Is South Korea the model for Coronavirus?

Maybe.  Josh Marshall:

We should pay close attention to what is happening in South Korea. According to the latest data, South Korea has the second largest outbreak of COVID-19 in the world after China. Italy and Iran have only slightly fewer cases though it’s likely that South Korea’s higher number is driven in part by more aggressive testing.

But they appear to be making progress getting the outbreak under some control. In the last four days the numbers of new cases have been 518 (Thursday), 483 (Friday), 367 (Saturday) and 248 (Sunday). The country is doing sufficient numbers of tests at scale that those decreases likely correspond to a significant degree to what’s happening in the larger community. South Korea has so far done more than 190,000 tests. They currently have the capacity for approximately 15,000 tests per day.

To give some sense of scale that’s roughly 50 times the numbers of tests done in the US so far (approx. 4,300). And the US population is more than six times the size of South Korea.

South Korea’s mortality rate for COVID-19 is also fairly low. There are currently 53 deaths out of 7,478 cases, for a case mortality rate of .7%. That is not far off the rate in China outside of Hubei province, the center of the outbreak. The age breakdown is comparable to data from other areas. (It is important to note that many infections are on-going. So the ratio is a snapshot in time. A significant number of people who die from COVID-19 do so after a significant period of time.)

Source: Republic of Korea, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why all of this matters, beside the relative good fortune of South Koreans, is that it suggests aggressive efforts at containment and mitigation have a big effect. For South Korea, aggressive testing at scale looks critical to that. Just as important, South Korea is a much more open society than mainland China. From the start, the government has tried a much more open approach to trying to contain the disease, doing aggressive non-pharmaceutical interventions but generally not restricting people’s movement. As TPM Reader AKreminded us this morning in his report from Shanghai, even outside of Wuhan the level of clampdown was and remains intense and likely way beyond anything that is possible in the US or other industrial democracies, either from a state capacity or legal-constitutional perspective.

South Korea is different. I want to be clear that we certainly don’t know that South Korea has turned the corner on its COVID-19 outbreak. Everything we know about this pandemic has to be considered tentative. They only have a string of days when the number of new infections has gone down each day. But it seems like they’re headed in the right direction. And their model is one that should be adaptable to the US, at least from a technological and civil liberties perspective.

Meanwhile, here in the US, so far, we are utterly failing at the testing at scale which seems to be an important part of Korea’s apparent success.

Can we blame the U.S.’s not-great efforts so far all on Trump?  No.  But, partially on Trump.  Absolutely.  WP Editorial:

The failure to produce sufficient test kits early in the epidemic squandered an opportunity to contain the virus. But the problem was not simply the faulty kit. More telling, as Ashley Parker, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Lena H. Sun showed in their dissection of the administration’s flailing response, was the backbiting, finger-pointing and overall lack of urgency that ensued.

That flailing should come as no surprise. Virtually every federal agency should be responding as part of a team to this crisis, either to help contain and treat or to figure out how to continue serving the public in difficult conditions. But Mr. Trump derides these agencies as a hostile “deep state” and defunds branches that gather data. Many agencies suffer from an absence of leaders. Here are a few positions that should be responding to the virus but have no Senate-confirmed appointees, and haven’t for more than a year: secretary of homeland security; deputy secretary of homeland security; undersecretary of homeland security for science and technology; assistant secretary of state for oceans and international, environmental and scientific affairs; USAID assistant administrator for global health; the director and deputy director of the National Science Foundation; at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the associate directors for science, for national security and international affairs, and for technology; at the Transportation Department, the assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs; and on and on.

Most notoriously, Mr. Trump in 2018 abolished the directorate for global health security and biodefense on his own National Security Council. “Who would have thought we would even be having the subject?” the president said in apparent amazement while touring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week. But this epidemic was not just predictable, it was predicted. Preparing for it was the purpose of the office that he shut down.

Ignorant statements such as that, along with his falsehoods about test kits being widely available and his constant minimizing of the seriousness of the crisis, are damaging in their own right. But they are especially damaging because those who work for him know their jobs are at risk if they do not back up his lies. Mr. Trump not only denies established facts, he fires people, such as acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire, who contradict his falsehoods. Of course aides hesitate to surface bad news.

Is it too late to get this right?  I hope not.  Italy right now sounds decidedly not great.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Oh damn did I love this from Paul Campos on under-appreciated it is that Trump really is just plain stupid:

In my view, the single most under-appreciated fact about Trump is that he’s a genuinely stupid person. (He does possess a combination of complete shamelessness and an animal instinct for grifting, which is not at all the same thing as actual intelligence). It’s extremely difficult to grasp the depth and breath of Trump’s stupidity, and its consequences — lack of the most basic knowledge, absence of any intellectual curiosity, failure to grasp anything about his own cognitive limitations, aka Dunning-Kruger syndrome — because Trump is a very high status, putatively very wealthy white person, which means he always gets the benefit of the doubt about everything. If Trump weren’t these things, the extremely obvious fact that he’s a very stupid person — and not in comparison to, say, Elizabeth Warren, but in comparison to the average college graduate — would be far more self-evident.

In the minds of the elites and their hangers-on — that is among all respectable people — it literally cannot be the case that Trump is just an extremely stupid person, because to recognize that would delegitimate too many hierarchical systems and institutions in our culture. So he’s “crazy like a fox,” or playing the role of a heel in a reality TV show, or playing a complex game in which he pretends to be incredibly ignorant just to pwn the libs. He may look dumb but that’s just a disguise!

No, no it isn’t. He’s really an idiot. Like your racist uncle who was never smart to begin with and whose brain has now been turned to mush by time and Fox News, he’s a complete dumbass, which probably isn’t a DSM-V category, but should be.

What’s particularly interesting is the extent to which his supporters recognize this. Many of them are of course idiots as well, and don’t recognize that about themselves, so naturally they don’t recognize the, to put it delicately, cognitive limitations of their leader.

But some of them aren’t stupid by any means. They’ve decided that having a stupid person (again: not hyperbole or a metaphor or oh he’s really not stupid although he’s no rocket surgeon — he’s literally quite stupid) is a price they’re more than willing to pay to get their tax cuts and judges and ethno-nationalism etc. (See for instance this interesting argument that Mitch McConnell is fully aware of how utterly unfit Trump is to hold office, but pretends otherwise because the prime directive is always to advance McConnell’s own career).

2) OMG this is awesome, “The Uncomfortable is a collection of deliberately inconvenient
everyday objects by Athens-based architect Katerina Kamprani”

3) This “Sexism Didn’t Kill the Warren Campaign. The Warren Campaign Killed the Warren Campaign” makes a number of good points.  Although, it’s annoying that it cannot admit that sexism likely nonetheless played a role:

I live on the planet where the Democratic electorate chose a woman to be their candidate in 2016—and where that same woman won the popular vote. I suppose it’s possible that the last four years of President Donald Trump have turned Democrats more sexist than they were before, but did that just temporarily stop for the several months Warren was at the top of the polls before Democrats realized they actually don’t want a woman after all? I doubt it.

At the same time, I find it curious that while Warren’s campaign was apparently cut down by sexism and/or misogyny, when other female candidates in the race dropped out, sexism didn’t often come up. One would assume that all female candidates would be subject to the same systemic prejudice, and yet few people claim that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii) or Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) have failed—or, in Gabbard’s case, will fail—because American voters hate women.

When it comes to Gabbard or Klobuchar or the men in the race, people evaluate their campaigns and generally determine it’s the candidate, not the voter, who is at fault. Gabbard isn’t losing because of sexism, she’s losing because she’s a fill-in-the-blank homophobe/cult follower/Bashar Assad apologist. Klobuchar wasn’t a victim of misogyny, she was an uninspiring candidate who abuses her staff and eats her salads with a comb if she can’t find a fork (a quality I personally find highly electable).

So why is Warren’s loss called sexist when Klobuchar’s was not? …

I live on the planet where the Democratic electorate chose a woman to be their candidate in 2016—and where that same woman won the popular vote. I suppose it’s possible that the last four years of President Donald Trump have turned Democrats more sexist than they were before, but did that just temporarily stop for the several months Warren was at the top of the polls before Democrats realized they actually don’t want a woman after all? I doubt it.

