Quick hits (part I)

1) As always enjoyed Hidden Brain podcast, but particularly this one on “when conversations go wrong” with Deborah Tannen about conversation.

2) And I love this interesting bit of social science they shared:

Do conversations end when people want them to? Surprisingly, behavioral science provides no answer to this fundamental question about the most ubiquitous of all human social activities. In two studies of 932 conversations, we asked conversants to report when they had wanted a conversation to end and to estimate when their partner (who was an intimate in Study 1 and a stranger in Study 2) had wanted it to end. Results showed that conversations almost never ended when both conversants wanted them to and rarely ended when even one conversant wanted them to and that the average discrepancy between desired and actual durations was roughly half the duration of the conversation. Conver-sants had little idea when their partners wanted to end and underestimated how discrepant their partners’ desires were from their own. These studies suggest that ending conversations is a classic “coordination problem” that humans are unable to solve because doing so requires information that they normally keep from each other. As a result, most conversations appear to end when no one wants them to. conversation | social interaction | social judgment

3) In a world where I was not busy with end-of-semester grading, I’d do a post on race vs class messaging and the Democratic Party.  Instead, I’m going to tell you to read Tom Edsall’s great summary of the academic debate.

In the past, English wrote, scholars studied how Republicans used racial frames to “undermine support for redistributive policies, but now Democrats have started doing the same thing — with, according to our data, the same effects.”

Nicholas Valentino, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, said the English-Kalla study “comports with a long line of work in political psychology demonstrating a gap between a widely shared principle of racial equity and resistance to policies intended to achieve it.”

From the standpoint of rhetorical strategy, Valentino continued,

there is a trade-off between persuasion and mobilization. Highlighting racial injustice may mobilize nonwhite constituencies and racially progressive whites to engage in politics more forcefully.

That anger could be crucial in motivating voters “to overcome the obstacles to voting being pursued by the G.O.P. in many states,” Valentino noted. “The downside is that policy support for racial redistribution among moderates may decline.”

Martin Gilens, a political scientist at U.C.L.A., praised English and Kalla, but was quick to add caveats:

It’s a very nice paper and solid work. Their findings suggest that even in this time of heightened public concern with racial inequities, Democrats are not likely to boost public support for progressive policies by framing them as advancing racial equality.

That said, Gilens added, “I would consider the English and Kalla results to be sobering but not, in themselves, a strong argument for Democrats to turn away from appeals to racial justice.”

Elizabeth Suhay, a political scientist at American University, captured the complexity of the debate.

“English and Kalla’s findings are compelling,” she wrote by email:

Their findings are consonant with a great deal of conventional wisdom in political science. We would expect race-focused messaging to decrease support for a policy not only because of racism in the public, but also because many Americans perceive policies directed at specific population subgroups as unfair.

Suhay also noted: “Don’t forget self-interest. A longstanding definition of politics is that it’s a contest over ‘who gets what, where, when and how.’ ”

Broad public approval is not the only thing politicians care about. From a strategic perspective, they must also be responsive to activists, interest groups, and donors. Given the intense focus on racial justice among some of the most active Democrats — including but not exclusively African Americans — Biden needs to not only deliver on this issue but also to tell people about it.

Suhay went on:

They face intense demands from Democratic activists for both policy and symbolic actions that address racial inequity; however, these actions do threaten to turn off many whites, especially those without a college degree.

Biden, Suhay argues, “seems to have no choice but to find some middle road: focusing communication on how his policies benefit most Americans while also, more infrequently but unmistakably, making clear his commitment to racial equality” and, she added, “he seems to be walking the tightrope well.”

4) OMG this NYT interactive feature on how Pfizer makes their Covid-19 vaccine is amazing.  Not only is the science behind the vaccine amazing, but the engineering, manufacturing, logistics, etc., of pulling off these millions of doses is really pretty mind-blowing.  If you are one of those “I only read a few free NYT articles” people, this should be one of them.  

5) Good Ezra Klein on the problems with bipartisanship:

We are a divided country, but one way we could become less divided is for the consequences of elections to be clearer. When legislation is so hard to pass, politics becomes a battle over identity rather than a battle over policy. Don’t get me wrong: Fights over policy can be angry, even vicious. But they can also lead to changed minds — as in the winning coalition Democrats built atop the successes of the New Deal — or changed parties, as savvy politicians learn to accept the successes of the other side. There is a reason Republicans no longer try to repeal Medicare and Democrats shrink from raising taxes on the middle class.

This is what Manchin gets wrong: A world of partisan governance is a world in which Republicans and Democrats both get to pass their best ideas into law, and the public judges them on the results. That is far better than what we have now, where neither party can routinely pass its best ideas into law, and the public is left frustrated that so much political tumult changes so little.

This whole debate is peculiarly American. In parliamentary systems, the job of the majority party, or majority coalition, is to govern, and the job of the opposition party is to oppose. Cooperation can and does occur, but there’s nothing unusual or regrettable when it doesn’t, and government does not grind to a halt in its absence. Not so in America, where the president can be from one party and Congress can be controlled by another. In raising bipartisanship to a high political ideal, we have made a virtue out of a necessity, but that’s left us little recourse, either philosophically or legislatively, when polarization turns bipartisanship into a rarity. That’s where we are now…

It will surprise no one to hear that I think Democrats should get rid of the filibuster. But it’s not because I believe Democrats necessarily have the right answers for what ails America. It’s because I believe the right answers are likelier to be found if one party, and then the other, can try its hand at solving America’s problems. Partisan governance gives both parties true input over how America is governed; they just have to win elections. Bipartisan governance, at least with parties this polarized, does the opposite: It deprives both sides of the ability to govern and elections of their consequences.

6) I’m so tired of “scariant” reporting.  The vaccines work great against the variants, too.  The worst has been the reporting on India’s “double mutant” while most of what is going on is likely just the same B117 that’s taken over Europe and America.  

India’s worries have focused on a homegrown variant called B.1.617. The public, the popular press and many doctors have concluded that it is responsible for the severity of the second wave.

Researchers outside of India say the limited data so far suggests instead that a better-known variant called B.1.1.7 may be a more considerable factor. That variant walloped Britain late last year, hit much of Europe and is now the most common source of new infection in the United States.

“While it’s almost certainly true B.1.617 is playing a role, it’s unclear how much it’s contributing directly to the surge and how that compares to other circulating variants, especially B.1.1.7,” said Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego.

7) I think LG is probably bothered that I’m so bothered by NYT headlines like this “Teach Your Kids to Resist Hatred Toward Asians.”  I mean how about I teach my kids to resist stereotyped/prejudiced hatred against anybody?  And pretty sure I do.  I mean, I know that feels a little “All Lives Matter,” but lets just teach our kids not to hate and fall prey to ugly stereotypes, period.

8) I’m not sure this is the case for legalizing heroin that I’d make, but just yesterday I was telling my kids I’m literally for decriminalizing possession and small amounts of selling all drugs (the reality is that many “drug dealers” are just drug addicts supporting their habit and not exactly Stringer Bell).  

In 2013, the Columbia psychologist and drug-addiction researcher Carl Hart published a book that was a specific kind of success: it made him into a public character. The book, “High Price,” is in part a memoir of Hart’s adolescence in a poor Miami neighborhood, documenting the arrival of cocaine there in the eighties. Two cousins, whom as a child he’d looked up to, are exiled from their mother’s house for using cocaine, move into a shed in her back yard, and steal her washer and dryer to pay for drugs. The narrative of Hart’s ascent, to the Air Force, graduate school in neuroscience, and, eventually, Ivy League tenure, is interspersed with evidence from his career as an addiction researcher, in which he spent years paying volunteers to use drugs in a controlled hospital setting and observing the results. Hart argues that the violence and despair that defined the crack epidemic had more to do with the social conditions of Black America than they did with the physical pull of drugs. The book begins with his father beating his mother with a hammer after drinking. Hart’s view is that the attack was not about alcohol. “As we now know from experience with alcohol, drinking itself isn’t a problem for most people who do it,” Hart wrote. “The same is true of illegal drugs, even those we have learned to fear, like heroin and crack cocaine.”

Hart, who was one of the first Black scientists to attain tenure at Columbia, cut a charismatic figure. He had an easy authority in talking about the human and pharmacological experience of drug use, describing it in a way that turned an audience’s expectations on its head. Recounting the Rat Park experiments of the seventies, which allowed rats to press a lever for a drug, Hart explained that rats raised and kept in isolation consumed greater quantities of the drug than those that were held in a stimulating environment. “The key factor is the environment, whether you’re talking about humans or rats,” he said. In the late Obama years, most everyone, but especially most evidence-minded liberals, had lost faith in the war on drugs, and Hart became the scientist who said that pharmacology was a weaker force than we’d been led to think.

To promote the book, and this idea, Hart travelled overseas. During those trips, he said that he favored decriminalization and the regulation of all drugs from a perspective of harm reduction, positions that put him on the far left of the American debate. Still, he was sometimes challenged by audience members who thought these positions condescended to users. At an event in Vancouver, a man in the audience raised his hand and explained that he was a heroin user. “Canadians are more polite than New Yorkers, but essentially he said, ‘Who are you to tell me how to live my life?’ ” Hart recalled. The man was smart and clear, and he knew things about heroin that Hart did not. Hart said the conversation made him feel that he had been “paternalistic, pedantic, all those things. I thought I was, I don’t know, some enlightened scientist, and it just came down to, I had no right.”

In Geneva, he met a physician who invited him to visit a heroin-maintenance clinic with which she was affiliated. Hart spent several months there in 2015, watching heroin users behave as efficiently and functionally as the weighted gears in a watch. Patients checked in twice a day for injections, during one period that began at seven in the morning and another at five in the afternoon. In between, many of them went to work. The patients were each assigned a cubby to stash their respective belongings, and often one would leave a beer there, to drink after injection. Hart noticed that though American doctors worried endlessly over the harms of mixing booze and opioids, it didn’t seem a very big deal to the Swiss users, maybe because they knew the exact dose of heroin they were getting and could trust its purity. When one patient had to attend a wedding in less enlightened England, utterly lacking in injection clinics, she carefully planned out her doses and travel arrangements so she could make the trip. When Hart told me about the Geneva injection clinic, he spoke about it in the way that liberal parents speak about Montessori schools—as a fanatically engineered expression of trust. Of the users, Hart said, “They were always on time.”

Shortly after visiting the clinic, Hart began regularly snorting heroin, as he recounts in a new book, “Drug Use for Grown-Ups.” His description of how he started is deliberately simple, suggesting how many of his boundaries had fallen away: a friend said that she’d never used heroin before but was interested in doing so. “Same here. So one Friday evening we did.” He describes using heroin in carefully managed doses, with product he trusts, in the company of friends, at times when being in an altered state does not interfere with his life, and achieving “a dreamy light sedation, free of stress.” Hart says that he used on “no more than about ten consecutive days at a time,” with a frequency roughly similar to his use of alcohol. He writes, “Like vacation, sex, and the arts, heroin is one of the tools I use to maintain my work-life balance.” There are libertarian strains in Hart’s extreme vision of a responsible individual user—but he also sometimes describes his use in the context of a shared racial identity. “I am frequently in a state of hypervigilance in an effort to prevent or minimize the damage caused by living in my own skin,” he writes. “When heroin binds to mu opioid receptors in my brain, I ‘lay down my burden’ as well as ‘my sword and shield’ just as described in the Negro spiritual ‘Down by the Riverside.’ ”

9) This is a great story, “After years as a meme, ‘Disaster Girl’ takes control of her image — with a hefty payoff”

Zoe Roth couldn’t stop checking her phone. “What’s it at now, what’s it at now?” her co-workers asked as they passed by the hostess stand at the Italian restaurant Il Palio. She gave a live play-by-play, and everyone on staff was invested.

As the clock neared 6 p.m. on April 17, she was shaking. Zoe was in the middle of an online auction for a photo, one that years ago had made her 4-year-old self famous.

In that photo, Zoe’s hair is askew. A close-up of her smirking face is in the foreground of the frame, and in the background, a house fire blazes. In her eyes there is a knowingness, as if she is saying, “Yes, it was me. I did this. Wouldn’t you like to know how.”

Evil girl looking back at the viewer in front of a burning house

10) Where’s that Novavax vaccine, anyway?

11) Noted professor asks, “Should We Stop Grading Class Participation?”  Ummm… no.

12) Oh, please.  “Tech Confronts Its Use of the Labels ‘Master’ and ‘Slave’ :Companies and programmers are reexamining how technical terms are used amid Black Lives Matter protests. But some worry the changes are empty symbolism.”  Let’s be clear– it is empty symbolism and there’s been masters and slaves long before any white or black people made it to America.  

13) You know what we really need to work on?  The fact that Black men are way more likely to get pulled over and have a gun pulled on them. Drum:

You might be surprised by this. The key thing we’re interested in is contact initiated by the police, which is about 80% traffic stops. As you can see, Black drivers and white drivers are stopped at nearly the same rate: 11.7% and 11.0%. This is based on survey data in which people report their own experience.

Now let’s move on to use of force by police. Black and Hispanic respondents report that police used force on them at more than twice the rate reported by white respondents. But there’s also this:

Black respondents report having a gun pointed at them at eight times the rate of white respondents. (The number for Hispanics is unreliable due to small sample size, so don’t pay too much attention to that.)

If these self-reported statistics are accurate, Black and white drivers (along with street encounters) are stopped by police at roughly the same rate. But Black men (and it’s mostly men) have guns aimed at them eight times more often. This probably explains why we see so many examples of this captured on video. It’s because it happens so often.

14) Or a story like this, “NC ROTC student, who is Black, practiced drills with fake gun. A neighbor called police.”

Until Tuesday, Jathan Walthour practiced his Air Force ROTC drills with a mop, marching around his Raleigh home with a kitchen cleaning tool.

But as the drills grew more complicated, the sophomore at Sanderson High School got his first dummy rifle from Dick’s Sporting Goods — a fake wooden gun for more realistic practice.

He took his rifle to the cul-de-sac Tuesday night, spinning and switching it between his shoulders, until his practice stopped short. Someone called police on Walthour, who is 16 and Black. A patrol car rolled up to investigate.

Walthour knew what to do. He belongs to Police Explorers, a community program for kids interested in criminal justice. So he placed the rifle on the ground and stepped away from it before officers said a word.

His mother, Jasmin Krest, offered this sobering response: “This is every day for us.”

15) Meredith Conroy ,”Why Being ‘Anti-Media’ Is Now Part Of The GOP Identity”

There’s little question that the media is one of the least trusted institutions in Republican circles.

In the past two decades, trust in traditional media has plummeted — especially among Republicans. According to polling from Gallup, since at least the late 1990s, Republicans have been less likely than Democrats (and independents) to say they trust the media. But starting in 2015, trust among Republicans took a nosedive, falling from 32 percent to 10 percent in 2020. (Meanwhile, among Democrats, trust in the media has actually climbed back up, and by quite a bit.)

This distrust, and Republicans’ growing animosity toward the media, is significant because they’re already isolated news consumers. And studies have shown that when news consumers exist in a media bubble, they can be hostile toward news that doesn’t match their political beliefs. (It also means they can be too trusting of their preferred news outlets.) Plus, as Jonathan Ladd, a Georgetown University public policy and government professor and the author of “Why Americans Hate the Media and How It Matters,” points out,Republicans are getting the message from Fox News (and the broader conservative media ecosystem) that the mainstream media can’t be trusted. “This isn’t new,” Ladd said, but he added that the conservative media’s continued criticism of the press has been “kicked into high gear” by the modern Republican Party.

Take what happened in the Trump era. During both his campaign for the presidency and his four years in office, Trump openly attacked the mediacalling journalists or news organizations critical of him or his administration “fake news.” Consequently, his supporters’ existing perceptions of media bias and distrust of news organizations intensified — this was especially true among his white supporters, who are more likely to consume exclusively conservative media. For instance, at many of Trump’s campaign events, his supporters would disparage, attack and threaten the press. And now, when Trump’s supporters disagree with a fact, they can decry it as “fake news” — whether it be crowd size or election results.

Hostility and distrust of the news media, in other words, has become a point of political identity among Republicans. 

16) Meanwhile, all the more reason Biden’s low-key style is successful, “The Biden White House media doctrine: Less can be more”

But as a strategy, it is a return to an era that predated the Obama White House, when the country heard from the president sparingly.

But it’s also a continuation of the campaign strategy — especially during the general election — premised on the idea thattoo much exposure didn’t necessarily work to his benefitThat mindset sparked criticism from the press as well as then-President Trump, who was doing daily press briefings on Covid-19 while his opponent was largely broadcasting from his home in Delaware. But Biden aides believed that simplicity and restraint was the best approach. He won the election.

“I don’t think that we felt like what [Trump’s team] did worked,” a senior communications aide told POLITICO. “What [Trump] was doing as a strategy was not successful.”

Robert Gibbs, Obama’s first press secretary, says that the current media environment forces a balance for any White House staff. The American people want to see the president working. But overexposure carries risk — and not just in the form of increasing the chances for a notable gaffe.

“I used to have these discussions with President Obama; we were just laying too much of the communications work on top of him,” Gibbs said. “In reality, once you elevate it to the role of the president commenting on it, you can’t really go backwards. Like it’s now fully owned by them.”

17) Aaron Carroll, “When Can We Declare the Pandemic Over?”

Too many people, though, are unwilling to talk about any lowering of our guard — even in the future — because some danger still exists. They want to know that no one is dying of Covid-19 in their community anymore, or they want to know that there are no cases in the area and that there is no chance of their being exposed.

I understand the sentiment, as we have been overwhelmed with messaging about how dangerous Covid-19 is. But the sentiment is not realistic, nor is it reasonable. Such extreme vigilance can also backfire: Each day we wait, more people become impatient and abandon their posts.

Normal has never meant “perfectly safe.” A safer world will likely still have Covid-19 in it.

Ideally, we should reduce restrictions gradually while we closely monitor the situation. First, we might liberalize outdoor gatherings and open schools and maybe even camps more fully. If all goes well, we could allow for denser indoor public events, with masks. We could allow restaurants and bars to increase to full capacity in stages.

While we do all this, we should track cases, hospitalizations and positivity rates. We will still need to test widely, even asymptomatic people, to measure our progress. Should all go well, eventually, we could get rid of masking requirements. If enough people are vaccinated and transmissions slow, we will reach a place where we are much, much safer than we are now.

Americans are generally willing to live with a greater-than-zero level of risk in exchange for what we used to consider a normal life. The roads are full of cars, even though accidents are the No. 1 killer of children. We don’t seem that eager as a country to restrict access to guns, even though they cause injuries or deaths every day. Bottom line: We can sometimes collectively act to reduce risk, but we almost never eliminate it.

18) Especially since I’m working on PSA’s to encourage vaccination (hopefully coming soon to a social media feed near you), I was especially intrigued by Noah Smith’s take on anti-vaccination:

But in fact, I think there’s another angle to the new antivax movement besides the partisan angle — a widespread need for a feeling of personal control.

I got this idea when I noticed that talk show host Joe Rogan declared that healthy 21-year-olds shouldn’t get vaccinated. Rogan is no partisan Republican. But he is someone who seems to place great stock in independence of personal thought and action. And this made me realize that refusing to get vaccinated — or simply harboring reservations about the public health experts’ advice that everyone get vaccinated — might feel like a way of exercising personal independence.

