Latest take on NC Governor’s race

A new candidate entered the Republican field for the NC Governor’s race (prediction: he won’t win) which occasioned the Center Square to write a nice piece with my take as well as a number of other NC political scientists.  Unsurprisingly to you, I am happy for an occasion to make the case that current Lieutenant Governor, Mark Robinson, is a really bad candidate:

Steven Greene, a political science professor at N.C. State University, echoed similar thoughts.

He added in an email to The Center Square, “In running for the Republican nomination for governor, Mark Walker is claiming that Mark Robinson is unelectable and will bring down the entire North Carolina GOP ticket with him. ‘Unelectable’ is a little strong, but I think Mark Walker is basically right.

“I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – Robinson is an awful general election candidate for North Carolina. But we’ve seen time and again around the country Republican primary voters nominating awful general election candidates so long as they seem to best channel the ‘all culture war all the time’ and fealty to Donald Trump that seems to characterize what the majority of Republican primary voters want.”

I appreciated that Chris Cooper also gave an apporpriately negative assessment of Robinson:

“Mark Walker will enter this race as the second candidate – the primary alternative choice to Mark Robinson,” Chris Cooper, a political science and public affairs professor at Western Carolina University, wrote in an email to The Center Square. “For Walker to do well, Robinson must falter. But, given Mark Robinson’s history of making inflammatory and offensive comments, the potential to falter is always there.

Of course, the way I see it, the Republican base has no problem with Robinson’s inflammatory and offensive comments.  Could Robinson lose the nomination?  Sure.  But if there were a predictit market for this (there’s not), I would happily put some money on Robinson for the primary.  And there’s nothing better for NC Democrats to hold onto the governor’s mansion in 2024. 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Is semaglutide the ultimate wonder drug?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

15) I literally just do not believe this.  

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

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

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

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

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

We were wrong.

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

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

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

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

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


Quick hits (Chicago style)

This will be short because I’m in Chicago for a PS conference, but I got some stuff queued up before I left and had a little extra time here…

1) Great Edsall column on the authoritarian turn of Republicans:

Jacob Grumbach, a political scientist at the University of Washington, argues in his 2022 book, “Laboratories Against Democracy,” that

When it comes to democratic backsliding in the states, the results couldn’t be clearer: over the past two decades, the Republican Party has eroded democracy in states under its control. Republican governments have gerrymandered districts, made it more difficult to vote and restricted civil liberties to a degree unprecedented since the civil rights era. It is not local changes in state-level polarization, competition or demographics driving these major changes in the rules of American democracy. Instead, it is the groups that make up the national coalition of the modern G. O.P. — the very wealthy on the one hand and those motivated by white identity politics and cultural resentment on the other.

When I asked him why the Republican Party had moved in this direction over the past generation, Grumbach elaborated in an email, observing that the two major elements of the Republican Party — “extremely wealthy individuals in an era of high economic inequality” and “a voter base motivated by cultural and demographic threat” — have a “hard time winning electoral majorities on the basis of their policy agendas (a high-end tax cut agenda for the elite base and a culturally reactionary agenda for the electoral base), which increases their incentive to tweak the rules of the game to their advantage.” …

Other observers of American politics are more pessimistic. Theda Skocpol, a professor of political science and sociology at Harvard, contends that many of the developments in states controlled by Republicans are the result of careful, long-term planning by conservative strategists, particularly those in the Federalist Society, who are developing tools to build what she calls “minority authoritarianism” within the context of a nominally democratic system of government.

Skocpol outlined her thinking in an email:

The first-movers who figured out how to configure this new ‘laboratory of democratic constriction’ were legal eagles in the Federalist Society and beyond, because the key structural dynamic in the current G.O.P. gallop toward minority authoritarianism is the mutual interlock between post-2010 Republican control, often supermajority control, of dozens of state legislatures and the Scotus decision in 2019 to allow even the most extreme and bizarre forms of partisan gerrymandering.

These organized, richly resourced actors, she wrote,

have figured out how to rig the current U.S. system of federalism and divided branches, given generational and geographic realities on the ground, and the in many ways fluky 2016 presidential election gave them what they needed to put the interlock in place. They are stoking and using the fears and resentments of about half or so of the G.O.P. popular base to undo American democracy and enhance their own power and privileges. They are doing it because they can, and they believe in what they are doing. They are America’s G.O.P. Leninists.

Skocpol does not pull her punches:

This situation, locked in place by a corruptly installed Supreme Court majority and by many rotten-borough judicial districts like the one in Amarillo, means that minority authoritarians, behind a bare facade of “constitutionalism,” can render majority-elected officials, including the President and many governors, officials in name only. The great thing from the minority authoritarian point of view, is that those visible chief executives (and urban mayors and district attorneys) can still be blamed for government non-function and societal problems, but they cannot address them with even broadly supported measures (such as simple background checks for having military assault weapons).

2) The case for getting addicts treatment whether they want it or not:

There’s a common view that people with addiction can’t be helped unless they choose to go into treatment. But the data on voluntary versus coerced and court-mandated treatment is not so clear-cut. Some studies show people don’t need to choose treatment for it to be effective, even though it may be more effective if they choose it willingly.

“The fashionable rhetoric is that mandating people doesn’t work, but evidence points the other way,” says Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and an expert in addiction medicine.

One study he cites, published in The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment in 2005, followed patients one and five years after voluntary and court-mandated treatment. It concluded that “contrary to popular belief,” when drug users mandated to treatment are compared with people who sought treatment themselves, those who were mandated had similar results related to drug use outcomes and reductions in crime “or sometimes better than those achieved by voluntary patients.” The study also indicated that recognizing they have a problem and being motivated to stop using “may not be necessary for salutary changes to occur, either in the short or longer term.”

Not every expert agrees, and there are also studies questioning the long-term efficacy of compulsory treatment and the risk of potential harms, especially in programs that fall short of standard of care. The data can be difficult to parse because there are many different levels of coercion and ways that people can be pushed into treatment programs — and different treatment protocols when they get there.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says the evidence for compulsory treatment is mixed. “Creating a climate that encourages and supports people to seek treatment voluntarily and provides access to evidence-based treatment methods is critical,” the group said in a statement. “When that fails to happen, systems and organizations may begin to look to coerced treatment as an alternative.”

To understand whether compulsory treatment works, the institute says, “one must first ask if that treatment is evidence-based and also consider both short-term outcomes like halting drug use and long-term outcomes like staying in recovery.”

I understand why involuntary and coerced treatment are viewed negatively. The approach is part of what brought us the disastrous and counterproductive war on drugs. But with the current state of the drug supply, those who love people with substance use disorders have a difficult choice: Do something, even if it’s deeply unpleasant and may not ultimately work, or risk their loved one’s death.