At the same time, I find it curious that while Warren’s campaign was apparently cut down by sexism and/or misogyny, when other female candidates in the race dropped out, sexism didn’t often come up. One would assume that all female candidates would be subject to the same systemic prejudice, and yet few people claim that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii) or Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) have failed—or, in Gabbard’s case, will fail—because American voters hate women.

When it comes to Gabbard or Klobuchar or the men in the race, people evaluate their campaigns and generally determine it’s the candidate, not the voter, who is at fault. Gabbard isn’t losing because of sexism, she’s losing because she’s a fill-in-the-blank homophobe/cult follower/Bashar Assad apologist. Klobuchar wasn’t a victim of misogyny, she was an uninspiring candidate who abuses her staff and eats her salads with a comb if she can’t find a fork (a quality I personally find highly electable).

So why is Warren’s loss called sexist when Klobuchar’s was not?

4) Zack Beauchamp, “Elizabeth Warren’s exit interview is a warning for the dirtbag left”

5) Adam Cohen has a new book on how the Supreme Court has abandoned the poor:

Instead, 50 years ago, the Court shifted rightward. Although it has long enjoyed a reputation as the defender of society’s most disadvantaged, the Supreme Court is now considered, on many issues, an enemy of poor Americans…

The Court has not only refused to extend new rights to poor people; it has also invoked dubious readings of the Constitution to take away rights that poor people have already won from Congress and the president…

If the Supreme Court had continued on the path laid out by the Warren Court, life for the poor would be far better today. One major setback: In 1973, the Court ruled 5–4, in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, that states do not have to ensure that high- and low-income school districts have equal amounts of money to spend on students. If the case had come out the other way, millions of children in low-income districts nationwide would have greater educational opportunities and better life outcomes. They would be better off in another way: If the Court had held that the poor are a suspect class, or took a broader view of equal protection, they could challenge the glaringly unequal levels of welfare benefits across the country. Although benefits are not generous anywhere, in some states, like Wyoming and Mississippi, they are egregiously low, putting the poor in an untenable position.

6) These are good. “40 Comics Reveal What Animals Would Say If They Could Talk”

They Can Talk

7) Every time I teach Criminal Justice policy, one pretty much unanimous conclusion that the students come to is that we need dramatically better police training.  Nice to see conservatives recognize this in the National Review:

After a series of terrible incidents of police violence — think Botham Jean in Dallas, Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth, and others — police are under a microscope. Why does it seem like some officers are on a hair trigger, ready to use deadly force with little provocation? Increasingly, critics of police point to what we call “the mindset”: people’s belief that police (despite low crime rates) think that American streets are a battlefield, that they are surrounded by potential enemies, and that every civilian encounter is a struggle to be won.

Not every police officer has the mindset; the best don’t. One of us is a former prosecutor, the other a former police officer who has studied policing for more than 20 years. We know that “the mindset” is real and the root cause of many of these tragedies. But it isn’t inevitable. Instead, police recruits are trained in that attitude and even incentivized to maintain such attitude. Can they be untrained, or trained differently? We think they can — and believe conservatives especially ought to support efforts to reform police training.

The mindset has roots in the drug war, where politicians of all stripes encouraged the militarization of police equipment, tactics, and attitudes. It starts in the police academies. Most use a “stress” model resembling military boot camps, emphasizing drills, intense physical demands, public discipline, and immediate reaction to infractions; substantively, academy training focuses on investigation skills, weapons training, and tactics. But there is little emphasis on the profession of policing, on how to relate to the public, or on developing emotional-intelligence skills. Meanwhile, the average recruit gets less than ten hours of training in de-escalation techniques; 34 states require no training in de-escalation.

As they have proliferated, SWAT teams are increasingly used in standard, on-duty policing activities. In a 2014 analysis, the ACLU, which has done excellent statistical work on this issue, found that 79 percent of the 50,000 annual SWAT callouts were for executing a search warrant, most commonly in drug investigations; only 7 percent were for hostage, barricade, or active-shooter scenarios. At least 60 percent of those operations featured the use of no-knock entries and/or (potentially deadly) flash-bang grenades. The Pentagon’s infamous 1033 Program — which distributes cast-off military equipment such as armored personnel carriers, weaponry, and helicopters to local police — has also helped to drive this phenomenon.

Changes in weapons, tactics, and training birthed the mindset. Reforming all three could help to combat it. To start, the dispersion of cheap military weaponry to police departments must stop. Police ought to be put to the discipline of deciding whether their local situation really justifies the cost of armored personnel carriers.

Finally, we need real, sustained de-escalation training in police academies and among active officers. Departments should accept that, within reason, the onus is on the officer to defuse potentially explosive incidents, slow the pace of police–civilian encounters, and take the time to resolve encounters before they turn violent.

8) Speaking of flaws in our criminal justice system, the way in which it still allows and rewards junk science is beyond appalling.  Maybe a small victory, though.  Radley Balko:

As I’ve written here ad nauseam, judges are entrusted to be the gatekeepers of good and bad science in the courtroom. By and large, they’ve performed poorly. Judges are trained to perform legal analysis, not scientific analysis, and law and science are two very different fields. Science is forward-looking, always changing and adapting to discoveries and new empirical evidence. The law, by contrast, puts a premium on consistency and predictability. It relies on precedent, so courts look to previous courts for guidance and are often bound by prior decisions.

By and large, judges have approached their task of scientific analysis just as we might expect them to: They have tried to apply it within a legal framework. This means when assessing whether a given field of forensics is scientifically reliable, judges tend to look to what previous courts have already determined. And when confronted with a new field, they tend to err on the side of relying on our adversarial system — they let the evidence in but also let the defense call its own experts to dispute the prosecution’s witness. The problem here is that by simply admitting the evidence, the courts lend it an air of legitimacy. Once the evidence is allowed in, whether jurors find it convincing tends to come down to which witness is most persuasive. State’s witnesses are often seen as unbiased and altruistic, while jurors tend to see defense witnesses as hired guns. And the set of skills it takes to persuade a jury isn’t necessarily the same skill set of a careful and cautious scientist. Indeed, the two are often in conflict.

This is why a field such as bite-mark analysis — which has been found to be unreliable by multiple scientific bodies — has yet to be disallowed by any courtroom in the country. Every time it has been challenged, the court has upheld its validity.

9) This is good, “Like the United States, Finland has a capitalist economy. Why are Finns so much happier than us?”  Also, all those awesome Northern European “Social Democracies” are pretty much based on capitalism, not socialism.  They just do capitalism way better than us through robust use of government policy to make capitalism serve the public interest.

10) Relatedly, Ezra Klein with a good discussion of Bernie Sanders and the underpinnings of “democratic socialism.”

11) This from the new NYT media reporter is really good, “Why the Success of The New York Times May Be Bad News for Journalism”

And the story of consolidation in media is a story about The Times itself.

The gulf between The Times and the rest of the industry is vast and keeps growing: The company now has more digital subscribers than The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the 250 local Gannett papers combined, according to the most recent data. And The Times employs 1,700 journalists — a huge number in an industry where total employment nationally has fallen to somewhere between 20,000 and 38,000…

Because The Times now overshadows so much of the industry, the cultural and ideological battles that used to break out between news organizations — like whether to say that President Trump lied — now play out inside The Times.

And The Times has swallowed so much of what was once called new media that the paper can read as an uneasy competition of dueling traditions: The Style section is a more polished Gawker, while the opinion pages reflect the best and worst of The Atlantic’s provocations. The magazine publishes bold arguments about race and American history, and the campaign coverage channels Politico’s scoopy aggression.

12) Good Yglesias piece on swing voters versus mobilizing the base:

Swing voters are extremely real

The notion that swing voters — voters who back one part in some elections and the other party in others — are mythical is itself a myth.

The 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study conducted a large-sample poll and found that 6.7 million Trump voters said they voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and 2.7 million Clinton voters said they voted for Mitt Romney in 2016. In other words, about 11 percent of Trump voters say they were Obama voters four years earlier, and about 4 percent of Clinton voters say they were Romney voters four years earlier.

Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics has this useful table:

A chart showing Trump, Clinton, Obama, and Romney voters, and how they intersect.Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics

By the same token, Yair Ghitza of the Democratic data firm Catalist estimates that while Democrats did make significant turnout-related gains in 2018, about 89 percent of their improvement vote margin is attributable to swing voting.

On issue after issue, the voters who a “mobilization” strategy would target are more moderate than consistent Democrats not more left-wing than them. There are plenty of inconsistent voters in America, and it’s smart to try to get them to vote for Democrats. But the inconsistent voters aren’t some secret bloc of hard-core progressives. The most ideologically committed progressives you’re going to find are the people already consistently pulling the lever for Democrats. In other words, no matter what fraction of the electorate Democrats are aiming to target, there’s no real case for becoming more ideologically rigid or adopting policy views that swing voters reject…

But on the big ideological questions, there’s no mobilization loophole that will let progressives evade the problem that some progressive ideas are unpopular. Third-party voters and drop-off voters are more progressive than D-to-R swing voters, which makes them a promising constituency to target. One reason that taking popular positions is smart politics is that it works as a mobilization strategy as well as a persuasion one…

Last but by no means least: While activists often paint a portrait of bold ideological positions firing up the party base, the available evidence suggests the opposite happens — bold ideological positions fire up the opposition partybase

Taking such positions might be a good idea anyway on the merits. Politics matters because policy matters, and a political party that never takes a righteous stand on anything is worth very much. But while centrist types can be wrong about which kinds of policy stances will be popular, there’s fairly overwhelming evidence that popular stands are better than unpopular ones — both because swing voters matter but also because taking popular positions is better from a strict mobilization standpoint.

13) Good stuff from Peter Wehner on Pete Buttigieg:

More impressive to me was the core theme of Buttigieg’s campaign, which he referred to as a “new kind of politics.” In the pre-Trump era, that may well have come across as an empty slogan; in the age of Trump, it captures an urgent national need.

During his campaign, Buttigieg spoke about what he called “rules of the road,” values that he wanted to make hallmarks of his candidacy and that included respect, responsibility, discipline, excellence, joy, and truth. This is what the Buttigieg campaign said about the latter:

Honesty is in our nature, and it is one of our greatest means of restoring faith in our democracy among everyday Americans and building a national movement rooted in trust and faith in our country and our beliefs. Internally and externally, our effort will be characterized by fidelity to the truth.

That is the kind of language and ethos that once would have appealed to Republicans, who now, under the spell of a president of corruptions without borders, have given up on virtue as a touchstone of political life. Politicians and presidents attempting to foster a climate of trust and mutual respect are snowflakes—or so many in the modern GOP and right-wing-media complex would have you think…

Here’s my hunch: Most Americans are bone-weary of Trump’s antics and aggression, his nonstop assault on reality and truth, his dishonoring of the office of the presidency, and his disordered personality. What Buttigieg understood is that the way to defeat Trump (and Trumpism) is to offer as an alternative seriousness to his unseriousness, grace to his gracelessness, equanimity to his instability.

Pete Buttigieg faced too many obstacles to win the Democratic nomination in his first national race, but his remarkable rise is an indication that he tapped into the longings of an exhausted country. Democrats, if they are wise, will nominate someone who does something similar, who shows he can calm the stormy seas rather than further roil them.

14) The federal judge in the following headline was a Bush appointee.  Barr is just the worst,  “Federal Judge Says He Needs to Review Every Mueller Report Redaction Because Barr Can’t Be Trusted”

15) I see Onion headlines most every day shared in social media, but I had not picked up on this, “How ‘The Onion’ Went Full-On Bernie Bro”

16) I keep meaning to say something about Ezra’s new book (got a couple others I want to finish first), but here’s a thoughtful review/analysis:

In Why We’re Polarized, his first book, policy, Klein’s stock-in-trade, recedes, and group psychology takes center stage. That wonk volte-face gives the book its charge. He presents polarization not as the creation of particular individuals but of interlocking systems. In fact, it is a book about two sets of systems. Concatenated personal and partisan identities confront a Madisonian constitution ill-suited to prolonged combat between two evenly matched, deeply divided parties. The results leave politically active individuals—“us”—enraged, and institutions teetering toward crisis. Klein takes up the same metaphor that journalists disillusioned with the party system adopted in the Gilded Age: a machine. But where they crusaded for reform, he concludes with caution…

Here Klein makes his most important move. Instead of highlighting one specific factor, he argues that they all feed on each other at once. Hairsplitting misses the point, which is interconnection across the polarization machine. In the words of the political scientist Lilliana Mason, “Partisanship can now be thought of as a mega-identity, with all the psychological and behavioral magnifications that implies.” Klein takes that insight and runs with it, telling a mega-story about mega-polarization. “The more sorted we are in our differences, the more different we grow in our preferences.” Elite and mass polarization reinforce one another. Above all, as partisanship becomes central to the identities of ever more Americans, leaping beyond policy preferences to feed on our sense of self, its corrosive, zero-sum psychological dynamics accelerate. Personal decisions—where to live, whom to marry—roll up inside these mega-identities: “polarization begets polarization; it’s a flywheel, not a switch.”

17) I’m in the, “actually, Bloomberg’s $500 million sort of worked” camp.  The counter-factual where Biden finishes poorly in Nevada, continues to lose support in South Carolina, and then sees a lot of that “moderate lane” support go to Bloomberg on Super Tuesday strikes me as utterly plausible.  No, things didn’t turn out Bloomberg’s way, but the fact that some very conceivable scenarios might have led us that way should make us rethink what money on a massive scale in primaries can buy.

18) Some interesting theories on why SARS-CoV-2 seems to hardly effect children:

But in studies with mice, his lab discovered that as animals age, their lungs take on damage that leads to structural changes that make them more susceptible to coronavirus infections. With SARS in particular, the older the mice, the sicker they got. “We know the lung environment really matters with this class of respiratory viruses,” says Perlman. “As people age, that lung environment changes. It gets pelted with pollen and pollution and the body responds with inflammation. A history of inflammation may impact how well you do with coronaviruses.”

More research is needed, but it’s a plausible explanation for Covid-19’s mild symptoms in children, says Creech. “The non-inflamed lung is a much less hospitable place for any virus to land,” he says. The next step would be to look at how children with less pristine lungs are faring in the outbreak—like kids with a history of asthma or babies who are born prematurely and lack a substance that helps keep open the tiny sacs in the lungs that exchange oxygen. If these kids experience severe Covid-19 symptoms too, then the “pristine lung” hypothesis holds up.

Another (highly speculative) possibility, says Creech, is that somehow kids may be leveraging their previous immune responses to the cold-causing coronaviruses they’re constantly being assaulted with. “Each of us is a little different in how we can modify the tips of our antibodies to latch on to foreign invaders,” says Creech. “It’s possible that recent coronavirus exposure in kids has led to the emergence of antibodies that have some cross-reactivity with the virus that causes Covid-19.” But, he stresses, so far there’s no evidence that’s what’s going on.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Great stuff from Eric Levitz on Bernie and lessons learned.  Strongly consider reading it all.

Sanders’s base is strongly ideological and weakly Democratic. But the bulk of blue America’s primary electorate is the opposite: weakly ideological but strongly partisan. Median Democratic primary voters like the Democratic Party and its leadership. They may be open to the idea that Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Nancy Pelosi, and Pete Buttigieg subscribe to a misguided notion of political possibility, but they’re going to be resistant to the claim that they’re all amoral toadies for the billionaire class. Meanwhile, because Democratic primary voters generally like their party, “Beltway Democrats” have a lot of influence over whose side they take in intraparty disputes. Which means that it’s actually important to at least try to cultivate the goodwill of Democratic insiders, rather than actively working to alienate them. Tailoring one’s critiques of the status quo political economy to the sensibilities of normie Democrats, and the egotism of Establishment ones, is not the most cathartic mode of political engagement. Seeking to defuse tensions between liberals and socialists in critical moments, rather than forever and always trying to heighten intra-left contradictions, may be suboptimal for preserving the brand distinctiveness of your Twitter account or alternative media product. But if your goal is to build electoral power and secure progressive reforms in the near future, then you need to make those concessions to coalition building, or else offer a detailed explanation of why Sanders’s example has not revealed such concessions to be necessary.

