Quick hits (part II)

1) Shark attacks (great whites!) are way up at Cape Cod.  And it’s, kind of, a good thing as its a sign of a restored ecosystem (the sharks are following the seals, which have nicely recovered thanks to federal protection).  Pretty fascinating story.

2) Geoffrey Skelley analyzes Biden’s approval:

Recent polling suggests that Hispanic approval of Biden’s handling of the pandemic and the economy has fallen sharply. The latest poll from The Economist/YouGov found just 45 percent of Hispanics approved of Biden’s handling of the pandemic, compared with 65 percent in early June. And Politico/Morning Consult’s new survey found Hispanic approval of Biden’s handling of the economy has dropped to 42 percent, compared with 60 percent back in June. Hispanics are also frustrated with how Biden has dealt with immigration — long one of Biden’s weakest issues in the public’s eyes — and although it isn’t the most important issue for Hispanic voters, it is often a highly salient one. Earlier this month, Quinnipiac University found that only 23 percent of Hispanic Americans approved of Biden’s work on immigration, down from 49 percent in late May. Even if that might be on the low end for Biden, the new Politico/Morning Consult survey also found him performing more poorly on the issue among Hispanic voters, as just 40 percent approved, compared with 51 percent in June.

Biden has lost ground among almost every single demographic group over the past few months, but independents and Hispanics stick out as two key groups where Biden’s standing has especially faltered. For Democrats looking ahead to the 2022 midterms, Biden’s overall approval rating is concerning enough, but if Biden is struggling to win independents and Hispanics, that could snuff out any hope Democrats have of holding either chamber of Congress. After all, independents backed Democrats in the 2018 midterms and Biden last November, and even though Republicans made gains with Hispanics in places like Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, Hispanics still largely backed Biden and helped him win in key swing states, like Arizona. But if Republicans can capitalize on Biden’s weakness among these groups, that could be their ticket back to controlling Congress next year.

3) Michele Goldberg on Angela Merkel and refugees:

The climax of Kati Marton’s captivating new biography of Angela Merkel, “The Chancellor,” comes in 2015, when the German leader refused to close her country’s borders to a tide of refugees fleeing civil war and state collapse in the Middle East and Africa.

“If Europe fails on the question of refugees, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for,” Merkel said, calling on the other members of the European Union to take in more people as well. “I don’t want to get into a competition in Europe of who can treat these people the worst.” For the usually stolid and cautious chancellor, it was a great political leap, a sudden act of moral heroism that would define her legacy.

By the end of the year, a million refugees had come. Many observers predicted disaster. According to Marton, Henry Kissinger, ever callous, told Merkel, “To shelter one refugee is a humanitarian act, but to allow one million strangers in is to endanger German civilization.” Marton quotes my colleague Ross Douthat writing that anyone who believes that Germany can “peacefully absorb a migration of that size and scale of cultural difference” is a “fool.” She describes former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s fear that the refugees would be Merkel’s “political undoing.”

For a while, it seemed like some of this pessimism was warranted. Douthat’s column was inspired by a hideous outburst of violence in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, in which a mob of largely Middle Eastern and North African men sexually assaulted scores of women. The refugee influx fueled the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, known as the AfD, which in 2017 won 94 seats to become the largest opposition party in Parliament. Some blamed Merkel’s policy for spooking Brits into supporting Brexit. As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump seized on it. Though Merkel retained the chancellorship after the 2017 elections, her party, the Christian Democratic Union, lost 65 seats.

But six years later, the catastrophes predicted by Merkel’s critics haven’t come to pass.  [Funny how that never happens]

In the recent German election, refugees were barely an issue, and the AfD lost ground. “The sense is that there has been comparatively little Islamic extremism or extremist crime resulting from this immigration, and that on the whole, the largest number of these immigrants have been successfully integrated into the German work force and into German society overall,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller, an expert on Germany and trans-Atlantic relations at the Brookings Institution.

“With the passage of time,” Marton told me, Merkel “turned out to have chosen the absolutely right course for not only Germany but for the world.”

4) I’m pretty persuaded the biggest problem with our ports is a huge influx of imported goods.  And this Cato report may well blame unions too much, but a pretty interesting look at long-standing, systematic policy explanations for the mess we’re in now. 

The Long‐​Term Problems at U.S. Ports
At the same time, however, many of the problems at U.S. ports today result from intentional decisions made years ago—decisions that have caused our port system to badly lag much of the world. According to the 2020 World Bank/​IHS Markit “Container Port Performance Index,” for example, not one U.S. port ranked in the top 50 global ports in terms of getting a ship in and out of a port (see flowchart below), using either a “statistical approach” measuring efficiency and finances or an “administrative approach” reflecting expert knowledge and judgment. The highest ranked U.S. port (statistically) was Philadelphia at 83, with Virginia close behind at 85 and NY/NJ at 89. Oakland came in at 332, while LA/LB ranked a dismal 328 and 333, respectively. (Things are even a little worse using the “administrative approach.”)…

Summing It All Up
On the surface, the pandemic is the main cause of the “shipping crisis” and the related pain to the U.S. economy. And given the wild swings in global supply and demand—and players’ inability to snap their fingers and add new ships, warehouses, trains, or maybe even workers—these pressures will continue for the next several months, if not a little longer. But dig a little deeper, and we see that much of the current mess in the United States was decades in the making, reflecting systemic labor and trade policies that decrease the efficiency and flexibility that U.S. ports — and the economy reliant on them—enjoy in the best of times and desperately need in the worst. Sure, these same policies undoubtedly enrich a handful of U.S. workers and companies, but the shipping crisis has revealed some of their much bigger, usually‐​unseen harms—and the necessity of reform.

Broader lessons abound.

5) Science! “Scientists just broke the record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in a lab”

Scientists just broke the record for the coldest temperature ever measured in a lab: They achieved the bone-chilling temperature of 38 trillionths of a degree above -273.15 Celsius by dropping magnetized gas 393 feet (120 meters) down a tower. 

The team of German researchers was investigating the quantum properties of a so-called fifth state of matter: Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), a derivative of gas that exists only under ultra-cold conditions. While in the BEC phase, matter itself begins to behave like one large atom, making it an especially appealing subject for quantum physicists who are interested in the mechanics of subatomic particles…

Near absolute zero, some weird things start to happen. For example, light becomes a liquid that can literally be poured into a container, according to research published in 2017 in the journal Nature Physics. Supercooled helium stops experiencing friction at very low temperatures, according to a study published in 2017 in the journalNature Communications. And inNASA’s Cold Atom Lab, researchers have even witnessed  atoms existing in two places at once.

In this record-breaking experiment, scientists trapped a cloud of around 100,000 gaseous rubidium atoms in a magnetic field inside a vacuum chamber. Then, they cooled the chamber way down, to around 2 billionths of a degree Celsius above absolute zero, which would have been a world record in itself, according to NewAtlas

But this wasn’t quite frigid enough for the researchers, who wanted to push the limits of physics; to get even colder, they needed to mimic deep-space conditions. So the team took their setup to the European Space Agency’s Bremen drop tower, a microgravity research center at the University of Bremen in Germany. By dropping the vacuum chamber into a free fall while switching the magnetic field on and off rapidly, allowing the BEC to float uninhibited by gravity, they slowed the rubidium atoms’ molecular motion to almost nothing. The resulting BEC stayed at 38 picokelvins – 38 trillionths of a Kelvin – for about 2 seconds, setting “an absolute minus record”, the team reported Aug. 30 in the journal Physical Review Letters. The previous record of 36 millionths of a Kelvin, was achieved by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado with specialized lasers.

6) David Epstein takes a recent reversal on aspirin to revisit the medical statistic we should be more familiar with, Number Needed to Treat:

A whopping 29 million Americans — that’s the entire population of Texas — take aspirin every single day in order to prevent heart disease. Last week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued draft guidelines saying that most of those people should probably stop, because the potential harms outweigh the benefits.

That’s a big friggin’ deal. Medical recommendations change all the time, as knowledge is updated. But I think this case is a particularly teachable moment, highlighting the importance of comparing costs and benefits on the same scale. And there’s an important concept in medicine that can help with that — namely: NNT.

NNT is an abbreviation for “number needed to treat.” In other words: How many patients must be treated with the drug in order for a single patient to get the desired benefit?

When you read about drugs in the news — or even in most medical journals — you will almost never be explicitly given the NNT (which I will explain in more detail below). Instead, you’ll get relative risk reduction, a metric that a Michigan State med school dean once told me “is just another way of lying.” Why would he say that?

Relative Risk Reduction

Here’s a fictional example:

You read that a new drug reduces your chance of dying from Ryantastic syndrome by 40 percent. Here’s what that means in practice: if 10 in 100,000 people normally die from Ryantastic syndrome, and everyone takes the new drug, only 6 in 100,000 people will die from Ryantastic syndrome. Now let’s think about it from an NNT perspective.

For 100,000 patients who took the new drug, four deaths by Ryantastic syndrome were avoided, or one per 25,000 patients who took the drug. So the NNT is 25,000; that is, 25,000 patients must take the drug in order for one death-by-Ryantastic to be avoided. Ideally, you also want to know the NNH, or “number needed to harm.”

Let’s say that 1 in 1,000 patients who take the new drug suffer a particular grievous side effect. In that case, the NNH is 1,000, while the NNT is 25,000. Suddenly, the decision seems a lot more complicated than if you’re just told the drug will lower your chance of dying from Ryantastic syndrome by 40 percent.

Now let’s move to the real world: aspirin. Nearly five years ago, the NNT and NNH of aspirin caught my eye, so I included them in an article about medical evidence:

For elderly women who take it daily for a year to prevent a first heart attack, aspirin has an estimated NNT of 872 and an NNH of 436. That means if 1,000 elderly women take aspirin daily for a decade, 11 of them will avoid a heart attack; meanwhile, twice that many will suffer a major gastrointestinal bleeding event that would not have occurred if they hadn’t been taking aspirin.

And so why did the recent task force make the new recommendation? According to the New York times:

The U.S. task force wants to strongly discourage anyone 60 and older from starting a low-dose aspirin regimen, citing concerns about the age-related heightened risk for life-threatening bleeding.

They looked at the same kind of data that I did and saw that the tradeoff between the NNT and the NNH didn’t look so good. As a doctor I once interviewed on this topic told me: when a massive group of people who don’t have symptoms take a drug, the chances of harm will often outweigh the chances of help. That certainly is not to say that this is always the case, but as the old medical adage goes: it’s hard to make asymptomatic patients better.

Once I started looking at NNT and NNH data instead of relative risk, one of my main takeaways was that most drugs don’t do anything significantly good or bad for most people who take them. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile, it’s just a different — and, I think, important — perspective. Here’s a graphic illustration of what I mean, from my 2017 ProPublica article:

WYSIATI: “What You See Is All There Is”

The larger point I really want to hammer home is that a statistic like relative risk reduction — which is far and away the most common one you’re getting — is not the statistic that you need in order to make an informed decision.

7) Michele Goldberg again, “When a Miscarriage Is Manslaughter”

Brittney Poolaw, then 19 years old, showed up at the Comanche County Memorial Hospital in Oklahoma last year after suffering a miscarriage at home. She had been about 17 weeks pregnant. According to an affidavit from a police detective who interviewed her, she admitted to hospital staff that she had recently used both methamphetamine and marijuana.

A medical examiner cited her drug use as one of several “conditions contributing” to the miscarriage, a list which also included congenital abnormality and placental abruption. Poolaw was arrested on a charge of manslaughter in the first degree, and because she couldn’t afford a $20,000 bond, jailed for a year and a half awaiting trial.

The trial finally took place this month and lasted one day. According to a local television station, an expert witness for the prosecution testified that methamphetamine use may not have been directly responsible for the death of Poolaw’s fetus. Nevertheless, after deliberating for less than three hours, a jury found her guilty, and she was sentenced to four years in prison.

From the detective’s affidavit, it seems possible Poolaw’s entire ordeal might have been avoided had she had access to decent reproductive health care. Poolaw, the detective wrote, “stated when she found out she was pregnant she didn’t know if she wanted the baby or not. She said she wasn’t familiar with how or where to get an abortion.”

Poolaw’s case is an injustice, but it is also a warning. This is what happens when the law treats embryos and fetuses as people with rights that supersede the rights of those who carry them. And it offers a glimpse of the sort of prosecutions that could become common in a world in which Roe v. Wade is overturned, one we could be living in as soon as next year.

Abortion opponents often insist they have no intention of imprisoning women who end their pregnancies. When, as a presidential candidate, Donald Trump said that there should be “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions, he was widely denounced by mainstream anti-abortion activists: Peggy Nance, head of Concerned Women for America, called him “the caricature that the left tries to paint us to be.”

But for years now, the anti-abortion movement has been working to change state laws to define embryos and fetuses as “people” or “children.” This has resulted in women being punished for things they do, or don’t do, while pregnant. Often, these prosecutions target women who take drugs; ProPublica reported on a case in Alabama in which a woman was charged with “chemical endangerment of a child” because she twice took half a Valium when she was pregnant.

8) This “Do you know how to tip? Test your knowledge about tipping while traveling in America ” actually really annoyed me (even though I did really well) because it just took all this tipping as a given, instead of pointing out just how absurd it is on so many levels.  

9) Here’s the thing about this story, “A woman won a million-euro Spanish literary prize. It turned out that ‘she’ was actually three men.”

The work of one woman was, it turned out, the equivalent of the labors of three men.

That was at least the case for Spain’s top writer of crime thrillers, a professor and mother who wrote under the pseudonym Carmen Mola, supposedly to maintain her anonymity.

But on Friday night, at a ceremony to award the 1 million euro (about $1,160,000) Planeta literary prize to Mola for her historical thriller “The Beast,” three men ascended the podium and claimed the award instead.

Mola’s gripping, often-gory novels starring strong female protagonists have been likened to the work of Elena Ferrante, a pseudonym for a widely popular Italian writer.

Mola is best known for a trilogy starring a “peculiar and solitary” female police inspector “who loves grappa, karaoke, classic cars and sex in SUVs,” according to publisher Penguin Random House. That trilogy has been translated into 11 languages and is being adapted for television.

Good art speaks to the human condition and that knows no bounds of race, gender, geography, etc.  So, of course three men can write stories with strong and fully-realized female protagonists.  And women can write amazing male characters.  And white people can write rich, complex black people and vice versa.  So enough with the race and gender essentialism. 

10) I love online shopping.  I hate the massive waste this creates with returns.  Good stuff from Amanda Mull:

We can dispatch now with a common myth of modern shopping: The stuff you return probably isn’t restocked and sent back out to another hopeful owner. Many retailers don’t allow any opened product to be resold as new. Brick-and-mortar stores have sometimes skirted that policy; products that are returned directly to the place where they were sold can be deemed close enough to new and sold again. But even if mailed-in products come back in pristine, unused condition—say, because you ordered two sizes of the same bra and the first one you tried on fit fine—the odds that things returned to a sorting facility will simply be transferred to that business’s inventory aren’t great, and in some cases, they’re virtually zero. Getting an item back into a company’s new-product sales stream, which is sometimes in a whole different state, can be logistically prohibitive. Some things, such as beauty products, underwear, and bathing suits, are destroyed for sanitary reasons, even if they appear to be unopened or unused…

Perfectly good stuff gets thrown away in these facilities all the time, simply because the financial math of doing anything else doesn’t work out; they’re too inexpensive to be worth the effort, or too much time has passed since they were sold. Fast fashion—the extremely low-cost, quick-churn styles you can buy from brands such as Forever 21 and Fashion Nova—tends to tick both boxes, and the industry generates some of the highest return rates in all of consumer sales. Imagine a dress that sold for $25 and was sent back without its plastic packaging at the end of the typical 30-day return window. Add up the labor to pick, pack, and dispatch the item; the freight both coming and going; the labor to receive and sort the now-returned item; the cardboard and plastic for packaging; and the sorting facility’s overhead, and the seller has already lost money. By one estimate, an online return typically costs a retailer $10 to $20 before the cost of shipping. And in the space of a month, the people who might have paid full price for the dress have moved on to newer items on the seller’s website. At that point, one way or another, the dress has got to go…

Now is usually when people start wondering why more returns aren’t just donated. Don’t lots of people in the U.S. need winter coats and smartphones and other crucial tools of everyday life that they can’t afford? Wouldn’t providing those things be good PR for retailers? Wouldn’t it be a tax write-off, at the very least? Donation would be the morally sound move. But companies have little incentive to act morally, and many avoid large-scale domestic donations because of what is politely termed “brand dilution”: If paying customers catch you giving things to poor people for free, the logic goes, they’ll feel like the things you sell are no longer valuable.

Some of the largest retailers, such as Amazon and Target, have begun to quietly acknowledge that it doesn’t even make sense for them to eat the cost of reverse logistics to get back many of the things they sell. They’ll refund you for your itchy leggings or wonky throw pillows and suggest that you give them away, which feels like an act of generosity but, more likely, is really just farming out the task of product disposal.

 

Quick hits (Part I)

1) Using a nuclear weapon to stop an asteroid from hitting earth could actually be a thing!

One day, astronomers may spot an asteroid months away from a cataclysmic rendezvous with Earth. Our only chance of survival at such a late stage would be to try to use a nuclear explosive to obliterate it.

But would it work?

Unlike some melodramatic Hollywood blockbusters of the 1990s, real-life scientists are largely unconcerned by any planet-sterilizing behemoths. The orbits of almost every asteroid two-thirds of a mile across or larger have been precisely mapped out. “We know they’re not going to be a threat anytime soon,” said Megan Bruck Syal, a planetary defense researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Instead, their focus is on relatively small asteroids, those about the size of football stadiums, notable for their abundance as well as their ability to evade asteroid-hunting observatories. “Those are the ones that we tend to worry more about because they could come out of nowhere,” Dr. Bruck Syal said.

Such a diminutive asteroid may not sound like much of a danger compared to the 6.2-mile colossus that slammed into Earth 66 million years ago with apocalyptic results. But a meteor that exploded over Siberia back in 1908 was only about 200 feet across — and the blast’s shock wave leveled 800 square miles of forest. “That’s the size of the whole Washington D.C. metro area,” said Dr. Bruck Syal.

Using high-fidelity simulations, scientists reported in a study published earlier this month that a stealthy asteroid as long as 330 feet could be annihilated by a one-megaton nuclear device, with 99.9 percent of its mass being blasted out of Earth’s way, if the asteroid is attacked at least two months before impact.

Ideally, asteroids targeting our blue marble would be identified decades ahead of time. If so, the hope is that an uncrewed spacecraft could slam into them with sufficient momentum to nudge them out of Earth’s way. This strategy, known as deflection, is getting its first test next year with NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) space mission.

But an asteroid even several years away from Earth may not be suitable for deflection. At that stage, it may be too late to sufficiently alter its trajectory with a nudge. And if any deflection attempt proves overzealous, the asteroid may break up into smaller but still portly pieces that could hit Earth in multiple spots.

Using a nuclear blast to obliterate an interplanetary interloper “will always be the last resort,” said Patrick Michel, an asteroid expert at the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur who was not involved in the study. But if we are short on time, it may be our only hope.

2) Good to see the NBA doing away with some of the most ridiculous fouls.  Hopefully, they follow through on this properly.  Lots of great videos at 538.

3) This is a pretty amazing story, “In a First, Surgeons Attached a Pig Kidney to a Human, and It Worked: A kidney grown in a genetically altered pig functions normally, scientists reported. The procedure may open the door to a renewable source of desperately needed organs.”

Surgeons in New York have successfully attached a kidney grown in a genetically altered pig to a human patient and found that the organ worked normally, a scientific breakthrough that one day may yield a vast new supply of organs for severely ill patients.

Researchers have long sought to grow organs in pigs that are suitable for transplantation into humans. Technologies like cloning and genetic engineering have brought that vision closer to reality in recent years, but testing these experimental organs in humans has presented daunting ethical questions.

So surgeons at N.Y.U. Langone Health took an astonishing step: With the family’s consent, they attached the pig’s kidney to a brain-dead patient who was sustained on a ventilator, and then followed the body’s response while taking measures of the kidney’s function. It is the first operation of its kind.