And personal independence really just means exercising control over your own life. This pandemic year has seen Americans lose a lot of the control over their lives that they felt they had previously. Mask mandates and distancing requirements created new rules for everyone to follow. And the virus itself represented the greatest loss of control — a silent, insensate, ever-hungry terror that could lay low the strongest man and send the freest spirits cowering to the safety of their homes.

The plague year infantilized us, made us impotent in the face of forces beyond our control. I think that in some people, that produced a strong desire to strike back and reassert a measure of personal autonomy, even if that meant not wearing a mask or not taking a vaccine. Unable to control the virus or their own fear, people instead took the only independent action they felt they could take — they broke society’s rules.

If this is a big part of vaccine refusal, I doubt that paying people to get shots — one commonly suggested remedy — will be very effective, since to the refusers that would feel like selling their personal autonomy for money.

So I think we need to find some way to convince people that getting vaccinated increases your control over your own life, rather than decreasing it. Especially in low-vaccination red states, we have to get refusers to see it as a tool to be wielded, rather than a rule to be followed. Just like a car or a hammer or a gun, a vaccine shot allows you to escape the fear of the virus, while denying COVID simply shoves that fear back into the deep recesses of your psyche. Vaccines are liberating.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Bernstein on expanding the Supreme Court.  As you may recall, I’m totally behind this idea in principle.  As for April 2021 politics, it’s a bad idea:

On Wednesday we saw that in a new congressional bill to expand the Supreme Court by four justices  — in other words, the number needed to give Democratic-appointed members a 7-6 majority. 

Democrats, to be sure, have a reasonable complaint about Republicans’ refusal to allow then President Barack Obama to fill a vacancy in 2016, especially after the Senate’s GOP majority rapidly filled a Supreme Court vacancy in late 2020. If the current court acts in purely partisan ways — and dictates unpopular Republican policies that could not have been enacted through the elected branches — there may be serious grass-roots enthusiasm for Congress to fight back against it. Expanding the number of seats, a perfectly constitutional option, would be a fair threat for Democrats to raise.

But right now, that grass-roots enthusiasm barely exists. Nor can Democrats claim overwhelming popular support. Yes, they won last November. But even if we adjust for the ways elections are tilted somewhat against Democrats, the 2020 outcome wasn’t an overwhelming landslide.

Maybe that’s a subjective judgment, but objectively there’s no way that majorities in Congress — let alone a supermajority in the Senate — are going to add four Supreme Court justices. Perhaps — I doubt it but perhaps — they might have had a chance to add former Obama nominee Merrick Garland as a temporary 10th justice until he retired or died, but he’s busy now being attorney general in the Joe Biden administration.

Not surprisingly, President Biden has dealt with the issue with more political acumen than the members of Congress have. His commission on court reform doesn’t appear designed to do much, but it’s at least possible it will put together a consensus on some things — perhaps even a plan to impose term limits on the high court and create regularly scheduled vacancies, a nonpartisan idea that has some merit.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress would be better off finding a way to add new judges below the Supreme Court level, something that has been needed for some time to keep up with the expanding workload. That too could yield partisan benefits for Democrats, if more modest ones. It might be easier to find support for such a measure if the new vacancies were stretched out over time so that future presidents and Senates would be responsible for filling many of the new positions. 

As for the push by congressional Democrats to add four justices now, it’s hard to see the point. Their threat to play constitutional hardball just as viciously as Republican leader Mitch McConnell isn’t going to impress anyone if those Democrats don’t have anywhere close to the votes to back up their threat. Nor is it likely that seeking four new justices will increase pressure to compromise and, say, expand the court by one or two slots.

The effort is far more likely to backfire, giving Republicans an easy target to rile themselves up over, while only frustrating any Democrats who think there’s any serious chance they can succeed. Sure, they aren’t the first members of Congress to do a little grandstanding, but there are far better causes available for that.

2) I know that pessimism feels better to a lot of people and that it certainly gets the clicks.  But we really are making meaningful progress on criminal justice reform.  Here’s the latest bipartisan reform in NC:

North Carolina legislators filed three criminal justice reform bills with bipartisan support this week, as momentum grows for changes to policing.

Groups that advocate for the state’s police chiefs and sheriffs are largely on board with the reforms, too.

House Bill 536 would create a statewide “duty to intervene” for police who witness a fellow officer using excessive force on someone.

“That one’s designed to state in the law what officers should already know,” said Eddie Caldwell, the lobbyist for the N.C. Sheriff’s Association. “That if one officer is using unreasonable force then, if possible, they have to intervene.”

The two others — House Bill 547 and House Bill 548 — seek to crack down on bad cops who currently can hide their unsavory pasts by jumping from department to department.

One would target cops who have been caught lying under oath in court but are currently able to sweep it under the rug by getting a new job in a different county. The other would target cops who were banned from law enforcement in another state but then apply for a job here.

Fred Baggett, the lobbyist for the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, said they support those as well as the duty to intervene bill.

All three bills were sponsored by Fayetteville Republican Rep. John Szoka, along with Rep. Kristin Baker, a Republican from Cabarrus County outside Charlotte, and Rep. Howard Hunter, a Democrat from Hertford County in the northeast.

The bills came out of a criminal justice reform committee that Szoka asked GOP leaders to create last year, as Black Lives Matter protests were gaining steam across the state and the country. He said it seems that bad cops are very rare, but it’s hard to know exactly. The state keeps little to no data on topics like how often police get reported for abusing people, how often they’re caught lying in court, and more.

These bills would change that — in addition to trying to stop such behavior in the future.

3) This is not new.  We know. We’ve known.  “A year into the pandemic, it’s even more clear that it’s safer to be outside.”  As I put it on twitter: Few things more anti-science than closing outdoor spaces in response to Covid-19. Might as well be pushing hydroxychloroquine while doing it.  Also, if you actually bore down into the research they are classifying a lot of the “outdoor” spread on sketchy information that is not at all clear the spread was outside (e.g., landscaping workers often travel in shared vehicles) and the estimates of really low outdoor spread are almost surely over-estimates.  

4) Ummm, so for years I’ve had a computer with a master and slave hard drive (and I’ve been sleeping in a master bedroom).  So, I’m racist?  Maybe I’m just a bitter old white guy, but its not like these words haven’t been with us for thousands of years of history across time and culture.   Not the biggest fan of person-first language either.  Like, a person who is in prison is, you know, a “prisoner” and I’m not quite sure what’s wrong with saying that.  Any, yes, my son who has intellectual disabilities is also intellectually disabled.  Let’s do stuff to make the world a better place for all sorts of marginalized and struggling people and less language policing.  Now get off my lawn.

5) A nice dive into various theories to explain the blood-clotting issue.  Seems to me its got to be, on some level, related to the adenovirus vector.  For now, it is a fascinating (and fortunately, super-rare) medical mystery.  

6a) This is great from Mark Joseph Stern, “The Myth of the Dangerous Traffic Stop Is Killing Black Men in America”

Racism surely plays a role here, but there is another reason so many appalling police shootings involve motorists: Law enforcement officers are taught that routine traffic stops pose extreme danger to their own lives. Courts have seized upon this idea to water down the constitutional rights of drivers, justifying police brutality on the grounds that officers must act quickly to protect themselves against the random violence that always lurks just around the corner.

This theory has pervaded American law and law enforcement for decades. It is also untrue. In a 2019 article published in the Michigan Law Review, Jordan Blair Woods demonstrated that violence during traffic stops is, in fact, extremely rare. Woods, a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law, also found that it is officers, not drivers, who frequently escalate those few stops that lead to actual violence. In a forthcoming article in the Stanford Law Review, Woods proposes removing police from traffic enforcement altogether to prevent more violence against motorists, especially Black civilians, during traffic stops. On Thursday, we spoke about his articles, which are tragically topical in light of Wright’s killing. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Mark Joseph Stern: What’s the “danger narrative” about traffic stops, and where did it originate?

Jordan Blair Woods: Traffic stops are the most common way that people come into contact with police. The Supreme Court has traditionally deferred to the authority of police to order people out of vehicles, the authority of police to take action without questioning their judgment. And a lot of that is grounded in this narrative, this myth, that routine traffic stops are especially dangerous settings for the police. That narrative dates back to a study that Allen Bristow published in 1963 which put out the figure that one in every three police killings involves a traffic stop. The Supreme Court credited that study in a 1977 case called Pennsylvania v. Mimms. Justice John Paul Stevens dissented, and was one of the voices that called attention to some of the problems with the data that the Supreme Court was relying on. His basic point was that the data was being used in a way that didn’t support the conclusions that the court was coming to. And I think he was right. Bristow’s research has been distorted to perpetuate these danger narratives.

What happened after the Supreme Court blessed this “danger narrative”?

Over the next few decades, there were a lot of cases where the Supreme Court cited cases like Mimms to put forth the general idea that routine traffic stops are especially dangerous settings for police officers. Over time, the myth became a key justification for why the court will defer to officers’ decisions on the grounds of officer safety. Courts don’t want to second-guess these decisions, and instead say that officer safety is a justification that leans in favor of allowing police to do what they’re doing. And it becomes very difficult for stopped drivers and passengers to bring a Fourth Amendment claim when courts are deferring to what the officers are doing on officer safety grounds.

And as you write in your article, the narrative seeped into the culture of law enforcement, too.

This narrative has infiltrated law enforcement departments and culture. One of the ways we see this happening is with regard to officer training. Now it is very common that when officers are going through training, they see video clips of random traffic stops that look fairly routine, and drivers randomly shooting an officer or using random violence. And what agencies are trying to get across to officers is that if you’re hesitant to use force and you’re not aware at every second during a routine traffic stop, this is what the traffic stop will evolve into.

This training frames how you come to think about doing traffic stops yourself. You’re told that no traffic stop is routine and you never know who you’re stopping. That affects how you approach interacting with stopped drivers and passengers. It might mean you’re too quick to take aggressive actions that escalate the situation. What I’ve tried to do in my research is point out the ways in which framing routine traffic stops as especially dangerous actually fuels escalation.

6b) In the middle of writing these, I came across a similar piece from 2014.  

6c) John McWhorter argues that it’s not so much racism, actually, and that we’re ignoring all the white and Hispanic people who get shot this way, too.  Personally, I think it is both, but it more exactly what Stern is talking about above in terms of the culture of how traffic stops are approached.  And, yes, I think they are more likely to be approached that way when a black man is driving.

7) Good stuff from Will Wilkinson on the Big Lie:

I’ve been trying to keep my cool, but the right’s defense of new Republican-authored laws regulating elections, such as the one recently established in Georgia, is so dishonest it’s hard to stay on an even keel. But I’m trying, man. I’m trying. It’s important to articulate what Republicans are up to and repeat it ad nauseam because they’re trying like hell to bury the truth with bluster, umbrage, and witlessly complicit both-sides horserace political coverage. They’ll get away with it, too, if we let their relentless mendacity wear us out.

Here are the main beats of the Republican playbook for selling their election-rigging agenda, as I see it:

  1. Pretend that no one has noticed that the GOP’s election reform proposals are based entirely on Donald Trump’s transparent lies about the election — the same lies that led directly to a violent, seditious Republican assault on the U.S. Capitol to prevent Congress from certifying the election.

    Now, it’s not a great look for the Grand Old Party that its flood of new election regulations are premised on the same disinformation and propaganda that inspired the most shocking act of political terrorism in modern American history. But once you’ve bought in to wall-to-wall disinformation as a political strategy, the solution is obvious and easy: more disinformation!

    So…

  2. Recast the January 6th insurrection — a deadly Republican assault on the Capitol that scattered a joint session of Congress as it tallied electoral votes! — as a peaceful protest of legitimately concerned citizens that got a little rowdy.

  3. Treat those inclined to take direct, violent attacks on the U.S. government at all seriously as paranoid, ax-grinding partisan nuts out to “cancel” Congressional Republicans who did nothing but voice the concerns of their partisan constituents.

  4. Of course, what these Republican members of Congress were really doing was enthusiastically repeating blatant lies that animated an insurrection whose explicitpurpose was to overturn a legitimate Democratic election victory. Should someone point this out, the plain truth must be reframed as slanderous disinformation!Take umbrage! Be indignant! Treat honest people as though they’re crazy and hateful for believing what they saw with their own eyes in real time on TV.

  5. Simply ignore the fact that Republican votes on January 6th to reject the election results from Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania just were votes for the mass disenfranchisement of Democrats. How could this possibly be relevant to Republican “voter integrity” bills!?

  6. Insist that new election regulations are needed to “restore the confidence of voters,” while playing dumb about the fact that Republicans undermined it in the first place by spreading lies based on the viciously anti-democratic premise that Democratic political participation (especially by non-white voters) is inherently suspect, if not entirely illegitimate.

    Obviously, if Republican distrust in the electoral system is ultimately based on the assumption that Democratic votes are illegitimate, the only way you can restore Republican confidence in the system is through measures that stymie or invalidate Democratic voting. Naturally, that’s what these Republican election reform bills aim to do. But this is not a legally acceptable basis for election reform and bad messaging to boot. Therefore, if anyone points this out…

  7. Scream bloody murder!

  8. Generally and especially, treat your fellow citizens as though they’re idiots who fell off the turnip truck they were born on yesterday…

But most of us aren’t actually stupid. We recognize that the “problem” Georgia’s new elections laws are meant to address is that Joe Biden beat Donald Trump and the GOP lost both its Senate seats to Democrats, neither of whom are both Christian and white, in a clean election run by Republicans according to Republican-authored rules that were meant to prevent this very outcome.

You don’t need to be a Democratic partisan to grasp that Republicans felt an urgent need to revise these rules not because they facilitated fraud — Georgia’s Republican election administrators found none — but because they didn’t “work” as intended. You just need to be awake. And we all know what it means for the law to “work,” don’t we?

8) Adam Jentleson, “How to Stop the Minority-Rule Doom Loop: The next two years might be America’s last chance to protect the basic democratic principle of majority rule.”

The doom loop consists of four interlocking components. Candidates who represent white conservatives—Republicans, in our ideologically sorted era—begin every election cycle buoyed by a sluice of voter suppression and gerrymandering (what I call electoral welfare), which makes it easier for them to win. Then antidemocratic features of the American system that have always existed but never benefited one party over the other in any systematic way help those same candidates take control of institutions such as the White House and the Senate, despite winning fewer votes and representing fewer people than their opponents. Once in control of these institutions, these newly elected officials use them to entrench their power beyond the reach of voters. If they are eventually voted out of power, they retain a veto over the agenda of the majority, which they use to block change and feed the conservative case that the government is “broken.” This hastens their return to power—along the very path they greased with voter suppression…

The loop starts at the ballot box, where Republicans are making it harder than at any time in recent history for those who are unlikely to vote for them to vote at all. According to Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida and one of the nation’s foremost experts on voting laws, “We are witnessing the greatest rollback of voting rights in this country since the Jim Crow era.” The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder unleashed a new wave of voter suppression targeted at reliably Democratic constituencies such as nonwhite voters and young people. The pace of suppression has only increased since the November election. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voter-suppression efforts across the country, 47 states have seen 361 bills aimed at restricting voting rights since the beginning of the year.

Republicans don’t just have an easier time winning elections; they have an easier time piecing together individual election wins to gain control of the institutions that govern American life. Here, too, the doom loop gives a big boost to candidates who represent predominantly white conservatives. Over the past half century, demographic shifts have rendered the antidemocratic features of American government newly vulnerable to exploitation, but especially by candidates who represent white conservatives.

The clearest—and most powerful—demonstration of this is the role of the Electoral College in American politics. Throughout the 20th century, the antidemocratic potential of the Electoral College remained dormant. After 1888 until 2000, every president who won the White House won both the popular vote and the Electoral College. Even when the popular vote was close, the Electoral College only accentuated the margin of the victor. In 1960, it augmented John F. Kennedy’s narrow popular victory with a 303–219 Electoral College win. Eight years later, it converted Richard Nixon’s .7 percent popular-vote win over Hubert Humphrey into a 301–191 electoral-vote victory. A swing of thousands of votes in either election could have caused the popular vote and Electoral College results to diverge. But it didn’t happen, and so for the entire 20th century, America never had to contend with a president who had won fewer votes than his opponent…

Republicans owe their newfound Electoral College advantage to a recent shift in white voters’ preferences. As the analyst David Shor has found, that advantage exists “because white voters without a college degree *in large midwestern states* switched their votes en-masse from Obama to Trump in 2016.” According to FiveThirtyEight, the effect of this shift is that a Democratic presidential candidate now has to run at least 3.5 percentage points ahead of their Republican opponent in the popular vote to win the White House—the largest advantage either party has held in more than 70 years, and the first time any advantage has helped a party overcome a popular-vote deficit.

Republicans enjoy the same kind of structural welfare when it comes to the Senate, where they have to win fewer votes than Democrats to control the chamber. Although it was always theoretically possible for a party to control a majority in the Senate despite representing a minority of the population, it did not happen with any frequency in the 20th century. By contrast, in the 21st century, every time Republicans have controlled the Senate, they have represented a minority of the population.

Like the Electoral College, the antidemocratic nature of the Senate has always existed, but it did not favor one party over the other in any systematic way until recently.

9) If you think this “stay in your lane” from Holden Thorpe annoyed me, you’d be right.  He’s actually got plenty of good points, but you really need to be far more nuanced about this than most people are.  Zeynep Tufekci who arguably strayed far from her narrowly-defined lane, has probably had more benefit for public health than any almost any academic.  

10) One hell of a local headline, “Popular NC teacher killed trying to rob Mexican drug cartel member, sheriff says”

11) Leonhardt on how the vaccination map is increasing looking red v. blue.

In the early weeks of Covid-19 vaccinations, the shining examples of success were all places with politically conservative leaders. Globally, the countries with the largest share of vaccinated people were Britain, Israel and the United Arab Emirates. In the U.S., the states that got off to the fastest starts were Alaska and West Virginia.

This pattern made me wonder whether many progressive-led governments were spending so much effort designing fair-seeming processes that they were failing at the most basic goal of a mass vaccination program: getting shots into arms. That error has held down vaccination rates across much of continental Europe. And it appeared to be an early problem in California and New York.

But it has not turned out to be much of an issue in the U.S. Instead, the states with the highest vaccination rates are now mostly Democratic-leaning, and the states with the lowest rates are deeply conservative.

“The parts of the U.S. that are excelling and those that are struggling with vaccinations are starting to look like the nation’s political map: deeply divided between red and blue states,” Russ Bynum of The Associated Press wrote this week…

Why? There seem to be two main reasons.

1. The party of government

Democrats believe more strongly than Republicans in the power of government. Compare, for example, the chaos of the Trump administration’s virus response to the Biden administration’s. Democrats’ belief in the power of government certainly doesn’t ensure they will manage it competently, but it may improve the odds.

In the most successful state programs, one theme is what you might call centralized simplicity. In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont gave priority to older residents, including people in their 50s, rather than creating an intricate list of medical conditions and job categories that qualified people for shots (and that more privileged families often figure out how to game).

In New Mexico — which has the country’s highest rate of fully vaccinated people, despite also having a high poverty rate — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has overseen the creation of a centralized sign-up system. The state has one vaccine portal that all residents can use to sign up for shots, rather than the piecemeal, confusing systems in many other states, my colleague Simon Romero reports from Albuquerque.