The 2020 primary offers the broad left other unsexy lessons about electoral politics. For example, there is little to no evidence that large field operations are an efficient use of limited campaign resources in presidential elections. Progressives of all stripes have an attachment to canvassing as a tactic because it feels (and generally is) more human, civic, and democratic to have conversations with one’s fellow Americans than to bombard them with televisual propaganda. But while community organizing is indispensable, knocking on strangers doors and proselytizing for a candidate isn’t community organizing; it’s just a persuasion and mobilization tool that should be used in contexts where it appears effective (like low-turnout local elections) and dropped in contexts where it isn’t — and the 2020 primary appears to be one of the latter.

Candidates who concentrated their time and money on assembling armies of canvassers drastically underperformed those who prioritized paid and earned media. Warren made enormous investments into her Iowa “ground game,” and got third place for her efforts. The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, prioritized earned media, accepting virtually every interview and profile opportunity he was offered and working to ensure that reporters had a lovely time when covering his campaign, and rode that free press to a brief moment of improbable contention. Joe Biden, meanwhile, had virtually no field operation or ad campaign in Super Tuesday states and still dominated on the strength of a great news cycle. The corporate media’s biases will always work against left candidates to some extent. But that extent is at least somewhat variable (Elizabeth Warren did win the New York Times’ co-endorsement after all). And given the power that the media wields, it actually probably makes sense for progressive campaigns to do “bullshit” like wishing reporters “happy birthday” and not disparaging entire news outlets in response to negative coverage, even when that coverage is unfair.

2) Peter Beinart comparing Biden as the “establishment” candidate to Jeb(!) in 2016:

Why did embracing his party’s establishment work for Biden but not for Bush? Because Democrats like their establishment more. Although progressive activists criticize Obama, his approval rating among Democrats as a whole—according to Real Clear Politics’ polling average—is almost 87 percent. That makes Biden’s association with him an almost unmitigated political strength. By contrast, an internal Bush campaign poll showed that Jeb’s family connections turned many voters off. The “Bush stuff was holding him back,” one aide told The Washington Post.

Obama isn’t just personally more popular among Democrats than George W. Bush was among Republicans. His agenda is more popular too. Eighty-five percent of Democrats approve of Obamacare. By contrast, a May 2015 poll found that only 54 percent of Republicans believed that the Bush administration’s signature initiative—the Iraq War—had been worth fighting.

Sanders wants to radically expand upon Obama’s legacy. But he hasn’t frontally challenged it, because it’s broadly popular among Democrats. Trump, by contrast, made his assault on the GOP establishment’s support for immigration the centerpiece of his campaign. Soon after entering the race, he released a video slamming Jeb for calling immigration an “act of love.” At the debate a week before the South Carolina vote, he derided Bush as “so weak on illegal immigration it’s laughable.” It worked. According to exit polls, Trump beat Bush by 48 points among South Carolina Republicans who said immigration was their top issue.

By the time he left the race, Jeb Bush had a net favorability rating among Republicans of only five points. Biden’s net favorability among Democrats last month, by contrast, was almost 50 points. That discrepancy isn’t simply a function of the two candidates’ performances on the stump. It’s a statement about the party establishments they represent. Asked to explain Bush’s failure, Mike Murphy, the chief strategist for the former governor’s super PAC, explained, “Our theory was to dominate the establishment lane” but “the problem was there was a huge anti-establishment wave. The establishment lane was smaller than we thought it would be.”

In the Democratic Party, by contrast, the establishment lane is turning out to be larger than many people just last month thought it would be.

3) Quite enjoyed this personal essay.  Imagine finding out your long-time ex-boyfriend was not dating Lady Gaga.

4) Unsurprisingly, I’ve taken an interest in the 1918 flu epidemic.  Gladwell wrote about it way back in 1997.

As the Amherst College biologist Paul Ewald argues in his brilliant 1994 book, “Evolution of Infectious Diseases,” under normal circumstances the mildest offspring of any flu family will always triumph, because people who are infected with the worst strains go home and go to bed, whereas people infected with the mild strains go to work, ride the bus, and go to the movies. You’re much more likely, in other words, to catch a mild virus than a nasty virus because you’re more likely to run into someone with a mild case of flu than with a nasty case of flu. In 1918, Ewald says, these rules got inverted by the war. The Spanish flu turned nasty in the late summer in France. A mild strain of flu spreading from soldier to soldier in the trenches stayed in the trenches because none of the soldiers got so sick that they had to leave their posts. A debilitating strain, though, resulted in a soldier’s being shipped out in a crowded troop transport, then moved to an even more crowded hospital, where he had every opportunity to infect others. Wars and refugee camps and urban overcrowding give the worst flu strains a huge evolutionary advantage. If there were ever again a civil war in China, flu-watchers would be on full alert.

5) No, you don’t need more about how William Barr is just the worst, but he is!

Attorney General William P. Barr quietly intervened in an immigration asylum case last week when he issued a decision that narrowed the definition of torture for asylum seekers who invoke itas a grounds for staying in the United States.

Barr used a process known as “certification,” a historically little-used power of the attorney general that allows him to overrule decisions made by the Board of Immigration Appeals and set binding precedent. Immigration lawyers and judges say the Trump administration is using the power with greater frequency — to the point of abuse — as it seeks to severely limit the number of immigrants who can remain in the United States. The administration is also using it as a check on immigration judges whose decisions don’t align with the administration’s immigration agenda, experts say.

6) My daughter is all about the “exclamatory particle.”  Interesting, according to linguist John McWhorter, females tend to drive these language changes.  So, for now, it’s Sarah and young women saying “stop-uh” before you know it, it may be most everyone.

7) Political Scientist friend, Patrick Miller, posted the following on Facebook when sharing Ezra’s great article about Bernie (which it cannot hurt to share again).

Last Super Tuesday post, I swear. I saw this on Twitter this morning, and felt that it articulated (better than I can) how a lot of people like me feel about Sanders–more negative about his style and personality than (often) the sentiment of his political substance. It’s frightening to see our political institutions being torn down year after year, and it’s frightening to see a candidate like Sanders who traffics in conspiracy theories about parties, the media, and elected leaders as central to his campaign message. Parties, with all of their trappings, are good for democracy, and a lot of us have invested a lot over the years in trying to make the Democratic Party healthy and functional because that makes our democracy stronger. The media is good for democracy. It could all work better and more inclusively, yes, but it’s hard to embrace a message that further tears these institutions down.

8) The following strikes me as the key fact about Covid-19 and why, lamenting aside, containment efforts were almost surely doomed to fail:

The biology of the virus also makes it hard to contain, since it’s possible to spread the virus before showing symptoms of it. “I don’t think we quite know the extent of how often that happens, but it is happening,” Grubaugh says. With SARS in 2003, infected people did not spread the virus without symptoms. They also tended to get sicker, often contracting pneumonia. That made cases easier to detect and isolate.

All of the above is a recipe for an outbreak to become endemic, or a disease that sticks around.Humans haven’t seen this virus before, which means we’re not immune. It’s also a recipe for millions of potential infections in a pandemic — a worldwide outbreak of a new disease.

9) James Carville takes a victory lap interview with Sean Illing.  While Carville makes some good points in the interview, it astounds me that he would put so much emphasis on the SC debate.  Ummm, no, that was so not the turning point.

Sean Illing

The South Carolina debate was definitely Biden’s strongest debate, and he had a moment or two, but what was the big shift?

James Carville

Go back and look at the tape of what I said in my post-debate analysis. Biden was actually talking to voters in South Carolina. Elizabeth Warren, inexplicably, was talking to her fundraising list. Bernie was speaking to the larger questions of the Revolution. Biden just got real and spoke directly to the people in South Carolina.

It’s not just about the issues, like health care or the economy or climate or whatever. It’s about how you talk about them and if you do it in a way that people understand, that relates to them. I think Biden did that. The stupid thing that so many of these candidates are doing now is speaking to opinion leaders, to the Twitter mob. Let me tell you something, that shit doesn’t win elections, all right? It just doesn’t.

