurance.

Arkansas experimented with this policy under the Trump administration. The result was a failure, at least by the policy’s stated goal of encouraging unemployed people to get jobs. It “did not increase employment over eighteen months of follow-up,” a study found, but it did cause people to lose their health insurance, because they weren’t aware of the work requirements or didn’t know how to navigate them. As a result, they delayed care, skipped medication, and had higher levels of medical debt.

The CBO estimates, in fact, that of the 15 million Americans subject to the work requirement, some 1.5 million would fail. But it further estimates that 900,000 of those people would keep their coverage because they reside in states that care enough about them to shell out for their Medicaid; the remaining 600,000 reside in states sufficiently indifferent to their fate to let them simply go uninsured.

It tells you something about the Republican Party that this policy qualifies as one of the few fiscal measures to command unanimous approval across its House membership. The idea of subjecting poor people to onerous paperwork requirements in a putative effort to make them get jobs, with the full knowledge the result will be that many of them will go uninsured, qualifies as a big win.

In fact, it tells you many things. It tells you that the party’s “populist” turn remains a fraud, at least as far as the allocation of material resources is concerned. It tells you that Republicans remain the only major political party in the industrialized world that believes people don’t deserve access to basic health care as a right of citizenship.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Brian Beutler: on Clarence Thomas and Democratic weakness:

In fairness to Democrats, they have also asked Chief Justice John Roberts to investigate Thomas internally, so it’s not like they’re casting a narrow net in the vain hope that Republicans might do the right thing. 

But more on that in a minute. Before we wring our hands over the Democrats’ apparent indifference, we should be of one mind about Thomas’s conduct, why it warrants an aggressive response, and what such a response might accomplish.   

For decades, while posing as the Supreme Court’s everyman, Thomas has accepted lavish gifts, vacations, and private-jet flights, worth millions of dollars, from the Republican megadonor Harlan Crow. Then—in violation of federal law—he elected to conceal the financial relationship. We learned all of that thanks to the excellent reporting of Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski of ProPublicaAnd we know they have Thomas dead to rights, because he hasn’t denied any of it. Rather, he has sought to defend his behavior with what you might generously call lawyerly deception. Here’s the key part of the public statement he issued in response to the revelations:

Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years. As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them. Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.

I added the emphasis to identify the points of deceit. Reading his statement, you might imagine that when Thomas became a justice, he wondered what to do about his dear and generous friend Harlan who, while very rich, and very conservative, had no particular interest in the composition of the federal bench or what considerations enter the minds of Supreme Court justices when they interpret and make law. 

But that’s not so. Twenty-five years ago, Thomas had already been a justice for several years, which means he only befriended Crow after becoming one of the most powerful officeholders in the world. We don’t know when Thomas sought guidance from his similarly lawless colleagues, or which jurists he sought it from, but we know he voluntarily disclosed these gifts until the Los Angeles Times first began reporting on this improper relationship in 2004, at which point the disclosures stopped. Then note the past-tense voice when he claims Crow “did not have business before the court.” That is conspicuously not the same as saying he “did not and does not have business before the court,” or “has never had business before the court.” We don’t know, because Thomas left too much unsaid, but at best this means Crow had no business before the court in or around 2004 when Thomas and his buddies on the bench all agreed he didn’t have to follow any rules. 

A truer statement and timeline would have left a much different impression: That years after he became a justice, a right-wing influence peddler with a fortune and recurring business before the court befriended and began spending vast sums of money on him; that he disclosed these gifts for several more years before the press got wind of it, at which point he went looking for affirmation that it was OK to keep accepting the gifts without disclosing them.

This would be intolerable even if it were Thomas’s first offense, but his offenses are serial. His entanglement with Crow alone has seen straight up cash flow into his wife Ginni’s pockets and his own. As I was writing this we learned that Crow secretly paid above market value to purchase property from Thomas, parcels that included Thomas’s parents house, where they continued to maintain residence while Crow covered their property taxes. 

Meanwhile, Ginni resides at the center of a sprawling network of right-wing activists who encouraged and participated in efforts to overthrow the government after the 2020 election. Knowing that her communications about the attempted coup might end up in the hands of investigators and the public, Thomas cast the sole dissenting vote against requiring disclosure of Trump administration records to the House January 6 Committee. No recusal. Her involvement, and his desire to cover it up, at least hinted at his awareness of, or even complicity in, an effort to overturn American democracy. It all could easily have formed the basis of a tidy impeachment inquiry. Instead, then as now, Democrats in Congress let it be. They contented themselves with impotent calls for Thomas to recuse himself in future insurrection cases, and for a statutory code of ethics to bind the justices going forward. 

Democrats subsequently lost the House, removing impeachment as an option altogether. But that hasn’t left them powerless. They still have a significant bully pulpit. They could use it to insist (ineffectively, perhaps, but at real cost to Thomas and the GOP) that Thomas resign; that his defenders are complicit in selling the Court to right-wing billionaires; that a court that tolerates this cozy style of bribery and deception can not be trusted with as much power as it has. And they could back that up with a credible threat to investigate Thomas’s conduct more deeply, including through the use of subpoena power. 