South Dakota, the red state with the highest share of vaccinated residents, has also taken a centralized approach, NPR’s Ailsa Chang points out.

2. Vaccine skepticism

Vaccine hesitancy has declined substantially, polls show. But it is still notably high among registered Republicans.

 

12) Local mall to be demolished and everything is up for auction.  Have you ever wanted a food court trash can?  Now’s your chance.

13) Good stuff from Ryan Burge and Perry Bacon Jr,  “It’s Not Just Young White Liberals Who Are Leaving Religion”

Only 47 percent of American adults said they were members of a church, mosque or synagogue, according to recently released polling that was conducted by Gallup throughout last year. It marked the first time that a majority of Americans said they were not members of a church, mosque or synagogue since Gallup first started asking Americans about their religious membership in the 1930s. Indeed, Gallup’s finding was a kind of watershed moment in the long-chronicled shift of Americans away from organized religion.1

What’s driving this shift? In part, it’s about people who still identify with a religious tradition opting not to be a member of a particular congregation. Only 60 percent of Americans who consider themselves religious are part of a congregation, compared to 70 percent a decade ago, according to Gallup. But the bigger factor, Gallup said, is the surge of religiously unaffiliated Americans — people who are agnostics, atheists or simply say they are not affiliated with a religious tradition. The rise of this group — sometimes referred to as “nones” because they answer “none” when asked about their faith (and, you know, it’s a play on words) — isn’t new. But the Gallup survey is part of a growing body of new research on this bloc (that includes a recent book by one of us, Ryan’s “The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going”)…

People are leaving mainline Protestant churches and Catholicism in particular.

There are about as many evangelicals (22 percent of American adults), Jewish Americans (2 percent), Black Protestants (6 percent) and members of smaller religions in the U.S. like Islam and Hinduism (6 percent) as there were a decade ago, according to GSS data. It’s really two groups in particular that are declining: mainline Protestants (think Episcopalians or Methodists) and Catholics.

Part of that decline is about young people — elderly members of these denominations who die are not being replaced by a younger cohort. But older people are now increasingly shifting from Christian to unaffiliated too — particularly older people who lean left politically. As a result, mainline Christianity is not only declining but becoming more conservative. Between 2008 and 2018, three of the largest mainline traditions (the United Methodists, the Episcopalians and the United Church of Christ) all became more Republican

Nones aren’t just leaving religion because of the Christian right.

People who leave Christianity often cite the politics of the Christian right turning them off. But some of the evidence here suggests that probably isn’t the only explanation. There is a general disengagement of Americans from organized religion — people who are religious no longer identifying as members of congregations. Republicans are becoming less religious, but they seem just fine voting for candidates who court the Christian right. And the people leaving Christianity aren’t usually members of conservative evangelical congregations in the first place. 

So what else is going on? Well, nations with fairly high per capita GDPs (such as Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom) tend to have fairly low levels of religiosity. The U.S. has long been an outlier: a high-income, highly religious nation. But America may have always been destined to grow less religious. 

14) Damn, I just love everything David Epstein writes.  “You’re fooling yourself, which is great for your endurance”

Alex Hutchinson, a.k.a. @sweatscience, is basically the taller Canadian version of me: we’re close in age, and he was also a national level middle-distance runner who transitioned from science into writing. Except, unlike me, he actually finished his Ph.D. program (in physics), and made his national team.

Far from making him my annoying professional doppelgänger, it has made him one of my favorite writers. His bestselling book, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, is, quite frankly, a book I wanted to write. I’m glad Alex did, though, because I can’t imagine anyone having done it better.

The paperback is just out, with a new afterword, so I invited Alex to chat about human limits and the mind-body connection.

DE: How did you decide to take on this topic?

AH: The initial spark was some research by a South African scientist named Tim Noakes, who proposed that we have a “central governor” in our brains that slams on the brakes before we reach our true physical limits. As a long-time runner, I was fascinated by the idea that it’s my brain, rather than my lungs or my legs, that holds me back. And as a journalist, of course, I’m a sucker for “Everyone always assumed X, but it’s actually Y” stories.

DE: Ok but you’re also clear on the fact that this doesn’t just mean “It’s all in your head,” in the sense that physiology doesn’t matter. My read of your work is that it’s more like a racecar, in that the machine definitely matters, but in focusing our research on the machine, we’ve often overlooked the driver — i.e. the brain. 

AH:Exactly — it’s not all in your head, any more than it’s all in your muscles. It’s 100 percent both — kind of like the nature/nurture debate you tackled in The Sports Gene. The big mistake is thinking that you can understand the body without including the brain’s input, or vice versa. As a classic study from the early 1960s put it, “psychology is a special case of brain physiology.” (That’s the study where they tested maximum strength after scaring the crap out of subjects by sneaking up behind them and firing a starter’s pistol in their ear. Fear increased strength. But I digress!)…

DE: An overall sense I get from your book is that our brain acts as an integrator; it’s collecting data from inside our body, and from the environment (how hot and bright it is, things like that), and spitting out a sort of composite, which is how tired you feel — sometimes called your “rating of perceived exertion” in studies. And that RPE is very much not a function only of your physical limitations, but also of things like the conditions around you, and even how much you care about whatever you’re trying to do. Is that a reasonable understanding?

AH: Yeah, that’s a hugely important point. Your subjective sense of effort acts as a sort of “master switch” that determines whether you can keep going: if it feels too hard, you’ll slow down or stop. It’s almost tautological. That feeling is not arbitrary: if you speed up or lift a heavier weight or don’t eat enough, it will definitely feel harder. But it’s not entirely deterministic, either: the exact same workout, under identical conditions, might feel harder this week than it did last week because you’re under a lot of stress at work.

15) This sounds great for when I have to get my first colonoscopy at age 50 next year, “This AI Could Help Wipe Out Colon Cancer: Medtronic’s GI Genius, recently cleared by the FDA, will help doctors identify precancerous polyps.”

16) My much-younger little sister with generally great taste in TV recommend I try, a Formula-1 reality show.  I was skeptical, but 3 episodes in, I really like it.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) Ariel Edwards-Levy, “More And More Americans Say They’ll Get Vaccinated — But It’s Still Unclear Just How Many Will”

Five different pollsters asked Americans how willing they are to get vaccinated in December, and again in March, while giving people some option to say they were undecided or in the middle. And the topline takeaway is that the share who’d gotten vaccinated or definitively intended to rose by an average of 23 percentage points.1

Meanwhile, the average share who expressed little intention of getting vaccinated dipped a relatively modest 5 points,2while the undecided share fell an average of 18 points.3 If a politician or issue saw a similar rise over that period of time, it’d be reported — defensibly — as a shocking surge of support.

The shift isn’t entirely unexpected, though. For most of last year, the question of getting vaccinated was wholly hypothetical, as vaccines were still under development and their eventual efficacy remained unknown. Many Americans also worried about a vaccine rushed out under political pressure. But in December, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the first COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, marking the start of the nation’s vaccination campaign. Now, over one-quarter of Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine and most know at least one person who’s been vaccinated, making the question of whether to get vaccinated increasingly tangible.

It’s a mistake to think of the public as divided between a faction of enthusiastic vaccine advocates and a smaller bloc of equally adamant anti-vaccination crusaders. Polling last winter found many Americans who were undecided but potentially swayable, and in the months since, that group has increasingly made up their minds in favor of the vaccine, from an average of 40 percent to 58 percent, as the chart above shows. The share of vaccine refusers, meanwhile, has slightly decreased. 

2) Drum on “reasonable Republicans” (there aren’t any in national politics!) and the Georgia voting law:

Second, the detailed voting stuff isn’t the biggest problem with the Georgia law. The biggest problems are the provisions that (1) remove authority from the Secretary of State and give it to a politico appointed by the legislature, and (2) allow the legislature to take control of local election boards that are “underperforming.”

The first provision is plainly nothing more than revenge against Brad Raffensperger, who refused to knuckle under to Donald Trump’s desire to “find” a few thousand additional votes in 2020. It’s pretty obvious that Georgia Republicans never want that to happen again and are planning to appoint a chairman of the State Election Board who will slavishly do whatever Republicans want him to do.

The second provision is designed to allow the legislature to take over Democratic election boards in urban areas if they feel like it. Republicans have a long, long history of insisting that urban areas with large Black and Hispanic populations are rife with fraud, and this is just the latest continuation of that fabrication. There’s no evidence for it, but it appeals to the GOP’s white constituency so it’s useful to keep it going. It’s disgraceful.

In the end, the question is this: Do “reasonable” Republicans agree that our current election laws—which are already insanely partisan—should become even more partisan? This is pure Trumpism, which they claim to oppose. So why defend it when someone is so clearly following Trump’s lead? Instead, why not support something that makes voting less partisan? Shouldn’t that be a goal that everyone aims for?

3) Brian Beutler on Obama vs Biden and, my favorite thing that is so often overlooked in life and political analysis… context

Obama was a candidate for president and a senator when the last huge crisis hit, and as such had direct responsibilities over the federal response to it. He signed off on the bill that gave rise to the TARP program, which the Bush administration hashed out with congressional leadership, then entered a historically smooth transition of power, which ended at the trough of a deep recession. The actions he took that he owned free and clear, particularly the recovery act, became knotted up in the much messier politics of bank bailouts and homeownership amid a tidal wave of foreclosures. He indulged a lot of nonsense about transcending partisanship that got him mired in a mostly useless pursuit of GOP votes, but in 2009 most congressional Democrats were at least as misguided. The prevailing wisdom at the time held that presidents were standard-bearers for unwieldy parties, whose individual members had appropriate license to differentiate themselves, in conforming to the politics of their states and districts. The thought of doing whatever was necessary to circumvent filibusters and pass clean, big, partisan bills was alien to the whole party at the time, and it left progressive critics endlessly frustrated. Republicans exploited that frustration, but they did so having been thoroughly wiped out in two consecutive elections, allowing them to elevate new figureheads and feign a religion of austerity the same day George W. Bush skipped town.

There are things Obama did within that context that wore poorly over time, but the context was real. 

Biden’s presidency looks nothing like this. Donald Trump wrecked the country many long, hard months before the election, then presided over a violent and uncooperative transition. Biden campaigned on many of the same platitudes to bipartisanship that Obama took to heart, but has governed with a fool-me-once sense of realism about them. More importantly, congressional Democrats from all wings of the party seem to be similarly snakebit by the experience of 2009-2020. Luckily for them, Obama cleared out a lot of the underbrush that might’ve mired them in the thicket of state building. A combination of path dependency and coalitional pressures drove Obama to prioritize health-care and financial-regulatory reform over other issues, which meant achieving partisan consensus over complex policy regimes where both winners and losers were sympathetic characters. He left Democrats the seedbed of a health-coverage guarantee, and they’ve fought vigorously over what to plant in it, but the hellish work of creating the taxes and mandates and marketplaces that laid the foundation for the thing is done. We’re closer to the end of history of the liberal state now, which means Biden has the easier task of directing resources at popular things that already exist, while Republicans struggle to articulate any core belief other than that they and people who look like them should be in charge.

Obama won his presidential primary at a time when the sharpest divisions in the party were over questions of war and peace. He thus became identified as a representative of the progressive wing, but he was actually pretty moderate, and that scrambled expectations about what uniting the party required. Biden embraced his centrist identity during the 2020 primary, then used his lifetime of legislative experience and the urgent demands of the coronavirus pandemic to bring the left in closer. Also: Barack Obama was a black man named Barack Hussein Obama; Joe Biden is an old white guy whose middle name is technically “Robinette” but we don’t talk about that for some reason. 

4) Derek Chauvin undoubtedly needs to be held to account and severely punished for killing George Floyd.  But I’m not convinced that Chauvin might not have done the same thing to a white person.  McWhorter with a really good post, “Is Derek Chauvin a racist murderer of just a murderer?”

In my experience, however, the idea that to be black is to live under threat from state-sponsored racist murder by the cops runs so deep, is held so fiercely, and elicits such unreachable contempt when denied, that more than a few are simply impervious to hearing anything else.

It doesn’t help to note that there is indeed evidence that cops are racist in other ways, such as in deciding who to pull over on drug searches. To propose that this racism does not lead to casual murder is to depart from qualification for interaction with polite society. I learned when I started writing about race 20 years ago that the cops are the reason so many think of racism as the foundational experience of blackness in America. The issue does not lend itself to statistics, what-ifs, and standing at a distance, and it won’t for a long time.

I consider just allowing that history proceeds in messy ways. I am thinking about this recently as I finish War and Peace (unfortunately in Pevear and Volkhonsky’s utterly execrable translation – another hoax our republic lives under is that they are master translators, but I’ll leave that aside for now!).  [Steve– what do I know about translations, but I loved their version of Anna Karenina!]

Tolstoy muses on the difference between how humans process history and how it really happens. Say Chauvin gets what he deserves, and it is part of a gradual reform of the cops’ getting away with the murder of just people, as opposed to black people. If it took a misperception of cop murders as racist to make that happen, then maybe that’s how making an omelette requires cracking some eggs.

We may leave it to the historians of the future to see that the idea that people like Floyd died because of their skin color doesn’t hold up, but that it was the catalyst for something more important than whether we people down here on the ground were processing things with complete accuracy.

* * *

But I know – in the meantime I just look like I am in some kind of denial. Of course George Floyd died because he was black. Because, well, Chauvin looks like such a cold-hearted son of a bitch; just look at him. Because, well, look at the video … (but look also at the Timpa video). Because, well … because under our current sociopolitical assumptions, our paramount ethical job is to identify racism’s role in society, and think of black people’s essence as suffering under its degradations. To stray from this is to Not Do the Work.

I get it. But to me, the tragedy of George Floyd may be redeemed by pointing us past a problem with the cops’ murdering too many human beings. If what puts the wind beneath our society’s wings on that point is thinking of the cops as blithely dedicated to shattering black bodies, then I may just have to go along for the ride.

5) From what I’ve seen, I’m not entirely convinced by this, “The Vaccine Line Is an Illusion: People are stretching the truth to get the vaccine faster, but experts say I shouldn’t. Here’s why.”  Virtually everybody I know who has stretched the truth has gotten their vaccine in an outlying area where there were plenty of appointments, not exactly taking away slots from people who qualified but just couldn’t get an appointment.  

6) Would’ve missed the “failure of the elites” interview in Vox if not for DJC:

Sean Illing

I’m starting to hate the phrase “post-truth” because it implies there was some period in which we lived in truth or in which truth was predominant. But that’s misleading. The difference is that elite gatekeeping institutions can’t place borders on the public conversation and that means they’ve lost the ability to determine what passes as truth, so now we’re in the Wild West.

Martin Gurri

That’s a very good way to put it. I would say, though, that there was a shining moment when we all had truth. They are correct about that. If truth is really a function of authority, and if in the 20th century these institutions really had authority, then we did have something like truth. But if we had the information back then that we have today, if we had all the noise that we have today, nothing would’ve seemed quite as true because we would’ve lacked faith in the institutions that tried to tell us.

Sean Illing

What does it mean for our society if an “official narrative” isn’t possible? Because that’s where we’re at, right? Millions of people will never believe any story or account that comes from the government or a mainstream institution.

Martin Gurri

As long as our institutions remain as they are, nothing much will change. What that means is more of the same — more instability, more turbulence, more conspiracy theories, more distrust of authorities. But there’s no iron law of history that says we have to keep these institutions the way they are. Many of our institutions were built around the turn of the 20th century. They weren’t that egalitarian or democratic. They were like great, big pyramids.

But we can take our constitutional framework and reconfigure it. We’ve done it once already, and we could do it again with the digital realm in mind, understanding the distance we once had between those in power and ordinary citizens is gone forever. It’s just gone. So we need people in power who are comfortable in proximity to the public, which many of our elites are not.

7) I honestly have such fond memories of figuring out, along with my teenage friends, inventive ways to use South Carolina fireworks on Brood X cicadas in their Northern Virginia appearance two cycles ago in 1987.  It really is just an amazing feature of nature to see so damn many bugs— I’m sorry my kids won’t see it.  

8) I’ve been very intrigued by the potential benefits of vaccination mix-and-match, that is, heterologous prime-boost , since I learned about it on twitter.  Nice to see a full Carl Zimmer NYT story on it:

Mixing vaccines might do more than just help overcome supply bottlenecks. Some researchers suspect that a pair of different vaccines might work better than two doses of the same one.

“I think we’re on the cusp of some interesting data,” said Adam Wheatley, an immunologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

The concept of mixing vaccines — sometimes called a heterologous prime-boost — is not new to our pandemic era. For decades, researchers have investigated the approach, hoping to find potent combinations against a range of viruses, such as influenza, H.I.V. and Ebola.

But scientists had little to show for all that research. It was easy enough to demonstrate that two vaccines may work well together in a mouse. But running full-blown clinical trials on a combination of vaccines is a tall order.

“For a single company to develop two parallel arms of a vaccine is twice the work and twice the cost,” Dr. Wheatley said…

Dr. Jakob Cramer, the head of clinical development at CEPI, a vaccine development organization, said that vaccines using viral vectors were not the only kind that might benefit from mixing. In fact, certain combinations might provoke a different, more effective immune response than a single type of vaccine. “Immunologically, there are several arguments in favor of exploring heterologous priming,” Dr. Kramer said.

Another kind of Covid-19 vaccine being tested contains the actual spike protein, rather than genetic instructions for it. Some of the vaccines contain the entire protein; others contain just a fragment of it. Currently, there are 29 protein-based vaccines for Covid-19 in clinical trials, although none have been authorized yet.

Dr. Wheatley and his colleagues have been testing protein-based vaccines in mice. They injected the full spike protein into the animals as a first dose. For the second dose, they injected only the tip of the spike, a region known as the receptor-binding domain, or R.B.D.

Dr. Wheatley and his colleagues found that the mixture worked better than two doses of the spike or of the R.B.D.

The researchers suspect that the first dose produces a broad range of antibodies that can stick to spots along the length of the spike protein, and that the second dose delivers a big supply of particularly potent antibodies to the tip of the spike. Together, the assortment of antibodies does a better job of stopping the coronavirus.

“You’re able to basically take that initial immunity that was elicited to that spike vaccine, and then really focus it down onto that R.B.D.,” Dr. Wheatley said.

Other combinations of vaccines may bring benefits of their own. Some vaccines, especially protein-based ones, do a good job of generating antibodies. Others, such as viral vectors, are better at training immune cells. A viral vector followed by a protein boost might offer the best of both worlds.

Hmmm.  If not that it would mess up my J&J trial participation, I’d be awfully tempted.

9) Really enjoyed this from Ezra, “Are We Much Too Timid in the Way We Fight Covid-19?”  Yes!!!  Sorry, I get the “we should go with what we tested in the trial,” I do, but sometimes our broader body of knowledge just cannot be ignored and we should do things like spread out doses to vaccinate more people more quickly and almost surely save lives in the process.  I’m unpersuaded by the “if we don’t exactly follow the trials, this will ruin confidence and people will die!” takes.  