The researchers tracked the results for just 54 hours, and many questions remained to be answered about the long-term consequences of such an operation. The procedure will not be available to patients any time soon, as there are significant medical and regulatory hurdles to overcome.

Still, experts in the field hailed the surgery as a milestone.

“This is a huge breakthrough,” said Dr. Dorry Segev, a professor of transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who was not involved in the research. “It’s a big, big deal.”

A steady supply of organs from pigs — which could eventually include hearts, lungs and livers — would offer a lifeline to the more than 100,000 Americans currently on transplant waiting lists, including the 90,240 who need a kidney. Twelve people on the waiting lists die each day.

An even larger number of Americans with kidney failure — more than a half million — depend on grueling dialysis treatments to survive. In large part because of the scarcity of human organs, the vast majority of dialysis patients do not qualify for transplants, which are reserved for those most likely to thrive after the procedure.

4) Spencer Bokat-Lindell, “Why Is Raising a Child in the United States So Hard?”

If you’re active on social media there’s a decent chance you came across this chart this month from a Times article about how much less the U.S. government spends on young children’s care than other rich countries.

The infrastructure and family plan that President Biden proposed and that’s now being negotiated in Congress is an attempt to shrink the gap through four key policies: a federal paid family and medical leave program, an extension of the child tax credit (in the form of a monthly payment) that debuted this year, subsidized day care, and universal pre-K.

5) This has taken longer than it should of, but very encouraging for the millions and millions of Americans who suffer from hearing loss:

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration started the process — after a long wait — to create a new category of government-approved hearing aids that Americans will be able to buy without a prescription. Congress authorized over-the-counter hearing aids in 2017.

These over-the-counter hearing aids have the potential to prove that the best efforts of government and technology companies can improve Americans’ lives.

You can buy reading glasses at Walgreens without a prescription. Perhaps by this time next year, you’ll be able to do the same with an officially labeled hearing aid at a cost of a few hundred dollars.

Medical professionals, patient advocates and tech executives that I’ve spoken with are excited about the potential of over-the-counter hearing aids. They imagine the government’s blessing will spark new inventions from companies like Bose, Best Buy and Apple. And they believe that this could be the start of a golden age for hearing help.

“I’m crying reading this,” Nicholas Reed, the director of audiology at the Johns Hopkins Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, said he wrote to his contacts on Tuesday after hearing the news.

When I wrote about this topic in April, I was surprised at the pernicious and widespread effects of hearing loss. Roughly 38 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss, and only a minority of people who could benefit from hearing aids use them.

Prescription hearing aids work well for many Americans, if they have access to medical care and can afford to pay an average of about $5,000. (Hearing aids are not typically covered by traditional Medicare. Coverage by private health insurance plans and Medicaid is spotty.) Some people also feel embarrassed about losing their hearing or are put off by tests and fittings for hearing aids.

Untreated hearing loss can be serious. Struggling to understand what we hear stresses the brain and is associated with cognitive decline, dementia and social isolation.

Research by Dr. Reed and other academics found that some nonprescription hearing devices on the market for $350 or less — they can’t legally be called hearing aids at the moment — were almost as good as prescription hearing aids for people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss. But hearing helpers in this category can be excellent or garbage, and it has been difficult to tell the difference.

The best listening devices might win approval as official over-the-counter hearing aids under the new F.D.A. rules. Experts say that more companies are waiting in the wings to offer new hearing products.

Bose announced in May a hearing device for $850, and the company told me that it wants to sell the product as an over-the-counter hearing aid when the F.D.A. finalizes its rules. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Apple is studying ways to make its AirPods, which are wireless headphones, into a device to enhance hearing.

More gadgets don’t necessarily mean that more people will be helped by them. But the new market opportunity that the government created may open the door to ideas we can’t yet imagine, wholesale changes in public awareness of hearing loss and choices for treating it.

6) Sean Wilentz, “Why I Oppose Removing a Statue of Thomas Jefferson”

Efforts to repudiate Jefferson are, by now, familiar enough. The reassessment of historical figures traditionally celebrated for their contributions to American equality is nothing new, as in Lerone Bennett Jr.’s much-criticized but widely-read vilification of Abraham Lincoln as a white supremacist. Jefferson has become a particularly fraught case, due in large part to his slaveholding and his ugly remarks about Africans inhis bookNotes on the State of Virginia. Additionally, historians have affirmed longstanding speculations that he had sexual relations and conceived several children with one of his young slaves, Sally Hemings, who also happened to be, almost certainly, his late wife’s half-sister.

The most authoritative interpreter of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship, Annette Gordon-Reed, has described it as a fundamentally absurd and unequal but ultimately respectful long-term bond. Contrary to Gordon-Reed’s historical evidence, however, Jefferson gained a reputation as a rapist, a systematic abuser of black women, and a sadistic slave owner. Blend enough sensational falsehood into his biography and it’s easy enough to invent a Thomas Jefferson who was a perfect monster, unfit for celebration of any kind, let alone in New York’s City Hall.

One need not accept portrayals of Jefferson as a moral monster to see that he had flaws from which any fair-minded twenty first century observer recoils. But study him awhile and he appears to have been a man of contradictions. Notes on the State of Virginia indeed contains hair-raising comments about black people, closer than not to the common view among his fellow white Virginians. It also contains an indictment of racial slavery as an offense to heaven—an uncommon view in Virginia, especially among slaveholders. (“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just,” Jefferson wrote, a remark that impressed his antislavery Massachusetts friend John Adams as “worth diamonds.”) 

There is the early Jefferson who took firm antislavery stances, to the point of heading a committee of the Confederation Congress in 1784 that sought to ban the introduction of slavery into any American territory. About two decades later, as president, he completed the abolition of U.S. participation in the Atlantic slave trade. Then there is also the later Jefferson, who backed off from any public expressions of antislavery opinion, to the point, in 1820, of supporting the introduction of slavery into Missouri Territory over the intense objection of antislavery northerners.

Above all, there is Jefferson’s greatest contribution to America, indeed, to humankind, in the Declaration of Independence’s simple assertion that all men are created equal. The declaration’s universalist claim was a deeply radical statement then, and remains radical today. It expressed an idea that swept beyond Jefferson’s own time to inspire future abolitionists, women’s rights advocates, and every variety of champion for human rights. Although there were radical egalitarians before Jefferson, there had never been anything quite like the declaration, which became the basis of a democratic political order that rejected monarchs, hereditary aristocrats, and theocrats. Furthermore, had Jefferson prevailed over the objections of delegates from the Lower South, the declaration would have included a denunciation of slavery and the slave trade as violations of human nature’s “most sacred rights of life and liberty.”

Even when Jefferson lived, there were some who claimed that he didn’t really mean what he wrote in the declaration, that he really meant to say that only white men were created equal. Yet never, either in public or in private, did Jefferson seek to amend or modify the wording of his greatest contribution. His failure to do so made him and his declaration deeply suspicious to later generations of pro-slavery advocates and their allies, who denounced the declaration as a pack of “self-evident lies,” a farrago of “glittering generalities”—that is, as a standing rebuke to their barbaric cause. 

Indeed, it was Jefferson, more than any other American, who set the standard by which we find him so lacking, the universal standard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. invoked when he quoted Jefferson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln, meanwhile, warned that those who would forsake Jefferson were “the vanguard—the miners and sappers—of returning despotism.”

7) Damn this is stupid… “‘Cancel Culture’ Isn’t the Problem. ‘OK Culture’ Is.”  Ummm, no.  Enough with stupid false binaries!  The behavior of John Gruden and his enablers in the NFL (i.e., OK Culture) is deplorable.  But, a repudiation of Gruden is not Cancel Culture (trying to get Chapelle’s special removed from Netflix and declaring Netflix a pariah company, however, is) and it does no favors to conflate the two, just because Gruden has some troglodytic supporters who would like to.

8) Totally worth it’s own post, bur for now, I tried not to spend all evening obsessively playing with the data here, “Is College Worth It? A Comprehensive Return on Investment Analysis”

Key Findings

Executive Summary

9) God this is so tiresome! “Mayim Bialik Wants the ‘Jeopardy!’ Job. Is She ‘Neutral’ Enough? Alex Trebek projected impartiality. Bialik has questioned vaccines, endorsed a disputed brain supplement and weighed in on hot-button issues.”  Mayim Bialik is undoubtedly a flawed person (unlike her detractors, apparently).  She’s very good at hosting Jeopardy and whatever her flaws, she’s clearly not an awful person.  Being good at it and not awful really should be enough.    

10) This is cool, “Fake news game confers psychological resistance against online misinformation”

The spread of online misinformation poses serious challenges to societies worldwide. In a novel attempt to address this issue, we designed a psychological intervention in the form of an online browser game. In the game, players take on the role of a fake news producer and learn to master six documented techniques commonly used in the production of misinformation: polarisation, invoking emotions, spreading conspiracy theories, trolling people online, deflecting blame, and impersonating fake accounts. The game draws on an inoculation metaphor, where preemptively exposing, warning, and familiarising people with the strategies used in the production of fake news helps confer cognitive immunity when exposed to real misinformation. We conducted a large-scale evaluation of the game with N = 15,000 participants in a pre-post gameplay design. We provide initial evidence that people’s ability to spot and resist misinformation improves after gameplay, irrespective of education, age, political ideology, and cognitive style.

11) Drum, “Voting legislation never had the slightest chance of passing”

The Democrats’ latest voting rights bill failed again last night and activists think President Biden isn’t pushing it hard enough:

So far, the Biden administration’s response to the GOP assault on voting rights hasn’t matched the president’s urgent rhetoric. This isn’t to say the president has done nothing, or that the attention he’s devoted to other matters—infrastructure, the climate crisis, the pandemic—is unwarranted. But has the administration acted like this is the existential threat to democracy that they say it is? “He’s made clear that he supports voting reform, but that is simply not enough,” Johnson told Politico“We need him to bring this over the finish line.”

This is nuts. What do they expect Biden to do? Wave a magic wand?

There is not, and never has been, the slightest chance of passing this legislation. It doesn’t have the 60 votes to pass under regular order and it doesn’t have the 50 votes it would take to end the filibuster and pass it with Democratic votes alone. Like it or not, this is the simple reality.

It is—or should be—obvious that the urgency of a problem has little or nothing to do with the chances of doing anything about it. Climate change is Exhibit A. The Black-white test gap among high school students is Exhibit B. National healthcare is Exhibit C. I could go on forever, but why bother?

The Republican Party’s decades-long war against Black people because they tend to vote for Democrats is shameful, vile, and disgusting. The lengths they’re now willing to go to in the wake of Donald Trump’s lunatic lies is almost beyond belief. Every single member of the Republican Party should be ashamed of themselves for supporting a party that does this.

But they aren’t, and the plain reality is that there’s nothing Joe Biden can do about it. He’s got the bully pulpit, but that’s all. This legislation will never pass and never had any chance of passing.

12) David Brock, “I Was Wrong About Donald Trump”

Like most Democrats, I initially underestimated Donald Trump. In 2015, I founded a super PAC dedicated to electing Hillary Clinton. Through all the ups and downs of the campaign, I didn’t once imagine that Americans would vote Mr. Trump in.

He was an obvious pig (see the “Access Hollywood” tape), a fraud (multiple failed businesses and bankruptcies) and a cheat (stiffing mom-and-pop vendors). Not to mention the blatant racism and misogyny. About the outcome, I was spectacularly wrong.

Once he was in office, I misread Mr. Trump again. Having worked inside the conservative movement for many years, I found his policies familiar: same judges, same tax policy, same deregulation of big business, same pandering to the religious right, same denial of science. Of course, there were the loopy tweets, but still I regarded Mr. Trump as only a difference of degree from what I had seen from prior Republican presidents and candidates, not a difference of kind.

When a raft of books and articles appeared warning that the United States was headed toward autocracy, I dismissed them as hyperbolic. I just didn’t see it. Under Mr. Trump, the sky didn’t fall.

My view of him began to shift soon after the November election, when he falsely claimed the election was rigged and refused to concede. In doing so, Mr. Trump showed himself willing to undermine confidence in the democratic process, and in time he managed to convince nearly three-quarters of his supporters that the loser was actually the winner.

Then came the Capitol Hill insurrection, and, later, proof that Mr. Trump incited it, even hiring a lawyer, John Eastman, who wrote a detailed memo that can only be described as a road map for a coup. A recent Senate investigation documented frantic efforts by Mr. Trump to bully government officials to overturn the election. And yet I worry that many Americans are still blind, as I once was, to the authoritarian impulses that now grip Mr. Trump’s party. Democrats need to step up to thwart them.

Are Democrats up for such a tough (and expensive) fight? Many liberal voters have taken a step back from politics, convinced that Mr. Trump is no longer a threat. According to research conducted for our super PAC, almost half of women in battleground states are now paying less attention to the political news.

But in reality, the last election settled very little. Mr. Trump not only appears to be preparing for a presidential campaign in 2024; he is whipping up his supporters before the 2022 midterms. And if Democrats ignore the threat he and his allies pose to democracy, their candidates will suffer next fall, imperiling any chance of meaningful reform in Congress.

Going forward, we can expect bogus claims of voter fraud, and equally bogus challenges to legitimate vote counts, to become a permanent feature of Republican political strategy. Every election Republicans lose will be contested with lies, every Democratic win delegitimized. This is poison in a democracy.

13) Harry Enten,”Why neither party has a sustainable political majority”

Let me tell you a little story. Nine years ago, Barack Obama won a second term in office, and there was talk of an emerging Democratic majority in presidential elections. Then came Donald Trump, the least liked major party nominee of all time, who won the 2016 election — albeit without winning the popular vote. 

Now, there is talk of Democrats potentially being locked out of a Senate majority for a time to come because of trends in the electorate. 
I am skeptical of this — at least over the long term. History tells us that parties adjust messaging and tend to find the best pathway to a majority, leaving this to be a 50/50 country on average.  
Political scientist David Hopkins articulates the idea of this nation being a 50/50 one well. He notes that since the 1980 elections, Democrats and Republicans have won control of the House, Senate and presidency about the same number of times. They have controlled all three for about the same time, including for the Democrats at this point. 

14) My latest discovery from Pandora.  I love this song (especially the guitar part).  

15) Linsey Marr with an excellent thread on ventilation.

16) Great thread on value of different boosters to J&J.  I’m getting my heterologous Moderna boost next week

 

Can’t we “follow the process” and still get kids vaccinated sooner?

It seems kind of crazy to me that we just absolutely know that the FDA will soon approve the vaccine for kids 5-11 and then the following week the CDC will make it official and we’ll be able to start vaccinating our elementary-age kids about two weeks from now.  But we know this is going to happen (seriously– I’d bet tens of thousands of dollars on this; all the data/information we need to know that this is going to happen is already out there) and yet we’re just waiting a couple for for “the process.”

I mean we are literally already doing everything to have the doses and logistics in place once it’s approved.

 Well, of course we need a process and it needs to be a damn good one before we start injecting out kids with potentially harmful substances (and, yes, of course vaccines can cause harm if we don’t go through proper testing and evaluation).  But, we’ve basically already done all this process and we’re just sitting here waiting without it seemingly serving any benefit.  It may be that not a single additional kid dies because we wait another couple weeks, and yes, some kids will get sick. But, it does seem to me there’s a strong likelihood that some kids will get infected and spread it to some adults that gets Covid and die because we waited another couple weeks when we have all the information we need to get this done now.  

The FDA panel just met yesterday to approve Moderna boosters and heterologous boosters (mRNA booster, here I come). Why not meet again today.  Why wait a week.  Why is ACIP not meeting till 8 days after the FDA.  We’ve got a pandemic here!  We’re trying to save lives.  

To be clear, of course the FDA, and CDC need to do their full review.  But I’ve yet to see a compelling explanation for why it could not happen on a faster time schedule.  Let’s get the kids vaccinated already!

Can we just have less respiratory viruses now?

Covid has been very not great, but, one potential long term upside is if we actually mitigate the spread of all respiratory viruses thanks to what we’ve learned from Covid.  That would be great if we’re smart enough to learn the lessons.  Alas, it’s a pretty big “if” when you see how many places are still, somehow, fomite and surface cleaning obsessed while the air gets ignored.  That said, some of us– including some people who actually make important decisions about indoor air (for example, I recently learned that my county school system had installed Merv 13 filters in all schools– hooray!!) have learned important lessons.  And this could absolutely mean less people suffering and, yes, dying, from influenza in coming years.  And hopefully fewer common colds and other respiratory viruses.  And when it comes to lessons about the air, nobody’s been a better public scientist than Linsey Marr.  Here she takes to the NYT Op-Ed pages on the matter:

When Covid-19 first appeared, public health authorities worried mainly about the new coronavirus spreading through large fluid droplets — like from a cough or a sneeze. The guidance for individual behavior followed: Wash your hands, stay six feet apart and maybe even wipe down your groceries.

But a detailed understanding of flu transmission — developed over decades and recognized by precious few scientists until recently — laid the basis for scientists’ awakening to the reality of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Research has found that, as with SARS-CoV-2, flu virus is exhaled in small particles by infected people while breathing, talking and coughing; and the flu virus has been found in aerosols in indoor environments, including hospitalschildren’s day care centers and airplanes. As with the new coronavirus, people can spread the flu even when they don’t have symptoms, which is further indication that transmission can occur without coughing or sneezing and doesn’t require large, wet droplets.

If recommendations to combat the flu continue to rely heavily on hand washing and surface cleaning, without recognizing the role of aerosols in transmission, we are unlikely to make a dent in the 12,000 to 52,000 deaths in the United States per year caused by the flu. But if we take a page from the Covid-19 playbook, the United States could drive flu cases down and prevent missed days of school and work, as well as death…

I’ve long believed, based on years of research, that the role of aerosols in the spread of many respiratory viruses is underappreciated by the medical community. I hope that Covid-19 has catalyzed a shift in thinking about the air we breathe. You wouldn’t drink a glass of water full of pathogens, chemicals and dirt. Why should we put up with breathing contaminated air?…

It will be a challenge to rethink the design and operation of buildings to account for air quality, but it is not insurmountable. Around the turn of the 20th century, the proliferation and modernization of water and sewage treatment systems helped make common waterborne diseases such as typhoid and cholera a rarity in the United States and Europe. The results of investments in water infrastructure are considered one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. Making air quality healthier as a way to cut down on disease should be a public health focus for this century.

Anyway, it would be awesome if we could actually implement these airborne lessons and actually save some lives from influenza– which kills tens of thousands a year– simply by meaningfully limiting community spread.

Also, I followed that “don’t have symptoms” link, and I know I’ve posted this before, but I still find it mind-blowing that basically half of flu cases have no symptoms.  And, about 6% of those cases transmitted to a household member (definitely not nothing, but also, only about half for those that have symptoms).  But, still, you can get flu from a family member that nobody ever knew had it.  More like Covid than we realized.  We’re of course not just going to wear masks indoors all the time forever.  But we can damn sure pay more attention to indoor air quality. 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Maybe there’s something to this whole “punching up/down” stuff, but, wow, just way-overused and I love this Freddie deBoer take:

There is no such thing as punching up or punching down. The entire notion is an absurd pretense. For it to make any sense at all, human beings would have to exist on some unitary plane of power and oppression, our relative places easily interpreted for the purpose of figuring out who we can punch. That’s obviously untrue, and thus the whole concept is childish and unworkable, an utterly immature take on a world that is breathtaking in its complexities and which defies any attempt to enforce moral simplicity. Power is distributed between different people in myriad and often conflicting ways; when two people interact, their various privileges and poverties are playing out along many axes at once.