10) Colorized daily life in NYC from just over 100 years ago.  So cool!

11) Liked this from Drum:

I do wish that patients paid more attention to the outputs of sophisticated statistical models when choosing doctors and hospitals, as I think this would improve quality, but mostly they don’t.

Me too, Alex, me too. However, even among my pretty smart friends, I can’t get them to prioritize even a simple time-series chart over their gut feeling of what “must be true.” And even when I do make a tiny bit of headway on some subject or another, if I bring it up again a month later it turns out they’ve completely forgotten everything I said. They’re back to whatever barstool opinion they had before.

We are overclocked primates. It takes intense training to get humans to overcome the constant mutterings of their lizard brains and pay attention instead to quantitative evidence—i.e., to produce scientists—and even among scientists this training works only in a pinch. This is why elections are won by appealing to people’s emotions, not trying to change their view of the facts. We may be proud of our massive prefrontal cortexes, but they’re merely a thin veneer over the billion years of evolution that produced the rest of our brain.

¹Quiet rooms and nice nurses, it turns out.

12) Wired says lab-grown meat is coming whether we like it or not.  I like it.

13) You know, I generally look to Europeans and wish we could do policy as sensibly as they do.  But, definitely, not always.  Like Germany’s irrational and counterproductive abandonment of nuclear power:

On New Year’s Eve, while the rest of the world was preparing to ring in a new decade, employees of the German energy company EnBW were getting ready to pull the plug on one of the country’s few remaining nuclear power plants. The license to operate the two reactors at the Philippsburg nuclear facility expired at midnight after 35 years of providing carbon-free power to Germans living along the country’s southwestern border. The Philippsburg plant was the 11th nuclear facility decommissioned in Germany over the past decade. The country’s remaining six nuclear plants will go dark by 2022.

Germans have always had a complicated relationship with nuclear power, but the radioactive cloud that swept over Germany following the Chernobyl disaster in the mid-1980s gave new life to the antinuclear policies supported by the country’s Green Party. Following Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant meltdown, Germany’s antinuclear lobby kicked into high gear, and tens of thousands of people took to the streets in protest. The German government quickly passed legislation to decommission all of the country’s nuclear reactors, ostensibly to keep its citizens safe by preventing a Fukushima-style disaster. But a study published last month by the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that Germany’s rejection of nuclear power was an expensive and possibly deadly miscalculation.

To uncover the hidden costs of denuclearizing Germany, economists used machine learning to analyze reams of data gathered between 2011 and 2017. The researchers, based at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, and Carnegie Mellon University, found that nuclear power was mostly replaced with power from coal plants, which led to the release of an additional 36 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, or about a 5 percent increase in emissions. More distressingly, the researchers estimated that burning more coal led to local increases in particle pollution and sulfur dioxide and likely killed an additional 1,100 people per year from respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses.

14) My now regular co-author, Mary-Kate Lizotte (in addition to the always co-author Laurel Elder) has a new book out on gender gaps in issues.  Some key findings here:

It is still true that women, across the different subgroups, are more likely than men to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate. Why? Political science research, including my own, provides insight into what issues and other characteristics explain this phenomenon. Attracting the majority of women voters, especially white women, college-educated women, and black women, requires presidential candidates to highlight a vision of a more equal society and a government that protects the well-being of its citizens through a strong social safety net, a commitment to anti-discrimination policies and a green environmental policy agenda…

Simply put, women are more likely to want a candidate who advocates for policies that promote equality and provide a social safety net. To motivate turnout among and procure votes from women, candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination should stress such a vision and emphasize how they differ from President Trump on these issues, on equality, and on compassion more generally.



Stop telling me to stop touching my face

Seriously.  You might as well tell me to stop breathing.  Or to scratch myself unconsciously when we have an itch.  This is what we do as humans.

You know why pathogens have evolved to attack us via the mucous membranes on our faces?  Because we touch our faces all the time.  Yes, obviously, to the degree that we consciously do this, we should try and cut back.  Especially if we’ve been touching public surfaces recently without a good hand-washing.  But, I wonder about the value of pushing so hard on advice to stop doing something that we all do all the time without even thinking about it.

The intermittent fast is on 

As I’ve mentioned in quick hits, I’ve been intellectually intrigued by intermittent fasting for a while.  Though, definitely the daily 16 hour fast– no way could I starve myself two days every week (also, the impact of not dining with others on those days would be a huge social liability).  Anyway, after the latest NYT piece summarizing the research, I’ve decided to give it a try.

I was skeptical, but it turns out there is something to be said for practicing a rather prolonged diurnal fast, preferably one lasting at least 16 hours. Mark P. Mattson, neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, explained that the liver stores glucose, which the body uses preferentially for energy before it turns to burning body fat.

“It takes 10 to 12 hours to use up the calories in the liver before a metabolic shift occurs to using stored fat,” Dr. Mattson told me. After meals, glucose is used for energy and fat is stored in fat tissue, but during fasts, once glucose is depleted, fat is broken down and used for energy.

Most people trying to lose weight should strive for 16 calorie-free hours, he said, adding that “the easiest way to do this is to stop eating by 8 p.m., skip breakfast the next morning and then eat again at noon the next day.” (Caffeine-dependent people can have sugar- free black coffee or tea before lunch.) But don’t expect to see results immediately; it can take up to four weeks to notice an effect, he said.

Dr. Mattson and his colleague Rafael de Cabo at the aging institute recently reviewed the effects of intermittent fasting on health, aging and disease in The New England Journal of Medicine…

Dr. Mattson explained that during a fast, the body produces few new proteins, prompting cells to take protein from nonessential sources, break them down and use the amino acids to make new proteins that are essential for survival. Then, after eating, a lot of new proteins are produced in the brain and elsewhere…

How well this diet might work for you may depend largely on your usual pre-diet snacking and drinking habits and the kinds and amounts of foods you consume during the non-fasting hours. Knowing you cannot eat at all for a prescribed period may prompt some people to cram in whatever they want during the eating window, regardless of its nutritional value.

Dr. Mattson cautioned that intermittent dieters should “eat healthy foods, including whole grains, healthy fats and protein, limit saturated fats and avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates. And on fasting days, be sure to stay well-hydrated.” He also suggested a gradual decrease over a period of four months in the hours and days of restricted eating and in the amount of calories consumed on fasting days.

Also, some more research led me to this nice Harvard summary:

Why might changing timing help?

But why does simply changing the timing of our meals to allow for fasting make a difference in our body? An in-depth review of the science of IF recently published in New England Journal of Medicine sheds some light. Fasting is evolutionarily embedded within our physiology, triggering several essential cellular functions. Flipping the switch from a fed to fasting state does more than help us burn calories and lose weight. The researchers combed through dozens of animal and human studies to explain how simple fasting improves metabolism, lowering blood sugar; lessens inflammation, which improves a range of health issues from arthritic pain to asthma; and even helps clear out toxins and damaged cells, which lowers risk for cancer and enhances brain function. The article is deep, but worth a read!

So, is intermittent fasting as good as it sounds?

I was very curious about this, so I asked the opinion of metabolic expert Dr. Deborah Wexler, Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Here is what she told me. “There is evidence to suggest that the circadian rhythm fasting approach, where meals are restricted to an eight to 10-hour period of the daytime, is effective,” she confirmed, though generally she recommends that people “use an eating approach that works for them and is sustainable to them.”

So, here’s the deal. There is some good scientific evidence suggesting that circadian rhythm fasting, when combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle, can be a particularly effective approach to weight loss, especially for people at risk for diabetes. (However, people with advanced diabetes or who are on medications for diabetes, people with a history of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not attempt intermittent fasting unless under the close supervision of a physician who can monitor them.)

4 ways to use this information for better health

  1. Avoid sugars and refined grains. Instead, eat fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats (a sensible, plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet).
  2. Let your body burn fat between meals. Don’t snack. Be active throughout your day. Build muscle tone.
  3. Consider a simple form of intermittent fasting. Limit the hours of the day when you eat, and for best effect, make it earlier in the day (between 7 am to 3 pm, or even 10 am to 6 pm, but definitely not in the evening before bed).
  4. Avoid snacking or eating at nighttime, all the time.