A few righteous House Democrats have indeed called on Thomas to resign, but the ones best positioned to make this a painful problem for Thomas and Republicans have all ducked. As alluded to earlier, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin’s first instinct was to pass the buck to John Roberts—”Chief Justice Roberts needs to take the important first step here as the chief justice of the Supreme Court, to restore the integrity of that court with a thorough and credible investigation of what happened with Justice Thomas,” Durbin said—while vaguely promising to “act.”  Initially, eight senators signed a letter to Roberts pressing him to relieve them of this hot potato. Subsequently, under wilting criticism, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee wrote to Roberts again, urging him (again) to investigate this issue himself, but advising him that “the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing regarding the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards.” One hearing! On ‘Supreme Court Ethics!’ Maybe!

So, for now, a buck passed and a box checked. 

We thus witnessed the perverse spectacle of Republicans feigning more outrage in defense of their poor, beleaguered friend Clarence Thomas, and his right to be corrupt, than Democrats directed at Thomas for the extent of his corruption. Republicans felt freer than they might have to treat Thomas as the victim of a smear campaign, because Democrats did not respond in proportion to the seriousness of the matter. Republicans would have you believe they’d be totally cool with George Soros sending Ketanji Brown Jackson to various beach resorts on his private planes (NB: they would lose every last ounce of their shit) because they didn’t have to worry about their opponents calling them liars, complicit in the corruption of the American government.





2) Freddie deBoer takes up some satire on leftists and crime and it’s brilliant:

A: We need to do something about our rotten criminal justice system.

B: Absolutely. We need major reform – police reform, sentencing reform, reform of our jails and prisons, robust programs for rehabilitation and reintegration.

A: No, we need to tear it all down. Defund the police, abolish prisons, and end the carceral state.

B: You know, if I thought that the Water & Sewer department was terribly corrupt, violent, and racist, I’d be very invested in Water & Sewer reform. I’d find Water & Sewer reform to be a moral necessity. I’d advocate for major Water & Sewer reform. But I wouldn’t say “Water & Sewer can’t be reformed, we need to let shit flow through the streets.” It seems like a major and unjustified leap in logic.

A: Sorry. Reform won’t do. Defund, disarm, decarcerate! No police!

B: Won’t that lead to a lot of crime and much lower living standards?

A: Not if we address need. Poverty is the ultimate cause of all crime.

B: Of all crime?

A: Yes.

B: But the vast majority of poor people aren’t committing crimes.

A: Crime is complex and multivariate.

B: If poverty is the ultimate cause of all crime, how is crime complex or multivariate?

A: … because. 

B: Remember when that MLB pitcher’s old tweets resurfaced recently?

A: Yes. That damn racist.

B: Well, I get why copying and pasting rap lyrics with the n-word in them and tweeting it is offensive. I don’t condone it. But he was a teenager when he sent those tweets, and you were saying that he should lose all of his endorsement deals. And you also thought that an actor who was caught on camera calling someone a “slut” should never work again.

A: That’s right. We’re trying to build an accountability culture here.

B: So you’re a minimalist when it comes to punishing actual crimes, but when it comes to handing down social punishment, you’re a maximalist.

A: …yes?

B: Does that make sense? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to have a conception of forgiveness and accountability that applies to both the public and private domains? Like, “we should be more forgiving towards people who commit crimes AND people who violate identity norms” makes sense to me. “We should be less forgiving to people who commit crimes AND people who violate identity norms” makes sense to me. But “we should be an absurdly punitive culture when it comes to violating social prohibitions, but effectively anarchists when it comes to violating legal prohibitions” seems bizarre and unworkable to me.

A: Why!

B: Well, I think the basic reality of human life is that we’re fallible. We don’t do the right thing, often. So we need society to create incentives and punishments to urge people towards the right kind of behavior. In the kind of society you’re envisioning, we aren’t creating those incentives and punishments to encourage lawful behavior, and so people will break the law. I don’t believe that people are essentially self-policing; I don’t believe that all people are basically good. I think most people are basically good, but some very much are not, and the ones who aren’t will prey on those who are if we don’t do anything. It’s sad but it’s a fact of life. You ever see the show Deadwood? There’s no police force in Deadwood. The result isn’t a utopia of people being good to each other; it’s a vicious place where the strong do whatever they want and the weak suffer. That’s what life was like before state-imposed order, the most powerful warlord took whatever he wanted and everyone else suffered. That’s reality. In a state of nature, human beings rob and rape and kill. So you have to have some sort of formal system of crime and punishment. That’s why I’m not a libertarian or anarchist. And I find it very weird that a lot of ostensible leftists have essentially adapted right-wing libertarian visions of law and order. But it’s really weird that those same people are also so eager to basically unperson those who say offensive things! Of course there should be social prohibitions against racism and similar types of offense, but it feels like the left is impossibly sensitive to those social mores and totally insensitive to the costs of having someone stick a gun in your face and take your car. If a woman goes on Twitter and says, “my boss just called me sexy,” people there will do everything they can to cost that man his job. If that same exact woman says, “I just got carjacked,” people with hammers and sickles in their bios will laugh at her and tell her that crime is just something you have to accept, and anyway she was rich enough to own a car so she’s privileged. It’s so bizarre. I just don’t get the consistent principles at play here. It all seems so fickle and arbitrary.