Take a college class with an adjunct instructor. Social justice norms demand that the instructor holds the power in the relationship, that his is the hand of oppression. But in fact this profoundly misunderstands the contemporary university. Adjuncts are terribly-paid at-will labor who often lack the most basic workplace protections; students at most schools now are simply customers and are afforded the deference typically given to customers. Certainly most college students have the ability to provoke the kind of bureaucratic panic that can prompt a department to drop an adjunct. It’s just so much less risky to do so than to invite student protest and angry parents, regardless of what the argument is about. Instructors are still in charge of grading, of course, and enjoy at least nominal authority within the classroom itself. So they have their own form of power. We could attempt to develop some sort of facile points system to determine whether adjuncts or students are more powerful, and who is punching up at whom when once complains about the other. Or we could instead choose to act like adults and understand that there are many different kinds of power and many different valences to each kind and that trying to arrive at a punching up/punching down binary amounts to a childish refusal to acknowledge the moral world’s irreducible complexity…

Bong Joon-Ho’s brilliant Parasite is the kind of complex and multilayered work that defies any cheap categorization of this type. I would argue in fact that its great genius is its refusal to fit comfortably into the populist revolt-of-the-downtrodden narrative many commentators tried to force on it. But no work of art can be so delicate and singular that they will not try to make it lay down in this Procrustean bed, and so now I learn, chastened, that Parasite punches down. All of that brilliant commentary on class, the well-crafted performances, the symbolism – all worthless, in the face of the incisive analysis of punching up or punching down. There are only two choices. Shame. If only the Constitution didn’t mandate that art must operate on a facile binary designed to make smug liberals feel assured that their mockery is always righteous, that of their opponents always bigoted.

What if – what if – “punching up vs. punching down” is a totally artificial construct that bends to accommodate whatever the person invoking it wants to believe? There is one rule: people I like are punching up, people I don’t are punching down. There is no deeper meaning to be had here…

The more time goes on in this never-ending woke production of The Crucible, the more I come to believe that the animating spirit behind it all is moral simplicity. People desperately want to believe that the world is simple, that good and bad are easily sorted, and that they are always on the right side of that ledger. 

2) From a couple weeks ago, but, is it so wrong to talk bout “pregnant women” instead of “pregnant persons”?  And, oh, my has the ACLU just lost it.  Michele Goldberg:

Recently, on the anniversary of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, the American Civil Liberties Union set out to pay tribute to her pro-choice heroism, and ended up making the sort of self-parodic blunder the right salivates over.

One of R.B.G.’s iconic quotes came from her 1993 Senate confirmation hearings, when, instead of shying away from commenting on reproductive rights like most Supreme Court nominees, she made a forthright case for their indispensability to human flourishing.

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices,” Ginsburg said.

In a ham-handed attempt to make the quote conform to current progressive norms around gender neutrality, the A.C.L.U. rendered it this way in a tweet: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a [person’s] life, to [their] well-being and dignity … When the government controls that decision for [people], [they are] being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for [their] own choices.”…

What’s more difficult to discuss is how making Ginsburg’s words gender-neutral alters their meaning. That requires coming to terms with a contentious shift in how progressives think and talk about sex and reproduction. Changing Ginsburg’s words treats what was once a core feminist insight — that women are oppressed on the basis of their reproductive capacity — as an embarrassing anachronism. The question then becomes: Is it?…

Yet I think there’s a difference between acknowledging that there are men who have children or need abortions — and expecting the health care system to treat these men with respect — and speaking as if the burden of reproduction does not overwhelmingly fall on women. You can’t change the nature of reality through language alone. Trying to do so can seem, to employ a horribly overused word, like a form of gaslighting.

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote. You can interpret this to support the contemporary notion of sex and gender as largely matters of self-identification. Or you can interpret it as many older feminists have, as a statement about how the world molds you into a woman, of how certain biological experiences reveal your place in the social order, and how your identity develops in response to gender’s constraints.

Seen this way, a gender-neutral version of Ginsburg’s quote is unintelligible, because she was talking not about the right of all people to pursue their own reproductive destiny, but about how male control of women’s reproductive lives makes women part of a subordinate class. The erasure of gendered language can feel like an insult, because it takes away the terms generations of feminists used to articulate their predicament.

3) Great stuff from Zeynep: “The Unvaccinated May Not Be Who You Think”

Some key research on the unvaccinated comes from the Covid States Project, an academic consortium that managed to scrape together resources for regular polling. It categorizes them as “vaccine-willing” and “vaccine-resistant,” and finds the groups almost equal in numbers among the remaining unvaccinated. (David Lazer, one of the principal investigators of the Covid States Project, told me that the research was done before the mandates, and that the consortium has limited funding, so they can only poll so often).

Furthermore, their research finds that the unvaccinated, overall, don’t have much trust in institutions and authorities, and even those they trust, they trust less: 71 percent of the vaccinated trust hospitals and doctors “a lot,” for example, while only 39 percent of the unvaccinated do.

 
Relentless propaganda against public health measures no doubt contributes to erosion of trust. However, that mistrust may also be fueled by the sorry state of health insurance in this country and the deep inequities in health care — at a minimum, this could make people more vulnerable to misinformation. Research on the unvaccinated by KFF from this September showed the most powerful predictor of who remained unvaccinated was not age, politics, race, income or location, but the lack of health insurance.

The Covid States team shared with me more than a thousand comments from unvaccinated people who were surveyed. Scrolling through them, I noticed a lot more fear than certainty. There was the very, very rare “it’s a hoax” and “it’s a gene therapy” but most of it was a version of: I’m not sure it’s safe. Was it developed too fast? Do we know enough? There was also a lot of fear of side effects, worries about lack of Food and Drug Administration approval and about yet-undiscovered dangers.

Their surveys also show that only about 12 percent of the unvaccinated said they did not think they’d benefit from a vaccine: so, only about 4 percent of the national population.

4) I think at this point the only answer to Krysten Sinema is satire.  Alexandra Petri, “Finally Understand Kyrsten Sinema in 360 Easy Steps”

5) James Curry and Frances Lee on the difficulty of getting stuff done in Washington, even with unified government:

We find that parties with unified control in Washington since the Clinton years have struggled for two reasons.

The filibuster explains some of the majority parties’ struggles. Senate rules require most legislation to obtain 60 votes to advance to passage. As a result, minority parties have a chance to either veto or reshape most legislation. Still, even though it’s a constant source of discussion and debate in today’s Washington, we find the filibuster was the cause of only one-third of failed attempts by majority parties to enact their priorities during unified government since 1993.

The second reason is less well appreciated but accounts for the other two-thirds — a large majority — of failures. Both parties have been, and remain, internally divided on many issues. Parties are often able to hide their disagreements by simply not taking up legislation on issues that evoke significant fissures. But when those issues reflect their campaign promises, majority parties will often forge ahead even in the absence of internal consensus on a plan.

Whether Democratic or Republican, the party with unified control in Washington in recent years has failed on one or more of its highest-priority agenda items because of insufficient unity within its own ranks. In 2017, Republicans failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act because of the opposition of three Senate Republicans (Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mr. McCain). In 2009-10, Democrats failed to enact a cap-and-trade policy because of spats between coastal Democrats and those representing the interior of the country. In 2005, Republicans failed to reform Social Security despite President Bush making it his top domestic legislative priority because of a lack of consensus in the party about how to proceed. In Mr. Clinton’s first term, Democrats were never able to unify behind a single plan to enact comprehensive health care reform despite relatively large majorities in both chambers.

6) Public opinion is thermostatic. “A new problem for Democrats: Americans suddenly want smaller government after all”

7) This research dubs me an “international expert” so I might as well share it:

Opinion polarization is increasingly becoming an issue in today’s society, producing both unrest at the societal level, and conflict within small scale communications between people of opposite opinion. Often, opinion polarization is conceptualized as the direct opposite of agreement and consequently operationalized as an index of dispersion. However, in doing so, researchers fail to account for the bimodality that is characteristic of a polarized opinion distribution. A valid measurement of opinion polarization would enable us to predict when, and on what issues conflict may arise. The current study is aimed at developing and validating a new index of opinion polarization. The weights of this index were derived from utilizing the knowledge of 58 international experts on polarization through an expert survey. The resulting Opinion Polarization Index predicted expert polarization scores in opinion distributions better than common measures of polarization, such as the standard deviation, Van der Eijk’s polarization measure and Esteban and Ray’s polarization index. We reflect on the use of expert ratings for the development of measurements in this case, and more in general.

8) I like John McWhorter’s take that so much wokeness basically infantilized Black people:

Now: Let’s break down what the crux of objections to showing a blackface performance ever at all are.

The typical idea is that blackface is a reminder of the reign of minstrel shows, in which white performers wore blackface makeup and engaged in clownish distortion of Black speech and dance styles. Minstrel shows were core American entertainment for most of the 19th century, and well into the 20th. It was a filmic depiction of a minstrel show, in fact, that I showed my class: Al Jolson in 1930’s “Mammy.”

Minstrel shows were disgusting, all the more so in how utterly central they were in American entertainment for so very long. But is there no statute of limitations on how long a people will feel actual injury about such a thing? In 2021, there is barely a person alive who attended a minstrel show performed as mainstream, professional entertainment. Even those who may have caught ragtag amateur groups keeping the tradition alive are likely now quite elderly.

The idea seems to be that we (relatively) younger Black people and our non-Black fellow travelers are nevertheless so viscerally stung by seeing any manifestation of this bygone tradition that to show dated footage of a white British actor in blackface, as part of an academic colloquy, qualifies as a grievous insult. But I like to think of Black Americans as a people of pride and forward thinking. I miss those qualities in this submission to an insult leveled by perpetrators now very, very dead. And since no one can seriously argue that Sheng’s intent was to revive or exalt the practice of blackface — and not to teach something about the operatic adaptation of a seminal literary work — to treat him as an accessory to those dead perpetrators seems more a kind of performance in itself than a spontaneously felt insult.

Another idea would be that to imitate a Black person by trying to darken the appearance of one’s skin is, inherently, to ridicule that person. But is it impossible in the logical sense that someone might costume oneself as a Black person one admires and put on makeup to darken one’s face simply as part of seeking to look like that person? Many will heatedly object: “Impossible!” But we must attend to why. If the answer is minstrel shows, then see above.

These days, we’re expected to recoil, under any circumstances, at the idea of a white person attempting to make their skin look like the color of a nonwhite person’s, as if this were the automatic equivalent to using a racist slur, or worse. But context matters. A lot.

Is blackface being shown as part of a collegiate-level discussion, as in the Michigan case? College students shouldn’t need protection from an old film used to help them think about and debate the conversion of a classic over time. Sheng was using the film to stir and inform artistic consciousness. To read that situation otherwise is deeply anti-intellectual.

8) I think Jordan Weissman is right and a lot of reporting is making this too complicated, “The Absolute Simplest Explanation for America’s Supply Chain Woes”

But if you look at the bigger picture, it becomes clear the problems in the U.S. largely flow from one key factor: We are simply buying an enormous amount of things. When the pandemic began, and Americans found themselves unable to go out, households suddenly shifted their spending to goods from services. With the money they saved skipping restaurant meals, movie trips, and vacations, people spruced up their living rooms with new couches, built out home offices, and bought themselves some exercise equipment. Stimulus checks helped fuel the shopping as many employees who’d kept their jobs splurged on TVs and cars. Economists widely expected that, as the pandemic faded, Americans would revert back to their older spending patterns. But that hasn’t happened yet, thanks in part to the delta wave. By August, inflation-adjusted spending on goods was up 14.5 percent compared with pre-pandemic, while services were still down more than 2 percent.

Consumer Spending
Jordan Weissmann/Slate

As a result of this buying binge, the United States is now actually importing more physical goods than ever before. That may sound a bit strange, given all the focus on how supply chains are in disarray. But it’s true. Measured by shipping container volume, imports were up 5 percent year-over-year in September, and up 17 percent compared with the same time in 2019, before the pandemic, according to the latest report from Panjiva, the trade data firm owned by S&P Global. (Panjiva’s numbers only include goods that have been processed by U.S. customs officials, meaning they only cover items that have actually been unloaded, not the freight waiting offshore.)

This unprecedented tsunami of stuff has swamped America’s ability to unload, warehouse, and transport it all. There are only so many berths where cargo ships can dock, and only so many cranes to unload them. There are only so many trucks that can enter and exit the port at a time, and only so many warehouses where goods can be stored. And there are also only so many trained dock workers or truck drivers available to actually do these jobs. So while enormous amounts of goods are arriving, individual shipments—whether it’s a new container of shirts destined for J.Crew, or an office chair you ordered on Amazon—have to wait in a long line to make it through to their final destination.

9) This is cool, “New Lighting System Helps Deer Avoid Vehicles at Night”

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services (WS) program recently applied for a patent (U.S. Patent Application No. 16/668,253) for a new vehicle-based lighting system to prevent deer-vehicle collisions during low-light conditions.

Through a series of experiments with free-roaming white-tailed deer, researchers at the WS program’s National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) found the use of a rear-facing light-emitting diode (LED) light bar‒which illuminates a larger portion of the vehicle’s front surface than standard headlights alone‒resulted in fewer dangerous deer-vehicle interactions. The likelihood of dangerous interactions decreased from 35% to only 10% of vehicle approaches when using a rear-facing light bar plus headlights versus just headlights alone. The reduction in dangerous interactions appeared to be driven by fewer instances of immobility or “freezing” behavior by deer when the light bar was used. The study “Frontal vehicle illumination via rear-facing lighting reduces potential for collisions with white-tailed deer” is highlighted in the latest issue of the journal Ecosphere.

“This new lighting system takes advantage of a deer’s predator avoidance behavior (also known as flight behavior),” states lead author and former NWRC researcher Dr. Travis DeVault who currently serves as the associate director of the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. “We predicted that light reflected from the front surface of the vehicle would provide a more reliable looming image to deer, thus encouraging the deer to move out of the path of the approaching vehicle.”

When an object “looms,” it becomes increasingly larger to the perceiving animal, helping the animal realize that the object is an approaching object versus one that is stationary.

10) This interactive feature about the explosion in Beirut is from a year ago.  But I missed it then and it’s amazing. 

11) I know some of you think I’m too concerned about the wokeness.  But it is profoundly anti-liberal and it keeps leading to really bad outcomes on college campuses, which I care a lot about.  Ruth Marcus:

Maoist reeducation camps have nothing on Yale Law School. If you think this is an exaggeration, okay, it is, but keep reading.

Last month, a second-year law student sent some classmates an invitation to a party — to celebrate Constitution Day, of all things.

The student, Trent Colbert, who has the unusual profile of belonging to both the Native American Law Students Association (NALSA) and the conservative Federalist Society, emailed: “Sup NALSA, Hope you’re all still feeling social! This Friday at 7:30, we will be christening our very own (soon to be) world-renowned NALSA Trap House . . . by throwing a Constitution Day bash in collaboration with FedSoc. Planned attractions include Popeye’s chicken, basic-bitch-American-themed snacks (like apple pie, etc.) . . . Hope to see you all there.”

“Trap House,” according to the Urban Dictionary, was “originally used to describe a crack house in a shady neighborhood,” but “has since been abused by high school students who like to pretend they’re cool by drinking their mom’s beer together.” A popular far-left podcast, by three White men, calls itself Chapo Trap House, without incident.

Not at Yale Law School. Within minutes, as reported by Aaron Sibarium of the Washington Free Beacon, the invitation was posted on the group chat for all 2Ls, or second-year law students, of which several asserted that the invite had racist connotations, and had encouraged students to attend in blackface.

“I guess celebrating whiteness wasn’t enough,” the president of the Black Law Students Association wrote in the forum. She objected to the involvement of the Federalist Society, which, she said, “has historically supported anti-Black rhetoric.”

But what erupted on the group chat didn’t stay on the group chat. All too typically, the issue was escalated to authorities and reinforced by the administrative architecture of diversity and grievance. And that’s when things went off the rails.

 

Within 12 hours, Colbert was summoned to meet with associate law dean Ellen Cosgrove and diversity director Yaseen Eldik. There, he was told that his message had generated nine student complaints of discrimination and harassment, and was more or less instructed to apologize.

Colbert secretly recorded that conversation, and another the next day, and the Free Beacon has posted them. The audio offers an unsettling insight into the hair-trigger and reflexively liberal mind-set of the educational diversity complex.

12) Ted Lasso season 1 was really good.  Season 2 is enjoyment, but a clear step down in quality.  The Christmas episode of season 2 was an abomination that almost made me stop watching the show.

13) Loved this from Dan Drezner as, like him, I had my first post-pandemic common cold last week and lived my life (while testing Covid negative, of course), “We need to get used to occasionally being sick”

With in-person activities back, however, it is inevitable that non-covid viruses and bugs will reemerge. I know this because, as I type this, I’m getting over my first post-pandemic cold.

A few weeks ago at my place of work, someone suggested that individuals who test negative for the coronavirus but are experiencing flu or cold-like symptoms should “of course” stay away from campus. But that strikes me as a massive overreaction. Before the pandemic, there were no restrictions on those who had a cold from attending class. If anything, the current masking requirement means that the chance of spreading a cold now is lower than in the pre-pandemic era. Making students stay home for non-covid illnesses is punitive and unnecessary.

It is also understandable, because we have spent more than 20 months being panicked at the first sign of any sickness — myself included. A rational calculation of the risks should acknowledge that there are costs to excessive caution. Society might not be able to readjust to the higher risk of catching a perfectly ordinary ailment, but this can and should be part of returning to a semblance of normality.

People should get vaccinated for the flu, of course, but those vaccines are much more variable than the mRNA vaccines against the coronavirus. There is no vaccine against the common cold. Perhaps a norm of masking when sick would be a solid precaution to take. But so is the notion that for some illnesses, the costs of possibly getting sick are outweighed by the benefits of living one’s life.

14) It really is amazing that we’ve got so much good evidence on how to best teach kids to read and it is so often not followed.  Emily Oster interviews Emily Solari:

Emily Solari: I am a professor of education at the University of Virginia. My work concentrates on translating scientific findings to classroom practice. Specifically, I focus on reading development — how reading develops, why some kids find learning to read difficult, and how we can provide evidence-based reading instruction in classroom settings. In your book, you highlight the decades-old debate related to how reading is taught in the nation’s schools. But just like most things in education, there is a complex history, as schools are complex systems.

How children learn how to read is, arguably, the most researched aspect of human learning. Decades of research from multiple disciplines has shown us the importance of early reading instruction concentrating on foundational reading skills — such as phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, and phonics. In your book, you discuss the evidence base and state that “in the end, phonics has returned, and this is most certainly what your child’s school will use.” However, a recent survey suggests that about 75% of teachers use curricula that teach early reading using a cueing approach, not explicitly and using systematic instruction in phonics or early reading foundational skills. Given the state of reading instruction in the country, I think it’s important that we are communicating with parents about the reality of the instruction their children may receive…

One of the most prominent and extensively researched frameworks for understanding reading development is the Simple View of Reading, which highlights the importance of both decoding (word reading) development and linguistic awareness, or oral language development. As such, teachers working with our youngest readers should include explicit and systematic instruction in alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness, and phonics in order to effectively and efficiently teach students to decode words. At the same time, teachers need to engage in activities that promote students’ linguistic comprehension via instruction focusing on building vocabulary and background knowledge. We do this through engagement in high-quality read-alouds and vocabulary and oral language instruction across all content areas.

Second, the teaching of foundational skills, such as alphabet knowledge, phonemic awareness, and phonics, can and should be fun — and can be done efficiently during the English language arts block, so that it is not taking up the whole time. Phonics instruction has been given a bad rap by many, but the effective teaching of early foundational skills unlocks the code of reading for kids and allows kids to read words, and therefore comprehend what they read. Playing with sounds and words can be fun and game-like — and should be appropriately paced so that kids are being challenged but also able to practice enough that they are reaching mastery.

There is really no greater gift that a teacher can teach a child than how to accurately and fluently read words so that they can engage authentically with text — and young children need to be explicitly taught how to read. The reality is that we have decades of data showing how instruction should occur in classrooms. What most people don’t understand or do not want to understand is that the teaching of reading in ways that do not align with the scientific evidence base is ingrained in many of the teaching materials and curricula that teachers have at their fingertips. Further, when teachers are getting their teaching credentials, they are often not prepared to teach reading in an evidence-based way. I say this to remind folks that there should not be blame placed on teachers. Teachers are just one actor in a broad and complex educational system. Many teachers who I have worked with are surprised and shocked when they do learn about how they should be teaching early reading — aligned with the evidence base — when they think back to their own training.