But as best as I can tell, Tabarrok has repeatedly been proved right, and ideas that sounded radical when he first argued for them command broader support now. What I’ve come to think of as the Tabarrok agenda has come closest to being adopted in Britain, which delayed second doses, approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine despite its data issues, is pushing at-home testing and permitted human challenge trials, in which volunteers are exposed to the coronavirus to speed the testing of treatments. And for now it’s working: Britain has vaccinated a larger percentage of its population than the rest of Europe and the United States have and is seeing lower daily case rates and deaths.

Many of these policies could still help America and the world — particularly with the more contagious, and more lethal, B.1.1.7 variant spreading. Just this week, Atul Gawande, who served on President Biden’s Coronavirus Task Force, endorsed delaying second doses in order to accelerate initial vaccinations and slow the rise in cases. But there’s no evidence that the F.D.A., the Biden administration or global health authorities are any closer to doing so. At this point, it’s worth asking why.

At the core of this debate sit two questions: How much information do regulators need to act? And how should regulators balance the harms of action against the harms of inaction? The F.D.A.’s critics feel the agency demands too much information before it moves and is too comfortable with the costs of not making decisions, even in an emergency. “Not doing something is a choice,” said Emily Oster, a health economist at Brown. “It’s not a safe harbor.”

Daniel Carpenter is a professor of government at Harvard and an expert on the F.D.A., and he thinks its critics underestimate the costs of a mistake. “Effective therapies depend upon credible regulation,” he told me. Mass vaccination campaigns work only if the masses take the vaccines. “In this way, it’s a deeply social technology, and so the credibility is everything.”

To Carpenter, the F.D.A.’s critics miss the consequences of regulators losing public trust. President Donald Trump publicly pressured the agency to authorize unproven drugs, like hydroxychloroquine, that proved useless and tweeted that the “deep state” in the agency was trying to delay a vaccine to hurt him politically. Stephen Hahn, then the F.D.A. commissioner, joined Trump at a briefing to tout an emergency-use authorization for convalescent plasma — and Hahn then had to apologize, and fire two staff members, after misstating the evidence. It looked to many as though the F.D.A.’s process was collapsing under Trump’s attacks…

The same tensions have held up efforts to alter vaccine dosing in ways that would increase supply. There’s good evidence that the first doses of Pfizer and Moderna provide significant protection, and so delaying second doses — as Britain is doing — could allow us to vaccinate more of the population and get to herd immunity faster. There’s also research suggesting that half-doses, or some other fraction, might be plenty to trigger an immune response.

Biden said he will “follow the science,” but that often means following the existing evidence, which is not the same thing. It’s wrong to assume that the dosing protocols that pharmaceutical companies proposed in their rush for authorization are optimal for society’s goals. “They wanted to get this going as soon as possible, so they didn’t explore other doses, and it’s very likely they overdosed the vaccine,” Topol said. There is, of course, a risk in attempting a dosing protocol that didn’t go through Phase 3 trials; perhaps immunity will fade faster, for instance. But holding to the current dosing schedules means a slower vaccination program and more deaths…

In all of this, the same issue recurs: What should regulators do when there’s an idea that might work to save a large number of lives and appears to be safe in early testing but there isn’t time to run large studies? “People say things like, ‘You shouldn’t cut corners,’” Tabarrok told me. “But that’s stupid. Of course you should cut corners when you need to get somewhere fast. Ambulances go through red lights!”

One problem is no one, on either side of this debate, really knows what will and won’t destroy public trust. Britain, which has been one of the most flexible in its approach to vaccines, has less vaccine hesitancy than Germany or the United States. But is that because of regulatory decisions, policy decisions, population characteristics, history, political leadership or some other factor? Scientists and politicians are jointly managing public psychology, and they’re just guessing. If a faster, looser F.D.A. would lose public trust, that’s a good reason not to have a faster, looser F.D.A. But that’s a possibility, not a fact.

10) Damn this excerpt from John Boehner’s new memoir is really, really good.

Besides the homegrown “talent” at Fox, with their choice of guests they were making people who used to be fringe characters into powerful media stars. One of the first prototypes out of their laboratory was a woman named Michele Bachmann.

There was no way she was going to get on Ways and Means, the most prestigious committee in Congress, and jump ahead of everyone else in line. Not while I was Speaker. In earlier days, a member of Congress in her position wouldn’t even have dared ask for something like this. Sam Rayburn would have laughed her out of the city.

So I told her no—diplomatically, of course. But as she kept on talking, it dawned on me. This wasn’t a request of the Speaker of the House. This was a demand.

Her response to me was calm and matter-of-fact. “Well, then I’ll just have to go talk to Sean Hannity and everybody at Fox,” she said, “and Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and everybody else on the radio, and tell them that this is how John Boehner is treating the people who made it possible for the Republicans to take back the House.”

I wasn’t the one with the power, she was saying. I just thought I was. She had the power now.

She was right, of course.

11) One thing I find really interesting, but don’t quite understand, is that viruses don’t just readily evolve to defeat vaccines in the same way that bacteria so readily evolve to defeat antibiotics.  But, that fact is pretty clear.  Not that viruses cannot “escape” vaccines, but it is clearly more difficult and rare than antibiotic resistance.  But so many people just want to default to the antibiotic model.  So, this, “Concerns about SARS-CoV-2 evolution should not hold back efforts to expand vaccination”

When vaccines are in limited supply, expanding the number of people who receive some vaccine, such as by halving doses or increasing the interval between doses, can reduce disease and mortality compared with concentrating available vaccine doses in a subset of the population. A corollary of such dose-sparing strategies is that the vaccinated individuals may have less protective immunity. Concerns have been raised that expanding the fraction of the population with partial immunity to SARS-CoV-2 could increase selection for vaccine-escape variants, ultimately undermining vaccine effectiveness. We argue that, although this is possible, preliminary evidence instead suggests such strategies should slow the rate of viral escape from vaccine or naturally induced immunity. As long as vaccination provides some protection against escape variants, the corresponding reduction in prevalence and incidence should reduce the rate at which new variants are generated and the speed of adaptation. Because there is little evidence of efficient immune selection of SARS-CoV-2 during typical infections, these population-level effects are likely to dominate vaccine-induced evolution.

12) Our over-criminalization of drugs is just a massive, massive policy failure that has destroyed so many lives.  But, that does not mean we want our teenagers taking them, “Teenage Brains May Be Especially Vulnerable to Marijuana and Other Drugs: Teenagers are more likely to get hooked on marijuana, stimulants and other recreational drugs than college-aged or older adults.”

13) I don’t quite understand the policy failure behind our internet prices, but it clearly is a policy failure:

Internet Costs Amongst OECD Countries

14) I thought Larry Brilliant was too negative in parts of this interview, but, lots of interesting takes:

If you have half the population vaccinated, can we still have an incredibly destructive spike?

Of course. We’re all customers for the virus. There’s no wall that will keep the virus out. Think about the pandemic in year three or four. There will still be billions of people unvaccinated. Billions of people will harbor billions of viruses. Each one will be replicating. A certain percentage will mutate. A certain percent will become variants of those variants—some will be of high concern, and a percentage will be fucking nightmarish.

See, that “incredibly destructive” and “nightmarish” just doesn’t comport with my broader reading.  But, like I said, lots of good stuff:

Well, I’m listening to you, Larry, and I’m thinking I might never see a Broadway show again. And if I go to a baseball game in five years, I’ll be wearing a mask.

That’s an overreaction. I’m saying that, because it’s a probability that we will never reach herd immunity, there will be places in the world and in the animal population that could produce variants that could continually reinfect us. Let’s plan for it and put aside enough vaccine, and enough money, so that we can find outbreaks quickly, respond to them just in time with the right vaccine, and keep outbreaks contained. I’m very optimistic about that. In the Cares Act, there’s money to pay people to be vaccinated, to be isolated, to give them food and to give them shelter. I think you’ll be able to go to a Broadway show. And I think baseball will happen again, not so much because people are vaccinated, although that’s critically important. Point-of-care diagnostics is also part of that. A year from now there will be $5, five-minute, at-home spit tests that are 100 percent accurate, and you can do one in the morning before you brush your teeth…

And we will be able to deliver specialized versions of the vaccine optimized to fight specific strains?

Our ability to do viral sequencing at low cost, speed, and scale is as astounding as our ability to deliver a brand-new-technology vaccine in a year. It’s the public health equivalent of personalized medicine, and we could do that. We have the just-in-time vaccine manufacturing now, and we have the just-in-time vaccine delivery. Now we need a just-in-time way to find the cases of tomorrow. We have to vaccinate where the virus will go. Also, let’s get a vaccine that works faster. And by the way, give it to me in a nasal spray. Because we’re Americans and we’re shitty at public health, we have to do things in a frictionless way.

15) Thoughtful stuff from Alex Tabarrok on new research showing that misdemeanor prosecutions lead to more crime:

Misdemeanor Prosecution (NBER) (ungated) is a new, blockbuster paper by Agan, Doleac and Harvey (ADH). Misdemeanor crimes are lesser crimes than felonies and typically carry a potential jail term of less than one year. Examples of  misdemeanors include petty theft/shoplifting, prostitution, public intoxication, simple assault, disorderly conduct, trespass, vandalism, reckless driving, indecent exposure, and various drug crimes such as possession. Eighty percent of all criminal justice cases, some 13 million cases a year, are misdemeanors. ADH look at what happens to subsequent criminal behavior when misdemeanor cases are prosecuted versus non-prosecuted. Of course, the prosecuted differ from the non-prosecuted so we need to find situations where for random reasons comparable people are prosecuted and non-prosecuted. Not surprisingly some Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) are more lenient than others when it comes to prosecuting misdemeanors. ADH use the random assignment of ADAs to a case to tease out the impact of prosecution–essentially finding two similar individuals one of whom got lucky and was assigned a lenient ADA and the other of whom got unlucky and was assigned a less lenient ADA.

We leverage the as-if random assignment of nonviolent misdemeanor cases to Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) who decide whether a case should move forward with prosecution in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts.These ADAs vary in the average leniency of their prosecution decisions. We find that,for the marginal defendant, nonprosecution of a nonviolent misdemeanor offense leads to large reductions in the likelihood of a new criminal complaint over the next two years.These local average treatment effects are largest for first-time defendants, suggesting that averting initial entry into the criminal justice system has the greatest benefits.

… We find that the marginal nonprosecuted misdemeanor defendant is 33 percentage points less likely to be issued a new criminal complaint within two years post-arraignment (58% less than the mean for complier” defendants who are prosecuted; p 0.01). We find that nonprosecution reduces the likelihood of a new misdemeanor complaint by 24 percentage points (60%; p 0.01), and reduces the likelihood of a new felony complaint by 8 percentage points (47%; not significant). Nonprosecution reduces the number of subsequent criminal complaints by 2.1 complaints (69%; p .01); the number of subsequent misdemeanor complaints by 1.2 complaints (67%; p .01), and the number of subsequent felony complaints by 0.7 complaints (75%; p .05). We see significant reductions in subsequent criminal complaints for violent, disorderly conduct/theft, and motor vehicle offenses.

Did you get that? On a wide variety of margins, prosecution leads to more subsequent criminal behavior. How can this be? [emphases mine]

We consider possible causal mechanisms that could be generating our findings. Cases that are not prosecuted by definition are closed on the day of arraignment. By contrast, the average time to disposition for prosecuted nonviolent misdemeanor cases in our sample is 185 days. This time spent in the criminal justice system may disrupt defendants’ work and family lives. Cases that are not prosecuted also by definition do not result in convictions, but 26% of prosecuted nonviolent misdemeanor cases in our sample result in a conviction. Criminal records of misdemeanor convictions may decrease defendants’ labor market prospects and increase their likelihoods of future prosecution and criminal record acquisition, conditional on future arrest. Finally, cases that are not prosecuted are at much lower risk of resulting in a criminal record of the complaint in the statewide criminal records system. We find that nonprosecution reduces the probability that a defendant will receive a criminal record of that nonviolent misdemeanor complaint by 55 percentage points (56%, p .01). Criminal records of misdemeanor arrests may also damage defendants’ labor market prospects and increase their likelihoods of future prosecution and criminal record acquisition, conditional on future arrest. All three of these mechanisms may be contributing to the large reductions in subsequent criminal justice involvement following nonprosecution…

The policy study is a short-term study so we don’t know what happens if the rule is changed permanently but nevertheless this is good evidence that punishment can be criminogenic. I am uncomfortable, however, with thinking about non-prosecution as the choice variable, even on the margin. Crime should be punished. Becker wasn’t wrong about that. We need to ask more deeply, what is it about prosecution that increases subsequent criminal behavior? Could we do better by speeding up trials (a constitutional right that is often ignored!)–i.e. short, sharp punishment such as community service on the weekend? Is it time to to think about punishments that don’t require time off work? What about more diversion to programs that do not result in a criminal record? More generally, people accused and convicted of crimes ought to find help and acceptance in re-assimilating to civilized society. It’s crazy–not just wrong but counter-productive–that we make it difficult for people with a criminal record to get a job and access various medical and housing benefits.

The authors are too sophisticated to advocate for non-prosecution as a policy but it fits with the “defund the police,” and “end cash bail” movements. I worry, however, that after the tremendous gains of the 1990s we will let the pendulum swing back too far. A lot of what counts as cutting-edge crime policy today is simply the mood affiliation of a group of people who have no recollection of crime in the 1970s and 1980s. The great forgetting. It’s welcome news that we might be on the wrong side of the punishment Laffer curve and so can reduce punishment and crime at the same time. But it’s a huge mistake to think that the low levels of crime in the last two decades are a permanent features of the American landscape. We could lose it all in a mistaken fit of moralistic naivete.

16) Jamelle Bouie, “The G.O.P. Has Some Voters It Likes and Some It Doesn’t: This is what happens when a political party turns against democracy.”

Looming in the background of this “reform” is Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s conflict with Donald Trump, who pressured him to subvert the election and deliver Trump a victory. What won Raffensperger praise and admiration from Democrats and mainstream observers has apparently doomed his prospects within the Republican Party, where “stop the steal” is dogma and Trump is still the rightful president to many. It is not even clear that Raffensperger will hold office after his term ends in 2023; he must fight off a primary challenge next year from Representative Jody Hice of Georgia’s 10th Congressional District, an outspoken defender of Trump’s attempt to overturn the election.

 
In other words, Republicans are using the former president’s failed attempt to overturn the election as a guide to how you would change the system to make it possible. In Georgia, as we’ve seen, that means stripping power from an unreliable partisan and giving it, in effect, to the party itself. In Pennsylvania, where a state Supreme Court with a Democratic majority unanimously rejected a Republican lawsuit claiming that universal mail-in balloting was unconstitutional, it means working to end statewide election of justices, essentially gerrymandering the court. In Nebraska, which Republicans won, it means changing the way the state distributes its electoral votes, from a district-based system in which Democrats have a chance to win one potentially critical vote, as Joe Biden and Barack Obama did, to winner-take-all…
 
This fact pattern underscores a larger truth: The Republican Party is driving the nation’s democratic decline. A recent paper by Jacob M. Grumbach, a political scientist at the University of Washington, makes this plain. Using a new measure of state-level democratic performance in the United States from 2000 to 2018, Grumbach finds that Republican control of state government “consistently and profoundly reduces state democratic performance during this time period.” The nationalization of American politics and the coordination of parties across states means that “state governments controlled by the same party behave similarly when they take power.” Republican-controlled governments in states as different as Alabama and Wisconsin have “taken similar actions with respect to democratic institutions.”

17) N&O on the local edition of this madness, “The GOP’s feverish hunt for NC election fraud uncovers a shocking result – clean elections”

The Republican Party’s hysteria about alleged voter fraud was on full display in North Carolina last week.

It was as baseless as ever, but this time it had the added dimensions of wasted tax dollars and the browbeating of an elections official who has served the state and democracy well.

The first display was the outcome of a voter fraud investigation led by Robert Higdon when he was U.S attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Higdon, a President Trump appointee, went hunting for the GOP’s great white whale of voter fraud and returned years later with a basket of minnows. He resigned in February after President Joe Biden asked Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys to step down as part of the switch in administrations.

The probe, which focused on voting by noncitizens, became public just before the 2018 election. It was easy to notice. The U.S. Attorney’s Office served subpoenas on the State Board of Elections, county election boards and the Department of Motor Vehicles, effectively seeking records on every registered voter in the state.

The State Board of Elections – then controlled by Republican appointees, no less – objected to the vast and invasive request. State attorneys representing the board told the court in a 2019 filing that, “The all-encompassing, ‘dragnet’ nature of the subpoenas would impose extraordinary burdens on the state and county boards.” Cost of compliance, they said, would mean producing more than 15 million documents and cost the state millions of dollars…

In response, the subpoenas were narrowed to records relating to more than 700 voters the State Board of Elections had flagged earlier as potential noncitizen voters. The court struggle went back and forth between the state and the U.S. attorney.

In the end, little was uncovered, and most of the wrongful voting was done inadvertently by immigrants who didn’t know they were barred from voting. The news report on the probe’s findings, written jointly by The News & Observer’s Tyler Dukes and WRAL’s Travis Fain, said the effort initiated by the U.S. Attorney “resulted in a range of charges related to immigration, registration and election rules against about 70 people. More than 40 of them were accused of casting ballots illegally.”

That’s out of more than 4.7 million votes cast in 2016.

Pat Gannon, spokesman for the State Board of Elections, gave the proper epitaph for the years-long hunt for North Carolina’s share of what former President Trump had said were “millions” of votes cast by illegal immigrants in 2016. Gannon said Friday, “There is no evidence whatsoever of any type of widespread election fraud in North Carolina.”

18) Good chance you haven’t heard of Alex Berenson, but, damn is this guy one grade A quality conservative grifter.  So successfully played his “former NYT reporter” credential into being a Fox/right-wing blusterer, but he’s just so full of BS.  Derek Thompson takes down his Covid misinformation campaign.

19) Nice Guardian feature on how the Ever Given was ultimately freed.  The key?  Seagoing tugs far more powerful than the regular canal tugs.  

I’m famous! (Urban vs. rural vaccine edition)

So, this was kind of cool.  I wrote to an N&O reporter about my frustration with the lack of vaccine access in urban NC areas, she passed me onto a colleague already working on it, and my attempts to find a shot for my son Alex were actually the frame of the story!  A rare media appearance as concerned dad/frustrated citizen instead of expert political science professor:

Steven Greene started trying to make a COVID-19 vaccine appointment for his son on March 17, quickly growing frustrated with a process that he said would be easier if he were willing to drive an hour or more to find a shot.

“It would drive me crazy,” Greene told The News & Observer, “because it was like you could walk into Rocky Mount right now or walk into Dunn or walk into Fayetteville — and there was nothing or one appointment in North Raleigh.”

Greene’s 18-year-old son, Alex, has been diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis, a condition that causes moderate intellectual disabilities and leads to the growth of benign brain tumors. To keep the tumors at bay, Alex takes medication that suppresses his immune system, leaving him at higher risk from COVID-19.

“We worry for him,” Greene said.

Greene and others have questioned how some providers in rural parts of North Carolina are able to open vaccine eligibility to everyone who lives there while many in larger counties still need to register on a waiting list or hope that they log onto a web page at the right time.

The answer comes down to demand. Several providers who moved forward into new vaccination groups told The News & Observer that they did so once they saw people in open vaccination groups start to make fewer appointments. In the Triangle, both Wake County and UNC Health officials said their appointments are still booked, even as supply has increased.