A: Look, I’m gonna level with you here. Like the vast majority of leftists who have been minted since Occupy Wall Street, my principles, values, and policy preferences don’t stem from a coherent set of moral values, developed into an ideology, which then suggests preferred policies. At all. That requires a lot of reading and I’m busy organizing black tie fundraisers at work and bringing Kayleigh and Dakota to fencing practice. I just don’t have the time. So my politics have been bolted together in a horribly awkward process of absorbing which opinions are least likely to get me screamed at by an online activist or mocked by a podcaster. My politics are therefore really a kind of self-defensive pastiche, an odd Frankensteining of traditional leftist rhetoric and vocabulary from Ivy League humanities departments I don’t understand. I quote Marx, but I got the quote from Tumblr. I cite Gloria Anzaldua, but only because someone on TikTok did it first. I support defunding the police because in 2020, when the social and professional consequences for appearing not to accept social justice norms were enormous, that was the safest place for me to hide. I maintain a vague attachment to police and prison abolition because that still appears to be the safest place for me to hide. I vote Democrat but/and call myself a socialist because that is the safest place for me to hide. I’m not a bad person; I want freedom and equality. I want good things for everyone. But politics scare and confuse me. I just can’t stand to lose face, so I have to present all of my terribly confused ideals with maximum superficial confidence. If you probe any of my specific beliefs with minimal force, they will collapse, as those “beliefs” are simply instruments of social manipulation. I can’t take my kid to the Prospect Park carousel and tell the other parents that I don’t support police abolition. It would damage my brand and I can’t have that. And that contradiction you detected, where I support maximum forgiveness for crime but no forgiveness at all for being offensive? For me, that’s no contradiction at all. Those beliefs are not part of a functioning and internally-consistent political system but a potpourri of deracinated slogans that protect me from headaches I don’t need. I never wanted to be a leftist. I just wanted to take my justifiable but inchoate feelings of dissatisfaction with the way things are and wrap them up into part of the narrative that I tell other people about myself, the narrative that I’m a kind good worthwhile enlightened person. And hey, in college that even got me popularity/a scholarship/pussy! Now I’m an adult and I have things to protect, and well-meaning but fundamentally unserious activists have created an incentive structure that mandates that I pretend to a) understand what “social justice” means and b) have the slightest interest in working to get it. I just want to chip away at my student loan debt and not get my company’s Slack turned against me. I need my job/I need my reputation/I need to not have potential Bumble dates see anything controversial when they Google me. Can you throw me a bone? Neither I nor 99% of the self-identified socialists in this country believe that there is any chance whatsoever that we’ll ever take power, and honestly, you’re harshing our vibe. So can you please fuck off and let us hide behind the BLM signs that have been yellowing in our windows for three years?

B: Honesty at last.

3) This is really interesting, “Income and emotional well-being: A conflict resolved”

Do larger incomes make people happier? Two authors of the present paper have published contradictory answers. Using dichotomous questions about the preceding day, [Kahneman and Deaton, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107, 16489–16493 (2010)] reported a flattening pattern: happiness increased steadily with log(income) up to a threshold and then plateaued. Using experience sampling with a continuous scale, [Killingsworth, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 118, e2016976118 (2021)] reported a linear-log pattern in which average happiness rose consistently with log(income). We engaged in an adversarial collaboration to search for a coherent interpretation of both studies. A reanalysis of Killingsworth’s experienced sampling data confirmed the flattening pattern only for the least happy people. Happiness increases steadily with log(income) among happier people, and even accelerates in the happiest group. Complementary nonlinearities contribute to the overall linear-log relationship. We then explain why Kahneman and Deaton overstated the flattening pattern and why Killingsworth failed to find it. We suggest that Kahneman and Deaton might have reached the correct conclusion if they had described their results in terms of unhappiness rather than happiness; their measures could not discriminate among degrees of happiness because of a ceiling effect. The authors of both studies failed to anticipate that increased income is associated with systematic changes in the shape of the happiness distribution. The mislabeling of the dependent variable and the incorrect assumption of homogeneity were consequences of practices that are standard in social science but should be questioned more often. We flag the benefits of adversarial collaboration.

4) Like the above, found this in Scott Alexander’s monthly links and it’s so good, “Some anomalies/questions which are not necessarily important, but do puzzle me or where I find existing explanations to be unsatisfying.”

5) Always here for microbiome research:

For the new global analysis of microbiomes, Segata, Valles-Colomer, and their colleagues honed their tools enough to recognize previously unknown species and different strains of the same species. Using these tools, they examined more than 9,700 samples of stool and saliva from 20 countries on five continents, representing communities with very diverse lifestyles and covering the full range of the human lifespan and many different living arrangements. They traced more than 800,000 strains of microbes between families, roommates, neighbors, and villages and calculated what percentage of shared species were the same strain.

As they expected, they found that the most sharing of strains happened between mothers and infants in the first year of life—about 50 percent of the shared species found in the infants’ guts were strains that spread from the mother. The mother’s influence diminished with time—slipping from 27 percent at age 3 to 14 percent by age 30—but didn’t disappear. Some elderly people in China were shown to still share strains with their surviving centenarian mothers.

For Veena Taneja, an immunologist at the Mayo Clinic who was not involved in the study, one of the more surprising tidbits in the findings was that although infants born vaginally shared more strains with their mothers than infants born by C-section did, this difference vanished by three years of age. “People make a big deal out of it” that babies born via C-section might be more at risk for certain diseases, she said. But the findings suggest that maybe it “should not be a big thing.”

(That view was corroborated by a new study published this month in Cell Host & Microbe. It found that babies born via C-section received less of their mother’s microbiomes than babies born vaginally, but that they didn’t miss out because they received more microbes from breast milk.)

As we get older, a sizable portion of our microbiomes continues to come from the people we live with or near. Unsurprisingly, the study by Segata and colleagues found that spouses and other physically intimate partners shared a lot of microbes: 13 percent of the gut species they shared were of the same strain, as were 38 percent of their shared oral species.