One common rebuttal to the implementation of explicit and systematic early phonics instruction is that it does not foster a joy for reading. I would like to flip this and ask people to consider: It’s very hard to develop joy for reading if you can’t read. A child who is not taught how to read is a child who is more likely to become disengaged in school; they become frustrated and this impacts all academic content areas. 

15) Yes, the woke are annoying– and sometimes worse– but, no I have not remotely forgotten that far too many Republicans are just nuts, and really, so much worse.  There is nothing in the excesses of CRT as bad as this insane over-response from the Republicans in Johnston County, NC:

Johnston County teachers could be disciplined or fired if they teach that American historical figures weren’t heroes, undermine the U.S. Constitution in lessons or say that racism is a permanent part of American life.

The Johnston County Board of Commissioners is withholding $7.9 million until the school board passes a policy preventing Critical Race Theory from county classrooms. School leaders deny that Critical Race Theory is being taught. But to get the money, the school board unanimously approved Friday an updated policy on how history and racism will be taught.

“When we all work together we can accomplish good things for kids, and this is one of those moments I truly believe has happened,” school board vice chairwoman Terri Sessoms said at Friday’s specially called virtual meeting.

The revised Code of Ethics policy includes new wording such as “the United States foundational documents shall not be undermined,” and “all people who contributed to American Society will be recognized and presented as reformists, innovators and heroes to our culture.” The policy says failure to comply “will result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.”

16) This is kind of wild, “Wolf Puppies Are Adorable. Then Comes the Call of the Wild.”

NICOLET, Quebec — I’m sitting in an outdoor pen with four puppies chewing my fingers, biting my hat and hair, peeing all over me in their excitement.

At eight weeks old, they are two feet from nose to tail and must weigh seven or eight pounds. They growl and snap over possession of a much-chewed piece of deer skin. They lick my face like I’m a long-lost friend, or a newfound toy. They are just like dogs, but not quite. They are wolves.

When they are full-grown at around 100 pounds, their jaws will be strong enough to crack moose bones. But because these wolves have been around humans since they were blind, deaf and unable to stand, they will still allow people to be near them, to do veterinary exams, to scratch them behind the ears — if all goes well.

Yet even the humans who raised them must take precautions. If one of the people who has bottle-fed and mothered the wolves practically since birth is injured or feels sick, she won’t enter their pen to prevent a predatory reaction. No one will run to make one of these wolves chase him for fun. No one will pretend to chase the wolf. Every experienced wolf caretaker will stay alert. Because if there’s one thing all wolf and dog specialists I’ve talked to over the years agree on, it is this: No matter how you raise a wolf, you can’t turn it into a dog.

As close as wolf and dog are — some scientists classify them as the same species — there are differences. Physically, wolves’ jaws are more powerful. They breed only once a year, not twice, as dogs do. And behaviorally, wolf handlers say, their predatory instincts are easily triggered compared to those of dogs. They are more independent and possessive of food or other items. Much research suggests they take more care of their young. And they never get close to that Labrador retriever “I-love-all-humans” level of friendliness. As much as popular dog trainers and pet food makers promote the inner wolf in our dogs, they are not the same.

The scientific consensus is that dogs evolved from some kind of extinct wolf 15,000 or more years ago. Most researchers now think that it wasn’t a case of snatching a pup from a den, but of some wolves spending more time around people to feed on the hunters’ leftovers. Gradually some of these wolves became less afraid of people, and they could get closer and eat more and have more puppies, which carried whatever DNA made the wolves less fearful. That repeated itself generation after generation until the wolves evolved to be, in nonscientific terms, friendly. Those were the first dogs.

People must spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for weeks on end with wolf puppies just to assure them that humans are tolerable. Dog puppies will quickly attach to any human within reach. Even street dogs that have had some contact with people at the right time may still be friendly.

Despite all the similarities, something is deeply different in dog genes, or in how and when those genes become active, and scientists are trying to determine exactly what it is.

There are clues.

Some recent research has suggested that dog friendliness may be the result of something similar to Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder in humans that causes hyper-sociability, among other symptoms. People with the syndrome seem friendly to everyone, without the usual limits.

17) Fascinating Planet Money newsletter trying to understand what’s gone so wrong with Haiti.

18) Good stuff from David Epstein (really, read both The Sports Gene and Range), “What Nobel Laureates and Elite Athletes Have in Common: Short-term results can undermine long-term development”

What Nobel Laureates and Elite Athletes Have in Common

Nobel-worthy breakthroughs take time, risk, and willingness to follow a meandering path — to detour in light of “unforeseen small findings,” as Yoshinori Ohsumi put it. Nobel laureates, too, require long-term development.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a new study on the childhoods of elite athletes. Bottom line: athletes who went on to become the best adults did a wider variety of activities in childhood, and initially progressed more slowly than the best youth athletes — who more often specialized early and peaked early.

That study also referenced Nobel laureates. Specifically, a 2015 paper on Nobel laureates found that — compared to high-achieving but non-Nobel peers — Nobel laureates were more likely to do multidisciplinary work early in their careers, and to progress more slowly early on.

“Nobel laureates were less likely to have won a scholarship as a student and took significantly longer to earn full professorships…Taken together, the observations suggest that early multidisciplinary practice is associated with gradual initial discipline specific progress but greater sustainability of long-term development of excellence.”

Pressure for short-term development of people, then, may ultimately curtail breakthrough innovation — just like pressure for short-term results in research.

I think we need all kinds of research, with all kinds of time horizons. The danger, as highlighted in “Transformation and Enterprise,” would be if all the pressure and incentives increasingly align for the short-term. How, then, do we get mRNA vaccines?

This year, if another Nobel laureate uses their platform to challenge the current funding climate — if they highlight the way that a short-term-results orientation limits exploration — I hope the research-funding world listens.

19) Get moving! “Why Exercise Is More Important Than Weight Loss for a Longer Life: People typically lower their risks of heart disease and premature death far more by gaining fitness than by dropping weight.”

For better health and a longer life span, exercise is more important than weight loss, especially if you are overweight or obese, according to an interesting new review of the relationships between fitness, weight, heart health and longevity. The study, which analyzed the results of hundreds of previous studies of weight loss and workouts in men and women, found that obese people typically lower their risks of heart disease and premature death far more by gaining fitness than by dropping weight or dieting.

The review adds to mounting evidence that most of us can be healthy at any weight, if we are also active enough…

As a whole, the studies they cite show that sedentary, obese men and women who begin to exercise and improve their fitness can lower their risk of premature death by as much as 30 percent or more, even if their weight does not budge. This improvement generally puts them at lower risk of early death than people who are considered to be of normal weight but out of shape, Dr. Gaesser said.

 


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Vaccine booster opposition is an ideology

There really is no other reasonable conclusion.  The anti-booster crowd is just so dedicated to their position (whether due to global vaccine equity issues or the belief that the only purpose of vaccines is to prevent severe cases) that they are just unwilling to admit that… boosters work!!  And almost assuredly are a good idea for most people who can get one.  Many of them are living in an Alpha world where the vaccines were just amazingly effective, but that’s just not the case against Delta.  They insist that, hey, we’re preventing a bunch of hospitalizations (we are and that’s great) and that’s all that matters.  A “mild” case of Covid is simply one that doesn’t land you in the hospital.  Last time I had the flu, I could barely leave my sofa for days and was completely miserable. That’s the time of “mild” illness I’d sure as hell like to avoid if an additional shot dramatically improves my chances of that (and it does!)  

What’s especially frustrating is that they have gone so far to read the clear and convincing evidence for boosters as somehow “weak.”  Apparently, anything short of beyond a reasonable doubt is not enough for this crowd.  Check out some of the negativity in yesterday’s NYT article about boosters (and the booster both-sidesism from NYT):

Well over 100 million fully vaccinated people will be eligible for boosters if the F.D.A. and C.D.C. endorse the committee’s latest recommendations, even though some scientists say that the evidence supporting boosters remains weak and that it would have been wiser to focus on reaching the unvaccinated, including abroad...

While some experts emphasized that the data was based on small groups of volunteers and short-term findings, others urged the F.D.A. to move quickly with what has fast become known as a mix-and-match approach, especially for recipients of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which is much less widely available.

“I’m sold already,” said Dr. Mark Sawyer, an infectious disease specialist with the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. “We need flexibility and to improve access to everyone.”

Others said they worried that the public would end up bewildered if the government kept broadening the categories of people eligible for boosters and which vaccine could be used for extra shots.

“I hope we can do this in a way that doesn’t look like we’re changing rules all the time,” said Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of immunology at the University of Iowa…

The experts generally agreed that the protection conferred by a single dose was inadequate, but at least some were unconvinced that the second dose would bolster that protection significantly.

The evidence is not “weak.”  It seems NYT’s lead reporter on this is firmly in the anti-booster crowd.  Notice all the discussion on “weak” evidence for boosters is about severe disease and death.  Sure, that’s most important, but there’s a lot to be said for preventing cases of Covid, period.  And I sure wish the anti-booster crowd would stop eliding that point and so clearly using motivated reasoning to make their case against boosters.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Great stuff from Adam Serwer, “By Attacking Me, Justice Alito Proved My Point: If he wants the public to see the Court as apolitical, he should try meeting that standard himself.”

Last month, Justice Samuel Alito insisted that the Supreme Court’s critics are wrong. The Court is not “a dangerous cabal” that is “deciding important issues in a novel, secretive, improper way, in the middle of the night, hidden from public view,” he said. Reading aloud from a piece I wrote in the aftermath of the Court’s recent ruling on an abortion law, Alito insisted that it was “false and inflammatory” to say that the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision had been nullified in Texas.

Alito’s complaint about my description of the substance of the Court’s ruling was just as meritless as his grousing about my description of the process by which it was delivered. The practical effect of the Supreme Court’s September decision was to deny Texans the right to decide when to end a pregnancy, and many—those who can afford it—are going out of state for treatment. Anti-abortion activists are so delighted with the law’s impact that they are trying to dissuade people from suing under the law, because that might subject it to substantive review by the courts more swiftly. The whole idea of the law was to prevent women in Texas from being able to obtain abortions for as long as possible. It would be wrong to say that Roe has been overturned, but it is beyond dispute to say that its protections are no longer in effect in Texas. In a word, it has been nullified.

The reporters who cover the Supreme Court are a hierarchical bunch, as anyone who has had to sit in the fourth row of the press area, straining to see or hear the proceedings, will tell you. They are decorous and proper and deferential to the justices. The longtime SCOTUS reporters for outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post did not even link to my piece that Alito was mischaracterizing so that their readers could make their own judgments; His Honor’s word would do. And yet here is the Times:

He addressed the recent decisions in unusual detail, rejecting, for instance, what he said was the “false and inflammatory claim that we nullified Roe v. Wade” in early September by allowing a Texas law that bans most abortions after six weeks to come into effect.

“We did no such thing, and we said so expressly in our order,” he said, quoting from it. Indeed, the majority in the 5-to-4 ruling said it based its decision on procedural grounds and did not address the constitutionality of the Texas law.

The effect of the ruling, however, has been to deny abortions to most women in Texas. In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the majority’s unsigned order “illustrates just how far the court’s ‘shadow docket’ decisions may depart from the usual principles of appellate process.”

This is the closest a Supreme Court reporter for a major outlet gets to saying, “Although the justice insisted the liquid was rain, chemical analysis shows the composition to be identical to urine.” Few if any reports saw the decisions as affirming the constitutionality of the Texas law, but many observers surmised that the majority was happy to leave it in place for now, because it does not think women should have the constitutional right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term, and therefore does not consider circumstances in Texas to be a matter of significant concern.

2) Michael Tesler, “Why Abortion May Now Motivate Democrats More Than Republicans”

Abortion has long motivated Republicans as a political issue. But following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in early September not to block Texas’s new law banning most abortions once an ultrasound can detect cardiac activity, usually about six weeks into a pregnancy, many have argued that Democrats may become more motivated by reproductive rights. As one Republican pollster recently told the Associated Press, “It is going to be a very motivating issue for women who haven’t typically been single-issue pro-choice voters.”

Tracking data from The Economist/YouGov seems to support this viewpoint. In each weekly survey since February, respondents were asked about the importance of abortion, and as we see in the chart below, the issue has become increasingly more important to Democrats and less important to Republicans ever since.

Throughout most of 2021, Trump voters were actually more likely than Biden voters to say that abortion is a “very important” issue to them. That matched the long history of abortion opponents rating the issue as more important than its proponents. But, as the chart above shows, this pattern was dramatically reversed after Texas’s abortion ban went into effect. Averaged across the five weekly surveys conducted by The Economist/YouGov since then, 51 percent of Biden backers rated abortion as a very important issue compared with just 39 percent of Trump supporters. Morning Consult’s polling shows that the share of Democratic women who said issues such as abortion, contraception and equal pay are central when voting for federal office nearly doubled immediately after Texas’s ban.

3) I’ve only had a gas stove for two years of my life and have always preferred electric.  Now I can feel morally superior about it :-). NPR:

Americans love their gas stoves. It’s a romance fueled by a decades-old “cooking with gas” campaign from utilities that includes vintage advertisements, a cringeworthy 1980s rap video and, more recently, social media personalities. The details have changed over time, but the message is the same: Using a gas stove makes you a better cook.

But the beloved gas stove has become a focal point in a fight over whether gas should even exist in the 35% of U.S. homes that cook with it.

Environmental groups are focused on potential health effects. Burning gas emits pollutants that can cause or worsen respiratory illnesses. Residential appliances like gas-powered furnaces and water heaters vent pollution outside, but the stove “is the one gas appliance in your home that is most likely unvented,” says Brady Seals with RMI, formerly Rocky Mountain Institute.

The focus on possible health risks from stoves is part of the broader campaign by environmentalists to kick gas out of buildings to fight climate change. Commercial and residential buildings account for about 13% of heat-trapping emissions, mainly from the use of gas appliances.

4) Holy crap, planarian flatworms are crazy!  Ed Yong, “They can tear themselves in half and regrow complete bodies. They can retain memories despite decapitation. And if you chop them into little pieces, each piece will start acting like a perfectly intact worm.”

5) One of the great things of federalism is that it allows states to be “laboratories of democracy.”  States can experiment and come up with all sorts of great policy innovations.  Or, they can be like South Dakota and come up with the equivalent of equivalent of chlorine gas in their lab, “South Dakota’s tax avoidance schemes represent federalism at its worst”

The Pandora Papers — the trove of more than 11.9 million confidential documents shared with The Washington Post and partner news organizations — shine a light on South Dakota’s role as an offshore financial center. For the most part, the revelations relate to the Mount Rushmore State’s status as a magnet for foreign wealth, including money derived from international drug smuggling and exploitative labor practices. But it’s not just foreigners who are moving assets to the “little tax haven on the prairie”: High-net-worth Americans also are shifting billions to South Dakota and a handful of other domestic havens, shortchanging federal and home-state tax collectors in the process.

The rise of domestic tax havens marks a troubling new chapter in the history of American federalism. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis hailed states as “laboratories of democracy,” but increasingly U.S. states are becoming laboratories of sophisticated tax avoidance. So far, Congress and the states whose tax bases are being cannibalized by the domestic havens have done little to fight back. Hopefully, the Pandora Papers will catalyze a reaction that’s long overdue.

Congress, for example, could close the loopholes in federal tax law that domestic havens exploit. And the states that lose out from cross-border tax wars could bolster their own legal defenses. Of course, lawmakers in the domestic tax havens also could halt their efforts to emulate overseas havens such as Luxembourg and Switzerland.

There is nothing new — or terribly remarkable — about states competing to lure residents and businesses by offering low tax rates. New Yorkers have long moved to Florida, and Californians relocated to Nevada, to avoid state income taxes. Domestic havens such as South Dakota, however, allow high-net-worth clients to minimize taxes without leaving the comfort of their Manhattan condos and Napa Valley chalets.

South Dakota’s history as a domestic tax haven dates to 1983, when the state legislature voted to lift all durational limits on trusts. Previously, South Dakota — like all but two other states — followed the “rule against perpetuities,” inherited from English common law, which generally prevented trusts from lasting much longer than three generations. And the two states that didn’t follow the rule — Idaho and Wisconsin — weren’t terribly attractive trust fund destinations because they imposed state tax on trust income. With the 1983 law, South Dakota became the first state to allow trusts to exist free of state income tax forever.

The opportunity to establish a perpetual “dynasty trust” with no state income tax induced many of the richest American families to locate their trusts in South Dakota. The Pritzkers of Hyatt hotel fame and the heirs to the Wrigley chewing-gum fortune both opened private trust companies in the state’s largest city, Sioux Falls. By the end of fiscal 2020, financial institutions in South Dakota managed more than $367 billion in trust assets. The state’s success attracted copycats: Delaware followed suit by allowing perpetual trusts in 1995, Alaska in 1997 and a flood of others afterward. Perpetual trusts — rare before the 1980s — have now become a standard tool in the high-end estate planning kit.

The biggest loser in all this is the U.S. Treasury. Carefully designed, a South Dakota dynasty trust can operate as a perpetual estate-tax-avoidance machine. If wealthy families passed their fortunes from grandparents to children to grandchildren and so on, a 40 percent federal estate tax would apply at each generational interval. Shifting those fortunes to perpetual trusts allows them to escape estate tax indefinitely. (A separate federal tax — the generation-skipping transfer tax — is intended to prevent estate tax avoidance via perpetual trusts, but flaws in the design of that levy mean that as a practical matter it often doesn’t achieve its end.)

6) I’ve been a fan of Steven Pinker going back to 1997’s How the Mind Works.  I’m also a fan of his current stance against campus illiberalism and for a less pessimistic view of all sorts of things.  A nice NYT interview from last month about his latest take on rationality, “Steven Pinker Thinks Your Sense of Imminent Doom Is Wrong”

Your new book is driven by the idea that it would be good if more people thought more rationally. But people don’t think they’re irrational. So what mechanisms would induce more people to test their own thinking and beliefs for rationality? Ideally there’d be a change in our norms of conversation. Relying on an anecdote, arguing ad hominem — these should be mortifying. Of course no one can engineer social norms explicitly. But we know that norms can change, and if there are seeds that try to encourage the process, then there is some chance that it could go viral. On the other hand, a conclusion that I came to in the book is that the most powerful means of getting people to be more rational is not to concentrate on the people. Because people are pretty rational when it comes to their own lives. They get the kids clothed and fed and off to school on time, and they keep their jobs and pay their bills. But people hold beliefs not because they are provably true or false but because they’re uplifting, they’re empowering, they’re good stories. The key, though, is what kind of species are we? How rational is Homo sapiens? The answer can’t be that we’re just irrational in our bones, otherwise we could never have established the benchmarks of rationality against which we could say some people some of the time are irrational. I think the answer is, especially for publicly consequential beliefs: We achieve rationality by implementing rules for the community that make us collectively more rational than any of us are individually. People make up for one another’s biases by being able to criticize them. People air their disagreements, and the person with the strongest position prevails. People subject their beliefs to empirical tests…

7) Big fan of this take, “‘Emergency situation. Might help. Won’t hurt. Worth pursuing.’ In a pandemic, it’s the right logic.: Health agencies have been slow to follow their usual emergency guidance when it comes to covid-19”

This is not, of course, only my personal logic. It’s standard thinking in the treatment of medical emergencies. It is logic that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention follows, as well. Despite citing literature that admits that “systematic reviews have not identified any randomized-controlled trials that support the use of these agents,” the CDC nevertheless advises physicians in published recommendations to “consider giving famotidine” to patients suffering from anaphylactic reactions.