As of March 31, anyone who is an essential worker or has a health condition that leaves them at higher risk from COVID-19 will be eligible for a vaccine in North Carolina. Anyone who is 16 or older will be eligible on April 7.

During the week of March 22, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services shifted the formula it uses to decide where to send the bulk of available vaccine doses.

For about two months, the state largely used county populations to decide how much vaccine to send to each place. Now, 97% of doses will be based on the number of unvaccinated adults who live in a county, an effort state health officials hope will help it better account for people who cross county lines and those who are vaccinated in some federal programs…

Wake County saw its baseline vaccine allocation — the number of doses it is guaranteed to receive each week until April 10 — jump from 13,500 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine during the week of March 15 to 19,280 doses the week of March 22.

Much of that increase went to Wake County Public Health, which saw its baseline supply jump from 4,680 first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to 9,360 first doses. The county health department also received an additional 1,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 100 doses of Johnson & Johnson last week.

“Our mass vaccination sites are regional vaccine programs. And we do know that we vaccinate other counties or we vaccinate residents from other counties,” Ryan Jury, who oversees vaccine operations for Wake County, told The News & Observer.

About 10% of the people who are vaccinated at a Wake County Public Health vaccination site come from outside the county, Jury said.

Demand for a COVID-19 vaccine is still outpacing the health department’s supply.

“We have seen strong, filled schedules for the last couple weeks,” Jury said, “and we predict that into the coming weeks.”

Alex Greene will end up being one of those people who is vaccinated in the community where he lives. His family signed him up for Wake County’s vaccination list on March 17, the first day he was eligible. They also put him on Duke Health’s list. Steven Greene continuously checked UNC’s Your Shot vaccination scheduling tool, but was dismayed to discover that the only available appointments were hours away.

“They never tell you anything,” Steven Greene said about the wait lists. “It’s just, you hope you hear something all of a sudden.”

Greene finally did find an appointment for his son — at Wake Tech’s southern campus later this week. That, he said, left him “super excited.”

The article includes lots of stuff about the surplus in rural areas and the scarcity in urban areas and it appears the March 22 shift in formula has genuinely helped, but there’s still clearly a major imbalance and I’d like more explanation from the state.  Maybe people will care now that Nate Silver is on the case?

Also… “at some point”?  No, we’re already well past the point where this is clearly a massive policy failure.  

Oh, and about that vaccination for Alex:

May be an image of 1 person and indoor

With big thanks to his little sister who helped him overcome his vaccination fear/anxiety by practicing vaccinations with him on her stuffed animals.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really good deep dive into the manufacturing of Covid vaccines in the New Yorker.  The conclusion:

The most hopeful news is that Pfizer has cut the time it takes to make a batch of its vaccine to sixty days. As of mid-March, the company expects to deliver more than thirteen million doses a week, up from around five million last month. At a congressional hearing in February, John Young, Pfizer’s chief business officer, explained that the company has begun making its own lipids, and has increased capacity at its facilities in Kansas and Wisconsin (in addition to the new production suites in Michigan). It has also doubled batch sizes, increased yields per batch, and developed faster laboratory tests.

“We’re getting better at it,” Calitri said, of the manufacturing process. “I think people don’t know how challenging it is to make billions of doses of a product that you did not have a process for nine months ago. And then to scale that up even further. There’s so much involved from an engineering perspective, from a quality perspective, from a compliance perspective, and from a safety perspective. We’re not making widgets. We’re making a product that people inject into their bodies—into healthy humans—and it has to be perfect. We need to make sure of that for every single dose. That takes engineering, it takes science, it takes time.”

2) This was a great appreciation of R.E.M.’s “Out of Time” at 30 years old.  What a great album.  And it also made me realize that I need more R.E.M. in my life as my SiriusXM stations (80s, 90’s, First Wave, Lithium, Spectrum, and a few others) hardly ever play them and my Pandora stations don’t either (guess I just need to seed some in there!).  Still have great memories of seeing R.E.M. in Pittsburgh in June 1995.

3) Meant to post this from Yglesias back when Tanden was still a thing, but his conclusion is as valid as ever:

To make a long story short, there are lots of good choices here. Tanden is not like a “budget wonk” per se, so if she ends up doing something else in the White House, that’s not a tragedy. And I really do get Manchin’s politics here.

Nonetheless, I think giving into bad-faith nonsense from Senate Republicans is bad.

And we know that’s what this is — there’s no way the “I didn’t see the tweet” crowd can turn around after four years of Trump and claim to have a principled objection to the idea of a person mixing it up on Twitter. That’s just absurd.

The reason it’s bad to give into that isn’t that everything ought to be a partisan steamroller. It’s precisely because if you want to have bipartisan legislating, you need people to say things that they mean. If a Democrat puts an idea on the table and then a Republican articulates sincere objections to it, you can sit down and start to talk about addressing those objections. Alternatively, the Republicans might admit that their objections, while genuine, are simply not that strongly held. In that case, it might be possible to do a horse trade — an idea Democrats love (and Republicans are cool on) paired with an idea the GOP loves (but that Democrats are cool on).

But you can’t address bad faith objections, and you can’t horse trade if everyone is constantly turning the outrage dial up to 11 over things that they’re actually only mildly skeptical of. The way to make progress on immigration, or climate, or poverty, or whatever else is to get an honest dialogue going (probably behind closed doors), and the whole Tanden situation has been the 180° opposite of that. If Biden can round up a handful of Republican votes from people willing to admit that “don’t be a jerk on Twitter” is not a genuine line in the sand, that would be an excellent precedent.

4) I had no idea Bangladesh had made such great progress on moving its citizens out of poverty.  Good stuff from Kristoff.  The key?  Educating and empowering women!

“The most dramatic thing that happened to Bangladesh has to do with transforming the status of women, starting with the poorest women,” Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who pioneered microcredit in Bangladesh and elsewhere, told me. Yunus founded Grameen Bank, which turned women into entrepreneurs — nearly 100,000 became “telephone ladies” over four years, selling mobile phone services — in ways that helped transform them and their country.

As Bangladesh educated and empowered its girls, those educated women became pillars of Bangladesh’s economy. The nation’s garment factories have given women better opportunities, and that shirt you’re wearing right now may have been made by one of them, for Bangladesh is now the world’s largest garment exporter, after China.

Granted, factories in Bangladesh pay poorly by Western standards, have problems with abuse and sexual harassment, and pose fire risks and other safety problems; a factory collapse in 2013 killed more than 1,100 workers. But the workers themselves say that such jobs are still better than marrying at 14 and working in a rice paddy, and unions and civil society pushed for and won huge though incomplete improvements in worker safety.

Educated women also filled the ranks of nonprofits like Grameen and BRAC, another highly regarded development organization. They got children vaccinated. They promoted toilets. They taught villagers how to read. They explained contraception. They discouraged child marriage.

Bangladesh hasn’t had great political leaders. But its investments in human capital created a dynamism that we can all learn from.

The World Bank calls Bangladesh “an inspiring story of reducing poverty” — with 25 million Bangladeshis lifted from poverty over 15 years. The share of children stunted by malnutrition has fallen by about half in Bangladesh since 1991 and is now lower than in India.

5) Interesting first-person essay, “I was a well-meaning White teacher. But my harsh discipline harmed Black kids.”

6) I’ve been intrigued by the potential medical benefits of hallucinogenics (despite honestly having no desire to actually try them), but, at least as far as the benefits of micro-dosing on mental health, perhaps not much there:

In a paper published in the journal eLife, the researchers revealed their findings. After the month-long testing period, they found that all psychological outcomes had improved since the start of the experiment for those in the microdosing group, including “in the domains of well-being, mindfulness, life satisfaction, and paranoia.” However, the same was true for the placebo group—with no significant differences between the two.

“So, in a way, microdosing did increase a lot of these psychological variables,” says Balazs Szigeti, a research associate at Imperial College London Centre of Psychedelic Research and the lead author of the study. “But so did taking placebos for four weeks.”

The researchers conclude that the anecdotal benefits of microdosing can therefore be explained by the placebo effect. That’s not to say that people who claim to feel benefits from microdosing are wrong, Szigeti says—on the contrary, the study suggests that they do feel these benefits—but that these outcomes may not be the result of the pharmacological effect of the drug but instead due to their psychological expectations.

People who microdose take very small amounts of psychedelic drugs such as LSD or psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms)—usually around a tenth of the amount you’d take to get a full psychedelic experience. Some people claim that microdosing has mood-enhancing effects, while others claim cognitive benefits or say it makes them feel more creative or effective at work. Others microdose in an attempt to self-medicate conditions such as depression. But there is very little scientific evidence on the effects of microdosing, and it is difficult to run controlled trials (not least because of the illegal nature of these drugs in many countries.)

Placebo effect for the win!

7) This seems like one of those only in America headlines, “North Carolina sends 6-year-olds to court. Why some say it’s time for change.”  “Some”?  You think?

8) I am literally mad at David Bianculli for speaking so highly of “Behind her Eyes” and causing me to waste 5 or so hours on it.  Yes, one hell of a twist ending, but so unearned.  To compare this with “The Sixth Sense” or “Usual Suspects” is just blasphemous.

9) Oh boy did I love this one, ““Natural Is Better”: How the Appeal To Nature Fallacy Derails Public Health”

As consumers, we are faced with a virtually endless range of “natural” products. We can start our mornings with a piece of toast slathered in all-natural smooth peanut butter and wash our clothes in naturally dirt-demolishing laundry detergent, while those of us with certain habits can enjoy a natural American Spirit cigarette when the craving hits.

Without a doubt, the “natural trend” is a dominant force across consumer industries, and particularly the food sector, where over 60 percent of all new products introduced in 2019 flaunted labels such as “organic,” “natural,” and “additive-free.” This natural cornucopia is not growing out of vacuum. Rather, it is catering to our ever-growing, and irrational, preference for the natural.

Researchers believe that our persistent pro-nature bias is rooted in the belief that natural things are simply better for us. This belief has little grounding in physical reality. Indeed, people strongly prefer to drink “natural” spring water to water that has been distilled and subsequently mineralized even after researchers tell them that the two drinks are certified to be chemically identical. Natural is simply better—what can you do?

Our preference for things deemed to be natural is so illogical and systematic that researchers have given it a name—the appeal to nature fallacy. The power of this cognitive bias is so great that the average person is willing to pay a premium on foods and medicines referred to as natural. This has certainly spawned its fair share of shrewd marketing tactics aimed at unsuspecting consumers.

In our current COVID-19 predicament, the appeal to nature fallacy has an even darker side:  it makes some people believe that they do not need vaccines. Why would they, if they can protect themselves the “natural way”?

10) I still don’t get why these trials have taken so long, but we really might be looking at an effective therapeutic for Covid-19 at some point.

11) More very good stuff from Kristoff.  As somebody who’s got to pee alot, I especially loved this.  “America Is Not Made for People Who Pee”

Here’s a populist slogan for President Biden’s infrastructure plan: Pee for Free!

Sure, we need investments to rebuild bridges, highways and, yes, electrical grids, but perhaps America’s most disgraceful infrastructure failing is its lack of public toilets.

Greeks and Romans had public toilets more than 2,000 years ago, with people sitting on benches with holes to do their business. There were no partitions, and Romans wiped with sponges on sticks that were dipped in water and shared by all users.

I’m not endorsing that arrangement, but at least the ancient Romans operated large numbers of public latrines, which is more than can be said of the United States today.

The humorist Art Buchwald once recounted an increasingly desperate search for a toilet in Manhattan. He was turned down at an office building, a bookstore and a hotel, so he finally rushed into a bar and asked for a drink.

“What kind of drink?” the bartender replied.

“Who cares?” Buchwald answered. “Where’s the men’s room?”

America should be better than that. Japan manages what may be the world’s most civilized public toilets — ubiquitous, clean and reliably equipped with paper — and almost every industrialized country is more bladder-friendly than America. Even poorer countries like China and India manage networks of public latrines. But the United States is simply not made for people who pee.

“I go between cars or in bushes,” Max McEntire, 58, who has been homeless about 10 years, told me as he stood outside the tent where he lives here. “Sometimes at my age, if your body says pee, you’ve got to pee. If your body says poop, you can’t wait.”

Most stores and businesses are of little help, he said, because they often insist on a purchase to use the restroom — and that’s even before a pandemic closed many shops…

Cities also lose their livability, and open defecation becomes a threat to public health. Americans have painstakingly built new norms about dog owners picking up after their pets, but we’ve gone backward with human waste.

Meanwhile, it’s not just the homeless who suffer. Taxi drivers, delivery people, tourists and others are out and about all day, navigating a landscape that seems oblivious to the most basic of needs. The same is true of parents out with kids.

I’m a clean-cut middle-aged white guy, so I almost never have too much trouble finding a place, but I absolutely recognize the privilege of that and know we could and should do a helluva lot better on this score.

12) There’s a phrase I’ve been using a lot when talking about my latest research that I have mentioned to several reporters, but I really didn’t think it would make it into print.  Also, the whole article is really worth a read:

COVID has placed enormous burdens on parents like Candace and Christy. Professor Steven Greene at North Carolina State recently co-authored a study on the topic, “A Recipe for Madness,” and told me that the COVID experience “extra sucked” for parents.

13) This is good stuff (thanks to BB), “California vs. Florida: Who handled COVID-19 better?”

14) I mean, this is almost like some O Henry short-story.  13-year old’s face-saving lie leads to a murder!  “Samuel Paty: French schoolgirl admits lying about murdered teacher”

Samuel Paty was beheaded in October after showing students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The girl, whose complaints sparked an online campaign against Paty, has now admitted that she was not in the class.

Mr Paty’s killing stunned France and led to an outpouring of support at memorial ceremonies and marches around the country.

The 13-year-old girl, who has not been officially named, originally told her father that Paty had asked Muslim students to leave the classroom while he showed the cartoon during a class on free speech and blasphemy.

According to evidence given by the girl seen by French media she said: “I didn’t see the cartoons, it was a girl in my class who showed me them.”

“She lied because she felt trapped in a spiral because her classmates had asked her to be a spokesperson,” her lawyer, Mbeko Tabula, told AFP news agency.

The perpetrator, 18-year-old Abdullakh Anzorov, was shot dead by police shortly after the attack.

It then emerged that the campaign against the history and geography teacher had been based on a distorted account of what had happened in class days earlier.

As he had done in similar lessons on free speech in previous years, Paty warned students that he was about to show a depiction of Muhammad. He said anyone who thought they might be offended could close their eyes.

The girl had originally claimed the teacher had asked Muslim pupils to leave the room. When she objected she was suspended from school, she said. It now appears that the girl was suspended the day before the class was given, according to Le Parisien newspaper, because of repeated absence from school.

The girl explains in her leaked testimony that she made up the story so as not to disappoint her father. He posted two videos on social media in response to the allegations.

Speaking on French radio on Tuesday, the Paty family’s lawyer said the girl’s family knew that she had not been in class on the day in question and why she had been suspended. “So to come and say now, sorry, I believed my daughter’s lies, that’s really weak,” Virginie Le Roy told RTL radio.

15) There’s quite likely gonna be this really weird period where all the adults who want are vaccinated and none of the kids we want to be vaccinated will be.  Emily Oster:

What about Kids?

I want you to cast your mind back to January 2018. During one week in late January of that year, the CDC reported flu hospitalization rates of 7.3 per 100,000 for children aged 0-4 and 1.4 per 100,000 for kids 5-17. This means that of 100,000 children aged 0 to 4, 7.3 of them were hospitalized with flu complications that week.

Kids get the flu from a lot of sources. School, child care, their parents, travel, indoor trampoline parks, etc, etc. And flu can be very serious; there were almost 200 pediatric flu deaths during that 2017 – 2018 flu season. But I would venture in that time frame most of you were not making choices about your activities based on flu risk.

The peak week of the COVID-19 pandemic for hospitalization for children 0 to 4 was mid-December (data here). During this week, the hospitalization rate for this group was 2.3 per 100,000. For children 5 to 17, the peak was the first week of January, with hospitalization rate of 1.3 per 100,000. In the most recent week of reported data, the week ending February 27th, these rates were 0.3 per 100,000 for children aged 0 to 4 and 0.6 per 100,000 for children 5 to 17.

Here’s all these numbers in a graph.

Here’s all these numbers in a graph.

Bottom line here: hospitalization rates even at the peek COVID week were below that week in January 2018.

Let me add onto this another set of facts, based on the graph below (original paper here). This graph shows non-COVID death rates for children in two age groups (based on 2018 data) versus COVID-19 death risks over the period from March through October 2020.

Deaths in these age groups from any cause are really, really rare so I’m not trying to freak you out. But I am trying to convey that death rates from COVID-19 in these age groups over this period are less than a typical year of suicide, homicide or cancer. They are an order of magnitude less than car accidents. Infants are not in this chart, but the same logic flows. COVID death rates are higher in absolute numbers but lower in ratios. The SIDS death rate for infants under 1 in this comparison period is eighty times higher than the death rate for COVID-19.

The you from 2018 was not thinking about these non-COVID risks. Yes, in the back of your mind you probably worried about your kids getting the flu and had some sense of the idea that cars are dangerous. But you were planning travel and playdates and everything else in spite of these risks because they are small. And for kids, the COVID-19 risks are even smaller. This isn’t true for adults. But it is true for kids.

This doesn’t mean kids do not get COVID. They do get it (although probably at lower rates). Just like they can get flus, and colds, and other viral illnesses. But they are simply very, very unlikely to get extremely sick.

Look forward, now, to the summer. You’re vaccinated, your parents are, your brother is. Barring some surprise, COVID-19 rates are expected to be even lower than they are now. Not zero, but lower. This makes COVID-19 even less of a threat to kids. They are extremely unlikely to be infected. And if they were, they would be extremely unlikely to get very sick and they wouldn’t spread it to older people because those people are vaccinated.

What’s going to happen if your family and your brother’s family and your parents rent a beach house together with all the cousins for a weekend? Let me tell you based on personal experience. Monday after you return home one of the children in one of the families will be vomiting, and the other family will recall one of their children complaining about a stomach issue which they didn’t think to mention.

What if you fly with your kids to a vacation? They might get sick on the airplane and ruin your first two days in England complaining about their sore throat.

My point is: kids get viruses. You cannot avoid the possibility they might get sick on vacation. But the presence of COVID-19 in a world of vaccinated adults does not change the risk of this very much at all.

The challenge of this summer, I think, is going to be figuring out how we can consciously move towards normalcy despite lack of full vaccination for kids and despite the fact that COVID-19 will always be with us. It is going to require putting our minds to it. Booking that summer trip might be the first step.  [bold is mine; italics in original]

16) And my firstborn makes into quick hits by sharing with me that a cuttlefish has passed the marshmallow test!

17) Really enjoyed this essay, “The Confederacy was a con job on whites. And still is.”

They managed this con job partly with a propaganda technique that will be familiar to modern Americans, but hasn’t received the coverage it deserves in our sesquicentennial celebrations. Starting in the 1840s wealthy Southerners supported more than 30 regional pro-slavery magazines, many pamphlets, newspapers and novels that falsely touted slave ownership as having benefits that would – in today’s lingo – trickle down to benefit non-slave owning whites and even blacks. The flip side of the coin of this old-is-new trickle-down propaganda is the mistaken notion that any gain by blacks in wages, schools or health care comes at the expense of the white working class.