There are effective ways to get people into treatment who don’t want it. One of the most effective intervention methods is community reinforcement and family training, or CRAFT. Unlike many interventions depicted on television, this approach to encouraging people to get treatment isn’t characterized by blame, threats and ultimatums but by expressions of love, empathy and support. Data suggests that about two-thirds of interventions using CRAFT succeed in getting people into treatment, but it isn’t an option for many people with acute manifestations of addiction, especially for those who are alienated from their families, unemployed or isolated.

3) Touchscreens are taking over high-end cars.  Give me knobs and buttons (and a nice modest-sized screen for my Apple Carplay). I thought this part was particularly interesting:

When Elon Musk unveiled the Tesla Model S in 2009, the command center, with its 17-inch LCD touch screen, seemed nearly as game-changing as the car itself. And in giving drivers digital control of automotive functions, Tesla was able to avoid the expense of engineering, wiring and building a cabin full of pricey analog switches, knobs and gauges — or having to buy them from another automaker or supplier.

I had no idea it was cost-cutting!  This is what I’m working with (2016 Jetta) and I think it’s great.

2016 Volkswagen Jetta: 81 Interior Photos | U.S. News

4) John McWhorter on taking offense at humor:

But in our times, an even subtler kind of counterexpectation infuses much of American humor. This is the idea that people who haven’t gotten the memo on our advances in social relations are the “unexpected” element, and that they are to be ridiculed. An example would be Peter Griffin, the paterfamilias of the animated comedy “Family Guy.” The show’s general ethos is one in which open sexism, homophobia and numbness to violence — all characteristics frequently manifested by Peter — are treated as barbarisms to feel superior to. I think of this kind of humor, requiring a layered approach to what is being proposed, as humor 3.0, compared to the humor 2.0 of the chicken joke and the 1.0 of the one about lemonade.

However, there are more than a few people who are disinclined to adopt the 3.0 model of humor. To them, even laughing at the person who hasn’t gotten the memo means you still have not gotten the memo. “Family Guy” to me is a joy; I’ve seen every episode. Yet I was once surprised to hear someone describe it as off-puttingly homophobic. I hadn’t thought of it that way…

I thought of this when “The Colbert Report” ridiculed resistance to changing the name of the Washington Redskins football team by proposing a hypothetical equivalent issue regarding an old, ironic Colbert caricature of Asians that included a silly mock-Chinese name. Many wanted Colbert’s show canceled, and I was struck by the idea, leveled by Colbert’s detractors, that mocking the caricature was the same as espousing it, a view they appeared to hold in all sincerity. Is it that the difference between leveling an insult and depicting someone leveling the insult in mockery is pushing the spontaneity and inherent emotionalism of human cognition beyond a reasonable point? …

The current idea that referring to the N-word is as offensive as using it seems related. The people promoting this idea seem to consider it progress over the use/reference distinction that until recently prevailed. A part of me tries to imagine that this really is a higher form of reasoning, although I can’t say my effort bears much fruit.

American humor seems to have drifted, like some classical music as well as much jazz from bebop on, into a form that bypasses the intuitive to a degree that will never entirely catch on. Part of the challenge of understanding one another across today’s partisan divides will be to understand that, as funny as 3.0 humor may be to some of us, for others, it still comes across as merely offensive.

5) Good God that grimmest take on guns in America, I’ve seen.  It strikes me as too certain in it’s pessimism, but, probably more true than not:

I wrote this article long before the latest mass shooting that just happened, this time in Louisville, Kentucky, because we all know the pattern, and it never changes. There’s a mass shooting and dead innocents, often children. Angry calls for Republicans to do something, and nothing gets done. The incident fades from the 24-hour news cycle, and we resume the waiting game for the next one. It’s Sisyphus with a boulder that rolls downhill and crushes him over and over for eternity.

That’s something that people who support gun control measures need to understand: The war is lost. There is no conceivable way for things to change for the better within the next 20 to 30 years, short of a national divorce. There is no way to change hearts and minds of Republicans or the courts. There is no way to change who is in office in most states. There is no way to replace who sits on the courts quickly or change conservative disdain for stare decisis.

In reality, mass shootings will only become more and more common over the next few years as Republicans have decided that the only solution to gun violence is adding as many guns as possible to the mix…

Some Republicans still want to pretend that they’re engaging with the subject seriously: blaming mental health issues, video games, lack of prayer in schools, and transgender people for mass shootings. But this is simply a distraction: Other countries have all those things, but they don’t have mass shootings. The United States is the only country where people have such ready access to hundreds of millions of firearms, and we are the only country where mass shootings happen with such grim regularity.

The only solution proposed by Republicans is “more guns,” which is the modern equivalent of “No, no. Dig UP, stupid! Proposals to arm teachers are obviously infeasible: If you don’t give teachers immunity from prosecution and lawsuits, they won’t carry and nothing changes. And if you do give them qualified immunity like cops, then you have the same problem you do with police: namely teachers blowing away mouthy eighth graders (who would be disproportionately Black or Hispanic), which is even worse than the status quo.

Anyone who actually understands the issue knows: It’s the guns, stupid. Which is why in moments of candor Republicans tell the truth: “We’re not gonna fix it. The Biden administration admitted there’s nothing else feasible that can be accomplished given the structure in place that guarantees nothing can, or will, be done. And the truth is, they’re correct.

6) Perry Bacon Jr, “Only the Republican Party can end our mass shootings epidemic”

If the United States severely restricted AR-15’s and other such weapons, there would be fewer mass killings in which one person shoots dozens. But to truly reduce the number of homicides, we have to restrict handguns, too.

So we need Americans to voluntarily give up their guns en masse — or be required to do so. That would require numerous, aggressive pieces of gun-control legislation, judges upholding those laws in court — and potentially a constitutional amendment stating that the Second Amendment does not provide an individual right to gun ownership.

I don’t think that’s impossible. Australia did something similar in the 1990s after a mass shooting there.

But we all know the problem. Such massive policy changes would require Republican politicians, powerful right-wing institutions such as Fox News and many hard-line conservative voters to stop acting as though radical gun freedoms are essential to a free society. In our current political environment, Fox and other conservative entities regularly suggest that conservatives are under mortal threat and that owning a gun is both good and necessary. Republican politicians also whip up pro-gun sentiment. And many rank-and-file Republicans both have fairly extreme views on guns and are pushed even further right by party leaders.

This makes for a self-reinforcing cycle of fervent opposition to gun control. Just last month here in Kentucky, for example, the GOP-dominated legislature adopted a provision declaring the state a “Second Amendment sanctuary” barring local law enforcement officials from enforcing some federal gun laws.

For the United States to make progress on guns, the Republican Party has to change direction. That would require powerful parts of the Republican coalition, such as former president Donald Trump and Fox News, to start telling Republican voters that conservatism doesn’t require opposition to gun regulations. But it would take even more than that: You would also need some agreement among candidates to not outdo one another in demagoguing gun control during Republican primaries, and some major donors and groups to spend money boosting pro-gun-control candidates.