Okay, so worth a shot.  I really liked this quote in that first piece, “How well this diet might work for you may depend largely on your usual pre-diet snacking and drinking habits and the kinds and amounts of foods you consume during the non-fasting hours.”  Yep.  I know for me that skipping meals seems to have no influence whatsoever on my mental state and I know, from history, that it’s really easy for me to skip breakfast.  So, certainly seemed to make sense for me to give it try.

And, so, it’s been a week.  If this actually works for me– could be up to four weeks according to that NYT article, but I have lost at least a pound this week– it will, again, for me at least, be a ridiculously easy way to lose weight.  I’ve largely eaten what I want– and I usually do eat (mostly) healthily– just limited it from 11:30am to 7:30pm.  One night a late social dinner till almost 9:00 was not great, but I was able to compensate with a late lunch the next day.  And, I knew the mornings would be easy (and, minus a few cravings for breakfast, they have been), but the no-snacking evenings have been easier than I expected, too.

So, the one thing about the evenings, though, I usually continue my diet soda habit through the night.  But, can any of those artificial sweeteners change blood glucose levels and accidentally break your fast, messing this all up?  No!  Of course, if you google this, all sorts of non-science, diet-soda haters will say otherwise based on… non-science.  As for science, this was my favorite:

Artificial Sweeteners Don’t Impact Blood Glucose. And They Never Did”‘

And a nice scientific study: “Glycemic impact of non-nutritive sweeteners: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.”


Nonnutritive sweeteners (NNSs) are zero- or low-calorie alternatives to nutritive sweeteners, such as table sugars. A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials was conducted to quantitatively synthesize existing scientific evidence on the glycemic impact of NNSs.


PubMed and Web of Science databases were searched. Two authors screened the titles and abstracts of candidate publications. The third author was consulted to resolve discrepancies. Twenty-nine randomized controlled trials, with a total of 741 participants, were included and their quality assessed. NNSs under examination included aspartame, saccharin, steviosides, and sucralose. The review followed the PRISMA guidelines.


Meta-analysis was performed to estimate and track the trajectory of blood glucose concentrations over time after NNS consumption, and to test differential effects by type of NNS and participants’ age, weight, and disease status. In comparison with the baseline, NNS consumption was not found to increase blood glucose level, and its concentration gradually declined over the course of observation following NNS consumption. The glycemic impact of NNS consumption did not differ by type of NNS but to some extent varied by participants’ age, body weight, and diabetic status.


NNS consumption was not found to elevate blood glucose level. Future studies are warranted to assess the health implications of frequent and chronic NNS consumption and elucidate the underlying biological mechanisms.

That said, I did come across some evidence that, just maybe, sucralose and acesulfame potassium could have a modest impact on insulin release, so I’m playing it safe and sticking with my aspartame only Diet Dr Pepper.

Anyway, so far so good.  Definitely not for everybody, but, maybe a good approach for me.  I shall report back.

Quick hits (part II)

1) How Tuesday’s became election day.

At the time, the U.S. was a largely agrarian society and many of the all-white, male voting population were farmers.

“Elections were usually held in the county seat,” said King. “And you have to remember that county seats were designed to be one day’s ride away by horseback.”

Americans were also generally a God-fearing Christian people and would not travel on Sundays, so Mondays were out.

“Agricultural fairs and market days were on Wednesdays,” said King.

A Tuesday election day meant farmers could travel on Mondays, vote Tuesday morning, then head back home in time for market on Wednesday.

2) OMG this is good, “I went to Hogwarts for seven years, did not learn math or spelling, and now I can’t get a job.”

Thanks to the Hogwarts curriculum, I can withstand mind control and even limited torture, but I cannot write a compelling cover letter without humiliating grammatical error’s. Why is literature not a course at your skool? I can enchant my quill to write my thoughts, but I never learned how to make my thoughts enchanting. I heard that Durmstrang students have a skool newspaper. You know what Hogwarts has? A three-headed dog lurking in the castle, with permission to kill whoever it finds. Indeedly, my life was constantly endangered while at Hogwarts, which was an academic distracshun.

3) The world is entirely unequipped for the current refugee crisis:

We are in an age of mass displacement. Yet the powerful and stable nations of the world have not figured out a humane way to handle the influx of people claiming persecution while balancing domestic concerns about security and cultural change. Instead, doors are simply closing, with asylum protections rolled back seemingly everywhere. In Italy, where the former interior minister denounced “fake refugees,” boats of Africans have been blocked from docking. The European Union pays handsomely to keep asylum seekers away, while Turkey considers sending Syrian refugees back to their homeland, which is still at war. In the U.S., the indefinite detention of asylum-seeking children prompted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to say she was appalled. Thousands of asylum seekers are sent from the U.S. to dangerous sections of Mexico and even to countries they’re not from.

The point is, Trump’s theory of executive power does real work and has had real consequences. The opening memorandum prepared by Trump’s defense team for his Senate impeachment trial, for example, served as an homage to the general concept of absolute rights and built from its vision of an unconstrained executive the startling argument that the president cannot be impeached for abuses of power. Trump’s coinage actually made a revealing, and legally mystifying, appearance in the brief: “It is well settled that the President has a virtually absolute right to maintain the confidentiality of his diplomatic communications with foreign leaders.” As support for this sweeping claim, Trump’s team cited the Supreme Court’s 1974 decision in United States v. Nixon. But that decision notes nothing more than the courts’ traditional deference to the president’s claims of executive privilege over communications bearing on sensitive foreign-policy and national-security matters—and ultimately determined President Richard Nixon must hand over tapes subpoenaed by the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.
Where Trump derived the idea that as president he enjoys absolute rights is unclear. But his chosen phraseology is sticky and evocative. It carries a quasi-juridical ring that belies its conceptual incoherence. Closely examined, his incessant invocation of the phrase evokes the image not of the leader of the free world, but of a freeholder enjoying untrammeled and indefinite possession of his estate. Constitutionally baseless but rhetorically compelling, the whole concept of “absolute rights” is best described as a legal innovation by a real-estate mogul who understands power through the prism of private property rather than public obligation…“I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” Trump crowed to a group of teenage conservatives at a Washington, D.C., summit in July, awkwardly waving his constitutional authority like a golden ticket entitling him to full possession of a chocolate factory. Conceived this way, as absolute title, Article II vests the president not with power sanctioned by and concomitant with his obligations to the people, but with rights enforceable against them.This is a profound misunderstanding of the American constitutional system. Within that system, rights protect individuals against incursions by the state. The assertion of “absolute rights” by the country’s chief executive stands this concept on its head by purporting to insulate state conduct, however arbitrary and transgressive, from review or even critique. The idea is incompatible with the design of Article II, which vests the president with conditional, circumscribed authority to ensure that the laws are “faithfully executed.” Some of that authority is his alone to exercise—for example, only the president can grant pardons, command the armed forces, and recognize foreign states. But to the extent he misunderstands or abuses that authority, the Constitution facilitates challenge by the other branches. In extreme cases, that challenge is supposed to take the form of impeachment and removal.

4) Really liked this on Pete’s gayness:

Really, though, they shoved the pill-the-gay-away comment into a preexisting narrative: the one that says Buttigieg is basically straight. There’s a hashtag going around, #PetesNotGay, that involves dissections of the mayor’s closed-mouthed kisses with his husband on the campaign trail. Onion articles have imagined Buttigieg revealing a wife and kids, or condemning his own sexualityThe New Republic last year published then retracted a scathing essay by Dale Peck that blasted Buttigieg as so buttoned-down and assimilated that he undermines a movement based in what is still often termed deviance. In a New Yorker piece titled “The Queer Backlash to Pete Buttigieg Explained,” Masha Gessen ends by calling Buttigieg “a straight politician in a gay man’s body.”