Today’s version of this con job no longer supports slavery, but still works in the South and thrives in pro trickle-down think tanks, magazines, newspapers, talk radio and TV news shows such as the Cato Foundation, Reason magazine, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. These sources are underwritten by pro trickle-down one-per-centers like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch.

For example, a map of states that didn’t expand Medicaid – which would actually be a boon mostly to poor whites – resembles a map of the old Confederacy with a few other poor, rural states thrown in. Another indication that this divisive propaganda works on Southern whites came in 2012. Romney and Obama evenly split the white working class in the West, Midwest and Northeast. But in the South we went 2-1 for Romney.

Lowering the flag because of the harm done to blacks is the right thing to do. We also need to lower it because it symbolizes material harm the ideology of the Confederacy did to Southern whites that lasts even to this day.

18) Really enjoyed this from Scott Alexander on “trapped priors” (the link is also full of cool illusions to help make the point, like this one).

Trapped priors: the basic cognitive version

Phobias are a very simple case of trapped priors. They can be more technically defined as a failure of habituation, the fancy word for “learning a previously scary thing isn’t scary anymore”. There are lots of habituation studies on rats. You ring a bell, then give the rats an electric shock. After you do this enough times, they’re scared of the bell – they run and cower as soon as they hear it. Then you switch to ringing the bell and not giving an electric shock. At the beginning, the rats are still scared of the bell. But after a while, they realize the bell can’t hurt them anymore. They adjust to treating it just like any other noise; they lose their fear – they habituate.

The same thing happens to humans. Maybe a big dog growled at you when you were really young, and for a while you were scared of dogs. But then you met lots of friendly cute puppies, you realized that most dogs aren’t scary, and you came to some reasonable conclusion like “big growly dogs are scary but cute puppies aren’t.”

Some people never manage to do this. They get cynophobia, pathological fear of dogs. In its original technical use, a phobia is an intense fear that doesn’t habituate. No matter how many times you get exposed to dogs without anything bad happening, you stay afraid. Why?

In the old days, psychologists would treat phobia by flooding patients with the phobic object. Got cynophobia? We’ll stick you in a room with a giant Rottweiler, lock the door, and by the time you come out maybe you won’t be afraid of dogs anymore. Sound barbaric? Maybe so, but more important it didn’t really work. You could spend all day in the room with the Rottweiler, the Rottweiler could fall asleep or lick your face or do something else that should have been sufficient to convince you it wasn’t scary, and by the time you got out you’d be even more afraid of dogs than when you went in.

Nowadays we’re a little more careful. If you’ve got cynophobia, we’ll start by making you look at pictures of dogs – if you’re a severe enough case, even the pictures will make you a little nervous. Once you’ve looked at a zillion pictures, gotten so habituated to looking at pictures that they don’t faze you at all, we’ll put you in a big room with a cute puppy in a cage. You don’t have to go near the puppy, you don’t have to touch the puppy, just sit in the room without freaking out. Once you’ve done that a zillion times and lost all fear, we’ll move you to something slightly doggier and scarier, than something slightly doggier and scarier than that, and so on, until you’re locked in the room with the Rottweiler.

It makes sense that once you’re exposed to dogs a million times and it goes fine and everything’s okay, you lose your fear of dogs – that’s normal habituation. But now we’re back to the original question – how come flooding doesn’t work? Forgetting the barbarism, how come we can’t just start with the Rottweiler?

The common-sense answer is that you only habituate when an experience with a dog ends up being safe and okay. But being in the room with the Rottweiler is terrifying. It’s not a safe okay experience. Even if the Rottweiler itself is perfectly nice and just sits calmly wagging its tail, your experience of being locked in the room is close to peak horror. Probably your intellect realizes that the bad experience isn’t the Rottweiler’s fault. But your lizard brain has developed a stronger association than before between dogs and unpleasant experiences. After all, you just spent time with a dog and it was a really unpleasant experience! Your fear of dogs increases.

(How does this feel from the inside? Less-self-aware patients will find their prior coloring every aspect of their interaction with the dog. Joyfully pouncing over to get a headpat gets interpreted as a vicious lunge; a whine at not being played with gets interpreted as a murderous growl, and so on. This sort of patient will leave the room saying ‘the dog came this close to attacking me, I knew all dogs were dangerous!’ More self-aware patients will say something like “I know deep down that dogs aren’t going to hurt me, I just know that whenever I’m with a dog I’m going to have a panic attack and hate it and be miserable the whole time”. Then they’ll go into the room, have a panic attack, be miserable, and the link between dogs and misery will be even more cemented in their mind.)

The more technical version of this same story is that habituation requires a perception of safety, but (like every other perception) this one depends on a combination of raw evidence and context. The raw evidence (the Rottweiler sat calmly wagging its tail) looks promising. But the context is a very strong prior that dogs are terrifying. If the prior is strong enough, it overwhelms the real experience. Result: the Rottweiler was terrifying. Any update you make on the situation will be in favor of dogs being terrifying, not against it!

This is the trapped prior. It’s trapped because it can never update, no matter what evidence you get. You can have a million good experiences with dogs in a row, and each one will just etch your fear of dogs deeper into your system. Your prior fear of dogs determines your present experience, which in turn becomes the deranged prior for future encounters.

Trapped prior: the more complicated emotional version

20) I love Facebook because I love sharing cute pics of my kids, Achilles challenges, soccer coaching, etc., and seeing similar from my friends far and wide, but I do recognize the deeply-embedded problems in the platform.  This is good, “How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformation: The company’s AI algorithms gave it an insatiable habit for lies and hate speech. Now the man who built them can’t fix the problem.”

By the time thousands of rioters stormed the US Capitol in January, organized in part on Facebook and fueled by the lies about a stolen election that had fanned out across the platform, it was clear from my conversations that the Responsible AI team had failed to make headway against misinformation and hate speech because it had never made those problems its main focus. More important, I realized, if it tried to, it would be set up for failure.

The reason is simple. Everything the company does and chooses not to do flows from a single motivation: Zuckerberg’s relentless desire for growth. Quiñonero’s AI expertise supercharged that growth. His team got pigeonholed into targeting AI bias, as I learned in my reporting, because preventing such bias helps the company avoid proposed regulation that might, if passed, hamper that growth. Facebook leadership has also repeatedly weakened or halted many initiatives meant to clean up misinformation on the platform because doing so would undermine that growth.

In other words, the Responsible AI team’s work—whatever its merits on the specific problem of tackling AI bias—is essentially irrelevant to fixing the bigger problems of misinformation, extremism, and political polarization. And it’s all of us who pay the price.

“When you’re in the business of maximizing engagement, you’re not interested in truth. You’re not interested in harm, divisiveness, conspiracy. In fact, those are your friends,” says Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley who collaborates with Facebook to understand image- and video-based misinformation on the platform.

“They always do just enough to be able to put the press release out. But with a few exceptions, I don’t think it’s actually translated into better policies. They’re never really dealing with the fundamental problems.”

Trumpublicans

I’ve definitely been using some variation of “The Republican Party is Trump’s Party” for quite a while now and damn has the response to January 6 shown this this, so sadly, to be ever more true.  Until definitively proven otherwise, Trumpism and the cult of Trump is the animating force of the Republican Party.

Good stuff from Jamelle Bouie: “If There Was a Republican Civil War, It Appears to Be Over: The party belongs to Trump for as long as he wants it.”

Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, for example, was immediately censured by the Louisiana Republican Party. “We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the vote today by Senator Cassidy to convict former President Trump,” the party announced on Twitter. Another vote to convict, Richard Burr of North Carolina, was similarly rebuked by his state party, which censured him on Monday. Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania are also in hot water with their respective state parties, which see a vote against Trump as tantamount to treason. “We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing or whatever he said he’s doing,” one Pennsylvania Republican Party official explained. “We sent him there to represent us.”

That this backlash was completely expected, even banal, should tell you everything you need to know about the so-called civil war in the Republican Party. It doesn’t exist. Outside of a rump faction of (occasional) dissidents, there is no truly meaningful anti-Trump opposition within the party. The civil war, such as it was, ended four-and-a-half years ago when Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president.

If there’s a conflict, it’s less a war and more a small skirmish with an outmatched and outnumbered opponent. Seventy-five percent of Republicans want Trump to continue to “play a prominent role in the Republican Party,” according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University, and 87 percent say he should be allowed to “hold elected office in the future.” A recent survey from Morning Consult likewise shows Trump far ahead of his rivals in a hypothetical 2024 matchup, with 54 percent support versus 12 percent for the runner-up, Mike Pence.

The Republican Party belongs to Trump for as long as he wants it. Its most prominent politicians will follow his lead and attempt to build on his example. His children and in-laws will have a place as heirs to his legacy. If Trump decides to seek the White House for a second term, the nomination is almost certainly his to lose…
What does it mean, in practice, for Trump to retain this strong a hold over the Republican Party? Since “Trumpism” isn’t a policy platform as much as it is a singular devotion to the man himself, a Trumpified Republican Party is one in which candidates do everything they can to shape themselves in his image.

Meanwhile, Perry Bacon with an excellent 538 piece on how much of the worst/Trumpiest of the Republican Party is at the state and local level (of course, if you think about it, those completely bonkers/insane statements that always pop up are invariably from a Republican state legislator or County Chair):

The party’s reaction to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by Trump supporters is perhaps the clearest example of this dynamic. In Washington, the attack resulted in Trump facing a backlash from a few GOP lawmakers. Outside Washington, those who criticized Trump for his role in the attack are the ones facing the backlash.

Only days after Cheney’s colleagues in Washington didn’t punish her, the Wyoming Republican Party did. They passed a formal resolution condemning Cheney for voting for Trump’s impeachment, calling for her immediate resignation and declaring the party will no longer support her politically. The official state GOP parties in ArizonaLouisianaNorth Carolina and South Carolina have also censured prominent Republicans in their states for breaking with the former president, as have county-level GOP officials in IllinoisKentuckyNebraskaMichigan and Washington state. The Republican Party in Oregon released a resolution condemning all 10 U.S. House Republicans who voted for impeachment (none are from Oregon), compared them to Benedict Arnold and suggested the pro-impeachment Republicans were “conspiring to surrender our nation to Leftist forces seeking to establish a dictatorship.”…

Beyond defending Trump himself, state and local Republicans are perhaps the party’s biggest advocates of the kind of white-identity politics that is sometimes referred to as Trumpism.

I think this following part is particularly key:

Why would the anti-establishment wing be more powerful at the state level than in Washington? Well, the forces that push the party in a more traditional direction are generally business groups, who would prefer a Republican Party focused on issues like tax cuts instead of “owning the libs.” Those groups have a lot of reason to invest money and energy in helping McConnell-style Republicans who can pass tax cuts and deregulation bills that can help corporations get seats in Congress. Those business groups have little incentive to get very involved in GOP politics at the state level, particularly in small states like Wyoming.

Also, members of Congress in Washington, particularly senators with six-year terms, are hard to dislodge. But there aren’t a lot of GOP officials at the local or state level as entrenched as someone like McConnell or Thune. So Trump-aligned conservatives, often with the support of the former president and his political aides, have invested deeply in state-level politics and been able to gain power fairly quickly and easily.

And, lastly, because it’s me and it fits in pretty well with this, my comments on Lara Trump (a graduate of not only my university, but my college) possibly running for Senate in NC:

“… for now, the Republican Party is still Donald Trump’s party and one would have to imagine that if he threw his weight behind his daugher-in-law that shares the Trump name, that would be incredibly influential in Republican primaries,” Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, said. “I would not say she’s in any way a lock to win, but she would be a very, very serious contender for the Senate seat.”

 

Race, Gender, and the 2022 NC Senate Race

As of now, the Democratic primary to run for the 2022 US Senate open seat to be for North Carolina (Richard Burr is retiring) is being contested by Jeff Jackson a white man and Erica Smith, a black woman.  I accept the world we live in, but I can honestly say I hate how much this is going to be about race within a Democratic primary.  N&O yesterday:

There are two declared candidates in the Democratic primary field so far for North Carolina’s 2022 U.S. Senate race: a Black woman and a white man.

But a third person — who won’t appear on the ballot — looms large in the contest, casting a shadow over the early days of the race: Cal Cunningham, the now-disgraced 2020 Democratic nominee who lost to incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis in November.

Former state Sen. Erica Smith, who finished second to Cunningham in that race, and state Sen. Jeff Jackson, like Cunningham an attorney, U.S. Army reservist and married father, have made their candidacies official…

But Smith and other Democrats are worried that the early fund-raising totals will cement Jackson as the front-runner — pushing a white man past a Black woman and to the front of the field in an increasingly diverse party…

Smith, 51, referred to “a cookie cutter version of a white male” often being seen as the best candidate.

“To do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result is insanity. North Carolina cannot go down the path we have gone down for the last election cycles as it relates to the U.S. Senate race,” Smith said in a telephone interview this week.

Jackson, 38, said the comparisons are inevitable. But they won’t last, he said.

“As we get into it, people are going to see I’m a completely different person, running a completely different campaign,” he said…

There are currently no Black women in the U.S. Senate after Democrat Kamala Harris of California resigned her seat before being inaugurated as vice president. Harris was just the second Black woman to serve in the chamber.

North Carolina Democrats have never nominated a Black woman for U.S. Senate. The only Black man nominated by Democrats was Harvey Gannt in 1990 and 1996 when he lost to Republican Jesse Helms.

Smith has been critical of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for, she says, recruiting Cunningham into the 2020 race after meeting with her, and helping him with fundraising.

“We need to stop misusing and abusing the most loyal voting block in this party and that is Black women. That’s the African American women voting block,” Smith said. “Why keep using us knowing we’re the base of this party and not wanting to support our candidacy?”

I’ll just lay it out here… I’m a huge fan of Jeff Jackson like I almost never am of actual politicians.  I’ve been following him on social media for a while and I am consistently impressed by his smart, thoughtful, never knee-jerk partisan approach.  The posts he has had on Covid are, seriously, the best statements I have seen on it from any elected official anywhere.  I mean, even if he’s got some really smart staffer writing the stuff (¯\_(ツ)_/¯), he at least recognizes what really smart, useful takes are.  Not a lot of politicians you can say that about.  Just for example, here’s a recent post on the rescue package in DC:

One of the big questions facing Congress right now is how bold the next recovery package needs to be.
From my conversations, it feels like there’s a simple disconnect here.
For lots of professionals, the economic recovery has already occurred. Their office may have done some layoffs early on, but folks have largely been rehired and things are chugging along.
You see this in the numbers for North Carolina. Our financial and business services sectors have basically completely recovered in terms of job loss.
And that’s great.
But check out our state’s numbers for manufacturing and hospitality.
For these folks, it’s still a brutal mess.
Across our state, we still have hundreds of thousands of families who are in serious financial peril – which also means we have at least that many children who are struggling right along with them.
In 2009, we forgot about that.
We let a rapid recovery among high-earners dampen our determination to help everyone else.
As a result, it was a long, slow, painful recovery…
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I mean, seriously, how often do you see stuff like this from a politician?  As you can imagine, I’m going to support someone like this.  Erica Smith may very well make a great Senator and it is truly impressive what she has accomplished, but I’d appreciate it a lot more if she were running on her relative record and experience rather than the idea that the primary reason we should elect her is because she is a black woman and Jackson is a white man.  And, oh, hey, Cunningham was a white man.  
 
And, while we’re at it here, Cunningham lost because Biden lost NC, not because he was dumb enough to have that affair.  There’s no way Democrats would have won that seat if Smith was the candidate instead of Cunningham.  Also, Cunningham was pretty much an empty suit (but again, I’d take an empty flip-flop over Thom Tillis), but, that certainly doesn’t mean Jackson is.  
 
Anyway, we’ll see how this all goes.  And God knows white man have been unfairly advantaged long enough and black women disadvantaged so, if that’s why Jackson loses to Smith, I can live with that and I’ll strongly support Smith.  But, from my perspective, Jeff Jackson really is an unusually smart, thoughtful politician and thus it would be a shame to see him lose because he is a white man.  

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lockdown of the Capitol makes me sad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faced with these alternatives, our government chose the latter.


The Republican party did this.

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

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

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

Because Republicans would rather lose freedom than tell the truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. BUILD A HAPPINESS PORTFOLIO THAT USES BOTH APPROACHES.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graphic: FiveThirtyEight/Brookings Institution

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19) Interesting research:

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

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) In simpler times, there was a lot of commentary about Megan McCain coming around on parental leave now that she had a kid.  A rare disagreement between me and Drum:

In my little corner of the twittersphere, this has mostly generated mockery. Typical Republican. Can’t understand anyone else’s problems unless it happens to them too.

There’s an old saying that conservatives look for converts while liberals look for heretics. What this means is that when liberals see the light, conservatives welcome them to the fold. But when conservatives see the light, liberals sneer until they’ve proven themselves for a decade or three.

This is self destructive behavior. It is, after all, human nature—not conservative nature—for people to become more attuned to problems when they experience them personally. If you’re rich and your husband dies of prostate cancer, you start up a charity aimed at prostate cancer. Parents of autistic kids try to draw attention to autism. Movie stars who go through drug rehab dedicate themselves to funding drug rehab charities.

When we find an ally, we should welcome them even if they’re allies only on one or two issues. So welcome to the fold, Meghan. The next step is for you to help us figure out how to convince other conservatives that paid maternity (and paternity!) leave is a good idea.

All true… And, yet, it really is super-telling that so many conservatives are just so amazingly selfish that they don’t recognize something as a problem until it affects them personally.  I mean, sure, lets not beat up on McCain.  But lets do take the opportunity to highlight this dynamic and emphasize to conservatives that they may one day have a child– or a gay child!– or lose their job or cancer or whatever. 

2) Here’s a great headline.  We so need more de-escalation training for police!  We can do so much better.  “Newark police: No officer fired a single shot in 2020, thanks to de-escalation program”

3) Yascha Mounk makes the “don’t impeach” case.  It is a reasonable and serious case.  But I almost feel like that’s like telling the sheriff in 1950 Alabama not to arrest the white guy who shot the Black man because the all-white jury will acquit him anyway.  No, arrest him, damnit, and let other people own their moral failures.  

4) The Science version of Mina’s rapid testing case.  We’d alsmost surely already have these if Biden were president.  And I’m hopeful that he gets it off the ground fast.  

5) This is terrific from Clint Smith.  Read it.  “The Whole Story in a Single Photo: An image from the Capitol captures the distance between who we purport to be and who we have actually been.”

A Trump supporter carrying a Confederate flag through the U.S. Capitol.

Also behind the man in Wednesday’s photo, partially obscured by the rebel flag, is a portrait of John C. Calhoun. A senator from South Carolina and the vice president under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, Calhoun wrote in 1837: “I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good.”

The fact that this photo was taken the day after voters in Georgia chose the first Black person and the first Jewish person in the history of that state to serve in the Senate; that it shows a man walking past the portrait of a vice president who urged the country to sustain human bondage and another portrait of a senator who was nearly beaten to death for standing up to the slavocracy; that it portrays a man walking with a Confederate flag while a mob of insurrectionists pushed past police, broke windows, vandalized offices, stole property, and strolled through the halls of Congress for hours, forcing senators and representatives into hiding and stopping the certification of the electoral process—it is almost difficult to believe that so much of our history, and our current moment, was reflected in a single photograph.