I know how far-fetched that sounds. But ultimately, that’s the only solution. The Democratic Party can’t impose gun control on its own, particularly in GOP-dominated states such as Kentucky. Nor can it push aggressive legislation if Republicans are loudly suggesting Democrats want to put conservative voters in bondage.

7) Totally love this from Berny Belvedere:

Jesse Kelly, the right-wing national divorce accelerationist who once publicly fantasized about literally scalping his political opponents, recently discovered that Coors sometimes promotes its alcoholic products to LGBT people.

This was especially devastating to Kelly, since it came on the heels of Bud Light also revealing itself to be ensared by the same pernicious ideology of wanting to sell more alcoholic beverages, which is apparently why it partnered with trans TikTok personality Dylan Mulvaney for a social media push and a commemorative can.

However, in Kelly’s fevered imagination, this was Molson Coors and Anheuser-Busch—the parent companies for Coors and Bud Light, respectively—fomenting a woke gender revolution.

Now, Mulvaney is a complete weirdo, but stopping there and going no further is apparently not possible for Kelly—he has to go beyond that and see in this marketing strategy the very undoing of the American project.

After he noticed that Coors has also been marketed to young adults and LGBT people, it led to an exasperated sigh. This is why Kelly half-jokingly suggested that he now has to do an hour of research before purchasing beer.

Sarcasm aside, why does he feel he has to do this?

MAGA voters and left-leaning LGBT people both like to drink beer, but because the two are at enmity with each other, we ought to conclude that these beer companies are completely captured by progressive zealotry if they try to pitch their drinks to both camps?

Kelly should just feel free to buy whatever products he enjoys rather than subordinate his consumption habits to identitarian considerations that have nothing to do with the quality of the products themselves.

I’m not just saying this to Kelly. This is as true for the anti-Bud Light/anti-Coors sentiment on display here as it is for the anti-Chick-fil-A sentiment of yesteryear.

But it’s a message that is especially salient for Kelly, who belongs to a crowd that tends to loudly decry the politicization of all things. All of a sudden, these people can’t operate a grocery list without first checking LinkedIn to see if companies that make the products they like have DEI officers on the payroll or whatever.

My counterproposal is that they should just live their lives.

They must feel they can’t, though, unless they first cleanse their pantries and refrigerators of lib-infected products. This is why antivax fanatic and antiwoke sportscaster Clay Travis came to Kelly’s defense with Gratis, a beer that is somehow able to come across as highly patriotic despite promising never to be pitched to the subset of Americans who are trans.

It is perhaps fitting that we would see, in a hyperpolarized age, marketing gimmicks dressed in the guise of responsible civic duty yet calibrated to exert maximal ideological pressure—e.g., “take money away from woke capital and give it to corporations that don’t hate you!”

I’m avowedly pro-capitalism, but the commodification of ideological dissent is one of capitalism’s most disquieting flexes. Scores of people convinced that purchasing their razors from Ben Shapiro rather than from Harry’s is some sort of powerful salvo in the grand battle between good and evil.

The overriding psychological importance of our intensely held ideological identities renders them powerfully exploitable by savvy marketing techniques toward suboptimal consumer outcomes: prioritizing political affinity above product quality to own the libs!

8) I made Vox this week:

There’s also an incentive for a party that is just short of a supermajority, as was the case in both states, to court members who may be on the political margins. It’s not yet clear whether the GOP made any concessions to any of the three lawmakers to persuade them to come over, but it’s certainly possible.

“It’s a lot more fun to be part of the majority and even more fun to be part of the supermajority,” said Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University.

The lawmakers will inherently wield more power and have access to favorable committee assignments. But they also don’t have to vote with their new parties all the time: Greene said it would be strange for Cotham to turn her back on her previous positions on abortion and LGBTQ rights, but it’s possible that she might vote with Republicans on the state budget, where the implementation of Medicaid expansion is likely to be contentious.

9) This.

10) Gallup:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Though Democrats and Republicans have long come down on different sides when considering the tradeoffs between economic growth and environmental protection, the gap between the parties has never been larger. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats, compared with 20% of Republicans, now believe environmental protection should be given the higher priority.

From 1984 to 1991, the parties expressed similar views on this matter, but by 1995 a divide became evident, which has since gradually expanded. At least half of Democrats have favored the environment over economic growth in all years of Gallup’s trend except during the economically challenged years of 2010 and 2011. Meanwhile, majorities of Republicans typically prioritized the environment from 1984 through 2000, but Republicans have not returned to that level since falling to 47% in 2001.

There have been years when more Democrats prioritized environmental protection than do so today, including 82% in 2019 and 85% in 2020. But in those years, more Republicans than now thought environmental protection should be the higher priority.

Similarly, the 20% of Republicans who currently think the environment should get greater consideration is not the low point for that subgroup. In both 2011 and 2021, 19% of Republicans held that view, years when fewer Democrats than today prioritized the environment.

The results are based on Gallup’s annual Environment survey, conducted March 1-23.

Political independents’ views are closer to those of Democrats, as 54% give a higher priority to environmental protection.

Meanwhile, 40% of independents, 17% of Democrats, and 74% of Republicans fall on the other side of the debate, saying economic growth should be more important than environmental protection. The pro-economy figure for Republicans is the highest Gallup has measured to date, and the 57-percentage-point Republican-Democratic gap on prioritizing the economy is also the largest.

11) For the legal-minded, “A Scalia Clerk Dismantles the Medication Abortion Decision: The court’s analysis directly contradicts binding precedent, relies on skewed evidence, and would yield absurd consequences”

The court also credits the plaintiffs’ allegation that the doctors may be forced to be made “complicit” in an “elective chemical abortion” by forcing them into a situation in which they “need[] to remove a baby with a beating heart or pregnancy tissue as the only means to save the life of the woman or girl.” It doesn’t appear that any of the doctor-members have ever had to involuntarily “remove a baby with a beating heart” as a result of an unsuccessful mifepristone abortion; it’s unclear whether this has happened to any doctor, ever.

But even if it has, it’s absurd to suggest that this is a “certainly impending” outcome for these doctors. Think of what these doctors are saying: They are claiming standing to ban all women from obtaining mifepristone from all doctors in all 50 states, and force all of these women to obtain surgical abortions if they want to terminate their pregnancies, in order to ward off against the hypothetical possibility that some unspecified woman, somewhere, might someday take mifepristone, have some extremely unusual reaction, enter a hospital, and randomly encounter one of these particular doctors, who personally will have to conduct an extremely rare surgical procedure to save the woman’s life, which will lead to the doctor experiencing emotional harm from being “complicit” with abortion. Really?

12) Yes, this!  Everybody and their damn SUV’s! (I don’t apologize for my minivan given that I have a family of 6), “The US Wants to Close an ‘SUV Loophole’ That Supersized Cars”

TOUGH NEW RULES on pollution from vehicles, proposed by the US Environmental Protection Agency this week, could reshape one of the world’s largest industries and transform how millions of people get around. The goal, government officials say, is to get many more electric vehicles in many more driveways

But another way to look at the proposed rules is as some 1,400 pages of modeling, charts, and dense regulatory language—enough to make any environmental wonk’s heart chirp like an endangered songbird. And buried in there is a fascinating federal flip-flop: an attempt to close a loophole that may be partially responsible for the exploding size of passenger vehicles on US roads.