But people who lived together platonically weren’t far behind, at 12 percent for shared gut species and 32 percent for shared oral species. That’s because, as Segata, Valles-Colomer and their team found, the single most important determinant of transmission was time spent together. People living under one roof shared the most strains, but even people living in the same village tended to have more strains in common than people separated by greater distances. The frequency of strain sharing was consistent across different societies, but the team did confirm previous findings that people in non-westernized countries tend to have more diverse microbiomes.

The researchers also found that strains held in common could be lost over time. Twins growing up together had about a 30 percent strain-sharing level that dropped to about 10 percent after 30 years of living apart.

Segata thinks it’s likely that most of the other strains of shared species also come from other people—primarily from close contacts like friends or coworkers, but maybe also from people we encounter far more briefly and casually. (Pets, however, are probably not big contributors: Segata said that animals mostly harbor microbial species that don’t typically colonize or persist in us.)

The findings are the strongest evidence to date that we share parts of our microbiomes with the people we spend the most time with. The fact that the authors were able to see this pattern of transmission across the globe, and not just in a single population, was “striking,” said Ilana Brito, an associate professor in biomedical engineering at Cornell University. These data sets are extremely noisy, with many mutations happening across these different organisms, she added. But the team successfully uncovered “the signal across the noise.”

It’s not clear how microbiome organisms spread between people. Kissing and sex explain some of it, but microbes could also be transmitted through droplets spewed by coughs and sneezes, or they could be picked up from contaminated surfaces. There’s also still a lot to learn about which microbes are more easily spread than others. Answering that question is critical for understanding the implications of the idea that microbiome organisms can spread.

6) Loved reading about the tiny spit of land in Australia that was one of the few places of dry land on earth where one could see the latest total solar eclipse:

For the tens of thousands of astrophotographers, eclipse chasers and cosmically minded tourists contemplating the best site from which to view Thursday’s total solar eclipse, the town of Exmouth, perched on a finger of land jutting from Australia’s west coast, was the simplest solution to a problem of extreme scarcity.

The narrow ribbon across the planet from which the eclipse could be seen crossed land in just four places: the remotest reaches of East Timor and Western Papua, in Indonesia; freckle-like Australian islands, one of which is controlled by the oil company Chevron; and Exmouth, a tiny tourist destination and former U.S. naval base 770 miles from the nearest city…

Every year, Exmouth sees a regular influx of a few thousand vacationers, drawn by its pristine reef and resident whale sharks. But to accommodate a mass of 20,000 or 30,000 visitors required years of planning and millions of dollars in state support that went toward infrastructure updates, hundreds of portable toilets, dozens of additional emergency workers, the clearing of five acres of forestland and a 1.5-million-gallon water tank.

“It sounds pretty daunting, doesn’t it?” said Darlene Allston, a top local official.

In many instances, hotels and other tourism operators first learned of the eclipse from savvy tourists who booked their accommodations four or more years earlier. When someone emailed the town’s visitor center in 2018 seeking a booking, “We thought it was a joke at first,” said Jessica Smith, who worked there.

7) Charges are being dropped against Alec Baldwin.  It’s almost like he never should’ve been charged. 

8) Lots of cool ideas from Ethan Mollick on how to use Bing GPT to help teachers/professors.  I tried it out with American Government concepts, and, yeah, it worked really well. 

9) Relatedly.

10) After Damar Hamlin was revived on the field with CPR and an AED I decided I was not going to put off a CPR class any longer.  I’ve put it off so long because I knew it would be less than an hour of material in 2-3 hours.  And, yes, exactly that, but I’m really glad I took the class.  Meanwhile, an interesting story on whether home AED’s may be worth it.  On a society level, totally fails a cost/benefit because the events are so rare, but, nonetheless, it can absolutely make the key difference in some cases. 

On the evening of Jan. 15, 2021, in a remote Arizona desert town, Christine Benton saved a life.

She and her husband, Brian Benton, were traveling the country in a recreational vehicle and had parked near other R.V.ers at a winery in Willcox. As the couple were eating dinner, someone started shouting from an R.V. behind them. A woman had collapsed and was in cardiac arrest. She had no pulse. Frantic, her husband called 911 while two other people started cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

“She looked like she was gone,” said Ms. Benton, a retired paramedic firefighter.

But Ms. Benton had made a consequential decision before she and her husband started out: She had bought a personal automated external defibrillator, or A.E.D., which can shock a person’s heart back to life if it suddenly stops beating. Her plan was to to keep it with her, just in case. It was expensive, it was highly unlikely she would ever use it and her husband was hesitant. But she was adamant.

“If I were ever in a situation where I could save a life and I didn’t have an A.E.D., I could never live with myself,” she told her husband at the time.

As a firefighter, Ms. Benton had been trained to use a defibrillator. She knew that if someone’s heart stopped, a rescuer should start CPR immediately, pushing hard and rhythmically on the chest, while another rescuer went to get an A.E.D. As soon as that second rescuer returned, the A.E.D. should be used…

But emergency medicine specialists are divided on whether it makes sense for anyone to buy one.

They know that A.E.D.s in public places like airports, where thousands of people pass by every day, can make a difference and they urge people to use them if they see someone who needs help. In the U.S., 85 to 90 percent of people who have sudden cardiac arrests do not survive and many cannot be revived, often because resuscitation attempts start too late.