But while the CDC is happy to accept such logic in that scenario, for some reason, it seems unable to apply the same thinking in others. And that’s continuing to hurt the U.S. response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Early on, the CDC advised the public against general mask usage. “If you are not sick,” the agency said in the spring of 2020, “you do not need to wear a face mask unless you are caring for someone who is sick.” Then-Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams followed this guidance in late February 2020, tweeting: “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing [the] general public from catching #Coronavirus.” One month later, CDC Director Robert Redfield backtracked, stating that in light of new data, guidance on the general public’s use of masks was being “critically re-reviewed.” By then, the new virus had already spread beyond anyone’s ability to control.

 
Similarly, it was not until May 2021, over a year into the pandemic, that the CDC admitted that the coronavirus behind the disease did indeed spread through the air via aerosolization rather than by droplet particles that fall quickly to the ground. Droplet diseases can be evaded by staying six feet apart from our peers and employing the use of simple surgical masks, while airborne diseases are best controlled by emphasizing good ventilation and the use of aerosol-protective N95 masks. Of course, no school or office building would have been injured by a recommendation that they open their windows in addition to spacing their desks apart, and no nurse or doctor would have been seriously harmed by utilizing an N95 mask before it was proved that they were absolutely needed. At worst, some people would have worn sweaters indoors for no good reason, and an extra layer of protective masks would have been worn when they weren’t absolutely necessary. At best, however, the pandemic would have been better contained, and many of the 3,600-plus health care workers who died in the first 12 months of the pandemic would still be alive today. Here again, “Emergency situation. Might help. Won’t hurt. Worth pursuing,” would have been a wise mantra to follow. (Because of ongoing misinformation, it is important to note here that the politicized treatments of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin do not meet the criteria of this mantra. These treatments can better be described as “Won’t help, might hurt, don’t pursue.”)

Despite all this, the CDC and other federal agencies leading the pandemic response do not appear to have learned the lesson. Even as the Food and Drug Administration admits that coronavirus booster vaccines don’t carry any significant safety risk and that they appear to be effective, they have gone on to reject recommending them for most people, instead endorsing them only for the elderly and people at high risk of severe covid…

More important than any specifics, however, is that the current issue, like the ones before it, serves to highlight a fundamental logic gap that seems to be going repeatedly unaddressed at the highest levels of our government. In an emergency situation, we often don’t have the luxury of a complete data set before we decide to do what is right. As with a patient struggling to breathe as the result of an allergic reaction, we cannot wait for the worst to happen before we finally decide to take action. We don’t need to think our plan is a silver bullet for it to still make sense to pursue it.

Our current pandemic will have more stages to come, and the future will present us with new pandemics, each with their own challenges and difficult decisions. If we are to do a better job going forward than we have done looking back, “Emergency situation. Might help. Won’t hurt. Worth pursuing,” is a mantra our most senior officials would be wise to adopt.

8) Some interesting social science: “College and the “Culture War”: Assessing Higher Education’s Influence on Moral Attitudes”

Moral differences contribute to social and political conflicts. Against this backdrop, colleges and universities have been criticized for promoting liberal moral attitudes. However, direct evidence for these claims is sparse, and suggestive evidence from studies of political attitudes is inconclusive. Using four waves of data from the National Study of Youth and Religion, we examine the effects of higher education on attitudes related to three dimensions of morality that have been identified as central to conflict: moral relativism, concern for others, and concern for social order. Our results indicate that higher education liberalizes moral concerns for most students, but it also departs from the standard liberal profile by promoting moral absolutism rather than relativism. These effects are strongest for individuals majoring in the humanities, arts, or social sciences, and for students pursuing graduate studies. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our results for work on political conflict and moral socialization.

9) Loved Yglesias‘ take on investing in producing a ton of zero-carbon energy and then doing cool things with it (free post):

Over the centuries, people have invented many different kinds of machines that help us do things and improve living standards. But in a very general way, what most of these inventions do is let us substitute some form of power for human effort. And as long as we were totally ignoring the costs of burning coal and oil, this was a great mechanism for progress — you invent new ways to do things by burning coal and oil, so then you burn more coal and oil.

But since the mid-1970s we’ve been increasingly aware of the limits and problems with this model, and it’s put us on an energy diet. Now when we invent something cool, we often have to say “too bad the energy requirements are so high.”..

But as Ryan Avent (from whom I borrowed that chart) and others have written, this is a backward way of looking at things. The turn toward conservation and efficiency was a necessary evil in an era when we couldn’t come up with a better way to deal with geopolitical instability linked to oil and pollution linked to all forms of fossil fuels.

Instead, we should raise our clean energy production ambitions. We don’t want to replace 100% of our current dirty energy — we want to generate vastly more energy than we are currently using and make it zero carbon…

Cleaning the air

One convenient fix for climate change would be large-scale direct air capture technology where machines act like supertrees, sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it somewhere.

Such a technology would have a lot of virtues. Because greenhouses gasses added to the atmosphere stay there, even reaching global zero emissions won’t stop global warming. It would halt the acceleration of global warming (which is good and important), but the ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would let us go net negative and try to halt the warming.

A related issue, as the Georgetown philosopher Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò argues, is that carbon capture is a means for developed countries to pay reparations for our outsized role in contributing to the global stock of emissions. Right now America’s idea of global contribution to the fight against climate change is to push development banks to stop financing fossil fuel projects in poor countries. We got rich burning fossil fuels, but it’s now bad if others do the same. China is the biggest emitter right now, but if you look at total emissions, the United States has still doubled Chinese emissions with a much smaller population.

Direct air capture is a way to make it right.

It’s also, of course, a way to get to net zero without totally eliminating fossil fuels…

More clean energy faster

Making as much zero-carbon electricity as possible as quickly as possible is substantially more important than trying to stamp out fossil fuel use. In part, that’s because energy abundance has important upsides for humanity. We’ve been talking here about the upside for rich countries, but in some parts of the world, people don’t have any electricity at all.

Beyond that, it’s the scarcity of clean electricity that prevents us from unleashing some of our most promising technologies for both the mitigation and adaptation sides of things. An important question, of course, is how you actually accomplish this. That’s going to have to wait for later posts.

But the big picture question of how we orient ourselves is important. We shouldn’t be looking at our current energy usage and asking, “How can we get this much energy, but cleaner?” We should be looking at a 45-year energy diet and asking, “How can we use clean energy technology to shatter this barrier and open up incredible new vistas?”

10) No trigger warnings from me (not that I was going to anyway).  Jeanne Suk Gersen, “What if Trigger Warnings Don’t Work: New psychological research suggests that trigger warnings do not reduce negative reactions to disturbing material—and may even increase them.”

Because trigger warnings involve assumptions about emotional reactions, particularly with respect to P.T.S.D., psychology researchers have begun to study whether trigger warnings are in fact beneficial. The results of around a dozen psychological studies, published between 2018 and 2021, are remarkably consistent, and they differ from conventional wisdom: they find that trigger warnings do not seem to lessen negative reactions to disturbing material in students, trauma survivors, or those diagnosed with P.T.S.D. Indeed, some studies suggest that the opposite may be true. The first one, conducted at Harvard by Benjamin Bellet, a Ph.D. candidate, Payton Jones, who completed his Ph.D. in 2021, and Richard McNally, a psychology professor and the author of “Remembering Trauma,” found that, among people who said they believe that words can cause harm, those who received trigger warnings reported greater anxiety in response to disturbing literary passages than those who did not. (The study found that, among those who do not strongly believe words can cause harm, trigger warnings did not significantly increase anxiety.) Most of the flurry of studies that followed found that trigger warnings had no meaningful effect, but two of them found that individuals who received trigger warnings experienced more distress than those who did not. Yet another study suggested that trigger warnings may prolong the distress of negative memories. A large study by Jones, Bellet, and McNally found that trigger warnings reinforced the belief on the part of trauma survivors that trauma was central (rather than incidental or peripheral) to their identity. The reason that effect may be concerning is that trauma researchers have previously established that a belief that trauma is central to one’s identity predicts more severe P.T.S.D.; Bellet called this “one of the most well documented relationships in traumatology.” The perverse consequence of trigger warnings, then, may be to harm the people they are intended to protect.

11) How Covid vaccine innovations can help with flu vaccines:

But a new generation of highly effective flu vaccines may emerge in the next few years, based on the same mRNA technology that has protected hundreds of millions of people against Covid-19.

While traditional influenza vaccines are grown for months in chicken eggs, mRNA vaccines are manufactured relatively quickly from scratch. In theory, their faster production may make them better matched to each season’s flu strains. And when they’re injected into people, they may provoke a stronger immune response than traditional flu vaccines do.

Two companies — Moderna, the Massachusetts biotech company that produced one of the authorized mRNA vaccines for Covid-19, and Sanofi, a French vaccine maker — began trials for mRNA flu vaccines this summer. Pfizer and BioNTech, the companies that produced the other mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, started their own flu trial last month. And Seqirus, a vaccine producer based in England, is planning to test another mRNA vaccine for the flu early next year.

No one can say for sure how well any of these four seasonal flu vaccines will turn out, but many experts are optimistic. And further down the line, mRNA technology may be tailored to make vaccines that work for years against a wide range of influenza strains.

“I am beyond excited for the future of flu vaccination,” said Jenna Bartley, an immunologist at the University of Connecticut…

But some studies suggest that mRNA vaccines might prove more potent than traditional ones. In animal studies, mRNA vaccines seem to provide a broader defense against influenza viruses. They prompt the animals’ immune systems to make antibodies against the virus, and also train immune cells to attack infected cells.

But perhaps most important for the flu, mRNA vaccines can be made rapidly. The speed of mRNA manufacturing may allow vaccine makers to wait a few extra months before picking which influenza strains to use, potentially leading to a better match.

“If you could guarantee 80 percent every year, I think that would be a major public health benefit,” said Dr. Philip Dormitzer, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer.

The technology also makes it easier for mRNA vaccine makers to create combination shots. Along with mRNA molecules for different strains of influenza, they can also add mRNA molecules for entirely different respiratory diseases.

12) This!! “Religious Exemptions for Vaccine Mandates Shouldn’t Exist: Freedom of religion was never meant to excuse people from obligations that apply to everyone.”

SCALIA WAS RIGHT about vaccines and civic obligation, but it’s odd that he had to worry about vaccine requirements in the first place. In fact, religious opposition to vaccines is vanishingly rare. In 2013, John D. Grabenstein, a vaccinologist and practicing Catholic, surveyed a wide range of world religions and couldn’t find any that had anti-vaccine teachings.

Except one. The Church of Christ, Scientist teaches that the material world, including disease, is an illusion, and so the way to overcome disease is through prayer, not medicine or vaccination. Members routinely reject medical care, even for their children. Although tiny—most estimates peg membership in the tens or low hundreds of thousands range—the group was politically influential in the mid-20th century, with several Christian Scientists serving in the Nixon administration. In the 1960s and ’70s, as vaccine mandates for diseases like measles and polio proliferated, the church’s lobbying efforts contributed to a wave of state laws creating religious opt-outs. Today, 48 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of exemption. By the time the modern anti-vaxx moment picked up steam in the 2000s, these exemptions were sitting around like a loaded gun.

“From a doctrinal perspective, it’s just the Christian Scientists,” Grabenstein says. “What we’re really seeing [now] is people wanting a personal philosophical exemption. They’re calling it religious when it’s really their own philosophy.”

Other experts who have studied the matter come to the same conclusion: Almost everyone who claims a religious exemption is using it as a cover for secular concerns, like fear of side effects or a general distrust of government. “I would be very surprised if more than a handful of these people are really thinking about religion at all,” says Dorit Rubenstein Reiss, a professor at UC Hastings College of Law who has studied vaccine exemptions extensively.

Reiss notes that in Connecticut, for example, the rate of religious opt-outs from school vaccine requirements grew from 1.7 to 2.7 percent between 2012 and 2019, even though there was no corresponding change in the state’s religious composition. In California, the rate nearly quadrupled between 1994 and 2009. Rising opt-out rates have correlated, as you’d expect, with rising infections. In 2019, two decades after measles was declared “eliminated,” the CDC reported 22 outbreaks and 1,249 cases—the highest number since 1992.

Reiss laid out the problem bluntly in a 2014 article : “First, people lie to get a religious exemption. Second, U.S. jurisprudence makes preventing such abuse very hard.”

STATE LEGISLATURE MAY have had Christian Scientists in mind when they wrote exemptions into law. The trouble is that carveouts can’t legally be limited to any particular denomination, or even to members of organized religion. In 2001, for example, a federal judge ruled that Arkansas’ vaccine exemption violated the Constitution because it only applied to members of a “recognized church or religious denomination.” Arkansas responded by changing the law to allow parents to claim a “personal belief” exemption, a path that 14 other states currently follow. Research has found that these states grant more non-medical exemptions than states that limit them to religious claims…

While the language of religious objections typically refers to someone’s “sincerely held belief,” judges are understandably wary of trying to read someone’s heart and mind. That creates room for mischief when it interacts with a cultural shift that constitutional law scholar Robert Post calls the “protestantization of religion”—the growing feeling that religious doctrine is not handed down by hierarchical organizations, or even governed by internal consistency, but is a question of individual private belief. Everyone is potentially a religion of one, an echo of the Supreme Court’s 1879 warning about permitting “every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

If America’s religious objectors aren’t taking their cues from official teachings, where are they getting them? To some degree, the answer seems to be Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and right-wing media. The result is a “religious” opposition to vaccine mandates that is at times indistinguishable from a political stance.

13) This, from Cathy Young, on Wokeness is really good, “Defining “Wokeness”: Yes, there is a distinct ideology behind “wokeism,” “social justice,” and other terms that refer to progressive orthodoxy—and it’s toxic”

The supportive replies are typical: It’s just “making an effort not be racist or sexist,” or “a meaningless epithet whose unironic use is pure cringe.”

But in fact, the ideology denoted by “wokeness” and “wokeism”—sarcastic riffs on “woke,” a term from African-American vernacular that means being awake to social injustice—does exist. (Writer Wesley Yang has also dubbed it “the successor ideology” to convey its succession to old-style liberalism.) To avoid the pejorative overtones, I will mostly use “Social Justice,” since that term is embraced by many activists themselves.

Its basic tenets can be summed up as follows:

Modern Western societies are built on pervasive “systems of oppression,” particularly race- and gender-based. All social structures and dynamics are a matrix of interlocking oppressions, designed to perpetuate some people’s power and privilege while keeping others “marginalized” on the basis of inherent identities: race or ethnicity; sex/gender identity/sexuality; religion and national origin; physical and mental health. (Class also factors into it, but tends to be the stepchild of Social Justice discourse.)  Individuals and their interactions are almost completely defined and shaped by those “systems” and by hierarchies of power and privilege. The only right way to understand social and human relations is to view them through the lens of oppression and power.

Everyone who belongs to a non-oppressed category in some core aspect of identity (white, male, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, Christian, non-immigrant) possesses “privilege,” enjoys unearned benefits at the expense of the oppressed, and is implicated in oppression. Thus, social justice advocacy must focus not only on the problems faced by the disadvantaged but on the unfair advantages of the “privileged.”

Because various oppressions are so deeply embedded in everything around us, all actions that do not actively challenge it actively perpetuate it. Writer, scholar and new MacArthur Genius Grant winner Ibram X. Kendi, whose 2019 book How to Be an Antiracisthas made him an intellectual star of the Great Awokening, puts it most succinctly: everything is either racist or antiracist, with no possibility of anything in between.

Challenging oppression and inequality requires not only combating injustices and reforming or dismantling oppressive institutions, but eradicating the unconscious biases we have all learned…

Moral judgments of virtually any situation should be based primarily on where the people involved stand in the power/privilege hierarchy. As David Frum wrote in 2015, discussing many leftists’ rush to blame the victims after Islamist gunmen attacked the offices of the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo in retaliation for cartoons poking fun at Islam, killing 11 people and wounding 11 more, this moral theory can be summed up as: “1. Identify the bearer of privilege. 2. Hold the privilege-bearer responsible.”

These are the core foundational concepts; but there are other important tenets, spoken or unspoken. For instance:

All claims and accounts of identity-based oppression, abuse, or prejudice must be accorded the presumption of belief; to challenge or deny them is oppressive. Above all, a privileged person accused of causing harm to a marginalized person must listen, learn, and show contrition; to protest innocence is to show “fragility” and is itself an act of harm.

The privileged can easily harm people with marginalized identities by “appropriating” their voices or aspects of their culture such as dress or food. Offenses can range from a story, novel, or poem in the voice of a marginalized person to an ethnic Halloween costume .

Institutions and cultural products are irrevocably tainted by historical connections to oppressive practices or bigoted beliefs, whose effects remain deeply embedded. Thus, (inaccurate) claims that American policing had its origins in slave patrols have been used as proof of systemic police racism. An author’s or artist’s racist or sexist views, even if normal for his/her time, are presumed to infect the work. Recent critiques of Dr. Seuss, for instance, argue that The Cat in the Hat subtly perpetuates “racist ideologies” because the Cat’s appearance and mischievous behavior may have drawn on some tropes from black minstrelsy. (No, seriously.)

14) Biden administration wants banks to help crack down on tax avoidance that costs the American public trillions.  Tax cheats and the banks that help them are not happy and just throwing up a bunch of chaff about “privacy.”

15) Wouldn’t be a quick hits without Freddie deBoer these days.  Damn this is good.  You should read it. “That One Side Would Like to Utterly Destroy the Other Side Seems Significant, To Me”

But the popularism debate is a perfect example of how progressives simply can’t have the debates they need to have when the boundaries of the debate are hemmed in by the fear of vindictive reprisals. Should the party moderate? Should the party push left? How should it accomplish either? These issues involve everyone in the Democratic coalition. The rules of the game, though, tell us that some people have to mind their Ps and Qs while others get to engage angrily, vengefully, jokingly, and immaturely, as for some bizarre reason we have carved out a total exemption to basic rules of conduct in argument within left-of-center spaces for those who claim to speak from the standpoint of “the marginalized.” Unfortunately, their grasp on who actually holds that status is a little… motivated.

They say, for example, that people who come from less privileged backgrounds – there isn’t any such ordinal scale, of course, but hang on – should have special status to dictate the future of the party. And you might imagine that this would privilege conservative and moderate Democrats, of which there are far more than you could ever imagine from Twitter. The young activist core of the progressive Democrat agenda is dominantly white; it must be, as most Americans are white and an even higher percentage of college graduates are white and the percentage of those who went to the tiny handful of elite schools that graduate the vast majority of our politically influential class is even more white. Those activists are thus overwhelmingly young and majority white and almost universally college educated and, while in some cases making bad money now, upwardly mobile and uniquely equipped to navigate the knowledge economy when they move on to getting paid, as they all inevitably will. This would seem to be a privileged class in the most obvious sense, and against them stands a lot of regular Democrat voters. Say, people with some college but no degree, Black, middle aged, middle class, and far more conservative than the average Twitter liberal, favoring “commonsense” abortion restrictions, opposed to major policing reductions, vaguely worried about deficits and taxes, and deeply skeptical about mass immigration.

So the dictate to favor the more marginalized members of the coalition leads to pursuing an agenda consonant with the values of those moderates, right? Good lord, of course not. Instead the activist class just insists that they are the marginalized voice, and if you disagree, they try to ruin your life. Black Democrats have been perhaps the most conservative element of the party since the formation of the modern Democratic coalition, but this fact is inconvenient for those who both claim to speak ex cathedra when discussing racial justice and who hold policy positions far to the left of most Black Democrats. So they just ignore the reality of who favors further-left positions among Democrats, and if you try to bring the reality to their attention, you get white men calling you a white man at best and a digital mob trying to declare you a permanent untouchable at worst. So how can we have the immensely important debates we need to have, under those conditions? In so many domains, the left-of-center is hamstrung by a punishingly narrow range of acceptable positions, a mass assumption of bad faith, and a refusal to insist that everyone play by the same rules…

But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the activist class, the Twitter-obsessed class, the collegiate class, the vengeful “progressive” NPCs that have poisoned the well by normalizing attempts to destroy people they disagree with. No one is saying you shouldn’t advocate for your values. You absolutely should be vocal and passionate, and you are free to invoke moral language, and you certainly don’t have to personally like the people you disagree with. But you don’t get to threaten people’s lives, which is very common in some social media spaces, and you don’t get to silence anyone, and you don’t get to dox anyone, and it’s profoundly fucked up to try and separate someone from their job in a world where you have to work to eat. That can never be an authentically progressive or left-wing action, I don’t care how righteous you think your movement is. There’s no excuse for that behavior, especially given that the people who are guilty of this are almost all perfectly empowered and socioeconomically secure. You can’t run a political party under these conditions, or a social movement, and we shouldn’t have to. Advocate for your values, do the work, build the coalition through persuasion, accept that people will always disagree with you and that this is a healthy condition, and stop pretending that you are the subaltern when you’re really a whole industry of A students who went to elite colleges and have never known what it’s like to not be listened to and taken seriously.