To understand the change, you need to start in the 1970s, when the “SUV loophole,” as policy nerds call it, was created. US lawmakers were writing the nation’s first auto pollution rules, at a time when the only people driving heavy vehicles like trucks were folks who had things to haul or real reasons to drive off-road. Farmers and construction workers and such. Who else would shell out to buy and fuel such a big set of wheels? It made sense to place trucks under more lenient fuel-efficiency rules than for cars.

Cut to 2010. In the midst of creating new tailpipe emission rules for cars, the Obama administration’s EPA used the same logic to carve out an additional and similar exception for large vehicles based on their “footprints”—the area between their wheels. An automaker selling cars with bigger footprints faced less stringent tailpipe emissions rules than those selling sedans or compacts.

Since then, truck and SUV sales have exploded far beyond ranchers and others who actually need such vehicles for their work. SUVs, which a decade ago made up one-third of new vehicle sales, now account for three-fifths, according to analytics firm J.D. Power. And car sales have plummeted, from about half of new vehicles sold to just one in five.

During that time, automakers got savvy about the emissions regulation system. A new category of vehicle, the crossover-utility, functions as a passenger car. They’re used by families, are driven for commutes, have no role to play on construction sites, and do little day-to-day hauling.

But because they have four-wheel drive, or a bit more cargo space, or a third row of seats, they’re big enough to qualify as trucks, at least for emissions regulations purposes. The result is a “blurring [of] the lines between cars and light trucks,” says Simon Mui, the head of state and federal clean vehicle policy advocacy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group. Automakers, meanwhile, can sell larger SUVs and trucks because these smaller “trucks” bring down the overall emissions of the vehicles they sell—helping them comply with federal tailpipe emissions rules. 

The new EPA proposals would change the footprint rules, making emissions requirements for cars and trucks more similar than they’ve been before. (The proposed rules will be debated and tweaked for months during the public comment period until they’re final.)

13) Quite liked this from Rory Smith:

That does not mean the product could not be improved, though what is striking is how many of its greatest shortcomings are of the sport’s own making. The introduction of the video assistant referee has proved almost universally unpopular, and so too the hard-line interpretation of offside it has spawned. It remains an item of absolute conviction in this newsletter that nobody has the slightest clue what counts as handball anymore.

All of these are within the wit of the game’s authorities to solve. V.A.R. should be invoked only for outrageous errors. Offside laws should be liberalized to give greater advantage to the attacker. Handball should be reserved for players swatting the ball away, like Luis Suárez at a World Cup, not a gentle, caressing brush with the fingers. Soccer has found itself in the curious position of trying to thrill young, fickle audiences by entangling itself in Byzantine regulation.

There are other changes, too, that might be considered. There is, certainly, a strong argument for an equivalent of a pitch clock: Rather than playing a game over 90 minutes, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that it should be an hour, with the clock paused every time the ball goes out of play.

14) This is encouraging, “Should College Come With Trigger Warnings? At Cornell, It’s a ‘Hard No.’ When the student assembly voted to require faculty to alert students to upsetting educational materials, administrators pushed back.”

Last month, a Cornell University sophomore, Claire Ting, was studying with friends when one of them became visibly upset and was unable to continue her work.

For a Korean American literature class, the woman was reading “The Surrendered,” a novel by Chang-rae Lee about a Korean girl orphaned by the Korean War that includes a graphic rape scene. Ms. Ting’s friend had recently testified at a campus hearing against a student who she said sexually assaulted her, the woman said in an interview. Reading the passage so soon afterward left her feeling unmoored.

Ms. Ting, a member of Cornell’s undergraduate student assembly, believed her friend deserved a heads-up about the upsetting material. That day, she drafted a resolution urging instructors to provide warnings on the syllabus about “traumatic content” that might be discussed in class, including sexual assault, self-harm and transphobic violence.

The resolution was unanimously approved by the assembly late last month. Less than a week after it was submitted to the administration for approval, Martha E. Pollack, the university president, vetoed it.

“We cannot accept this resolution as the actions it recommends would infringe on our core commitment to academic freedom and freedom of inquiry, and are at odds with the goals of a Cornell education,” Ms. Pollack wrote in a letter with the university provost, Michael I. Kotlikoff

“What was unique about the Cornell situation is they rapidly turned in a response that was a ‘hard no,’” said Alex Morey, the director of campus rights advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a nonpartisan organization focused on issues of free speech. “There was no level of kowtowing. It was a very firm defense of what it means to get an education.”

14) Eric Topol on next generation vaccines:

Those of you who’ve been following my editorials, such as with Akiko Iwasaki calling for Operation Nasal Vaccine, or with Dennis Burton for variant-proof vaccines, or many posts (herehere) and op-eds (herehere) will know I, and many others, have been pleading the case to gear up for better Covid vaccines and therapies. At times my frustration peaked, like with this twitter post last November.

That has now changed. It’s not the ~$18 billion as spent for Operation Warp Speed (OWS), but this is a substantial allocation that should make a difference for accelerating development of nasal and pan-coronavirus vaccines that can be more protective, and durable (both with respect to time and against new variants), along with therapies such as monoclonal antibodies and oral anti-viral pills beyond Paxlovid. Public-industry partnerships (OWS) that have accounted for our early and extraordinary success vs Covid, but until now not replicated. We really need this support.


  1. Shots don’t achieve mucosal immunity. If we’re going to block infections better, we need to induce local immunity through the upper airway by either nasal or oral administration. The rationale to use a nasal spray vaccine as a booster after shots (“prime and spike”) has been well laid out by Iwasaki’s lab, verified in experimental models, reviewed in our editorial, and with approval and rollout of the first nasal vaccine with a randomized trial (by Bharat Biotech, India with intellectual property derived from Washington University, St. Louis). We have also seen last week a comparative study showing nasal vaccine superiority vs shots for induced immunity in the widely accepted and predictive hamster model (twitter post below). Beyond these studies, there are many late stage (Phase 3) nasal vaccine programs that are nearing completion but we haven’t been ready to get behind these in the United States.

  2. The prospects for another Omicron-like event—a new family of variants that will challenge the immunity we have built up via vaccines, boosters, infections and their combinations. As I’ve previously reviewed, the chance of us seeing another highly troublesome variant is estimated to be 10-20% over the next 2 years, and higher as we go beyond that timeline. There are too many paths for this to happen, as shown below, for us not to worry about it. To anticipate this we need a pan-coronavirus vaccine that exploits our knowledge of not just the Spike protein, but also conserved regions of the virus, and a wealth of academic lab studies that have discovered critical antigenic sites (epitopes) of the virus for highly potent, broad, neutralizing antibodies which can serve as templates for such a variant-proof vaccine…

We don’t need to “dream” about such a vaccine anymore. (This excellent review was published in Science, April 2021) . With all the science that’s been done, it ought to be attainable! The NextGen program will help accelerate that by promoting and de-risking the vaccine development programs. There are undesirable side effects, some lack of durability of protection beyond 4-6 months, and vaccine-induced injury for current Covid vaccines that can certainly be improved upon.