But the situation is different in the home.

For one, there is the expense — the devices often cost more than $1,000, making them far less affordable to the average person than home medical devices like a blood pressure monitor or a pulse oximeter. While there are efforts to develop cheaper A.E.D.s, they are still underway, according to Monica Sales, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

The price is not the only thing that gives some specialists pause. The odds are so stacked against a dramatic save that it has proved impossible to show that personal A.E.D.’s make a difference.

An estimated 1,000 people a day in the U.S. have sudden cardiac arrests, in which the heart stops beating and the person is technically dead. But that represents a minuscule portion of the American population.

Even people at high risk of a sudden cardiac arrest were not helped by home A.E.D.s, a large study showed. It involved 7,001 people who had previously had heart attacks and who were randomly assigned to receive an A.E.D. or to be in a control group.

Despite the huge number of study participants, very few had cardiac arrests and, even when they did, the arrests often did not occur at home or were not witnessed. In the end, just eight people in each group were resuscitated at home. The authors concluded that even if the study’s size were doubled, there would be too few events to detect an effect of home A.E.D.s.

11) Drum on DeSantis:

Ron DeSantis is blowing it. Initially, his pitch was simple: I’m an anti-woke conservative but I’m not crazy like Donald Trump.

But that’s evolved considerably over the past few months. DeSantis was doing fine as long as he attacked the soft underbelly of liberal sex, gender, and race politics: trans kids in sports; queer theory in AP classes; teaching gay acceptance to third graders; puberty blockers for adolescents; and so forth. These are all things that produce a fair bit of angst among not just MAGA conservatives, but also moderates and independents.

But banning discussion of gender identity completely? Taking over a public university because he didn’t like its curriculum? Banning abortion at six weeks? Going to war with Disney as an act of state-sponsored revenge? Claiming that the Federal Reserve is trying to mount an economic coup using digital currency?

Some of these seem like transparent pandering. Some seem like dangerous extremism. Some are flat-out conspiracy theory lunacy. And some, like the Disney war, are scaring the business wing of the Republican Party, which tolerates the GOP’s culture war agenda only as long as they’re left out of it.

DeSantis is acting like the United States is just an extension of the most conservative parts of Florida. It’s not, and DeSantis has put himself into a pickle. He’s obviously too weak and insecure to deny anything to the MAGA cesspool, and this is ruining his chances of appealing to anyone else. He needed to appear strong enough to control the MAGA beast, not become its kept man.

12) And Chait:

A little over four years ago, Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign appeared to be, if not inevitable, then at least like the most strongly positioned candidacy to win her party’s nomination. The former Harvard professor had won over a large segment of the progressive intelligentsia with her impressive array of domestic-policy proposals. But the enthusiasm of activists and intellectuals seemed to augur a groundswell of support from the base that never arrived.

The Warren precedent sprung to mind when Florida governor Ron DeSantis yesterday ventured to South Carolina, where he railed against the “woke mind-virus,” which he defined, perhaps unhelpfully, as “a form of cultural Marxism.” These are terms and concepts that have ricocheted across the conservative elite, especially Republicans trapped in New York, Washington, Silicon Valley, and other citadels of liberal elitism, where teachers and human-resource staffers have grown enamored of Robin DiAngelo–speak. But is this worldview, and the jargon DeSantis uses to express it, actually familiar to the voters? Are Republicans in South Carolina truly in a state of despair over “cultural Marxism”?

DeSantis’s struggles have consumed the national media and inspired sundry explanations. Perhaps his misanthropy is the problem. (“He doesn’t like talking to people, and it’s showing,” one supporter complained to the Washington Post.) Maybe the issue is that Donald Trump was indicted. Maybe it’s his refusal to engage the mainstream media. Or maybe his struggles are a passing phase, willed into existence by a campaign press corps that quadrennially seizes on any wisp of momentum, positive or negative, and blows it up into a self-perpetuating narrative, before getting bored and overcorrecting the other way. (DeSantis’s new image as an inept loser is difficult to square with his 19-point victory in Florida last year.) But the deepest problem may be that he has simply brain-poisoned himself into an abstract worldview that his constituents don’t recognize.

13) I’m a little obsessed with weather apps (I have four on my phone and mostly swear by Accuweather).  I love that Charlie Warzel actually wrote about them! 

Technologically speaking, we live in a time of plenty. Today, I can ask a chatbot to render The Canterbury Tales as if written by Taylor Swift or to help me write a factually inaccurate autobiography. With three swipes, I can summon almost everyone listed in my phone and see their confused faces via an impromptu video chat. My life is a gluttonous smorgasbord of information, and I am on the all-you-can-eat plan. But there is one specific corner where technological advances haven’t kept up: weather apps.