To put it simply, grow up. And stop trying to destroy people. Like you yourselves keep saying, canceling doesn’t reliably work, so why bother? Judging by the utter lack of meaningful change since last summer, neither have the protests or riots. That’s not a nice thing to say, but it’s reality, and if you are sincere about helping those you claim to speak for, your first duty is to efficacy. So maybe time to try something else.

16) Sometimes I enjoy being one of the crowd and doing what everybody else is doing.  And, in this case, I quite enjoyed “Squid Game.”

17) I recently finished reading, Mine: How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control our Lives.  It’s great.

I once returned to my childhood home to find my father going through my collection of baseball cards, carefully calculating their value. It was as if he thought he … owned them. Seriously? I had collected them, I had cared for them, I had paid for them. Or, more accurately, I had regularly stolen change from his coin tray to buy them and then abandoned them as a teenager, but that all struck me as singularly irrelevant. They were, to pilfer the title of the thought-provoking new book by Michael Heller and James Salzman, “Mine!”

“Mine!” sets out to change the way we think about what we own, which is often decidedly at odds with reality. The authors cast the idea of ownership broadly, taking in not just land, cash and cars but also the confounding array of things we claim as our own, or try to, in our lives. Who is entitled to those few precious inches of space between our knees and the inevitably reclining seat in front of us on airplanes? Can someone force me to lop off the tops of my trees just because my neighbors have decided to install solar panels on their roof? Do I really need to tell my doctor not to steal my cells while I undergo surgery? And what exactly does Amazon mean when it says that the e-book I just purchased — or thought I did — “may become unavailable” to me?

 

The tiny turf wars we wage may seem trivial, but Heller and Salzman convincingly demonstrate they are anything but. “Our things — like our bodies — define and constitute who we are, not just as individuals, but as part of meaningful communities,” they write. We are conditioned to think of ownership as preordained and inevitable, bestowed through some natural order of things. Instead, our assertions of ownership are value-laden, inconsistent and regularly in conflict with others’ equally plausible claims of right. In the end, “Mine!” proposes, there are just six “pathways to claiming ownership,” ranging from possession or being first to family entitlement. The authors posit that if people could recognize their own underlying assumptions about ownership, they would become better advocates for themselves, their communities and the common good.

Stop worry about your unvaccinated kids and Covid

Okay, maybe I over-rely on Leonhardt, but I so love this one because it speaks directly to one of my frustrations– people’s irrational fears about harm to their kids.  I recently attend a PS conference in Seattle.  It was so much fun and it was great to be in such a highly-vaccinated city in a conference where all attendees were required to show proof of vaccination.  But I know a lot of people didn’t come and the number one reason I heard (and I hear this plenty of other places, too) was the fear of the vaccinated adult getting sick and spreading it to their unvaccinated child.  Now there’s all sorts of logistical complications in life if your kid gets Covid– but if you’ve already got Covid, it’s probably not all that much worse if your kid has it, too. But the health concerns are almost zero.  A 30-50 year old adult has about the same risk of being hospitalized as an elementary age kid.  And it’s substantially more for adults over 50.  Now, there’s real reasons to be concerned about your kids not becoming vectors to other vulnerable adults, but, realistically, a fully vaccinated adult should probably be worrying more about themselves than their unvaccinated child.  Here’s a handy chart on age-based risk and vaccine status based on data, coincidentally, from Seattle:

And more from Leonhardt:

As you can see, the risks for unvaccinated children look similar to the risks for vaccinated people in their 50s.

Nationwide statistics from England show an even larger age skew. Children under 12 (a group that’s combined with teenagers in this next chart) appear to be at less risk than vaccinated people in their 40s if not 30s.

“Covid is a threat to children. But it’s not an extraordinary threat,” Dr. Alasdair Munro, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at the University of Southampton, has written. “It’s very ordinary. In general, the risks from being infected are similar to the other respiratory viruses you probably don’t think much about.”…

For children without a serious medical condition, the danger of severe Covid is so low as to be difficult to quantify. For children with such a condition, the danger is higher but still lower than many people believe. The risk of long Covid among children — a source of fear among many parents — also appears to be very low.

Also, your children aren’t going to get abducted by strangers when they are playing outside.  

It’s only natural that we worry– even at irrrational levels– about our kids.  But when we are making important decisions about how we live our lives– as Covid forces us to every day– they really should be based on rational fears and not the vanishingly small risks of kids getting seriously ill from Covid (again, concerns about the role of kids in community spread is a different matter).  

There’s still so much we don’t get about Covid spread

As much as I like to think I know about Covid, I still embrace how much we just don’t understand.  And why we have learned so much about transmission (especially the role of aerosols, ventilation, etc.) when we look at the overall patterns of Covid surge and decline and the role of human behavior, there’s really so much we still have but a weak grasp on.  Thus, I really enjoyed the summary from Leonhardt about the thing we still don’t really understand:

In the case of Covid, the fable we tell ourselves is that our day-to-day behavior dictates the course of the pandemic. When we are good — by staying socially distant and wearing our masks — cases are supposed to fall. When we are bad — by eating in restaurants, hanging out with friends and going to a theater or football game — cases are supposed to rise.

The idea is especially alluring to anybody making an effort to be careful and feeling frustrated that so many other Americans seem blasé. After all, the Covid fable does have an some truth to it. Social distancing and masking do reduce the spread of the virus. They just are not as powerful as people often imagine.

The main determinants of Covid’s spread (other than vaccines, which are extremely effective) remain mysterious. Some activities that seem dangerous, like in-person school or crowded outdoor gatherings, may not always be. As unsatisfying as it is, we do not know why cases have recently plunged. The decline is consistent with the fact that Covid surges often last for about two months before receding, but that’s merely a description of the data, not a causal explanation.

“We still are really in the cave ages in terms of understanding how viruses emerge, how they spread, how they start and stop, why they do what they do,” Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, has told me.

In coming weeks and months, it is possible that the virus will surge again, maybe because of a new variant or because vaccine immunity will wane. It is also possible that the population has built up enough immunity — from both vaccines and previous infections — that Delta will have been the last major wave.

We don’t know, and we do not have to pretend otherwise. We do not have to treat Covid as a facile referendum on virtue.

When caseloads are high, it makes sense to take precautions, even if we can’t be sure how much they matter. When caseloads are lower, it makes sense to take fewer, because almost every precaution has a cost. Other than that, the best we can do is get vaccinated and, as Osterholm says, stay humble.

(The return of full) Quick hits (part I)

You’re regularly scheduled quick hits are back for your Saturday reading pleasure.  Enjoy!

1) Ruy Teixera, “There Just Aren’t Enough College-Educated Voters! You Can Ignore the Working Class If You Like, But That Would Be Very, Very Unwise”

Education polarization is increasing election on election in the United States. In 2012, the difference in Democratic support between college-educated and noncollege (working class) voters in the Presidential election was about 4 margin points (Catalist data, two party vote), with college voters being more favorable to the Democrats than noncollege voters. In 2016 that difference ballooned to 18 points. And in 2020, it went up again to 22 points.

Democrats seem remarkably relaxed about this polarization, despite liking to style themselves as the party for “working people”. One reason for this is the general perception that the college-educated population is growing while the working class is declining. True as far as it goes but the fact remains that noncollege voters far outnumber college voters. In the 2020 Catalist data, the tally was 63 percent noncollege/37 percent college. That means that any given shift among noncollege voters is significantly more consequential than a similarly-sized shift among college voters. This situation will continue for many election cycles, as the noncollege voter share is likely to decline only gradually.

Another reason for Democratic complacency is the firm belief that Democrats’ working class problem is solely confined to whites and that white working class voters are so racist/reactionary that it is a badge of honor to ignore them. This is highly questionable as a matter of political strategy and arithmetic, given that they are 44 percent of voters and a lot more than that in key swing states and districts.

But there is a deeper problem. The perception that nonwhite working class voters are a lock for the Democrats is no longer tenable. In the 2020 election, working class nonwhites moved sharply toward Trump by 12 margin points, despite Democratic messaging that focused relentlessly on Trump’s animus toward nonwhites. According to Pew, Trump actually got 41 percent of the Hispanic working class vote in 2016. Since 2012, running against Trump twice, Democrats have lost 18 points off of their margin among nonwhite working class voters…

More broadly, as Matt Yglesias noted in a recent article documenting the growth and extent of education polarization:

[H]aving society sharply polarized around occupational categories and educational attainment is going to make it very difficult for us to function effectively as a country… [S]tark education polarization is really bad for Democrats’ prospects of winning a Senate majority….[M]athematically, Democrats cannot govern in the long term without increasing their appeal to less-educated voters…..For some people, of course, the current system works great. Culture wars and skewed maps help Republicans win elections, after which they cut taxes for rich people and multinational corporations while doing nothing to satisfy their base’s resentments — resentments that fuel the fire for the next campaign.

In short, Democrats should not be complacent about education polarization. College graduates are neither numerous nor reliable enough to underpin a dominant coalition. Their party’s fate—and that of the country’s prospects for effective governance—depends on reducing this polarization as much and as rapidly as possible.

2) This is a hell of a tale.  A little long, but pretty good and everybody’s talking about it.  As for “who is the bad art friend?”  Both of them, damnit.  1) Person #1 needs to get over herself for donating a kidney and accept that other people can take a kidney donation as the inspiration for their own fiction and person #2 needs to not actually plagiarize and then get out of it by claiming “racism!” 

3) Leonhardt on mandates:

Many vaccinations, few firings

We are now living through this cycle again. The deadline for many workplace mandates arrived this week, often requiring people to have received a Covid-19 vaccine or face being fired. In California, the deadline for health care workers is today.

As was the case with Washington’s army, the mandates are largely succeeding:

  • California’s policy has led thousands of previously unvaccinated medical workers to receive shots in recent weeks. At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, about 800 additional workers have been vaccinated since the policy was announced last month, bringing the hospital’s vaccination rate to 97 percent, according to my colleague Shawn Hubler.
  • When New York State announced a mandate for hospital and nursing-home staff members in August, about 75 percent of them had received a shot. By Monday, the share had risen to 92 percent. The increase amounts to roughly 100,000 newly vaccinated people.
  • At Trinity Health, a hospital chain in 22 states, the increase has been similar — to 94 percent from 75 percent, The Times’s Reed Abelson reports. At Genesis HealthCare, which operates long-term-care facilities in 23 states, Covid cases fell by nearly 50 percent after nearly all staff members had finished receiving shots this summer.

Often, the number of people who ultimately refuse the vaccine is smaller than the number who first say they will. Some are persuaded by the information their employer gives them — about the vaccines’ effectiveness and safety, compared with the deadliness of Covid — and others decide they are not really willing to lose their jobs.

A North Carolina hospital system, Novant Health, last week suspended 375 workers, or about 1 percent of its work force, for being unvaccinated. By the end of the week, more than half of them — about 200 — received a shot and were reinstated.

Of course, 175 firings are not nothing. (A Washington Post headline trumpeted the story as “one of the largest-ever mass terminations due to a vaccine mandate.”) United Airlines said this week that it would terminate even more employees — about 600, or less than 1 percent of its U.S. work force.

These firings can create hardship for the workers and short-term disruptions for their employers. But those disruptions tend to be fleeting, because the percentage of workers is tiny. “I’m not seeing any widespread disruptive effect,” Saad Omer of the Yale Institute for Global Health told The Times.

And the benefits — reducing the spread of a deadly virus and lowering the chances it will mutate dangerously in the future — are large.

4) Scott Lemieux summarizes the mandate success in Washington state:

Also nice to see a story that focuses on the big picture rather than unrepresentative outliers:

Gov. Jay Inslee’s order for 63,000 state workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has drawn broad outcry from conservatives, large protests from state workers and legal challenges by employees who stand to lose their jobs under the mandate.

But if Washington’s biggest agencies are any indication, state employees are largely complying with the mandate that they be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs.

The Washington Department of Corrections, (DOC) which oversees the state’s 12 prisons, has verified that 89% of workers have been vaccinated as of noon Thursday, according to a spokesperson. That’s a steep rise from a few weeks ago, when individual prisons reported vaccination rates among staffers as low as 39%.

The Department of Social and Health Services — Washington’s largest state agency, with nearly 16,000 employees — had verified 91% of its workers as vaccinated as of Thursday.

The state Department of Transportation meanwhile is at 93% verified vaccinated as of Friday morning, and the Washington State Patrol announced Wednesday that 93% of its workers had been vaccinated.

At the Department of Children, Youth and Families, that number stood at nearly 87% as of Wednesday — up from around 50% three weeks ago.

5) Sad story with a 20-year old local kid (unvaccinated, of course) who had a Covid death like none I’ve heard of– somehow is Covid led to a fatal sinus infection. that got into his brain.

6) I think one of the clearest indications of the degradation of our democracy is that we’re hardly even talking about it.  Adam Serwer a couple weeks ago, “Trump’s Plans for a Coup Are Now Public: Some of the plots to overturn the election happened in secret. But don’t forget the ones that unfolded in the open.’

7) I meant to write a post on this back in August(!) but it’s still really relevant.  Alec MacGillis, “What Philadelphia Reveals About America’s Homicide Surge”

The video of George Floyd’s death was appalling to Joe Sullivan, who spent 38 years with the Philadelphia police department, much of it overseeing the unit that handles large demonstrations, eventually rising to deputy commissioner. He retired from the force in early 2020, after Outlaw’s arrival as commissioner. Sullivan could stomach watching the video of Floyd only once, but immediately texted his former colleagues on the force that they needed to see it. “My heart just sank,” he said. “I knew right then and there that bad things were going to happen, because it just was so egregious.”

The protests in Philadelphia commenced the following Saturday, with hundreds of people gathering at the art museum and City Hall. As the crowds swelled, someone set a police car on fire, and others started breaking into stores near Rittenhouse Square, carrying out clothes and electronics. Mayor Kenney ordered an 8 p.m. curfew; by day’s end, more than 100 people had been arrested and more than a dozen officers were injured.

Overnight, action shifted to the 52nd Street commercial strip in a heavily Black section of Southwest Philadelphia. Early on Sunday morning, four people looted a clothing store, and that afternoon and into Monday morning, others emptied a jewelry store and a pharmacy, set fire to a uniform shop and damaged a day care center, a tax-preparation business and a seller of hijabs, among others. It was just a couple of blocks from where Tyffani Rudolph had lived before she entered foster care. “It was heartbreaking to see, because it was my own people doing it,” she said. “It was upsetting because it’s like we’re destroying our own home.”

Sullivan, too, watched with dismay, aghast that things unraveled to the point where officers felt the need to take a step he had avoided in many years of crowd control: releasing tear gas. In Philadelphia, protests and looting continued for days, as did the use of tear gas. The police department redeployed officers from across the city to the protests and looting, leaving swaths of the city underpatrolled.

The shift in police focus was immediately discernible in the data: from late May to mid-June last year, police vehicle and pedestrian stops plunged by more than two-thirds. This was driven by more than staffing shifts, said Sullivan. Even officers still on their usual patrols were increasingly opting not to engage with the frequency they had before, which he attributed partly to the firing and arrest of two officers during the protest, one for pepper-spraying protesters on Interstate 676 and another for striking a Temple student in the head with his baton. (Charges were dropped in the first case, and the second officer was later acquitted.) “Officers are saying, ‘Man, if they’re getting locked up that easily, I don’t really want to get involved in this. I’ve got a mortgage to pay and tuition to pay,’” Sullivan said. “I’m sure that some officers have pulled back.”

It was a seeming replay of the dynamic observed in Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Michael Brown, in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, and in Chicago following the death of Laquan McDonald. In those cities, arrests dropped sharply in the weeks following protests over the deaths. What made this latest iteration so unusual was that it was playing out in cities across the country, not only in the city that had experienced this particular death at police hands, Minneapolis. Some combination of the extremity of the Floyd video and the release of emotions pent up during the lockdowns had elevated the protests into a national event, reproducing nationwide the dynamic seen in Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago several years earlier.

There is another side to the dynamic, many criminologists agree. In the wake of high-profile deaths at police hands and the often heavy-handed police response to the ensuing protests, community trust in the police plummets. This leaves many people even less likely to report a crime or offer a tip or testify, further depressing case closure rates that were already barely 50% for homicides in Philadelphia, and much lower for nonfatal shootings. “The murder of George Floyd really reactivated this deep sense of mistrust and cynicism in many disadvantaged communities,” Abt said. “And when that happens, there’s multiple bodies of evidence that suggests that when people don’t believe in the system, they don’t comply with it and they don’t use it.”

Instead, they resolve disputes themselves — sometimes with violence…

That could be seen as self-preservation, a response to a rise in shootings that in turn would beget more shootings, abetted by the loss of confidence in the police. “There certainly are young men and women carrying guns on the street because they don’t believe the police can protect them,” said Sullivan, the former deputy commissioner. “They’ve been led to believe that police won’t protect them, and they feel they need to carry guns. And that means more guns on the street.”

One could also consider it from the supply perspective: There had been a surge in legal gun sales nationwide early in the pandemic, amid all the apocalyptic talk of food and supply shortages. Some weapons were inevitably making their way onto the black market, via theft or resale. And, in Philadelphia and other cities, many people now had extra means to buy their own guns on the black market. For all the economic stresses caused by pandemic-related job losses, the $1,200-per-person stimulus payments and expanded unemployment benefits of the CARES Act had injected cash into many neighborhoods. An 18-year-old member of YEAH Philly, who also didn’t want his name used because of his open criminal cases, said, “Everybody had a lot of money, and everybody started buying guns. When everybody started buying guns, everybody wanted to be tough.” Johnson, the councilmember, found this dynamic worrisomely plausible: “The easy access to money, and some people who never had this kind of money before, is playing a role in purchasing guns.”

There’s also the other side of personal risk calculus: the odds of repercussions for carrying. After all, police were making fewer stops. And even before the pandemic and the Floyd protests, those getting caught with illegal firearms were facing fewer consequences. Krasner’s office had launched a diversion program for some defendants, under which those who had purchased firearms legally but lacked the permit to carry them could have their arrests expunged after probation. (The office argued that it was unfair that Philadelphians face more stringent gun rules than residents of other parts of Pennsylvania, as the state requires gun permits for city residents but not for those elsewhere.) And the overall conviction rate for illegal gun possession cases was falling, too. It dropped to 49% in 2019 from more than 60% in the four years before Krasner took office, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

8) Good stuff from Freddie DeBoer, “Anatomy of a Bad Idea: Affirmative Consent”

My primary objection to affirmative consent is pretty simple, really. I don’t, in fact, think that most cases of sexual assault are a matter of mixed signals and misunderstandings. I think most rapes are committed by rapists who don’t care if women say no and are perfectly happy to lie about whether they did. (In fact I remember in the 90s that the feminist position was to ardently assert that sexual assault is very rarely a matter of mixed signals.) And this is the immediate, existential problem for affirmative consent: a rapist can just as easily say “she said yes” as he previously would have said “she didn’t say no.” Right? So what problem is being solved here? It’s still a matter of disputing what communication took place in a world where we generally have no evidence about those communicative facts. The condition that vexes a lot of people is that it’s genuinely very difficult to establish the truth if the question at hand is not whether sexual acts took place but whether they were consensual. We live in a rule-bound society where due process has to exist, as unpopular as that sentiment has become in liberal circles, which means that we will frequently be locked in he said-she said scenarios. Affirmative consent is often represented as some sort of salve for this problem but it simply replaces one type of dispute about who said what with another.