15) This was really good. “At Stanford Law School, the Dean Takes a Stand for Free Speech. Will It Work?”

16) One of those Noah Smith pieces where I’m thinking, “do I really want to read this” but then am so glad that I did, “Europe is not ready to be a “third superpower””

As long as Europe doesn’t have the ability to hold a weakened, dysfunctional Russia at bay without massive American help, all Macron’s talk of “European sovereignty” will continue to ring hollow. Instead, like China and the Roman Empire both did during past periods of weakness, an independently acting Europe is more likely to try to buy off the Russian barbarians — by paying economic tribute in the form of gas purchases, and by allowing Putin small bits of territorial conquest in the hope that he will eventually be satisfied. This placating strategy was at the core of both Germany’s and France’s approaches before the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and it would almost certainly be at the core of a European foreign policy strategy that cast the United States aside…

But increasingly, Europe’s weakness isn’t just military; it’s economic and technological. A region that once dominated the global economy is now falling behind in almost every important area of industry, and in economic importance as a whole.

Ming dynasty Europe?


It’s impossible not to notice that Europe is being economically eclipsed. The EU’s GDP was equal to America’s in the early 1980s, but since then it has grown considerably more slowly. As for China, its economy eclipsed Europe’s in size as of 2020.

Much of Europe’s relative decline is demographic, even though Europe now lets in tons of immigrants and has a total fertility rate only slightly lower than the U.S. A more worrying issue is slow growth in per capita output. Though East Europe has grown quickly since its communist days, and Germany has mostly kept pace, France and Italy have seen living standards grow much more slowly than those in the U.S.

But even more disturbing is the way Europe’s core economies have seemingly turned their backs on the technologies of the future. Despite the strength of East Europe and Ireland in the software industry, and despite little competition from China, Europe as a whole has failed to become a software supercluster like the U.S. has. Instead of an economic opportunity to be exploited, Europe has treated the internet as a problem to be regulated.

European countries also produce very little of the infrastructure and equipment that forms the backbone of the global internet. As Jonathan Hillman writes in The Digital Silk Road, Europe has instead opted for a strategy of trying to control standards-setting bodies; instead of producing, it tries to make rules about what others should produce.

On the rapidly emerging technology of AI, Europe has been even worse.


Quick hits (part II)

1) Drum often writes of the “hack gap” and it’s on full display this week, “Who takes the law more seriously? A natural experiment can tell us.”

We have recently run an excellent natural experiment about the rule of law:

On Tuesday, Donald Trump was indicted on 34 counts of business fraud. Response was partisan, of course. Republicans unanimously blasted the legal basis for the case as both trivial and wrongheaded. Democrats . . . were split. Some defended the legal reasoning but others agreed the case was iffy.

On Friday, a federal judge in Texas ruled that the FDA had wrongly approved the abortion pill mifepristone two decades ago and ordered it taken off the market. Again, response was partisan. Democrats unanimously blasted the judge’s legal reasoning as specious and biased. Republicans . . . unanimously supported the judge.

By any sensible standard, the mifepristone ruling was farcical. The judge plainly struggled to invent a plausible argument that would allow him to make abortion pills illegal, and in the end he failed. So he just went with what he had.

And so far, Republicans are 100% behind him. He accomplished the right goal, and nothing else matters.

2) This is just wild.  Things really need to change on so many campuses, “A Black DEI Director Canceled by DEI”

This month, I was fired from my position as faculty director for the Office of Equity, Social Justice, and Multicultural Education at De Anza Community College in Cupertino, Calif.—a position I had held for two years. This wasn’t an unexpected development. From the beginning, my colleagues and supervisors had made clear their opposition to the approach I brought to the job. Although I was able to advance some positive initiatives, I did so in the face of constant obstruction.

What made me persona non grata? On paper, I was a good fit for the job. I am a black woman with decades of experience teaching in public schools and leading workshops on diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism. At the Los Angeles Unified School District, I established a network to help minority teachers attain National Board Certification. I designed and facilitated numerous teacher trainings and developed a civic-education program that garnered accolades from the LAUSD Board of Education.

My crime at De Anza was running afoul of the tenets of critical social justice, a worldview that understands knowledge as relative and tied to unequal identity-based power dynamics that must be exposed and dismantled. This, I came to recognize, was the unofficial but strictly enforced ideological orthodoxy of De Anza—as it is at many other educational institutions. When I interviewed for the job in August 2021, there was no indication that I would be required to adhere to this particular vision of social justice. On the contrary, I was informed during the interview process that the office I would be working in had been alienating some faculty with a “too-woke” approach that involved “calling people out.” (After I was hired, this sentiment was echoed by many faculty, staff, and administrators I spoke to.) I told the hiring committee that I valued open dialogue and viewpoint diversity. Given their decision to hire me, I imagined I would find broad support for the vision I had promised to bring to my new role. I was wrong…

From the beginning, efforts to obstruct my work were framed in terms that might seem bizarre to those outside certain academic spaces. For instance, simply attempting to set an agenda for meetings caused my colleagues to  accuse me of “whitespeaking,” “whitesplaining,” and reinforcing “white supremacy”—accusations I had never faced before. I was initially baffled, but as I attended workshops led by my officemates and promoted by my supervising dean, I repeatedly encountered a presentation slide titled “Characteristics of White-Supremacy Culture” that denounced qualities like “sense of urgency” and “worship of the written word.” Written meeting agendas apparently checked both boxes.

3) Fantastic deBoer post.  It’s hard to take just an excerpt that captures the spirit.  Trust me and read all of it and you won’t regret it.

I thought of that experience when I read this piece on adoption by Larissa MacFarquhar in the New Yorker. It is, I think, a pitch-perfect example of the contemporary tendency to simply wish away any sort of necessity other than moral or political necessity. The essay is a relentless chronicle of all of the ills of adoption, why adoption is alienating and traumatic for the adopted child, how adoption scars adoptees for life, divides them from their cultures, leaves the without an identity…. Yet what MacFarquhar says in parentheses and half-sentences is the most important point of all – that adoption is inherently a response to the unavoidable tragedies of human life, a necessarily imperfect solution to very real and persistent problems. Because MacFarquhar is dedicated to framing her story as the kind of simplistic victim narrative that has so much presence in contemporary magazine writing, reflecting on the fact that adoption is inevitable and necessary would get in the way. To the degree that adoptive parents are represented in the piece at all they’re implied to be clueless at best, indifferent and ignorant colonizers who snatch up children who aren’t theirs without caring about the consequences. Almost entirely undiscussed is the fact that the world houses both children who need homes and loving and nurturing adults with homes to share. That’s why adoption exists. That’s always been why adoption exists. Kids need parents and parents need kids. No facile trauma narrative can change that basic arithmetic.