These arguments that present Buttigieg as not really gay so obviously flirt with the essentialism queer people fight against that it’s a bit shocking to see them get traction at all. Boring gays are still gay. Gays who love the Dave Matthews Band are still gay. Progressive gays who survey the current political landscape and bet that the way to successfully enact economic and social justice is by triangulating between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are—and this is the sticking point—still gay. That mantra of gay is good works as an anti-stigmatizing tool; it’s what, in fact, Buttigieg was invoking by saying he was glad he wasn’t able to medicalize himself straight. Conflating gayness with any particular moral, political, or aesthetic value the observer has deemed good, though, is an act of hijacking—one weirdly similar to the rhetorical move homophobes use when they say gay people are immoral.

5) OMG do media companies so need to stop giving into bad-faith complaints from the right.  Journalists are allowed to have personal opinions, just like all Americans.  Absent evidence of actual bias in news coverage, this is a non issue.

6) The fact that most Covid-19 cases are mild is good if you get it, but mostly means that this virus is just going to spread like hell.  Sorry, it’s coming to a neighborhood near you.

7) Some interesting new social science on how partisanship is transmitted (or, not transmitted) from parents to kids:

Most of what is known regarding political socialization treats parent–child concordance as evidence of transmission. This direct-transmission approach remains agnostic regarding how socialization occurs, whether traits have a role in a child’s ability to identify and understand their parent’s values or their motivation to adopt their parents’ values. This article advances a perception-adoption approach to unpack these microprocesses of socialization. The authors test their model using three independent studies in the United States that together comprise 4,852 parent–child dyads. They find that the transmission of partisan orientations from parent to child occurs less than half the time, which is qualitatively different from the generally held view. More importantly, the findings provide a greater understanding of how key predictors facilitate the political socialization process. Specifically, politicization improves child perception, but has no role in the child’s motivation to adopt parental values. Closeness and parental value strength influence children to want to be like their parents, but do nothing to improve children’s ability to recognize their parents’ values. And education, previously thought to have little role in transmission, does not influence a child’s ability to understand their parent’s affiliation, but appears to make children more likely to reject whatever they believe it to be.

8) This NYT feature on the shortage of forensic pathologists was really fascinating (and interesting, but not gruesome, photos, too).  Also, like most things where there’s a shortage– just pay more!

The most obvious cause of the forensic-pathologist shortage is the substantial pay gap between their field and other medical specialties. “Forensic pathologists are some of the lowest-paid physicians in the country,” said John Fudenberg, the coroner of Clark County, Nev., who is not himself a forensic pathologist but leads a team of them. “They go to more school than a lot of medical doctors, and they come out and a lot of them are starting at like $150,000 a year. They could go into clinical pathology and make nearly twice that!” Physicians often leave medical school hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, which makes it difficult to justify further training in exchange for a lifetime making a fraction of the average physician’s salary…

This work is unpleasant to think about for most people. But Americans’ unwillingness to devote time and money to studying the dead — our supposition that the story, or the parts of it that matter, stop with the heartbeat — absolutely fails to imagine the intimacy with which the living and the dead remain connected. The dead tell us how we’re dying, how we’re living, who among us gets a better shot at a whole and healthy life and the ways in which we remain vulnerable to one another and to the vicissitudes of an unpredictable world. Our epidemics, the commonality of our despair, our continual mistakes, the progress we have yet to make, the wrongs we have yet to correct — all these are mirrored back to us by the dead.

9) What Oregon Republicans are doing to democracy is truly horrible.  Really, that’s not hyperbole.  They have realized that the state’s constitution allows a minority to complete block the ability of the majority to govern, so they are.  David Roberts with an excellent piece:

In Oregon right now, a handful of white people from the far right are holding the state government hostage.

No, it’s not another armed occupation of government buildings, like in 2016. This time it’s a handful of Oregon lawmakers who refuse to enter government buildings, thereby holding the business of the legislature hostage.

It ought to be getting more national attention, if for no other reason than it perfectly encapsulates larger national political trends. It is like a snow globe, a perfect miniature representation of what the Republican Party is becoming.

In a nutshell, Oregon Republicans are exploiting an arcane constitutional provision in order to exert veto power over legislation developed by the Democratic majority, on behalf of an almost entirely white, rural minority. Five times in the past 10 months, they have simply refused to show up for work, preventing the legislature from passing bills on guns, forestry, health care, and budgeting. The fifth walkout, over a climate change bill, is ongoing.

It is an extraordinary escalation of anti-democratic behavior from the right, gone almost completely unnoticed by the national political media. Nevertheless, it is a big deal, worth pausing to consider, not only because it is preventing Oregon from addressing climate change, but because it shows in stark terms where the national GOP is headed…

Over and over again, a handful of Oregon Republicans have held the state hostage to their demands. Yet the national media seems incapable of calling it what it is.

For example, have a look at this story from the Associated Press. It is positively surreal in its devotion to the exhausted tropes of mainstream political coverage. The debate in Oregon has become “pitched” and the episode “reveals sharp divisions.” Republicans say this, Democrats say that, he says, she says, the end.

Nowhere in the story will the reader be told that Democrats have a supermajority in the legislature. Nowhere will they be told that a small, demographically homogeneous minority is using once-extraordinary measures to routinely thwart the will of the democratically elected majority. Nowhere will they be told that the white minority holding the state hostage has been backed in the past year by the threat of far-right militia violence.

Mainstream political coverage, as we’ve seen again and again in the Trump years, is simply incapable of communicating a sense of crisis. There is only one model of story — what each side says, in equal measure — and it only serves to blur and obscure a situation in which one party, not the other, has lurched in a radically anti-democratic direction. (The local coverage from outlets like OPB is much better.)

Meanwhile, Democrats in state government wring their hands and cave to Republican demands again and again, as though it is simply a matter of course that a large majority must bend the knee to a small minority.

10) Damn those Chapo Trap House people really are pretty horrible.  Yes, a Tea Party of the left.  I don’t blame Bernie that these people are supporters, but it does concern me that people like this are among his most ardent supporters.

Quick hits (part I)

Happy Leap Day.

1) I am so not getting a PSA screening until there are outcomes way better than this:

In the most definitive study done to date to assess the value of PSA screening, the European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer concluded that 781 men aged 55 to 69 when they enrolled would have to be screened to prevent one man from dying of prostate cancer after 13 years. In this study, approximately one man in six who were screened was falsely identified as possibly having prostate cancer, and two-thirds of positive PSA results in the first round of screening were false-positives.

2) Loved this “Virtual imagery that would make me run faster on the elliptical”

My onscreen avatar is carrying a laptop and it is just beginning to rain. Also, she’s wearing suede…

I snatch a golden idol from a pedestal in an ancient temple, and, as I smirk, thinking how easy that was, rocks fall from the ceiling. The roof is going to collapse! I sprint down a corridor, idol in hand, while arrows shoot from the walls, each a near miss. My colleague’s there, waiting for me, telling me to give him the statue first and then he’ll help me across the pit that gapes between us—but he betrays me, stealing the statue and leaving me to die. I leap over the pit, slide under a closing stone door, and BAM, there’s my colleague, dead. Arrows got him. I recover the statue, pausing for a moment to catch my breath, maybe wipe the sweat off my brow with a lemongrass-scented towelette, but there’s no time! A massive boulder comes rolling down out of nowhere, and if I don’t keep running, I will be crushed!

3) David Roberts on how Elizabeth Warren is the only candidate who understands the procedural reforms necessary to restore trust in American government.  But, sadly, that doesn’t exactly resonate with voters.

4) Wired, “Will Your Cat Eat Your Corpse? The short answer is maybe. The long answer won’t make you feel any better.”

5) Atlantic with good stuff from EJ Dionne’s new book:

The broad idea of dignity and its specific connection to work has been on my mind ever since. The idea appealed to me because it rang true to the core idea of Catholic social thought—“the equal dignity of every person”—that helped shape my own politics long ago. But to see it used so explicitly in a campaign was instructive. The idea finds its power from a deep intuition that the anger in our public life, across many of our lines of division, arises from a felt denial of dignity.

Blue-collar workers of all races—very much including the white working class, which has loomed so large in political analysis since 2016—have experienced this denial of dignity. But it is also experienced by African Americans, Latinos, and immigrants across classes. In the Trump Era, these workers confront a rise in racism and nativism championed by the president himself. Women who experience sexism, and young Americans who see themselves denied opportunities their parents enjoyed, feel it, too.