And because of the nature of sex affirmative consent activists are forever introducing ambiguity into the picture when the entire purpose of affirmative consent was to reduce ambiguity. You say to people, “you know, it really doesn’t seem like two people who have been dating for five years are going to robotically be saying ‘may I touch your breast now?’ every time they have sex.” And they say “oh no no, of course not, you see there can be implied consent between partners.” Which, one, is no longer affirmative, and two, seems like a disturbing concession – of course people in long-term relationships can commit sexual assault against their partners, so isn’t the notion of such implied consent pretty problematic? Or they’ll say “well, consent can be affirmative without being explicit, it can be a touch, a look in the eye.” Again, this completely torpedoes the very clarity that affirmative consent was designed to achieve. That notion simply empowers rapists; “I read that consent doesn’t have to be explicitly voiced to be affirmative, and she had that look in her eye….”

A common defense of the standard, when this debate was raging, was to say that no one would make an allegation if no sexual assault had occurred, therefore it wouldn’t matter if most people usually don’t follow the standard. Which is bizarre enough on the face of it; what do we make of a policy whose defenders reassure us that it usually won’t be followed? But it’s especially perverse here because it presumes an entirely different standard than the one it’s advocating. If affirmative consent means anything at all, it must mean that someone who does not proactively give consent has been sexually assaulted regardless of whether they believe that they have been. Otherwise it makes no sense, nothing’s changed from the old standard. If what rules is not the victim’s actually expressed consent but their feeling towards whether or not they have consent, then there is no standard of affirmative consent at all! We’re right back where we started. It’s completely unworkable and would appears to solve no problems. It’s just a way to look busy…

The problem was always this: the affirmative consent standard required the participation of a large and diverse group of young adults who, like most of us, find constantly stopping to ask permission of every discrete “sexual act” dehumanizing and unnatural. They’ve told us so. This seems like an entirely predictable outcome, yet when this was being debated in around 2014 or 2015, criticism of the policy was muted. Why? Well, it’s obvious: to appear to be against a law represented as a victory for women’s sexual and bodily autonomy is very risky in the social media era, regardless of how ineffective and bizarre that law actually is and regardless of what you’re actually objecting to. Who, in the era of cancellation, is going to be particularly vocal about opposing laws that some people represent as an impediment to rape, even if everyone knows that they’re a fig leaf? Should this post escape from my regular readership onto Twitter, surely someone is going to claim that I’ve said that consent is dehumanizing and unnatural, and many more people will then amplify that claim without bothering to read what I actually wrote. Most writers are too emotionally delicate and professionally vulnerable for that, so everybody halfheartedly got on board the way they did with Defund the Police and other bad ideas.

So you get this huge policy change at hundreds of universities that does effectively nothing to stop sexual assault, infringes on the rights of the accused, and functions as a make-work program for overpaid “consultants” and liberal writers, all while most people quietly recognize that nobody follows it, and support for that empty policy is enforced with missionary zeal not by true believers but almost entirely by people who are too scared to ask whether any of it makes any sense. Perhaps creating an oppressive culture of fear of permanent ostracism and professional exile in liberal media was a bad idea.

9) Katherine Wu on the possible future evolution of Covid:

In the worst-case scenario, a variant could arise that would “make it like the vaccines did not exist,” Hanage said. But at the moment, “there is no such variant like that.” And it would probably be extraordinarily difficult for one to manifest. Even the most evasive variants we know of—the ones that have stumped certain antibodies—aren’t fully duping vaccinated bodies, which harbor a slew of other immunological guards. Hanage also pointed out that many people’s immune systems have been trained on different triggers—distinct brands of vaccines, unique variants, or some combination thereof. A new version of SARS-CoV-2 would find skirting all of those blockades at once to be nearly impossible.

Viruses aren’t infinitely mutable; sometimes, to keep themselves in contention, they must make sacrifices. Several experts told me they’re hopeful that the coronavirus might struggle to max out both transmission and immune evasion at once, requiring some sort of trade-off between the two. Some of the most powerful anti-coronavirus antibodies target SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein, which the virus uses to unlock and enter our cells. If the virus altered the protein to sidestep those antibodies, it might make itself less recognizable to the immune system. But it could also hurt its ability to infect us at all.

That might help explain why Beta has, so far, remained only a supporting character in the coronavirus’s ensemble cast. Another hint comes from Alpha, which didn’t seem to benefit all that much when it acquired an antibody-eluding mutation last spring, despite widespread fears. There is, in other words, probably a limit to just how bad SARS-CoV-2 can get: Even the most careful dog breeders cannot turn a bulldog into a bear…

Vaccines, however, aren’t just reactive. They are also proactive interventions that curb the number of times the virus gets to roll the evolutionary dice, cutting down on the number, intensity, and duration of infections, and the chance that they’ll pass to others. A more vaccinated world creates a more hostile global environment for SARS-CoV-2. Mutations will still occur, but fewer of them will be of consequence; lineages will still splinter, but they’ll do so less often. “The overriding effect of vaccination should be to reduce the rate of [virus] adaptation,” Cobey told me. Variants, after all, can’t adapt when they’re starved of hosts to infect.

Glimmers of early evidence suggest that this slowdown has already begun. One recent study, not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal, found that SARS-CoV-2’s shape-shifting rate is lower in highly immunized countries, the expected outcome of a virus knocking up against new immune walls. Gupta, of the University of Cambridge, also hopes that we’ll someday cook up vaccines that can stamp out infection and transmission to an even greater degree—or ones that direct immune cells to hit the virus in spots that can’t mutate without hamstringing it. “That will force the virus into a corner,” he told me. We’d need those types of inoculations less often, too. “I don’t envision a constant cat-and-mouse game.”

10) Wildfires aren’t just destructive, expensive, and potentially deadly– they’re also really bad for human health. “Breathing wildfire smoke can affect the brain and sperm, as well as the lungs”

10) Terrific New Yorker article on Kathryn Harden and her research into the genetic bases of intelligence.  To their profound discredit, many liberals just cannot ideologically admit the obvious– of course there’s a genetic basis to intelligence.  

11) And good stuff from Drum on the matter:

But lots of things are impossible until suddenly they aren’t. Readers with very good memories may recall that a few years ago I wrote about Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS, pronounced jee-wass). These do the impossible: they allow genetic researchers to find single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, pronounced snips) that are associated with cognitive traits. At the time, I linked to a paper that claimed to have found SNPs that explained about 5% of the variance in intelligence. But work was ongoing, and the latest studies have gotten up to 20% or so. There’s no telling where this number will eventually end up, but it’s almost certain that within a few years we’ll get to one that’s high enough to prove to all but the most recalcitrant that genes do in fact have a considerable effect on human intelligence.

Why mention this? Because in its current issue the New Yorker has a profile of Kathryn Paige Harden, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin who has written a new book, The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality. Harden has been doing GWAS work of her own and her conclusion is unsurprising: both genes and environment play significant and intertwined roles in most cognitive traits. But there’s a depressing coda:

In my conversations with her colleagues, Harden’s overarching idea was almost universally described as both beautiful and hopelessly quixotic….James Tabery, a philosopher at the University of Utah, believes that underscoring genetic difference is just as likely to increase inequality as to reduce it. “It’s truly noble for Paige to make the case for why we might think of biological differences as similar to socially constructed differences, but you’re bumping into a great deal of historical, economic, political, and philosophical momentum—and it’s dangerous, no matter how noble her intentions are, because once the ideas are out there they’re going to get digested the way they’re going to get digested,” he said. “The playing board has been set for some time.”

“Hopelessly quixotic” is a fancy way of saying that no matter what the science says, Harden will never convince people on the left. As Harden puts it, the life of a behavior geneticist resembles “Groundhog Day.” Always the same arguments no matter what.

In fairness, the reason for lefty intolerance of cognitive genetics is obvious and righteous: It’s been violently misused for a very long time as a way of proving that certain kinds of people are inferior to others. As Tabery says above, the playing board has been set, and it’s almost certain that any new results, no matter how carefully explained, will be used as an excuse by some people to dismiss the possibility of ever improving the lives of the poor, the black, and the oppressed.

But as understandable as this is, it has a big problem: it looks as if we’re getting close to a genuine understanding of how genes affect cognitive traits—and the answer is not going be “they don’t.” At that point the left had better have an argument to make, because they’re certain to lose if they just bury their heads in the sand.

The funny thing is that I’ve never entirely understood lefty opposition to the notion that genes have a significant impact on cognitive abilities. My view has always been close to Harden’s: if genes do have an impact, then it makes the case for social safety nets incomparably stronger. It becomes impossible to argue, for example, that poor people are merely lazy if you can point to SNPs that have a clear association with poverty. At that point, it’s provably the case that being poor is mostly a matter of bad genetic luck. So what argument is left for leaving anyone in poverty?

Beyond that, as Harden points out, if you know the genetic foundations for a particular trait then it’s easier to disentangle its genetic and environmental causes. This makes it easier to accurately identify the environmental causes, which in turn makes it more likely that you can construct social interventions that actually work. In other words, knowledge of genetics is a key part of the liberal project of doing everything we can to improve lives via social programs that are truly effective.

But most people don’t see it that way. And beneath it all lurks the deep fear that someone doing GWAS research is eventually going to find SNPs associated with both race and intelligence. I continue to think that’s unlikely in anything more than a trivial sense, but I may be wrong. And if I am, what are we going to do?

12) And how about this for some interesting social science research, “Cognitive ability is a powerful predictor of political tolerance”

Abstract

Objectives

Despite the broad appeal of abstract notions of political tolerance, people vary in the degree to which they support the political rights of groups they dislike. Prior research highlighted the relevance of individual differences in the cognitive domain, claiming the application of general tolerance ideals to specific situations is a cognitively demanding task. Curiously, this work has overwhelmingly focused on differences in cognitive style, largely neglecting differences in cognitive ability, despite compelling conceptual linkages. We remedy this shortcoming.

Methods

We explore diverse predictors of tolerance using survey data in two large samples from Denmark (N = 805) and the United States (N = 1,603).

Results

Cognitive ability was the single strongest predictor of political tolerance, with larger effects than education, openness to experience, ideology, and threat. The cognitively demanding nature of tolerance judgments was further supported by results showing cognitive ability predicted tolerance best when extending such tolerance was hardest. Additional small-sample panel results demonstrated substantial 4-year stability of political tolerance, informing future work on the origins of political tolerance.

Conclusions

Our observation of a potent role for cognitive ability in tolerance supports cognitively oriented accounts of tolerance judgments and highlights the need for further exploration of cognitive ability within the political domain.

13) This was quite an interesting story, “One Woman’s Mission to Rewrite Nazi History on Wikipedia: Ksenia Coffman’s fellow editors have called her a vandal and a McCarthyist. She just wants them to stop glorifying fascists—and start citing better sources.”

14) Apparently library e-books are a massive rip-off (of us taxpayers who fund libraries).  When it comes to your library, you really should stick with the physical books if you can.  New Yorker:

The sudden shift to e-books had enormous practical and financial implications, not only for OverDrive but for public libraries across the country. Libraries can buy print books in bulk from any seller that they choose, and, thanks to a legal principle called the first-sale doctrine, they have the right to lend those books to any number of readers free of charge. But the first-sale doctrine does not apply to digital content. For the most part, publishers do not sell their e-books or audiobooks to libraries—they sell digital distribution rights to third-party venders, such as OverDrive, and people like Steve Potash sell lending rights to libraries. These rights often have an expiration date, and they make library e-books “a lot more expensive, in general, than print books,” Michelle Jeske, who oversees Denver’s public-library system, told me. Digital content gives publishers more power over prices, because it allows them to treat libraries differently than they treat other kinds of buyers. Last year, the Denver Public Library increased its digital checkouts by more than sixty per cent, to 2.3 million, and spent about a third of its collections budget on digital content, up from twenty per cent the year before.

There are a handful of popular e-book venders, including Bibliotheca, Hoopla, Axis 360, and the nonprofit Digital Public Library of America. But OverDrive is the largest. It is the company behind the popular app Libby, which, as the Apple App Store puts it, “lets you log in to your local library to access ebooks, audiobooks, and magazines, all for the reasonable price of free.” The vast majority of OverDrive’s earnings come from markups on the digital content that it licenses to libraries and schools, which is to say that these earnings come largely from American taxes. As libraries and schools have transitioned to e-books, the company has skyrocketed in value. Rakuten, the maker of the Kobo e-reader, bought OverDrive for more than four hundred million dollars, in 2015. Last year, it sold the company to K.K.R., the private-equity firm made famous by the 1989 book “Barbarians at the Gate.” The details of the sale were not made public, but Rakuten reported a profit of “about $365.6 million.”…

To illustrate the economics of e-book lending, the N.Y.P.L. sent me its January, 2021, figures for “A Promised Land,” the memoir by Barack Obama that had been published a few months earlier by Penguin Random House. At that point, the library system had purchased three hundred and ten perpetual audiobook licenses at ninety-five dollars each, for a total of $29,450, and had bought six hundred and thirty-nine one- and two-year licenses for the e-book, for a total of $22,512. Taken together, these digital rights cost about as much as three thousand copies of the consumer e-book, which sells for about eighteen dollars per copy. As of August, 2021, the library has spent less than ten thousand dollars on two hundred and twenty-six copies of the hardcover edition, which has a list price of forty-five dollars but sells for $23.23 on Amazon. A few thousand people had checked out digital copies in the book’s first three months, and thousands more were on the waiting list. (Several librarians told me that they monitor hold requests, including for books that have not yet been released, to decide how many licenses to acquire.)

The high prices of e-book rights could become untenable for libraries in the long run, according to several librarians and advocates I spoke to—libraries, venders, and publishers will probably need to negotiate a new way forward. “It’s not a good system,” Inouye said. “There needs to be some kind of change in the law, to reinstate public rights that we have for analog materials.” Maria Bustillos, a founding editor of the publishing coöperative Brick House, argued recently in The Nation that libraries should pay just once for each copy of an e-book. “The point of a library is to preserve, and in order to preserve, a library must own,” Bustillos wrote. When I asked Potash about libraries and their growing digital budgets, he argued that “digital will always be better value,” but he acknowledged that, if current trends continue, “Yes, there is a challenge.”

15) Highlights from a Barred Owl nestcam.  “Who cooks for you?”

16) Very good stuff from Yglesias on homelessness and it’s a public post, so read it. “Homelessness is about housing, not addiction or mental health”

17) It’s crazy that there’s so much evidence on how to best teach reading (phonics!) that so many places aren’t following.  Drum:

John McWhorter says we should quit arguing about how to teach reading and just accept that we already know perfectly well how to do it:

In a word, phonics….Phonics works better for more children. Project Follow Through, a huge investigation in the late 1960s led by education scholar Siegfried Englemann, taught 75,000 children via the phonics-based Direct Instruction method from kindergarten through third grade at 10 sites nationwide. The results were polio-vaccine-level dramatic. At all 10 sites, 4-year-olds were reading like 8-year-olds, for example.

….However, there is a persistent disconnect between the world of reading science and the world of people teaching children to read. Only 15 percent of programs training elementary-school teachers include actual instruction on how to teach children to read. There remain people who favor the whole word method, or a combination of whole word and phonics, or even no particular “method” at all.

There’s a wealth of research that confirms this, but unfortunately reading instruction has become part of the culture wars, with conservatives taking the side of phonics while university education departments tend to favor other methods.

This is unfortunate. Phonics works, and to the extent that you can invent add-ons that are potentially a little bit better it’s really not worth the effort. DI-based phonics instruction is so good that we’d be a lot better off simply making it universal since it works well with both poor and affluent children. In addition:

There is a racial angle to this….We have known how to teach Black children, including poor ones, how to read since the Johnson administration: the Direct Instruction method of phonics. In this case, Black children don’t need special materials; districts need incur no extra expenses in purchasing such things. I consider getting Direct Instruction to every Black child in the country a key plank of three in turning the corner on race in America (the other two are ending the War on Drugs and sharply increasing funding and cultural support to vocational education).

Liberals should get on this train. Stop resisting just because conservatives have been pushing this for decades. In this case, they’re right.

18) What the heck, one more on IQ (sometimes, I go down rabbit holes), “Complicated links between IQ and prejudiced views”

There’s a long-standing and somewhat uncomfortable finding in psychology: that low IQ, conservative social beliefs and prejudice — including anti-gay attitudes and racism — are all linked. Many studies have found this relationship — so much so that a 2015 meta-analysis of the research suggested that researchers who conduct studies of people’s ideology and prejudice should take participants’ cognitive ability into account.

New research, though, suggests that there’s more to the story. When the definition of prejudice is expanded beyond its usual meaning — that is, holding negative attitudes toward historically powerless minority groups — it turns out that people all along the IQ spectrum show prejudiced attitudes.

In other words, intelligence doesn’t determine if you’re prejudiced, but rather the target of that prejudice, the study found. Both the smart and the dumb have biases, but those biases are toward different groups of people, according to the new study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

19) And the limits of robot intelligence, “Why Robots Can’t Sew Your T-Shirt: Machines can print textiles, cut fabric, and fold clothes. But it’s hard to train them to sew as fast and precisely as humans.”

The length of time it has taken to get to this point isn’t surprising. Machines have proved adept at many steps in making clothes, from printing textiles to cutting fabric and folding and packaging finished garments.

SoftWear’s robots overcame those hurdles. They can make a T-shirt. But making them as cheaply as human workers do in places like China or Guatemala, where workers earn a fraction of what they might make in the US, will be a challenge, says Sheng Lu, a professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware.

20) Interesting, “Alcohol Is the Breast Cancer Risk No One Wants to Talk About”

According to a 2020 analysis of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, only about one in four women ages 15 to 44 knows that alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer. Priscilla Martinez, who is leading the Drink Less campaign, would like to change that. “My goal was to prevent a young woman of today who uses alcohol, like many women do, from finding out in 20 years that she has breast cancer and wondering why,” says Martinez, a public health researcher who typically studies racial and ethnic health disparities related to alcohol at the Alcohol Research Group, a nonprofit based in Emeryville, California. “To me, it’s also an equity issue. Society has this information about a potential consequence of this behavior, and the women at risk don’t know about it.”

In a 2021 paper published in the journal The Lancet Oncology, researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, calculated a “global burden of cancer in 2020 attributable to alcohol consumption” based on prior research on alcohol-linked cancer risk, per capita alcohol consumption, and country-specific data on cancer cases. By their estimate, 14,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the US in 2020 could be attributed to prior drinking.

Research shows that overall cancer risk rises with heavier drinking, even for women who don’t drink every day. Binge drinking—four or more drinks at one sitting—is, in itself, associated with higher breast cancer risk.

University of Wisconsin oncologist Noelle LoConte has long felt that the link doesn’t get enough attention—even among oncologists. She is the lead author of a 2017 statement on alcohol and cancer from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which calls on these specialists to take the lead in addressing “excessive exposure to alcohol” through education, advocating for policy changes, and research.

Alcohol raises the risk of head, neck, esophageal, liver, and colorectal cancers, in addition to breast cancer, likely due to the way it is metabolized, the statement explains. Ethanol undergoes a biochemical reaction that produces acetaldehyde, which is then broken down by another enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase and excreted from the body. Some people, particularly those of East Asian descent, have a less active form of the enzyme, which allows the acetaldehyde—a probable human carcinogen—to circulate longer in the body, potentially putting them at greater risk of cancer. Acetaldehyde can damage DNA, causing changes that can lead to cancer.