This is very sad but true: some parents are shitty, abusive people who shouldn’t raise kids, and some birth parents just don’t want their children. That’s reality.

MacFarquhar of course trots out the hoary old nostrum that interracial adoption is wicked, not just complicated but actively malign. What the reader must ask for themselves (and which the average reader won’t consider at all) is the question, why has interracial adoption been common in the past? And the answer to that question is very simple: there have been more Black children in need of adoption than prospective Black adoptive parents. I mean, obviously. Of course we can talk about the sociological and economic conditions that have traditionally left Black parents more likely to give children up for adoption than to adopt, and we can lament them. I lament them. But Black kids need homes, and there’s historically been too few Black families for them. So too with adoption from Asian countries, which as the piece says have fallen off a cliff in the past two decades: there were more poor Asian kids who needed homes than there were homes to go to in their countries of origin. Again, you can discuss the global conditions that led to so many Chinese and Korean and other kids who needed adopting in the late 20th century all you want. Go right ahead. It doesn’t change the fact that in material terms untold thousands of Asian children had their lives dramatically improved through the adoption process. Including, yes, by being adopted into white families.

There’s a profound, obviously-motivated incuriosity in MacFarquhar’s piece about what the alternatives are for most children who end up adopted. The general options are childhoods spent in orphanages, in foster care, or in some cases back with birth parents who have various problems like drug addiction or a tendency to violence. There are of course dedicated and compassionate people working in orphanages and foster care. But is MacFarquhar really under the impression that those options are systematically superior to adoption? The requirements to adopt have only gotten more strict over time. Adoptive parents as a class are richer and more stable than the average American family, again owing to ever-more-exacting standards. The dream is for all kids to end up back with their birth parents, who are without exception stable, financially secure, and kind. But that’s only a dream. Some birth parents are too violent, some are too addicted, some are too mentally ill, and some are too dead. Meanwhile the essay is casually insulting to adoptive parents everywhere, barely deigning to consider their point of view at all. Some people are infertile, thanks to genetics or illness or happenstance. Should they really be barred forever from raising children? When so many of them feel so deeply and passionately that they can raise a human life in safety and comfort? Yeah, it’d be best if they could just have their own babies. And it would be nice if every birth parent was capable of raising kids the way they deserve to be raised. It would also be nice if no dogs ever died. But they do.

4) Good NYT piece on the latest in AI images.  I was regularly fooled by Midjourney.  It’s just so damn good now. “Can We No Longer Believe Anything We See?”

5) Chait, “Clarence Thomas and the Ethical Disaster of the Supreme Court Undisclosed gifts from billionaires won’t even embarrass the right.”

One of the oddest features of the American constitutional order is that it cedes the greatest level of power to the branch of government with the weakest ethical constraints. The judicial branch can, by majority vote, override any law passed by the other two branches, even those requiring supermajority support. Yet the justices of the Supreme Court, whose authority is total, do not even need to follow the ethical rules imposed on lower-ranking judges. The assumption, if there is any, is that, having ascended to the highest point in the legal-political hierarchy, the forces of corruption and influence that tug at everybody else within the system cease to operate.

The most glaring example of the Supreme Court’s ethical vacuum is Clarence Thomas. The right-wing justice has operated, in conjunction with his wife, in the center of a network of conservative activists whose project is indistinguishable from his legal work. The most recent of a string of revelations about Thomas’s disregard for ethical norms comes from ProPublica, which reports that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of luxury trips from businessman, right-wing activist, and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow.

Thomas did not disclose any of these gifts, a failure that “appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress, and federal officials to disclose most gifts,” two ethics-law experts tell ProPublica. But the important thing to understand is that there is no enforcement mechanism at all for these ethical norms. They are essentially a suggestion. Thomas did not bother responding to ProPublica’s questions, and there is no reason to believe he will face any consequences or change his behavior in any way…

One singularly unethical justice might be a containable problem. But Clarence Thomas is not seen by conservatives as an embarrassment they’re stuck with. To the contrary, they celebrate him as their moral beacon. At a tribute at the Heritage Foundation, Mitch McConnell called Thomas “a legal titan” and “the brightest possible north star.” Ron DeSantis described Thomas as the “greatest living justice.”..

The Republican Party believes that Thomas’s seamless integration of conservative-movement activism with the Supreme Court’s singularly powerful and unaccountable role in public life represents the finest and purest workings of the republican form of government. As we peer into a future of unbroken conservative control of the courts for perhaps decades to come, we should take seriously their professions of admiration for Thomas and his open contempt for the idea any ethical obligations might constrain his power.

6) No, this won’t become a law, but it’s just embarrassingly dumb, “NC senators propose eliminating participation trophies for youth sports: The bill, filed Thursday, would require that trophies in leagues operated under the authority of a local government be “based on identified performance achievements.””  The world changes.  Trophies don’t mean what they used to and now mostly mean you participated in something, not that you won.  Deal.

7) You know this is up my alley:

Diet modulates the gut microbiome, which in turn can impact the immune system. Here, we determined how two microbiota-targeted dietary interventions, plant-based fiber and fermented foods, influence the human microbiome and immune system in healthy adults. Using a 17-week randomized, prospective study (n = 18/arm) combined with -omics measurements of microbiome and host, including extensive immune profiling, we found diet-specific effects. The high-fiber diet increased microbiome-encoded glycan-degrading carbohydrate active enzymes (CAZymes) despite stable microbial community diversity. Although cytokine response score (primary outcome) was unchanged, three distinct immunological trajectories in high-fiber consumers corresponded to baseline microbiota diversity. Alternatively, the high-fermented-food diet steadily increased microbiota diversity and decreased inflammatory markers. The data highlight how coupling dietary interventions to deep and longitudinal immune and microbiome profiling can provide individualized and population-wide insight. Fermented foods may be valuable in countering the decreased microbiome diversity and increased inflammation pervasive in industrialized society.

8) I’ve really been meaning to do a whole post on the evil AR-15, based on the Washington Post’s great series, but I haven’t had the chance.  This is a tremendous article with great visuals you absolutely must check out.  Gift link. “The Blast Effect:
This is how bullets from an AR-15 blow the body apart”

9) Love, love, love this post from Brian Klass and I know a bunch of you will, too, “The Greatest Fluke of All-Time
All complex life—including humanity—owes its existence to a single accidental merger that happened just once in the history of our planet.”

That growing scientific consensus leads, unavoidably, to a puzzle. If life can emerge repeatedly, and survive unimaginably harsh conditions, then why can’t we see it elsewhere beyond Earth? Why haven’t we been visited by aliens, and why don’t our telescopes ever seem to detect extraterrestrial forests?