In my new book, Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country, I argue that dignity should be the central purpose of a new post-Reagan economics and a new post-Trump politics. Dignity binds together progressives and moderates opposed to Trump. It can also bring together constituencies who now find themselves opposed to each other. A focus on dignity may thus have immediate political power, but it also has a deep moral resonance.

Dignity is compelling because it is a value, not an ideology or a program. But neither is it an empty slogan. Dignity has strong implications for both policy and our culture. And it answers a moral yearning felt both individually and collectively. Lifting up dignity as a core national purpose is essential to renewing a society that has lost track of the powerful “We” that opens our Constitution. A commitment to equal dignity can play an important role in pulling together a nation that Trump has devoted himself to dividing.

6) On Adam Cohen’s new book on how the Supreme Court overwhelmingly has protected the rich over our history:

Many progressives hold these truths to be virtually self-evident. The United States Supreme Court has the hallowed role of protecting the most vulnerable in society. At a minimum, it does not engage in judicial activism to burden them further. And only now, when the court has shifted decisively to the right, is it in danger of relinquishing that function.

Adam Cohen’s “Supreme Inequality” shows that these beliefs utterly fail to capture the court’s treatment of the poor. For 50 years, he explains, it has exacerbated economic inequality through its aggressive jurisprudence…

Cohen’s insight that the court has been an activist for income inequality is important. Commentators have widely excoriated income inequality as the scourge of our time (Cohen quotes the hedge fund manager Ray Dalio’s description of it as an “existential threat” to the nation). Yet many attribute income inequality to broad trends like advances in technology or globalization — and even commentators who point to the actions of governmental institutions rarely mention the court. After Cohen’s book, progressives should add the court’s jurisprudence to the list of causes for income inequality. What’s more, they should include income inequality on the list of negative consequences to be feared from future courts, especially now that Brett Kavanaugh has joined the court.

7) I haven’t yet read McKay Coppins big Atlantic cover story on the massive Republican disinformation campaign that’s coming, but it’s been the talk of the town and a must-read.  I did listen to his Fresh Air interview, though.  And, damn, it really is scary as hell.

8) Soft “g” for .gif, damnit!  If you were actually using the internet back in the 1990’s, like I was, there was no controversy, that was just how it was pronounced.

9) I think/fear Brian Beutler is spot-on about the media’s 2016 malpractice almost sure to be repeated if Bernie is the nominee:

Trump has only just begun treating Bernie Sanders as his likely 2020 opponent, but Sanders’ lengthy public career and progressive politics have already aroused the same professional habits that brought us the email craze four years ago.

Political journalists face strong incentives to portray the two major parties as roughly similar moral and ethical entities that happen to share different philosophical values. Reporters are often trained to approach their subjects this way, until the practice becomes so ingrained that the supposed equivalence between the parties becomes axiomatic to them. These incentives drove mainstream media outlets to amplify the email controversy and downplay Trump’s cascade of outrages until their coverage appeared balanced, but thus left consumers with wildly inaccurate perceptions of the candidates’ relative trustworthiness.

To allow moral and ethical distinctions between partisan agendas and tactics to seep into reporting would be extremely disruptive. One party’s conduct might be consistently less ethical and principled than the other’s, but acknowledging as much, and allowing it to shape coverage, would alienate sources in that party, and drive its followers to outlets willing to sanitize the truth. But if the background assumption of most news producers is that both parties engage in dirty tricks, politicians of all stripes lie, and the nature of empirical fact itself is contestable, it creates a huge loophole that allows unscrupulous, dishonest actors to game news coverage itself, until it no longer conveys reality. [emphasis mine]

Sanders’s candidacy comes as an enormous relief to practitioners of this kind of journalism. As the most left-wing member of the Senate, and perhaps of the whole Congress, he allows political journalists to fall back on platitudes about the parties catering to their extremes, without examining the content of their agendas or their political styles.

10) Linda Greenhouse, “The Supreme Court Nears the Moment of Truth on Religion: The majority’s view of the Constitution’s free-exercise clause poses a threat to civil society.”

The startling fact of the matter is that Judges Griffin, Stranch and Donald were applying the law as they found it — as the Supreme Court has handed it to them in a series of decisions instructing judges to accept almost any religious claim, no matter how preposterous, at face value and to put the government to an extremely tough test to justify any infringement on a “sincere” religious belief. In the Hobby Lobby case six years ago, the court gave dispositive legal weight to the claim by owners of two for-profit businesses that the legal requirement to include contraception coverage in their employee health plans would make them complicit in the sin of birth control.

“It is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority.

Rather than looking at the Sixth Circuit prison decision, Fox v. Washington, as an outlier, we need to see it as a harbinger, a frightening one. I don’t know whether this particular case will end up at the Supreme Court. But there are plenty of cases like it, making claims that would have been dismissed out of hand not too many years ago and that now have to be taken seriously by those of us worried about the growing threat that an increasingly weaponized free-exercise clause poses to civil society, along with the statutes meant to extend its reach.

11) Lessons from a Buddhist monk on facing death.  Good stuff, but… We’ll see how I feel about this when I’m old, but what really scares me about dying at this point in my life is not actually dying, but the certainty of suffering for those I would leave behind.  Even if one is comfortable with their own death, you cannot get everybody who loves you thinking like a Buddhist monk.  And it’s a lot easier to deal with the death of a loved one at an older age than when you feel you’ve lost somebody way to early.

12) Well, of course Republicans want to make poor people freeze to help fund Corona virus response.  Yes, seriously.  These people are the worst:

It’s now looking like coronavirus is threatening a potential public health emergency. And a battle has broken out between the White House and Democrats over how much money to allocate to the crisis, with the White House pushing for less than Democrats think is called for.

But at the core of this dispute is something that’s hasn’t yet gotten public exposure — and is potentially very troubling.

House Democrats tell us they are outraged by one aspect of the White House response in particular: The White House appears to have informed Democrats that they want to fund the emergency response in part by taking money from a program that funds low-income home heating assistance.

A document that the Trump administration sent to Congress, which we have seen, indicates that the administration is transferring $37 million to emergency funding for the coronavirus response from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, which funds heating for poor families.

13) I actually quite like Turkish Delight (I used to have a colleague who would regularly return with it from Turkey), but I do so love this post, “C.S. Lewis’s Greatest Fiction Was Convincing American Kids That They Would Like Turkish Delight”

14) Yes, we totally should do toilets like the Japanese do.  To some degree, though, it would almost be worse to get used to a better toilet experience at home and then have to suffer in comparison when going anywhere else in America.  But, hey, if this actually starts taking off, I’m ready to be an early adopter.

15) Very good stuff here, “I was a juror in the Roger Stone trial. Attacking our foreperson undermines our service.”

These events raise serious concerns for me not merely as a juror in the trial but also for the threat to our bedrock principles.

Elected officials have no business attacking citizens for performing their civic duty. The jury system is rooted in English common law and enshrined in both Article III and the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution; it is fundamental to the American system of justice. All of us need to be concerned when this process is attacked. More than 1.5 million Americans are impaneled on juries every year, according to the National Center for State Courts. Federal service is more rare than state-level service, but a 2007 center report found that more than a third of Americans will serve on a jury at some point in their lifetimes. Jurors are not merely expected but required to judge facts fairly. We are required to disclose any potential bias and are asked whether that potential bias would prevent us from rendering an impartial verdict.

16) Drum with a good take on the outrage machine (and, damnit, I did read this article before I saw Drum’s post):

Can someone please tell me why this tiny local story is on the front page of a national newspaper?

Oh, right: it “went viral.” Therefore it must be covered.

STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT. Everything is caught on camera these days. Everything is outrageous these days. Everything goes viral these days—if by “viral” you mean that a few thousand people took five seconds to retweet something.

Why do we do this? Why can’t we let local stories stay local unless they truly have some kind of national significance? Why do we insist on stoking outrage at every opportunity? It’s not as if we lack for plenty of genuine national-level outrages, after all.




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