Weather forecasts are always a game of prediction and probabilities, but these apps seem to fail more often than they should. At best, they perform about as well as meteorologists, but some of the most popular ones fare much worse. The cult favorite Dark Sky, for example, which shut down earlier this year and was rolled into the Apple Weather app, accurately predicted the high temperature in my zip code only 39 percent of the time, according to ForecastAdvisor, which evaluates online weather providers. The Weather Channel’s app, by comparison, comes in at 83 percent. The Apple app, although not rated by ForecastAdvisor, has a reputation for off-the-mark forecasts and has been consistently criticized for presenting faulty radar screens, mixing up precipitation totals, or, as it did last week, breaking altogether. Dozens of times, the Apple Weather app has lulled me into a false sense of security, leaving me wet and betrayed after a run, bike ride, or round of golf…

Weather apps are not all the same. There are tens of thousands of them, from the simply designed Apple Weather to the expensive, complex, data-rich Windy.App. But all of these forecasts are working off of similar data, which are pulled from places such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. Traditional meteorologists interpret these models based on their training as well as their gut instinct and past regional weather patterns, and different weather apps and services tend to use their own secret sauce of algorithms to divine their predictions. On an average day, you’re probably going to see a similar forecast from app to app and on television. But when it comes to how people feel about weather apps, these edge cases—which usually take place during severe weather events—are what stick in a person’s mind. “Eighty percent of the year, a weather app is going to work fine,” Matt Lanza, a forecaster who runs Houston’s Space City Weather, told me. “But it’s that 20 percent where people get burned that’s a problem.” 

Lanza explained the human touch of a meteorologist using the example of a so-called high-resolution forecasting model that can predict only 18 hours out. It is generally quite good, he told me, at predicting rain and thunderstorms—“but every so often it runs too hot and over-indexes the chances of a bad storm.” This model, if left to its own devices, will project showers and thunderstorms blanketing the region for hours when, in reality, the storm might only cause 30 minutes of rain in an isolated area of the mapped region. “The problem is when you take the model data and push it directly into the app with no human interpretation,” he said. “Because you’re not going to get nuance from these apps at all. And that can mean a difference between a chance of rain all day and it’s going to rain all day.”

But even this explanation has caveats; all weather apps are different, and their forecasts have varying levels of sophistication. Some pipe model data right in, whereas others are curated using artificial intelligence. Peter Neilley, the Weather Channel’s director of weather forecasting sciences and technologies, said in an email that the company’s app incorporates “billions of weather data points,” adding that “our expert team of meteorologists does oversee and correct the process as needed.”

Weather apps might be less reliable for another reason too. When it comes to predicting severe weather such as snow, small changes in atmospheric moisture—the type of change an experienced forecaster might notice—can cause huge variances in precipitation outcomes. An app with no human curation might choose to average the model’s range of outcomes, producing a forecast that doesn’t reflect the dynamic situation on the ground. Or consider cities with microclimates: “Today, in Chicago, the lakefront will sit in the lower 40s, and the suburbs will be 50-plus degrees,” Greg Dutra, a meteorologist at ABC 7 Chicago, told me. “Often, the difference is even more stark—20-degree swings over just miles.” These sometimes subtle temperature disparities can mean very different forecasts for people living in the same region—something that one-size-fits-all weather apps don’t always pick up.

14) And it also pointed me to this site, which I love, that compares the accuracy of various weather apps for your location (and my two favorite Accuweather and Weather Underground are at the top for Cary). 

15) Loved this Thomas Pueyo thread on maps (if you are on twitter you should totally follow him!)

16) Lots of great advice from Jeremy Faust on seasonal allergies.  I had no idea you could really pound the Zyrtec on those bad allergy days (but definitely not the eye drops). 

17) Drum on the Bud Light ridiculousness:

Every year, Bud Light spends more than $100 million on marketing. Of that, maybe a few million goes to social media. Of that, a small fraction goes to deals with social media influencers. And of that, a few thousand dollars recently went to Dylan Mulvaney, a trans woman who racked up something like 10 million followers on TikTok by putting up daily videos of her transition during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, after a meeting with Joe Biden, Mulvaney became a right-wing target. So she was already on their radar two weeks ago when she posted a cutesy Instagram video for Bud Light during March Madness. This led to a week of outrage from Fox News and calls for a conservative boycott of Bud Light. National Review editor Rich Lowry says there’s a lesson to be learned:

It would be a good outcome here if it becomes obvious to everyone that Bud Light made a mistake, and if big companies resolve not to do the same in the future.

Just so I have this straight: Lowry’s view is that no American corporation should ever hire a transgender person as part of a promotional campaign. Or am I missing something? Are there any other demographic groups that corporate America should also steer clear of?

18) EJ Dionne, “Gun absolutists don’t trust democracy because they know they’re losing”

Gunned-down children don’t seem to change the political equation on guns. Neither do dead teachers. Are parents petrified to send their sons and daughters to school? Tough. I expect the next new slogan on right-wing T-shirts will be: “Arm the Kids!


Speaking to the National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis on Friday, former president Donald Trump didn’t go quite that far. But he did suggest that we “arm some of these teachers.” Former vice president Mike Pence similarly pledged to place “armed resource officers in every public and private school in America.” There’s big government for you.


That the Republican Party is now wholly owned by the gun lobby was witnessed not only by the eagerness of Pence, Trump and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson to pander in person at the gathering self-described as “14 acres of guns & gear.” Other would-be 2024 GOP nominees — among them, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) — felt obligated to bow before the gun worshipers by video.

The nonsense floated in Indianapolis — based on the idea that our national addiction to high-powered weaponry has nothing to do with America’s unique mass shooting problem — speaks to a deep ailment in our democracy. It has both partisan and (perverse) philosophical roots.

The GOP’s conversion to gun absolutism is the heart of the problem. But politics doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It often follows from cultural and moral innovations.

For roughly four decades, American conservatism has identified firearms as a marker of a manly rejection of urban cosmopolitanism and gun ownership as a right more important than any other. As DeSantis said in his video, the right to bear arms is “the foundation on which all our other rights rest” and essential to Americans’ “ability to rule themselves.”