Nick Lane has helped establish an answer to that question—with plenty of evidence to back it up. The emergence of life, it seems, wasn’t necessarily nature’s improbable bottleneck. Rather, the bottleneck came from the power plants within our cells. That microbial power plant makes complex life possible.

Here’s the magical, awe-inducing bit: complex cells that give rise to complex life, powered by a microbial power plant, emerged precisely once. We’re direct descendants of that singular, unique fluke.

Without it, we’d all be stuck as bacteria—and your ability to read this sentence, or my ability to write it, would be rather undermined. (If you’re ever feeling bored because there’s nothing on TV, remember that you only narrowly escaped from the dull existence of life as a bacterium).

Perhaps life has arisen repeatedly on other planets, popping up over and over across the vast endlessness of space. But odds are that most of it is stuck in simple mode, never evolving into the complexity of, as Darwin put it, “endless forms most beautiful.” That would provide a compelling answer to the puzzle; life abounds beyond Earth, but it’s mostly stuck at low levels of complexity, so it’s invisible to us.

If, as the name of this newsletter suggests, living life is like wandering through a garden of constantly forking paths, well, this was arguably the biggest fork in the history of life on Earth.

How did it happen?

III: Mergers and Acquisitions


About two billion years ago, two microbes bumped into each other, but one of them ended up shacking up inside the other. They produced an endosymbiont, which is the fancy biology term for an organism that lives within the body or cells of another organism. (If you want the technical detail, the working theory suggests that this microbial merger happened between a bacterium and a member of the Archaea lineage, a single-celled prokaryote).

What likely happened was strange, but miraculous. The bacterium set up shop inside the other microbe. The bacterium then became the mitochondria within the other cell. The powerhouse of complex life was born.

The theory suggests that this merger gave rise to the eukaryotes, a club that you’re a member of, even if you’ve never paid your dues. Eukaryotes are organisms with cells that contain a nucleus and other membrane-bound organelles. All animals, plants, fungi, etc., are eukaryotes. That decisive trait, about how our cells are organized, connects you to me, but it also connects us to everything from manatees to mushrooms…

Why am I, a political scientist by training, writing about the evolution of mitochondria? There are two answers — one more banal, the other grander. The banal reason is that I find it fascinating. Every birth, every death, every war and invention, the entirety of the human saga, may be traced back to a microscopic evolutionary accident that has happened just once in billions of years. How humbling a thought!

But the more intellectual reason is that it highlights the uncertainty and messiness of life—not just of life in general, but of our lives. Everything we read tells us why something happened. The stock market plunged today because of an earnings report, or Trump became president because of a backlash against globalization. We crave simple explanations that fulfill two crucial criteria:

  1. One identifiable cause produced one identifiable effect;

  2. We know it to be true, with certainty, or can convince ourselves that we do.

The real world isn’t like that. Social science is an inherently flawed project because it too often requires meeting those two criteria even when it’s impossible to do so. Take the unimaginable complexity of life and cram it into a neat and tidy equation if you’re an economist, or a neat and tidy narrative if you’re a historian. We love the word because.

The origin of complex life on Earth, likely derived from the greatest fluke of all-time, reminds us of a profound but often forgotten truth: sometimes there is no because. Things just happen, often with extraordinary consequences. And occasionally, in those moments, all you can really do is marvel at it with a sense of awe, as I do when I contemplate that hidden hero that made our lives possible: the accidental mitochondria.

10) And I’ll wrap up with some good stuff from twitter:


11) Happy Easter!


Politicians should not do this– Tricia Cotham edition

Tricia Cotham decidedly did not win her House legislative district in NC because voters love what she, personally, had to offer.  She won because she was the Democratic nominee and this was a safe Democratic seat.  End of story.  In polarized 2022 America, barring extraordinary circumstancesno state legislator wins a safe district except for the reason that they are the same party of that safe district.  Thus, it is an extraordinary betrayal of the voters– and, yes, basic principles of democracy– for a politician to change parties just a few months after an election. 

This has not always been the case.  In the US Senate races, for example, often the actual person has made a huge difference historically.  (And even know, a modest difference on occasion– hello Susan Collins).  And, lots of Southern Democrats changed to Republicans without really substantially changing their votes or ideology as the South shifted in recent decades.  But for a modern urban/suburban Democrat in a safe Democratic district to switch parties in this age of polarization is a complete betrayal of their voters.  The only ethical thing to do is resign and stand for re-election as a Republican.  Of course, politicians do unethical things all the time, but it sucks when it affects the key political balance of your state.  

From the N&O Editorial:

On April 5, 2023, Democratic N.C. House Rep. Tricia Cotham announced she would join the House Republican caucus, provoking polarizing reactions from each party. The move will have major ramifications for North Carolina state politics.

In a shocking move, a North Carolina Democrat has switched parties, giving Republicans an outright supermajority in both chambers of the state legislature. State Rep. Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County has changed her party affiliation to Republican, she officially announced at a press conference Wednesday morning. Axios Raleigh first reported the news Tuesday.

While Cotham did not say exactly when she arrived at this decision, it would appear that Cotham may not have been honest with her constituents when they elected her last year. Cotham told WBTV in an interview that “this has been something I have considered for a very long time.”

“When I came back to this legislature, I knew times were different,” Cotham said at Wednesday’s press conference. “I knew I was different, too.”

Cotham won her November general election by nearly 20 points after emerging as the victor of a competitive Democratic primary in which there was no incumbent. House District 112, which encompasses Mint Hill and parts of east Charlotte, is a solidly blue district.

While Cotham did amass a reputation for bipartisanship during her previous terms in the General Assembly, there’s no question that the people who voted for her believed they were electing a Democrat — not a candidate who was considering becoming a Republican.

Indeed, Cotham’s campaign website — and the statements she made on the campaign trail — gave no indication she would change her party affiliation just months after being sworn in. She vowed to bring “progressive leadership” to Raleigh and was endorsed by many progressive organizations, including Emily’s List and Equality NC.

“Right now, LGBTQ+ youth are under attack by Republican state legislatures across the country,” Cotham’s campaign website still says. “I will stand strong against discriminatory legislation and work to pass more protections at the state level.”

Cotham also vowed to “stand up to Republican attacks on our health care” as well as “oppose attacks on our democracy, preserve fundamental voting rights, and ensure all voices are heard.”

Voters believed this is what she would deliver. They took her at her word. Now, she appears to be standing with Republicans instead of standing up to them.

In a Facebook comment, I mentioned that this seemed to me to be fundamentally the mark of bad personal character.  Shortly after which I heard from several people who had been closely involved in NC politics along the lines of “you have no idea how awful this person is.”  Fascinating.  And, as far as explaining why Cotham would do this, awful person seems to explain as much as anything.  