6) The hell?!  “Maybe ‘dark matter’ doesn’t exist after all, new research suggests Observations of distant galaxies have seen signs of a modified theory of gravity that could dispense with the invisible, intangible and all-pervasive dark matter.”

For decades, astronomers, physicists and cosmologists have theorized that the universe is filled with an exotic material called “dark matter” that explains the stranger gravitational behavior of galaxies and galaxy clusters.

Dark matter, according to mathematical models, makes up three-quarters of all the matter in the universe. But it’s never been seen or fully explained. And while dark matter has become the prevailing theory to explain one of the bigger mysteries of the universe, some scientists have looked for alternative explanations for why galaxies act the way they do.

Now, an international team of scientists says it has found new evidence that perhaps dark matter doesn’t really exist after all.

In research published in November in the Astrophysical Journal, the scientists report tiny discrepancies in the orbital speeds of distant stars that they think reveals a faint gravitational effect – and one that could put an end to the prevailing ideas of dark matter.

The study suggests an incomplete scientific understanding of gravity is behind what appears to be the gravitational strength of galaxies and galaxy clusters, rather than vast clouds of dark matter.

That might mean pure mathematics, and not invisible matter, could explain why galaxies behave as they do, said study co-author Stacy McGaugh, who heads the astronomy department at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

7) You know what is poisoning our politics (and, not symmetrically, but definitely a “both sides” here)?  Everybody wants to be the damn victim!  But, nobody loves playing the victim like the poor, aggrieved, white supporters of Trump.  David Graham “The Insurrectionists Would Like You to Know That They’re the Real Victims”

8) David Hopkins on Republicans:

But when a large population of citizens is told repeatedly by authorities they trust that political power is being improperly seized by a nefarious cabal, many will naturally start to think that they should do something drastic to stop it. And so whatever strategic cleverness might have inspired the repeated promotion of this and other conspiracy theories has been abruptly joined this week by what might be euphemistically called the corresponding downside risk.

The past five years have been especially valuable in revealing where power within the Republican Party does and doesn’t reside. Republican members of Congress enjoy substantial internal influence in certain areas: they largely controlled the party’s legislative agenda and shaped much of the policy-making during the tenure of the outgoing administration. But in the realm of rhetoric and communication, of speaking for their party and guiding its members, congressional Republicans are clearly at the mercy of a conservative media apparatus that has achieved the ability to dictate what the Republican Party should and shouldn’t publicly stand for.

If being a true conservative requires refusing to deny that the 2020 presidential election was rigged by treacherous Democrats, then Republican politicians will, regardless of their private views, be reluctant to defend the integrity of the electoral system, will support the disenfranchisement of voters from multiple states merely on the basis of improbable claims and rumors dismissed in courts of law by judicial appointees of both parties, and will pile on to demand the resignation of a fellow Republican elected official who was baselessly accused of mismanaging the administration of his state’s election once it became clear that the Democrats had narrowly won there.

The personal calculation at play here is obvious enough, and politicians of both parties can be expected to protect their own interests. But what do these acts add up to, in the end, if not the willful spreading of untruth, and the cession of massive national power to a set of voices who hardly even claim to prize or reward anything more than victory over their political adversaries? Recent events raise the question of whether the inarguable failure of security forces to defend the Capitol has been mirrored by an equally damaging weakness of responsible leadership from those who are supposed, at least some of the time, to lead. Can our form of government count on faithful protection from its stewards regardless of the partisan winds of the moment? Or are civic values, like the buildings that so often symbolize them, vulnerable to being smashed to pieces by those angry that they lost the last fight?

9) Really great WP photo essay on what went down on Wednesday.

10) Social science meets policing of protest in 538, ‘The Police’s Tepid Response To The Capitol Breach Wasn’t An Aberration: Authorities are more than twice as likely to break up a left-wing protest than a right-wing protest.”

11) And I almost never watch cable news clips, but a good segment from Chris Hayes on how damn scary this really was.

12) And harrowing first-person accounts from NYT journalists.

13) A follow-up to all the Boeing last week, “Boeing agrees to pay $2.5 billion to resolve federal criminal charge over 737 Max conspiracy”

14) 2020 has clearly been the best year for dogs!  “So many pets have been adopted during the pandemic that shelters are running out”

15) George Will lets loose:

The Trump-Hawley-Cruz insurrection against constitutional government will be an indelible stain on the nation. They, however, will not be so permanent. In 14 days, one of them will be removed from office by the constitutional processes he neither fathoms nor favors. It will take longer to scrub the other two from public life. Until that hygienic outcome is accomplished, from this day forward, everything they say or do or advocate should be disregarded as patent attempts to distract attention from the lurid fact of what they have become. Each will wear a scarlet “S” as a seditionist.

16) Because of course, “NC Republicans continue to defy governor’s orders by holding large party without masks”

17) This is so cool!  “Cuttlefish Took Something Like a Marshmallow Test. Many Passed.”

Zipping through water like shimmering arrowheads, cuttlefish are swift, sure hunters — death on eight limbs and two waving tentacles for small creatures in their vicinity. They morph to match the landscape, shifting between a variety of hues and even textures, using tiny structures that expand and contract beneath their skin. They even seem to have depth perception, researchers using tiny 3-D vision glasses found, placing them apart from octopuses and squids. And their accuracy at striking prey is remarkable.

But for cuttlefish, these physical feats in pursuit of food are not the whole story. A new study published this month in the journal Royal Society Open Science shows that there is even more to cuttlefish cognition than scientists may have known.

The sea creatures appear to be capable of performing calculations that are more complicated than simply “more food is better.” Presented with a choice between one shrimp or two, they will actually choose the single shrimp when they have learned through experience that they are rewarded for this choice.

While the braininess of their octopus cousins gets a lot of attention, researchers who study animal cognition have uncovered surprising talents in cuttlefish over the years. For instance, the cephalopods will hunt fewer crabs during the day if they learn that shrimp, their preferred food, is predictably available during the night. That shows that they can think ahead…

In these new experiments, curious to see whether they could alter the value cuttlefish attach to a single shrimp, the researchers gave the cuttlefish the option of entering a chamber with one shrimp or a chamber with none. Each time they entered the chamber with a shrimp, the researchers gave them a smaller shrimp as a reward.

Then each cuttlefish took a second test. They could enter a chamber and chase after two shrimp. Or they could enter another chamber that had only one.

“You’d think they always choose the larger quantity,” Dr. Chiao said. But that was not what happened.

In the second round the cuttlefish chose one shrimp significantly more often than two. Cuttlefish that hadn’t had the training reliably picked two shrimp over one, demonstrating that those that chose the smaller number were anticipating the reward and operating differently than their fellows. Even waiting until an hour had passed since the initial training did not completely erase the new behavior.

The process of being rewarded for choosing one shrimp seems to have given that option an extra glow as far as cuttlefish are concerned, Dr. Chiao said. That suggests that they are not simply making basic responses to prey they come across — they’re remembering what has come before and using it to make a choice. Even if in this situation the behavior didn’t result in a bigger haul, it adds to the evidence that they are complex creatures, capable of using their brains in ways that may surprise us.

18) I recently finished reading the Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.  I started it years ago and didn’t get far because I didn’t realize it was not just a time travel book, but a plague book.  A plague in modern times and in medieval times.  Kind of loved it.  But, actually don’t read this article about it if you think you might read it (damn, spoilers).

19) We’ll learn a lot more about policing failures.  For now, “Capitol Rioters Planned for Weeks in Plain Sight. The Police Weren’t Ready.”

20) And, to end on a happy note.  In our daily Simpsons watch, this week featured two of the greatest minutes of television ever.  Seriously.  I mean, honestly, I think I could watch this almost every day.

 

Urban vs. rural meets white vs. minority

One of the interesting features of early election returns by county had me thinking that maybe there’s something going on with the intersection of race/ethnicity and urban vs. rural.  Obviously, non-whites remain a very Democratic group overall, but it terms of movement towards the Republican party, it certainly seems like there’s more going on for non-urban non-whites.  Michael Kruse at Politico wrote a really interesting article focusing on Robeson County, NC, and trying to use it to learn some larger lessons, “How Trump Won One of America’s Most Diverse Counties — By a Lot.”  Robeson is definitely unusual because of a large Lumbee Indian population, but, the shift towards Trump is quite interesting:

There’s nowhere, not in this state, maybe not in any other state, quite like this. By land mass, Robeson’s the largest county in North Carolina, only a tad smaller than the whole of Rhode Island. It is one of this state’s poorest counties, and one of its least educated. Its population of some 130,000 people is also, though, one of the most broadly diverse in the nation—42.3 percent American Indian, 30.6 percent white, 23.6 percent black, with a growing Hispanic presence as well. “I always tell people it’s unique,” as Donnie Douglas, who was the editor of the Robesonian newspaper for almost a quarter-century, put it when we talked last week. “And I know what unique means.”…

It’s this uniqueness, however, that makes Robeson County not so much an outlier as a barometer. For all the headaches that Trump’s overall manner and refusal to concede pose for Republicans and those candidates eyeing House, Senate or presidential bids, he has crafted a sort of template for how the GOP might prevail even without him. Because as Democrats made marked gains with an increasingly multiracial mix of voters in and around the most metropolitan areas, Trump did a version of the same out in the hinterlands—defying the conventional wisdom that rural America is a sprawling demographic dead end of a steadily dwindling swath of less-educated white voters. On the contrary, Trump found ways to juice his support in these places, drawing support from pools of people previously considered all but unreachable for Republicans.

The result of those efforts supercharged a trend that area pols say has been building in less conspicuous fashion for going on 20 years. Trump increased his support here in both total votes and percentage more than in any of the other 99 counties in North Carolina. Joe Biden in Robeson actually got four more votes than Hillary Clinton did four years back. But Trump? He got 7,044more votes than he did in 2016. “It’s one of the more amazing things I’ve seen,” said Tom Eamon, a longtime political scientist at East Carolina University and the author of a book on the political history of the state. And the linchpin was the Lumbee.

And, especially with all the thinking that I’ve been doing about cultural issues vs. economic issues and urban vs. rural, I was pleased that my speculations on the matter made the article:

“And I think maybe we’re seeing some evidence that the political values that go along with being rural maybe under Trump start to matter somewhat more than the racial, ethnic factors,” North Carolina State University political scientist Steve Greene explained.

“Making inroads with minority voters, maybe especially in non-urban areas,” Greene added, “might be the formula.” It’s true for Republicans. It’s true, too, for Democrats—forced to face indications from Texas to Florida to here that racial and ethnic blocks are acting less like dependable, predictable monoliths, the identity politics undergirding their approach evincing cracks and strain.

Of course, I’m a social scientist and what I really want is serious survey data.  But, that’s hard.  To actually disentangle the effects of not just white vs. hispanic vs. Black but rural Black vs. urban Black and rural Hispanic vs. urban Hispanic requires a really big N.  Hopefully, though, somebody out there has that, because I think this is a really interesting question bearing further investigation.

Oh, and this Politico piece is a really nice mix of anecdote and analysis and worth reading in full.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) This was fascinating on the history of radiators and why they are so damn hot.  Ventilation!

The Spanish Influenza, which caused just over 20,000 deaths in New York City alone, “changed heating once and for all.” That’s according to Dan Holohan, a retired writer, consultant, and researcher with extensive knowledge of heating systems and steam heating. (Among his many tomes on the topicThe Lost Art of Steam Heating, from 1992.) Most radiator systems appeared in major American cities like New York City in the first third of the 20th century. This golden age of steam heat didn’t merely coincide with that pandemic: Beliefs about how to fight airborne illness influenced the design of heating systems, and created a persistent pain point for those who’ve cohabitated with a cranky old radiator. 

Health officials thought (correctly) that fresh air would ward off airborne diseases; then as now, cities rushed to move activities outdoors, from schools to courtrooms. When winter came, the need for fresh air didn’t abate. According to Holohan’s research, the Board of Health in New York City ordered that windows should remain open to provide ventilation, even in cold weather. In response, engineers began devising heating systems with this extreme use case in mind. Steam heating and radiators were designed to heat buildings on the coldest day of the year with all the windows open. Anybody who’s thrown their windows open in January, when their apartment is stifling, is, in an odd way, replicating what engineers hoped would happen a century ago. ..

The memories of the flu pandemic lingered. Engineering books from the 1920s often mentioned this need to design heating systems, notably the boilers and radiators, to operate with all windows open, a requirement of the “fresh air movement,” Holohan says. This health crusade, which has its roots in the post-Civil War era, saw fresh air as a necessity for good health; adherents believed that rooms with closed windows and tight airflow meant that others would breathe in your vapors and catch disease. The theory originated before modern germ theory, at a time when tuberculosis was a significant health threat. “They called unventilated air the ‘national poison,’” Holohan says…

By the time the Spanish Flu hit, the maxims of the fresh air movement had become popular enough to impact building designs. The toll of the pandemic solidified this thinking, says Holohan. Having robust steam boilers that could keep apartments and dwellings comfortable with open windows became standard in New York City, as well as other northern cities in cold climates, such as Detroit, Chicago, Denver, Boston and Philadelphia.

2) Good stuff from Brian Beutler, “Republican Silence Is a Bet Against Democracy”

In between are a large but shrinking number who have deflected and evaded, who have refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory without explicitly echoing Trump’s lies, who don’t assert that the election was rigged, but support Trump’s frivolous lawsuits as a routine pursuit of “legal means,” who are complicit but seek plausible deniability in the event of any future reckoning.

Most of the reporting on these officials has centered on their sheer numbers–a sign of how in thrall Republicans remain to their lame duck president, and evidence first and foremost of a party gripped by cowardice.

Many of them are surely cowards, but cowardice assumes a great deal about these actions that isn’t in evidence. As Greg Sargent explained last week, “The conceit that ‘cowardice’ is the driving motive here imagines that these Republicans secretly harbor principles that they’d like to honor if only they could do so safely.”

These Republicans are better understood as bet-hedgers, people far more calculating than impulse-driven nihilists or cowards. If Trump and his loyalists vanished from the scene tomorrow, and their lies about the election were suddenly muted, the bet-hedgers wouldn’t pour forth to admit it was all bullshit. They aren’t captive—they’re playing the long game. And a question that will soon confront the leaders of institutions who still believe in democracy is how to treat the bet-hedgers as they parlay into the Biden era…

The purpose of tolling the enemies of democracy (or, as Todd and his colleagues wrote, “reward[ing]” democracy’s friends) is to change incentives, so these saboteurs and their copycats see new downside in trying this again. But the Republicans who hedged their bets (or, as Todd and his colleagues wrote, “stayed silent”) are part of this group, too. Their bet was to play along with Trump’s effort to steal the election; the hedge was to do it quietly in the hope of escaping notice, playing innocent, then looting through the wreckage, in the event that Trump failed. They deserve to lose both wagers.

3) A terrific set of slides on how to use layered risk reduction to keep schools safe from indoor air quality guru, Richard Corsi.  

4) Speaking of guidelines for schools, I am so annoyed with my local school system.  There’s a reasoned debate to be had on whether high school students need to take their end-of-course exams in the school building.  What’s pathetic is how they try and assure us it will be safe– hand sanitizer!!

SCHOOLS OFFER ACCOMMODATIONS

School districts are trying to make taking in-person exams less stressful:

▪ Exams will be given in smaller than normal groups to maintain social distancing.

▪ Testing rooms will be cleaned before and after use.

Families can request makeup dates.

And not a damn thing on air quality!!  I mean, seriously, does not even one of them just have a subscription to the NYT where there’s plenty of stories/op-eds on the importance of ventilation.

5) “Enemies of Democracy.”  You know who this is about:

Three days before Christmas in 2001, Richard Reid took off from Paris on a flight to Miami. He did not intend on arriving. Instead, he attempted to ignite explosives packed into one of his shoes to destroy the plane, killing everyone aboard for the cause of violent jihad.

He did not succeed. Other passengers noticed his odd behavior—most notably lighting numerous matches while wires were dangling from his pant leg. He was subdued; the flight landed safely.

The plot had failed. But that did not mean that the system which let him get onto a plane with explosives “worked.”

A wise observer would view the Trump experience as a near-catastrophe which became a wake-up call for just how vulnerable our democracy is.

Instead, we have a conservative establishment which—when it isn’t outright advancing Trump’s attempt to overturn the election, or averting its eyes—says that the fact that Donald Trump will (probably) leave office on January 20 is proof that the system worked and there’s no reason for concern.

Consider Holman Jenkins who, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, claims that “U.S. democracy is a faith machine that continues to reward your faith.”

Allow yourself to relax a bit, and enjoy the latest chapter of the Trump show, which will continue to enrich us with ironies and absurdities and insights to light our way in coming decades as we decode the wild and wonderful experiment known as America.

It would be hard to come up with a clearer statement of elite, late republic decadence than “enjoy the latest chapter of the Trump show.” Why burden yourself with the moral responsibilities of citizenship when you can be like Blanche DuBois and depend on the kindness of strangers performing their civic duties?

In a staff editorial, National Review musters the courage to at least call Trump’s attempt to overturn the election what it is:

Trump’s most reprehensible tactic has been to attempt, somewhat shamefacedly, to get local Republican officials to block the certification of votes and state legislatures to appoint Trump electors in clear violation of the public will. This has gone nowhere, thanks to the honesty and sense of duty of most of the Republicans involved, but it’s a profoundly undemocratic move that we hope no losing presidential candidate ever even thinks of again.

There is dark vindication for Trump’s principled critics across the political landscape in these words. But consider that it took a president promoting election fraud conspiracy theories targeting his own party—thereby jeopardizing Republican control of the Senate—to get there.

And what remedy do the National Review editors propose? How would they keep this from happening again? All they can muster is to “hope [that] no losing presidential candidate ever even thinks of [it] again.”

Hope is not a plan.


A healthy republic ought to have a strong, even a visceral response to those who would endanger its future. And it should remember the treacherous who conspire against it…

If no political price is paid by the president and his cadres, what then? There is moral hazard for a republic that imposes no meaningful consequence on those who would destroy it from within.

Even if the president fails to overturn his election defeat, the mere attempt presents a Rubicon-like test for our republic. A line has been crossed, and it is important that those who wish for the nation to long endure push back.

The saboteurs who have struck at the heart of our democracy should be considered politically—if not morally—irredeemable. They should be pariahs, marked forever, as if they had sworn allegiance to an adversarial regime.

A republic that respects itself should remember where people stood in this moment, and keep those who would threaten it far from the instruments of political power.

We must never forget.

6) Looks like one company has created a major innovation in battery technology that could, hopefully, have huge benefits in our electric-battery-powered future.  

7) Krugman:

But you really shouldn’t be surprised by this willingness to indulge malicious, democracy-endangering lies. After all, when was the last time Republicans accepted a politically inconvenient fact? It has been clear for years that the modern G.O.P. is a party that can’t handle the truth.

Most obviously, Republican refusal to accept the election results follows months of refusal to acknowledge the dangers of the coronavirus, even as Covid-19 has become the nation’s leading cause of death, and even as a startling number of people in Trump’s orbit have been infected.

 

The thing is, Republican rejection of reality didn’t start in 2020, or even with the Trump era. Climate change denial — including claims that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by an international cabal of scientists — has been a badge of partisan identity for many years. Crazy conspiracy theories about the Clintons were mainstream on the right through much of the 1990s.