Mask failure

I may be repeating myself (I’ve been known to), but I think we’ve had three major totally avoidable failures on Covid– failure to take air quality seriously; failure to scale-up rapid tests, and failure to take mask quality seriously.  You know what they do in the rest of the world?  Wear high-quality medical-grade masks that actually filter out pathogens and are often easier to breathe through and don’t muffle your voice making you hard to understand.  Now, there’s some good re-usable cloth/hybrid masks out there with filtration, but most people are just wearing fashion statements that barely cut it as a device for keeping us all safe and we could’ve and should’ve done so much better.  Yasmin Tayag in the Atlantic is on the case:

At this point, cloth masks are so ubiquitous in the United States that it can be easy to forget that they were originally supposed to be a stopgap measure. In April 2020, when surgical masks and highly coveted N95s were first in short supply, the CDC released its initial mask guidance and said cloth masks were the way to go for most people—noting that they could be sewn at home from old T-shirts. Even at that point, when the pandemic was full of unknowns, we knew that cloth masks, although far better than going maskless, weren’t as protective as other types. A growing amount of research supports the idea that our masking norms don’t make much sense: A recent study in Bangladesh, which has yet to be peer-reviewed but is considered one of the most rigorous to date to tackle masking, linked wearing surgical masks with an 11.2 percent decrease in COVID-19 symptoms and antibodies, while cloth masks were associated with only a 5 percent decrease. It’s no wonder that many other countries, including France, Austria, and Germany, shifted their mask guidance away from cloth masks toward those offering higher protection a long time ago…

Unless you work in health care, the CDC still recommends masks made with at least two layers of washable, breathable fabric. A big reason for this is that, yes, surgical masks are still in limited supply, according to the FDA, and so they must be prioritized for health-care workers. Though the shortage appeared to relent this summer, when widespread vaccination led to a dip in demand for both surgical and cloth masks, the rise of the Delta variant precipitated another major mask crunch.

But that’s not the only reason masking habits haven’t shifted. Part of the problem is that the enduring mask wars have helped frame mask wearing as a simple binary. “Unfortunately there’s been so much misinformation that’s come out about masking that it’s become so polarized,” Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, told me. “People are just divided into either you’re masked or you’re not. And that would be like saying everything that has wheels”—including a tricycle and a jetliner—“is the same.”

Faced with this binary, Americans generally don’t pay enough attention to the quality of a mask and how it’s worn. As the Harvard epidemiologist Bill Hanage told me in an email, we’re still wearing cloth masks because they’re “expected to still be better than nothing.” And they really are far better than nothing: He likened surgical masks to a sturdy, well-made umbrella and cloth masks to the cheap kind that inverts. “Both are better than a plastic bag held over your head, which is itself better than nothing,” he said…

But America’s complacency about masks is not simply the result of individual decisions. Public-health agencies could have prioritized using government resources to remedy the mask shortage, as well as simply mailing all Americans more-protective masks. “I can’t speak for the CDC,” Hanage said, “but I would hope that they would be able to convey the message that all masks are not alike, just like all umbrellas are not alike.” A spokesperson for the CDC told me that although the agency believes that N95 masks are “better at protecting the wearer, and if available should be worn,” cloth masks have been shown to be an “effective method of source control,” according to CDC research, and are still recommended when N95s aren’t available. (The spokesperson did not mention surgical masks, and did not respond to a follow-up question.)

All that said, this part really bugged me:

Many less scientific reasons also play a role in our continued obsession with cloth masks. Even if you’re not making cloth masks at home, they’re generally more affordable than surgical masks because they are meant to be reused. (That being said, the Bangladesh study found that even a surgical mask that had been washed 10 times was more effective at filtering particles than a cloth one.) A 24-pack of cloth masks costs $9 on Amazon—about 37 cents apiece—while single-use surgical masks are about 30 cents each and N95s are upwards of 63 cents. For the same reason, cloth masks are considered more eco-friendly—a nontrivial consideration, given mounting concerns about the waste generated during the pandemic.

As the rest of the bold text makes clear, the only reason a surgical mask is “single use” is if you needlessly throw it away (or it gets truly dirty for some reason).  A “single-use” surgical mask is better than a cloth mask after 10 uses! (Non-woven polypropylene is the bomb!) Sure, if you are working in the Covid ward, throw that thing away (and make sure it’s an N95), but the idea that you need to throw away a mask after a trip to the grocery store or for a couple hours ordinary wear is not just wasteful, but belied by plenty of good evidence.  

So, get yourself a surgical mask and, ideally wear it with a mask extender for a better fit (as I know I’ve written before, this can easily double your mask efficacy). There’s also plenty of affordable and available N95’s and KN9’s for situations when you want to be extra safe.  And just reuse it.  

Quick hits (mini edition)

Busy weekend.  Sorry, better a few than nothing.

1) Good stuff on expertise:

This is just one chapter in a larger story. At many points in the war, the coalition had access to the insights of people who had graduated from the world’s best universities and brought highly specialized knowledge to issues (state building, counterterrorism) that the United States was facing in Afghanistan. The last president of the American-backed government, Ashraf Ghani, has a Ph.D. from Columbia and was even a co-author of a book titled “Fixing Failed States.” But for all their credentials, they were not able to stop a swift Taliban takeover of the country.

What Afghanistan shows is that we need a new definition of expertise, one that relies more on track records and healthy cognitive habits and less on credentials and the narrow forms of knowledge that are too often rewarded. In an era of populism and declining trust in institutions, such a project is necessary to put expertise on a stronger footing.

It’s true that many experts also opposed the Afghanistan war and thought that the United States was seeking unrealistic goals. But individuals with the most subject-matter expertise often tended to get things the most wrong. This included generals with experience in counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as many think tank analysts with the most focus and interest in those conflicts.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Philip Tetlock, a psychologist, has famously shown that subject-matter experts are no better at accurately forecasting geopolitical events relevant to their field than those with training in different areas. Similarly, in a different study, the intelligence community, with access to classified information, proved less accurate than an algorithm weighted toward the views of amateurs with no security clearances but a history of making accurate forecasts.

So “just trust the experts” is the wrong path to take. But simply deciding to ignore them can lead us down rabbit holes of conspiracy theories and misinformation. The subject-matter experts in Mr. Tetlock’s research couldn’t beat informed amateurs, but they did defeat random guessing, or the epistemological equivalent of monkeys throwing darts.

This is in part because the divisions we create between fields are, in a sense, artificial. As radical as it sounds, just because someone has a Ph.D. in political science or speaks Pashto does not make that person more likely to be able to predict what is going to happen in Afghanistan than an equally intelligent person with knowledge that appears less directly relevant. Anthropology, economics and other fields may offer insight, and it is often difficult to know ahead of time which communities of experts have the most relevant training and tools to deal with a particular problem.

Academia is in some ways nearly ideally suited to produce the wrong kinds of expertise. Scholarly recognition is based on high degrees of specialization, obtaining the right pedigree and the approval of colleagues through peer review rather than through an external standard.

2) Had three tenure cases in my department this year– including the first ever non-unanimous vote I was a part of.  And yet, somehow, I had never learned this about the history of academic tenure:

The idea was to protect the academic freedom of all instructors who proved themselves competent teachers for a reasonable trial period, regardless of research output. The association declared that “tenure is a means to certain ends; specifically: (1) freedom of teaching and research and of extramural activities, and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability,” since salaries in academia could never compete with those of the private sector.

Harvard introduced the practice of prioritizing research in the criteria for up-or-out promotion and tenure in the late 1930s, under the presidency of James Conant — although faculty members at the time cautioned against his narrow emphasis on research. Other elite schools adopted the practice in the higher education boom years after World War II, according to the research of Richard Teichgraeber, a historian at Tulane University. At most universities, the publish-or-perish rule did not take hold until the late 1960s. “This is how a lot of stuff happens in this country. Ideas and practices spread from the Ivies to the prestigious public universities, then to the midlevel schools offering master’s programs, to the middling bachelor’s institutions,” Hans-Joerg Tiede, the director of research for the American Association of University Professors, told me.

Ever since then, the pressure to publish quickly has driven faculty members down ever narrower lanes of inquiry, searching for some hidden byway no one has taken before in order to claim an original (if, to nonspecialists, trivial) contribution. In graduate school, aspiring professors often hear: Don’t be overly broad in your dissertation; you’ll have to get it done and published, because hiring committees care far more about that than how prepared you are to teach a wide range of subjects. Academic freedom no longer includes freedom to be a generalist…

Universities should use tenure review as a mechanism to encourage professors to connect their research interests to bigger questions and to create broader, more interdisciplinary courses — to take new risks. This is not a call to abandon disciplinary rigor or cater to student consumer whims. It’s a call to remember the reason most professors got into their fields in the first place: We believe our discipline is not a rabbit hole but a world of ideas, discoveries and methods that can help students understand human existence in new ways…

Adam Steinbaugh, a lawyer at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (better known as FIRE), told me that his organization gets calls about attacks on academic freedom from both the left and the right. The unifying theme is that “administrations are conflict-averse. It doesn’t really matter who is bringing up the complaints. They are eager to protect the reputation of the institution, protect the budget and avoid conflict,” he said. “There is a certain tension with the fact that the First Amendment and the principle of free speech are supposed to embrace conflict. The notion of a marketplace of ideas is imperfect, but people do have different opinions, and that means there is going to be conflict.”

3) Very interesting from Robert Farley, “Why So Many Historians Look Down On Ulysses S. Grant”

Grant has been justly lauded for his sound strategic judgment during the war, although this assessment has often included a backhanded slap at his tactical talents. Grant, the story goes, knew that he could bleed the South dry, and needed no special military talent to do so; he could simply commit the Army of the Potomac to grind down the Army of Northern Virginia and eventually prevail through numbers alone.

The first part of this assessment is sound; Grant had the firmest grip on the strategic situation of the Civil War of anyone apart from Abraham Lincoln. The second part is nonsense. It takes active, aggressive ignorance to ignore Grant’s tactical intelligence at Forts Henry and Donelson, at Vicksburg, at Chattanooga, and in the Overland Campaign that won the war. Generations of historians (many of whom were Southern sympathizers) were willing to be actively, aggressively ignorant but there is no need for us to take their assessments seriously.

Grant displayed a nuanced, forward-thinking approach to war, characterized early on by his appreciation that offensive action could disrupt the cognitive process of the enemy.  Like Lee, he understood that interaction with the enemy was necessarily fluid and that rapid, assertive action placed the enemy under stress and made them inclined to poor decisions. Grant’s final campaign set out to pin Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia like a bug against Richmond. It succeeded brilliantly, even if it left Virginia drenched in blood; having identified the Confederacy’s two remaining assets, Grant tied them to one another, eventually destroying Lee’s army shortly after seizing Richmond.

After the war, a posthumous cult of personality was attached to Lee, bound tightly with the campaign to restore white supremacy in the Reconstruction South. This cult had little room for Grant, in no small part because Grant was the only President to vigorously pursue Reconstruction and the first to treat blacks as both human and American. And so Grant became simultaneously butcher of the flower of the South and pawn of the Radical Republicans, his military brilliance ignored and his literary genius forgotten.

4) I quite liked some of the ideas here, “How to create a safe space for real debate in the classroom.”

Getting students to consider that they might just be wrong, to be comfortable articulating not only their opinions but willing to entertain the best arguments of those on the other side, is the challenge facing us today. So how should educators respond?

For the past dozen years we have been team-teaching a course conducting a dialogue between economics and the humanities. In the early days, it was mostly a class on how different academic disciplines approach the search for truth. But, in response to changes on campus and in the larger world, it has evolved to focus on facilitating civil and constructive conversation. This change reflects our view of what members of Generation Z lack—intellectual humility, and practice in taking opposing views seriously.

We ask students to write a series of papers with a common directive: to state their own views, not those of the professors, and in making a compelling case to support their own positions, they must argue against the strongest position of the other side (a technique sometimes known as “steel-manning,” as opposed to straw-manning). Each week we remind them of John Stuart Mill’s great line that “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”

An example: we recently prompted them to create a policy for vaccine allocation. As expected, the economics majors tended to argue in terms of maximizing efficiency, while many of the other students contended that economic considerations were of limited relevance during a pandemic. The best students, however, made clear that they truly understood both sides—they could accurately represent the standard economic model, whether or not they supported its application, and they represented well the many objections to using a cost-benefit analysis in a life and death context.

We, as co-professors, realize how important it is to demonstrate the processes of listening and learning. So we argue issues and our interpretations of the readings, sometimes exaggerating our differences for heuristic purposes. Other times we honestly disagree—our goal is to exhibit what it means to listen carefully and sincerely, and not to villainize your intellectual opponents. No matter how heated our arguments get, we make it clear that we respect each other and are interested in moving the conversation forward rather than gaining rhetorical points.

We believe that it would be of incalculable benefit if educators worked together to create more intellectually diverse classroom environments. Yet we realize that interdisciplinary team-taught classes are far from the norm in the academy. Most classes are taught by a single professor and are focused on fulfilling the requirements for a particular major. So with that in mind, here are some pointers for educators hoping to create an open classroom.

First, professors should promote a “what is said here stays here” rule to remind students that the classroom is an intellectual laboratory, not a venue for identifying and exposing heretics. This will give students the confidence to express their true opinions, and to argue against the strongest case from the opposing view (to “steel-man”).

Second, it is essential to set proper expectations for conduct. Most colleges and universities have codes forbidding one member of the community from harassing or intimidating another member on account of their religious viewpoints; some are wise enough to say the same about political views. It doesn’t hurt to include language of this sort on the syllabus and to explicitly remind students that the imperfect and evolving thoughts of their peers aren’t cause for retaliation or public shaming. Our students respond well to this: when they fill out end-of-the-year course evaluations, many express gratitude that our classes model dialogue of a type they all-too-rarely see on campus or in their daily lives.

Finally, educators themselves must be mindful that genuine dialogue is the lifeblood of democracy, requiring an unending exchange—and testing—of ideas. Such an approach is radically different from the human tendencies to catechize ancient doctrines or be swept away by new ideological fashions. Our colleges and universities are designed to be intellectual sanctuaries in which meaningful dialogue can be attempted, reworked and refined. If not in our universities, then where else in society can we hope to achieve this?

5) Good stuff from Yglesias.  This is a free post so you should trust me and read it all, “The median voter is a 50-something white person who didn’t go to college”

The point is most people live in communities that are smaller than the Rochester metro area. Either they’re in rural areas, a smaller metro, or a community like Kerrville, TX (where I spent much of the summer) that’s so far out on the exurban fringe of San Antonio that it doesn’t qualify for membership in the MSA.

In practical terms:

  • The Philadelphia and Pittsburgh MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Pennsylvania’s population.

  • The Milwaukee and Madison MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Wisconsin’s population.

  • The Detroit and Ann Arbor MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Michigan’s population.

Interestingly, the “new” swing states of Georgia and Arizona are more urbanized, with the giant Atlanta and Phoenix metro areas each comprising a majority of their respective state’s population. So it’s not like nobody lives in giant metro areas or they don’t matter. That said, a lot of work in media and progressive politics is done by New Yorkers who snobbishly disdain D.C., which — whatever its flaws — is a substantially bigger, more urban, and more cosmopolitan place than Phoenix.

The point is that when we talk about decisive suburban voters, we’re likely talking about the suburbs of Grand Rapids or Kenosha.

Who needs to know this?

Obviously, not everyone in life needs to feel beholden to the median voter. In fact, if you’re working at the DSCC and trying to secure a majority against the backdrop of a skewed map, you need to focus on someone well to the right of the median voter.

The injunction to pay attention to electoral demographics comes most naturally to people in roles like that: working at the party committees, the aligned super PACs, or staffing frontline House districts. And obviously, if you’re working for a specific senator, you probably want a Post-It that’s about your state-specific demographics.

Realistically, though, I think the people most in need of the Post-It are probably people working for activist or advocacy groups where they don’t necessarily see it as their mission to cater to the median voter. And that’s fine; there is more to life than pandering to the public opinion status quo.

But I think that if you want to speak, write, or otherwise engage with the political system on almost any level — whether as a professional activist, a scholar who is interested in real-world impact, a journalist, or just a citizen who’s active on social media and makes small-dollar donations — it’s worth keeping these demographic considerations top of mind.

  • Say your goal is to persuade people not to pander to their existing views — well, you need to know who you are hoping to persuade.

  • Say you think you have a chance of getting something done even though the mass public doesn’t agree with you — then a quiet, insider strategy could be more effective than a noisy outsider campaign.

Public opinion needn’t be a binding constraint on politics, but it’s always a relevant consideration. When Republicans gain power, they cut taxes on the rich regardless of the polls. But the donor base doesn’t demand that GOP candidates loudly and frequently pledge allegiance to the cause of low taxes on the rich because that would be counterproductive. They act as if they are aware that working-class 50-somethings living in exurbs and small cities are not incredibly concerned about the well-being of people who own large amounts of stock. So when they do talk about taxation, they always find some way to make it about ranch owners.

Long story short, if you’re going to blow off the median voter, you ought to do it purposefully and with a plan — don’t just act like the views of under-40 college grads are typical.

6) Must read from Jamelle Bouie, “Trump Had a Mob. He Also Had a Plan.”

As the full picture of Jan. 6 begins to come into view, I think we should consider it a kind of revolution or, at least, the very beginning of one. Joe Biden ultimately became president, but Donald Trump’s fight to keep himself in office against the will of the voters has upturned the political order. The plot itself shows us how.

Trump, we know, urged Mike Pence to reject the votes of the Electoral College, with the mob outside as the stick that would compel his obedience. “You can either go down in history as a patriot,” Trump told Pence, as recounted in this newspaper, “or you can go down in history as a pussy.”

When this was first revealed, I assumed that Trump simply wanted Pence to do whatever it would take to keep himself in power. But this week we learned that he had an actual plan in mind, devised by John Eastman, a prominent conservative lawyer who worked with the former president to challenge the election results, a job that included a speaking slot at the rally on the National Mall that preceded the attack on the Capitol.

“We know there was fraud,” Eastman said to the crowd that would become a mob. “We know that dead people voted.”

“All we are demanding of Vice President Pence,” he continued, “is this afternoon at 1 o’clock, he let the legislatures of the states look into this so we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not!”

These weren’t just the ravings of a partisan. Eastman was essentially summarizing the contents of a memo he had written on Trump’s behalf, describing the steps Pence would take to overturn the election in Trump’s favor…

None of this should make you feel good or cause you to breathe a sigh of relief. Consider what we know. A prominent, respected member in good standing of the conservative legal establishment — Eastman is enrolled in the Federalist Society and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — schemed with the president and his allies in the Republican Party to overturn the election and overthrow American democracy under the Constitution. Yes, they failed to keep Trump in office, but they successfully turned the pro forma electoral counting process into an occasion for real political struggle.

It was always possible, theoretically, to manipulate the rules to seize power from the voters. Now, it’s a live option. And with the right pieces in place, Trump could succeed. All he needs is a rival slate of electoral votes from contested states, state officials and state legislatures willing to intervene on his behalf, a supportive Republican majority in either house of Congress, and a sufficiently pliant Supreme Court majority.

As it happens, Trump may well run for president in 2024 (he is already amassing a sizable war chest) with exactly that board in play. Republican state legislatures in states like Georgia and Arizona have, for example, used claims of fraud to seize control of key areas of election administration. Likewise, according to Reuters, 10 of the 15 declared Republican candidates for secretary of state in five swing states — Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nevada — have either declared the 2020 election stolen or demanded that authorities invalidate the results in their states. It is also not unlikely that a Republican Party with pro-Trump zealots at its helm wins Congress in November of next year and holds it through the presidential election and into 2025.

If Trump is, once again, on the ballot, then the election might turn on the manipulation of a ceremony that was, until now, a mere formality.

7) To return to a theme of recent months, “Your Workout Burns Fewer Calories Than You Think: Our bodies compensate for at least a quarter of the calories we expend during exercise, undermining our best efforts to lose weight by working out.”

8) Increasing evidence that Moderna probably provides better protection than Pfizer.  TL;DR– higher dose.

But by now, the observational studies have delivered results from a number of locations — Qatar, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, several other states in the United States — and in health care workers, hospitalized veterans or the general population.

Moderna’s efficacy against severe illness in those studies ranged from 92 to 100 percent. Pfizer-BioNTech’s numbers trailed by 10 to 15 percentage points.

The two vaccines have diverged more sharply in their efficacy against infection. Protection from both waned over time, particularly after the arrival of the Delta variant, but the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s values fell lower. In two of the recent studies, the Moderna vaccine did better at preventing illness by more than 30 percentage points.

 

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