19) Pretty persuaded by this, “Harper: Why the NBA needs to ban the charge (because it’s stupid and needs to go away)”

The charge is stupid and needs to go away. Now put your pitchforks away and let me explain.

The charge isn’t really a basketball play. I know we’ve tricked ourselves through lore and grainy black-and-white clips that this is a true sacrifice when trying to play defense. It’s really not, especially not anymore. Not with today’s athleticism. The charge is a bailout call for the defense. It’s a game of Three-Card Monte where you’re encouraging collisions as if this were some kind of goal-line stand in football. The alternative would make for a better basketball product, but the league seems so set in its ways on whether or not to change the rule (or even consider it) that it’s willing to create bad situations time and time again.

Two of the biggest stars in the NBA got hurt on Sunday because of players attempting to take charges. Ja Morant fell hard when Anthony Davis tried to take a charge in Game 1 of Grizzlies-Lakers. He hurt his wrist and his status in this series is “in jeopardy,” according to the Grizzlies’ point guard…

In both instances, you have players looking to slide into position at the last second, hoping to con the referee into thinking they were in legal guarding position the entire time to gain the call. By the time Morant is taking off, Davis is still sliding into position. It’s insane to me that this would be rewarded, but I can also recognize it’s a bang-bang play that could go either way on the call. In the case of Giannis, he’s off the ground completely when Love slides into position, and his fall to the ground was contorted enough to have him land right on his back.

20) This interactive WP feature on recycling is pretty cool. Gift link. 

21) What a great idea, “California Wants to Cover Its Canals With Solar Panels”

A new state-funded project in the San Joaquin Valley hopes to find a new way to build drought resilience. The idea is simple: Cover the state’s canals and aqueducts with solar panels to both limit evaporation and generate renewable energy.

“If you drive up and down the state, you see a lot of open canals. And after year after year of drought it seemed an obvious question: How much are we losing to evaporation?” said Jordan Harris, co-founder and chief executive of Solar AquaGrid, a company based in the Bay Area that’s designing and overseeing the initiative. “It’s just common sense in our eyes.”

The California Department of Water Resources is providing $20 million to test the concept in Stanislaus County and to help determine where else along the state’s 4,000 miles of canals — one of the largest water conveyance systems in the world — it would make the most sense to install solar panels. The project is a collaboration between the state, Solar AquaGrid, the Turlock Irrigation District and researchers with the University of California, Merced, who will track and analyze the findings.

“This hasn’t been tried in the U.S. before,” said Roger Bales, an engineering professor at U.C. Merced who specializes in water and climate research. “We want these to eventually be scaled across the western U.S., where we have a lot of irrigated agriculture and open canals.”

California’s efforts got a jump start from a 2021 study published by Bales and his colleagues, who determined that covering the state’s canals with solar panels could reduce evaporation by as much as 90 percent and save 63 billion gallons of water per year — enough to meet the residential water needs of more than two million people.

22) Hell of an essay, “My Transplanted Heart and I Will Die Soon”

My 35 years living with two different donor hearts (I was 25 at the time of the first transplant) — finishing law school, getting married, becoming a mother and writing two books — has felt like a quest to outlast a limited life expectancy. With compulsive compliance, I adhered to the strictest interpretation of transplant protocols. I honored my gifts of life with self-discipline: not one pat of butter; not one sip of alcohol; running mile after mile hoping to stave off vasculopathy, an insidious artery disease that often besets transplanted hearts within about 10 years…

Organ transplantation is mired in stagnant science and antiquated, imprecise medicine that fails patients and organ donors. And I understand the irony of an incredibly successful and fortunate two-time heart transplant recipient making this case, but my longevity also provides me with a unique vantage point. Standing on the edge of death now, I feel compelled to use my experience in the transplant trenches to illuminate and challenge the status quo.

Over the last almost four decades a toxic triad of immunosuppressive medicines — calcineurin inhibitors, antimetabolites, steroids — has remained essentially the same with limited exceptions. These transplant drugs (which must be taken once or twice daily for life, since rejection is an ongoing risk and the immune system will always regard a donor organ as a foreign invader) cause secondary diseases and dangerous conditions, including diabetes, uncontrollable high blood pressure, kidney damage and failure, serious infections and cancers. The negative impact on recipients is not offset by effectiveness: the current transplant medicine regimen does not work well over time to protect donor organs from immune attack and destruction.

My first donor heart died of transplant medicines’ inadequate protection of the donor heart from rejection; my second will die most likely from their stymied immune effects that give free rein to cancer…

Transplantation is no different from lifelong illnesses that need newer, safer, more effective medicines. Improvements in drug regimens are needed for lupus, Parkinson’s and a host of others. The key difference is that only in transplantation are patients expected to see their disease state as a “miracle.” Only in transplant is there pressure to accept what you’ve been given and not dare express a wish, let alone a demand, for a healthier or longer life.


The side effects of transplant immunosuppression can be sickening day to day, as my small posse of stalwart organ recipient girlfriends knows well; we talk about the vomit bags stashed in our purses, the antacid tablets we tuck into our front pockets for quick-nibble access at a cocktail party or when giving a presentation at work. We’ve encouraged one another to be inventive and keep finding little fixes or at least ameliorations.

Yet over time, each of us tolerate significant challenges and damage, the kind that prompt us to call late at night in tears, reeling from the intractable infections that land us in emergency rooms and hospital beds, the biopsies that pluck pieces of our donor organs leaving us scarred and shaken, the skin cancers that blossom rapidly beside an eyelid or ear. We’ve learned that there can be no clearing every single cancer cell with a suppressed immune system; we will get cut again, and again and again.