And one half-forgotten episode in particular seems to me to have foreshadowed much of what we’re seeing right now: Republican reactions to the mostly successful introduction of Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act went into full effect in 2014, amid dire predictions by Republicans. The act, they claimed, would drive insurance premiums sky-high, fail to reduce the number of uninsured, and have a devastating effect on employment.

None of that happened…

As far as I can tell, however, no prominent Republican was willing to admit that the party’s apocalyptic warnings had been proved false, let alone talk about why they were wrong…

Now, there’s obviously a big difference in immediate impact between refusing to accept evidence that contradicts your policy preconceptions and refusing to accept the results of an election. But the mind-set is the same…

The point is that once a party gets into the habit of rejecting facts it doesn’t want to hear, one fact it’s bound to reject sooner or later is the fact that it lost an election. In that sense there’s a straight line from, say, the Republican embrace of climate denial to the party’s willingness to go along with Trump’s attempts to retain power.

And the G.O.P.’s previous history of dealing with inconvenient reality gives us a pretty good idea about when the party will accept Joe Biden as the legitimate winner of the 2020 election — namely, never.

8) This was such a cool NYT Magazine feature, “The Social Life of Forests: Trees appear to communicate and cooperate through subterranean networks of fungi. What are they sharing with one another?”

9) And the same morning I read it, I listened to this terrific Radiolab episode about how mammals superior resistance to fungus may be why they took over after the dinosaurs’ extinction.

10) This is cool, “Could a Blood Test Show if a Covid-19 Vaccine Works? A new monkey study offers a ray of hope for speeding up clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccines.”

A new study in monkeys suggests that a blood test could predict the effectiveness of a Covid-19 vaccine — and perhaps speed up the clinical trials needed to get a working vaccine to billions of people around the world.

The study, published on Friday in Nature, reveals telltale blood markers that predict whether a monkey’s immune system is prepared to wipe out incoming coronaviruses.

The finding raises hope that researchers will be able to look for the same markers in people who get vaccines in clinical trials. If the markers are strong enough, they could reveal if the vaccines protect against Covid-19. And researchers would no longer have to wait for some trial volunteers to get the disease, as they do now.

“It will pave the way for a much more rapid advancement of the Covid vaccine field,” said Dr. Dan Barouch, a vaccine expert at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and one of the researchers behind the new study.

11) Great stuff from Elisabeth Rosenthal.  I’ve been trying to work on this very issue with my Covid research with UNC folks.  “It’s Time to Scare People About Covid: Our public messaging about the virus should explain the real costs — in graphic terms — of catching the virus.”

Forget that. Mister Rogers-type nice isn’t working in many parts of the country. It’s time to make people scared and uncomfortable. It’s time for some sharp, focused terrifying realism.

“Fear appeals can be very effective,” said Jay Van Bavel, associate professor of psychology at New York University, who co-authored a paper in Nature about how social science could support Covid response efforts. (They may not be needed as much in places like New York, he noted, where people experienced the constant sirens and the makeshift hospitals.)

I’m not talking fear-mongering, but showing in a straightforward and graphic way what can happen with the virus.

From what I could find, the state of California came close to showing the urgency: a soft-focus video of a person on a ventilator, featuring the sound of a breathing machine, but not a face. It exhorted people to wear a mask for their friends, moms and grandpas.

But maybe we need a P.S.A. featuring someone actually on a ventilator in the hospital. You might see that person “bucking the vent” — bodies naturally rebel against the machine forcing pressurized oxygen into the lungs, which is why patients are typically sedated.

(Because I had witnessed this suffering as a practicing doctor, I was always upfront about the trauma with loved ones of terminally ill patients when they were trying to decide whether to consent to a relative being put on a ventilator. It sounds as easy as hooking someone to an I.V. It’s not.)

Another message could feature a patient lying in an I.C.U. bed, immobile, tubes in the groin, with a mask delivering 100 percent oxygen over the mouth and nose — eyes wide with fear, watching the saturation numbers rise and dip on the monitor over the bed.

Maybe some P.S.A.s should feature a so-called Covid long hauler, the 5 percent to 10 percent of people for whom recovery takes months. Perhaps a professional athlete like the National Football League’s Ryquell Armstead, 24, who has been in and out of the hospital with serious lung issues and missed the season.

These P.S.A.s might sound harsh, but they might overcome our natural denial. “One consistent research finding is that even when people see and understand risks, they underestimate the risks to themselves,” Mr. Van Bavel said. Graphs, statistics and reasonable explanations don’t do it. They haven’t done it.

12) Somehow I missed this in the September Atlantic on the Chinese security state and the Uighurs.  My God it’s disturbing.  

13) We need to dramatically change police union contracts.  “I used to be a police chief. This is why it’s so hard to fire bad cops.”

14) “How Iceland hammered COVID with science

15) Japan setting up large screens to show the air quality (via CO2) at large events.  I wish we could be the smart country.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Tons of Americans have the skills to earn way more money, regardless of their lack of a college degree:

For the past four decades, incomes rose for those with college degrees and fell for those without one. But a body of recent and new research suggests that the trend need not inevitably continue.

As many as 30 million American workers without four-year college degrees have the skills to realistically move into new jobs that pay on average 70 percent more than their current ones. That estimate comes from a collaboration of academic, nonprofit and corporate researchers who mined data on occupations and skills.

The findings point to the potential of upward mobility for millions of Americans, who might be able to climb from low-wage jobs to middle-income occupations or higher.

But the research also shows the challenge that the workers face: They currently experience less income mobility than those holding a college degree, which is routinely regarded as a measure of skills. That widely shared assumption, the researchers say, is deeply flawed…

“We need to rethink who is skilled, and how skills are measured and evaluated,” said Peter Q. Blair, a labor economist at Harvard, who was a member of the research team.

In recent years, labor experts and work force organizations have argued that hiring should increasingly be based on skills rather than degrees, as a matter of fairness and economic efficiency. The research provides quantified evidence that such a shift is achievable.

College is great.  And our society over-values a college degree.

2) Meanwhile, at UNC, “UNC-CH faculty say spring semester must be remote or COVID-19 cases will likely spike.” Maybe.  But we’ve actually seen quite a few universities pull this off this past semester.  It can be done.  I also find it interesting that virtually no signatories of the letter are in science fields.  

3) Richard Hasen gives credit where it’s due to Republican officials actually standing up for democracy:

But when it comes to upholding the fundamental rule of law, many on the right deserve praise in this moment. And that might seem like a very low bar, but it is important to consider the alternative. In just the past few days, one of the president’s lawyers, Joe diGenova, said that former federal cybersecurity head Chris Krebs, a Republican who has vouched for the integrity of American elections, should be shot. Sidney Powell, a lawyer who had worked for the president on his election lawsuits until she was fired and is still bringing a crazy conspiracy-laden election lawsuit in Georgia against the election results, according to Politico, “retweeted a Twitter message that called on Trump to declare an insurrection, halt the planned convening of the Electoral College in each state in Dec. 14 and use ‘military tribunals’ to investigate alleged fraud related to the just-completed election.” Lin Wood, also involved in the litigation, said that the president should declare martial law and hold a new election. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs in an interview with Powell called for “drastic action” because of supposed crimes committed against Trump and the American people. That key Republican officials and conservative judges have not allowed themselves to be dragged along with the would-be mob is noteworthy.

We are not out of the woods yet, and it is going to take continued vigilance by all people of the left and right to assure continued support for the rule of law. Some of what we are hearing from the president’s most ardent supports is very ugly, antidemocratic, and anti-American. In this fight, we should be appreciative of Federalist Society voices and others standing up for what is right.

4) Some cool research, “Inducing feelings of ignorance makes people more receptive to expert (economist) opinion”

While they usually should, people do not revise their beliefs more to expert (economist) opinion than to lay opinion. The present research sought to better understand the factors that make it more likely for an individual to change their mind when faced with the opinions of expert economists versus the general public. Across five studies we examined the role that overestimation of knowledge plays in this behavior. We replicated the finding that people fail to privilege the opinion of experts over the public across two different (Study 1) and five different (Study 5) economic issues. We further find that undermining an illusion of both topic-relevant (Studies 2–4) and -irrelevant knowledge (Studies 3 and 4) leads to greater normative belief revision in response to expert rather than lay opinion. We suggest one reason that people fail to revise their beliefs more in response to experts is because people think they know more than they really do.

Definitely some broader lessons in here.

5) Quinta Jurecic is damn right, “There Aren’t Serious-Enough Consequences for Those Trying to Break American Democracy”

At this point, though, even if judges or state bar associations do hand down sanctions against lawyers involved in these cases, those repercussions will be too little, too late. The president is busy creating a parallel world for his supporters in which he never lost the election and Joe Biden is not the rightful leader of the United States—what Vox’s Ezra Klein termed “an autocracy-in-exile.” Already, far-right news networks such as One America News and Newsmax are profiting from this effort, siphoning viewers away from Fox News by enthusiastically embracing Trump’s claims of voter fraud. Half of Republicans already believe that Trump triumphed over Biden. “That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history,” Chris Krebs, the former cybersecurity official fired by Trump for refusing to lie about the 2020 election’s integrity, tweeted of Giuliani and Powell’s appearance last week…

Even criminal sanctions are not enough to protect against the gravitational pull of disinformation. If prosecutions arise out of Trump’s postelection scramble, the unlucky defendants would likely become right-wing stars, feted on Fox News for their persecution by the “deep state.” Powell’s recent legal representation of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, is an argument against discounting the power that a pro-Trump defendant can have in right-wing media. Flynn, Powell’s highest-profile client, received a presidential pardon on November 26, three years after pleading guilty to lying to FBI agents—and has been busy burnishing his credentials as a popular figure among Trump supporters and QAnon conspiracy theorists. After Powell was booted from Trump’s legal team, he tweeted that she “is staying the course to prove … massive deliberate election fraud.” Trump’s parallel world can provide well for those who remain loyal.

So far, the Biden team’s approach seems to be to project calm and reassure Americans that the president-elect will take office as planned, the current chaos be damned—a continuation of sorts of Biden’s debate strategy of turning away from a bloviating Trump to calmly address the audience. This strategy has real merits as a means of denying disinformation the attention it needs to grow. But, as president, Biden will have to grapple with a Republican Party that has created a world for itself in which the Democratic Party and its voters, particularly Black voters, are not legitimate participants in democracy. The ultimate problem, as it has been for the past four years, is a political problem posed by the Republican Party’s racism and authoritarianism. And the political problem, unlike Trump’s lawsuits, is not going away.

6) This is cool, “London A.I. Lab Claims Breakthrough That Could Accelerate Drug Discovery”

Some scientists spend their lives trying to pinpoint the shape of tiny proteins in the human body.

Proteins are the microscopic mechanisms that drive the behavior of viruses, bacteria, the human body and all living things. They begin as strings of chemical compounds, before twisting and folding into three-dimensional shapes that define what they can do — and what they cannot.

For biologists, identifying the precise shape of a protein often requires months, years or even decades of experimentation. It requires skill, intelligence and more than a little elbow grease. Sometimes they never succeed.

Now, an artificial intelligence lab in London has built a computer system that can do the job in a few hours — perhaps even a few minutes.

DeepMind, a lab owned by the same parent company as Google, said on Monday that its system, called AlphaFold, had solved what is known as “the protein folding problem.” Given the string of amino acids that make up a protein, the system can rapidly and reliably predict its three-dimensional shape.

This long-sought breakthrough could accelerate the ability to understand diseases, develop new medicines and unlock mysteries of the human body.

7) I’m somewhat skeptical of the software to make virtual social gatherings actually fun, but the analysis is certainly on top of why these virtual gatherings are so much harder to get right than the real world:

Research backs up this preference for smaller conversations: Social scientists consistently find that four is the maximum number of people that an average conversation contains before potentially splitting into smaller conversational groups. This holds true for contexts ranging from Shakespeare plays and various film genres to everyday conversations in Iranian public spaces or English-speakers in university cafeterias and even waiting outside of buildings after fire drills. When a fifth or sixth person joins, people will sometimes valiantly try to keep the conversation on a single thread, but it inevitably fissions—that is, unless you’re in Zoom.

Four is the magic number in part because of cognitive limitations—our brains have a hard time mentalizing, or keeping track of everyone’s mental states, above four participants. But in video calls, the technology prevents us from splitting, so we’re forced to mentalize too high. The result? That muchlamented Zoom fatigue

What makes a party feel like a party, I’ve concluded, is that there are multiple conversational options that you can move between. Sometimes the whole group might come together into a single conversational thread, such as when singing “Happy Birthday” or proposing a toast, but a party never stays there—if it does, it’s a performance, or a meeting. Crucially, people also need to have the autonomy to move fluidly between these smaller conversations, which is why host-assigned breakout rooms and parties at restaurants fall a bit flat compared to parties in more fluid spaces, unless people take it upon themselves to get up and sit at the other end of the table for a bit.

8) Good stuff on how early Covid evolution, “Evidence Builds That an Early Mutation Made the Pandemic Harder to Stop: Scientists were initially skeptical that a mutation made the coronavirus more contagious. But new research has changed many of their minds.”

As the coronavirus swept across the world, it picked up random alterations to its genetic sequence. Like meaningless typos in a script, most of those mutations made no difference in how the virus behaved.

But one mutation near the beginning of the pandemic did make a difference, multiple new findings suggest, helping the virus spread more easily from person to person and making the pandemic harder to stop.

The mutation, known as 614G, was first spotted in eastern China in January and then spread quickly throughout Europe and New York City. Within months, the variant took over much of the world, displacing other variants.

For months, scientists have been fiercely debating why. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory argued in May that the variant had probably evolved the ability to infect people more efficiently. Many were skeptical, arguing that the variant may have been simply lucky, appearing more often by chance in large epidemics, like Northern Italy’s, that seeded outbreaks elsewhere.

But a host of new research — including close genetic analysis of outbreaks and lab work with hamsters and human lung tissue — has supported the view that the mutated virus did in fact have a distinct advantage, infecting people more easily than the original variant detected in Wuhan, China.

9) Maybe this will have some impact with anti-maskers, “Another Reason to Wear a Mask: COVID-19 May Cause Erectile Dysfunction”

10) Great stuff from Ron Brownstein, “GOP silence on Trump’s false election claims recalls McCarthy era”

In McCarthy’s era, most of the GOP’s leaders found excuses to avoid challenging conspiracy theories that they knew to be implausible, even as evidence of their costs to the nation steadily mounted. For years, despite their private doubts about his charges and methods alike, the top GOP leadership — particularly Senate Republican leader Robert A. Taft, the Mitch McConnell of his day — either passively abetted or actively supported McCarthy’s scattershot claims of treason and Communist infiltration. A significant faction of Senate Republicans didn’t join with Democrats to curb McCarthy’s power until the senator immolated himself with his accusations, in highly publicized 1953 and 1954 hearings, that the Army was riddled with Communists during the presidency of fellow Republican Dwight Eisenhower.

In many respects, the congressional GOP response to Trump has paralleled the party’s response to McCarthy. Whatever their private concerns about Trump’s behavior or values, the vast majority of congressional Republicans have supported Trump since his 2017 inauguration at almost every turn, brushing aside concerns about everything from openly racist language to his efforts to extort the government of Ukraine to manufacture dirt on the eventual Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden.

That pattern of deference has continued since the election as Trump has raised unfounded claims that he lost only because of massive voter fraud; as an array of state and federal courts have rejected those claims as lacking any supporting evidence, Trump has only heightened his allegations…

Almost from the start, a larger group of congressional Republicans resisted McCarthy’s wild charges than have pushed back against Trump at any point in his presidency (and certainly since the 2020 election). On June 1, 1950, first-term Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, in a statement joined by about half a dozen other GOP colleagues, took to the Senate floor to denounce not only McCarthy but also others in the party who hoped to ride “to victory through the selfish political exploitation of fear, bigotry, ignorance, and intolerance.”…

In another parallel to Trump, congressional Republicans were deferential not only because they considered McCarthy an ally, but also because they recognized him as a potential threat. The journalist William S. White captured their skittish ambivalence when he wrote, “In McCarthy, embarrassed Republican leaders know they have got hold of a red-hot bazooka, useful in destroying the enemy but also quite likely to blister the hands of the forces that employ it. Their private fear is that a lethal rocket may at any moment blast out through the wrong end of the pipe.”

Just like congressional Republicans now with Trump, GOP legislators then found themselves following McCarthy into deeper and deeper waters of conspiracy theories. An early indication of how far McCarthy might go came in June 1951, when he delivered a 60,000-word attack on George Marshall, the brilliant Army chief of staff in World War II and later secretary of state for Truman. It was in that speech that McCarthy famously (or infamously) declared that he was unraveling “a conspiracy … so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.”…

Some Republicans may fear Trump; others may find his fraud accusations a useful tool for weakening Biden or justifying a new wave of voter suppression measures. But whatever their motivation for enabling Trump’s baseless and corrosive claims, Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy and the vast majority of other Republican legislators are likely consigning themselves to the same withering verdict that history has applied to the party predecessors who found their own reasons not to object as Joe McCarthy tore for years at the nation’s deepest values.

11) Disturbing stuff on hospital capacity:

It is clearest in a single simple statistic, recently observed by Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. For weeks, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 had been about 3.5 percent of the number of cases reported a week earlier. But, he noticed, that relationship has broken down. A smaller and smaller proportion of cases is appearing in hospitalization totals.

“This is a real thing. It’s not an artifact. It’s not data problems,” Jha told us.

Why would this number change? As hospitals run out of beds, they could be forced to alter the standards for what kinds of patients are admitted with COVID-19. The average American admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 today is probably more acutely ill than someone admitted with COVID-19 in the late summer. This isn’t because doctors or nurses are acting out of cruelty or malice, but simply because they are running out of hospital beds and must tighten the criteria on who can be admitted…

In other words, we’re observing exactly the opposite of what you’d expect from a rash of mild cases in the data. The virus seems to be killing more peopleAnd that makes sense: As Yong and our colleague Sarah Zhang have both written, many of our medical triumphs over the virus have come from more attentive and knowledgeable hospital care for COVID-19 patients. (Very few, if any, people outside of a clinical trial have received the cocktail of antibody drugs that President Donald Trump claims is a “cure” for the disease.) Yet a smaller fraction of people are now receiving that expert and conscientious care…

But ominous no longer fits what we’re observing in the data, because calamity is no longer imminent; it is here. The bulk of evidence now suggests that one of the worst fears of the pandemic—that hospitals would become overwhelmed, leading to needless deaths—is happening now. Americans are dying of COVID-19 who, had they gotten sick a month earlier, would have lived. This is such a searingly ugly idea that it is worth repeating: Americans are likely dying of COVID-19 now who would have survived had they gotten September’s level of medical care.

The first doses of vaccine will almost certainly go out by Christmas. Tens of millions of Americans could have protective immunity within eight weeks. As the days lengthen and the weather warms, the vaccine will become easier to get; more than 100 million Americans may have immunity by the end of February. Many indicators suggest that next summer will be happy and prosperous, and we will gather indoors and outdoors and grin at one another like children in June. But the world will be reduced, and not as wise, because tens of thousands of Americans will be dead when they should be alive.

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