But with rattled resolve, we push one another to squeeze laughter out of our common experiences, recounting in mimicking tones all the doctors and all the ways they’ve said to us: “You have taken too much of those medicines for too long. Things are bound to go sideways.”

23) I hope Freddie deBoer isn’t talking to me.  I feel like I’m actually funny.  But, maybe…

I pretty quickly figured out that outside of the weird social architecture of high school, I just wasn’t a particularly funny guy. I’m not exactly known for my great self-knowledge, but this was one of the times in my life when I suddenly and definitively understood myself. On reflection I came to realize that the conditions at high school were never going to be replicated. In particular, being funny in high school classes had these inherent advantages:

  1. There was a captive audience of just the right size, say 12-20.

  2. Within that captive audience were other personalities to bounce off of.

  3. The actual task at hand was usually very dry and boring.

  4. We were teenagers.

  5. Some of us liked school more, some less, but we were all forced to be there.

  6. There was a central authority figure who functioned as a natural and perfect foil, someone to be the butt of jokes.

  7. The fact that we were forced to be there, and that the authority figure’s power over us was to some degree arbitrary, made fighting back with humor feel like a battle for freedom and dignity.

Now, with time I have come to regret just how much of my adolescence I spent fucking with my teachers. For one thing, this was part of my total nosedive in academics that started in middle school, where I went from perfect grades as an elementary school student to constantly failing classes in high school. (Meaning that I performed best when it mattered least and performed worst when it mattered most.) But the bigger issue is that eventually I came to realize that my teachers were, with some exceptions, good people who were doing their best and had an essential task to perform, a task I made a little harder with my constant interruptions and defiance. In fairness, both my bad grades and my snottiness were symptoms of the fact that I was a profoundly wounded person at that point of my life. Still, I only ever gave a handful of teachers an easy time in four years of high school, and those I’m sure were because I perceived some sort of integrity in them that was probably based on entirely unfair and fickle criteria. The trouble was that the sense that the teacher was the locus of unjust authority was somewhat overpowering – it lent a sense of moral struggle to the behavior that was also getting me approval and popularity. I made villains out of people who were just trying to do their jobs, in a way that was convenient for me but felt like noble resistance.

I know this probably all sounds obscure, but I think it connects to broader issues within the world of humor. For example, you’ll find that in comedies the villain is very rarely complex or sympathetic. Comedy is great for exploring nuance but also thrives on having a deserving target. My teachers played that role in my own personal excuse architecture.

All of this windup is for a plainly self-aggrandizing purpose: I find that many people have failed to have the same moment of self-realization I had around college age. I think one of the perpetually aggravating conditions of American culture in 2023 is the feeling that everyone is trying to be a comic all the time. Through cultural and technological evolution we’ve created major social incentives for everyone to act like a comedian as well as digital platforms on which to perform. The trouble, to return to a theme, is that we haven’t and can’t democratize comedic talent. I wrote a piece about a year ago called “Perhaps the Barriers to Entry for Creative Work Have Become Too Low.” Some people got pretty salty about that piece and its title. But I think my main point was sympathetic: the tools to make and share movies or music or writing or video games have become so accessible that people aren’t sufficiently developing their craft before they find an audience. And, yes, the meaner point is that some people just aren’t very good at what they do, but they persist for years anyway because doing so is so low-cost. I think that’s sort of where we are with humor, only at a much bigger scale; many people seem to believe that adult conversation mostly involves people throwing wisecracks at each other, over and over again. As Willy Staley says in this piece on the decline of Twitter, “Who doesn’t want to be the person who can make everyone laugh at a dinner party?”

24) Paul Waldman, “Our new terror: The ‘law-abiding’ gun owner who is ready to kill”

I’m afraid of mass shootings. I’m afraid of getting caught in the crossfire of some stupid beef. I’m afraid of gun-wielding, right-wing extremists. But increasingly, I’m also afraid of the people who believe themselves to be “good guys” with guns, gripped with terror of the world around them and ready to kill.

That so many gun owners are consumed with fear is not an accident. It is a central part of the ideology propagated by conservative media outlets and gun advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association.


The message is hammered home again and again: The world is full of homicidal maniacs coming to kill you and your family. In the words of NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, “every day of every year, innocent, good, defenseless people are beaten, bloodied, robbed, raped and murdered.” Criminals, gangs, home invaders, terrorists, antifa — they’re all coming for you. So if your doorbell rings, you’d better have a gun in your hand when you answer.

The recent NRA convention in Indianapolis was touted by the group as “14 Acres of Guns & Gear!” But it might as well have been “14 Acres of Guns & Fear!” Former president Donald Trump told the crowd that liberals “want to take away your guns while throwing open the jailhouse doors and releasing bloodthirsty criminals into your communities.” One speaker after another echoed that idea.

This has become the core of the gun industry’s marketing efforts in recent years: to convince potential buyers that sooner or later (probably sooner), they will be the victims of violent crime. The only question is whether they’ll be able to kill their attackers before they’re killed first.

When the marketing isn’t talking about home invasions and street assaults, it focuses on what former gun industry insider Ryan Busse calls “fear-based tactical culture,” in which gun owners are encouraged to imagine themselves as paramilitary operatives facing down urban rioters. Gun owners are now significantly more likely to cite protection from crime as the reason they own guns than they were 20 years ago.
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