And, as long as I typed out some comments for a Fox News reporter, here’s what I said:

Reporter question: Now that the House has a supermajority in light of Rep. Cotham’s party change, I’m interested in what legislation Republicans will be pursuing without the threat of Gov. Cooper’s veto. I saw that North Carolina Republicans have already introduced bills focusing on transgender issues. I’d be very interested in writing about what else is now on top of the North Carolina House GOP agenda to be introduced in the coming days, whether it’s education reform, election law reform, abortion legislation, etc.    

My response: It is absolutely a really big deal that Cotham switched parties– especially as she was in a safe Democratic district and that there was little in her political history to suggest such a dramatic change.  That said, my sense was that needing only a single Democrat in the House to override any given veto, the Republicans were already planning to push ahead full steam with their agenda thinking that they could likely pick up that one key one from among a handful of potential Democrats.  And given Cotham’s history on LGBT issues, she does not seem an automatic vote for the full Republican agenda here.  To be honest, I’m not quite plugged in enough to know what legislation the Republicans have coming down the pipe, but whatever it may be on these issues, I don’t think the addition of Cotham will actually make it any more aggressive than they were already planning.  The really big battle in NC will be over the budget and I suspect that it is here, in particular, that Cotham’s switch will have the most dramatic impact. So much of the partisan conflict in NC comes out in the budget and it is very often a party-line vote.  I don’t think Cotham would have switched parties if she were not willing to vote with the Republicans on the budget, so, that alone, is a very big deal.  

Don’t tell colleges what to teach

Seriously. We already require American government in high school.  It’s not for everybody.  And as much as I think it would be great if more people had classes like mine and understood our government better I hate the idea of a the state legislature determining what classes people should have for a college degree.  I also get really tired of the idea that so many people have that their political side would be better off if more people just understood politics.

From WRAL:

“You ask people, ‘Who did we fight the war of independence against?’ and they don’t know,” Rep. Keith Kidwell said. “You get, ‘Canada? Germany?'”

“They think Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court,” Rep. Jon Hardister said.

After venting their frustration, they then proposed a fix: Make everyone to take a course on American history or government in order to graduate from college — and not just for a four-year degree, but also for an associate’s degree from a community college.

The idea passed Thursday’s committee with near-unanimous support.

Hardister, a Republican who represents the Greensboro suburbs, said it’s not about politics. He’d like everyone to have a better understanding of civics, he said, no matter if they vote for him and his party or not.

“If you understand, whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or independent, you can engage better,” he said.

The bill, HB 96, would specifically require college students to pass a test covering basic documents from America’s founding, the Civil War and the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Those include:

  • The U.S. Constitution
  • The Declaration of Independence
  • At least five of the Federalist Papers
  • The Emancipation Proclamation
  • The Gettysburg Address
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”

North Carolina already requires a civics class to graduate from high school. Supporters of this bill say there’s no harm in repetition at higher levels of education, too. The bill would allow colleges to exempt students from the requirement if they passed a high school test in a relevant AP or IB course.

It would also allow college leaders to be fired if they didn’t offer the class.

No harm?  Opportunity cost anyone?!  What class is this replacing for any individual student?  Also, this stupid firing thing just gives the game up at how stupid and political this is. And this:

“There is some cost to that,” Kidwell said. “But what is the cost this country, if people don’t learn this kind of history?”

And some more annoying comments in the N&O article:

John Rustin, president of the N.C. Family Policy Council, said it will be a good thing for college students to continue to follow up on the civics and history courses they had taken in high school. Thank you for sup

“America will not continue to flourish as a free society without a citizenry that is grounded in these founding documents and the principles they espouse,” Rustin said.

Cue eye roll. 

Quick hits (part II)

1) An early take on the 2024 NC Governor’s race.  Honestly, I find all the other experts cited here either pulling their punches on likely GOP nominee Robinson or surprisingly positive. No punches pulled from me:

Steven Greene, a professor of political science at N.C. State University, called Stein the “800-pound gorilla in the race on the Democratic side.” Stein is in his 15th year in Raleigh, having won a state Senate seat in 2008 and the attorney general post in 2016.

Greene thinks Robinson will win the Republican primary but called him an “awful” general election candidate, likening a head-to-head matchup between Robinson and Stein to North Carolina’s 2020 gubernatorial contest.

Though purplish North Carolina went red for Donald Trump that year, Republican gubernatorial candidate and then-Lt. Gov. Dan Forest lost to incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper. Greene says Forest, like Trump, was a “right-wing culture warrior” while Cooper is “Joe Bidenesque” in that he’s seen as a reliably Democratic politician.

Steven Greene, a professor of political science at N.C. State University, called Stein the “800-pound gorilla in the race on the Democratic side.” Stein is in his 15th year in Raleigh, having won a state Senate seat in 2008 and the attorney general post in 2016.

Greene thinks Robinson will win the Republican primary but called him an “awful” general election candidate, likening a head-to-head matchup between Robinson and Stein to North Carolina’s 2020 gubernatorial contest.

Though purplish North Carolina went red for Donald Trump that year, Republican gubernatorial candidate and then-Lt. Gov. Dan Forest lost to incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper. Greene says Forest, like Trump, was a “right-wing culture warrior” while Cooper is “Joe Bidenesque” in that he’s seen as a reliably Democratic politician.

2) As long as we’re in North Carolina, this Washington Post feature on the retreating beach in Rodanthe is fantastic with amazing visuals, so gift link it is. 

3) Somehow, I barely noticed that Pew released a big report on American parenting back in January.  I can guarantee you that once this data becomes publicly available, there will be a future publication from me and my usual co-authors on this. None of the current report gets into politics (though, I know they have the political data), but here’s some interesting charts:

Chart shows dads tend to be less worried than moms about their
children facing certain hardships

Chart shows about half of moms say it’s extremely
important their children be accepting of
people different from them as adults

4) And a little disappointed the author of this didn’t talk to Laurel Elder or me before publishing (though now she’s talking to Laurel next week), “Democratic Dads Think It’s Gotten Easier To Raise Kids. Democratic Moms Disagree.”

Mothers — particularly Democratic moms — were also substantially likelier than dads to say that families today have it harder than families in the 1970s, and Democratic moms were substantially likelier than any other group to say that all families should be eligible for a full child benefit, regardless of work status.

Democratic dads and moms aren’t on the same page

Share of mothers and fathers by party affiliation who agreed and disagreed with the following answers to each question.

Agree 62% 46% 63% 55%
Disagree 39% 54% 37% 44%
All families should be eligible for a full child benefit, regardless of their work status 44% 67% 50% 46%
Only families with a worker present should be eligible for a child benefit 33% 18% 24% 43%
Only parents that owe federal income taxes at the end of the year should receive a child benefit 23% 15% 26% 11%
Harder 32% 59% 52% 53%
Easier 48% 31% 35% 33%
About the same 21% 10% 14% 14%

Based on a survey conducted Oct. 20-Nov. 3, 2022, among 2,557 American adults, including an oversample of parents with children under age 18.


Some of the differences between Democratic dads and moms are shockingly large — particularly considering that there aren’t similar divides between Republican mothers and fathers. Less than half of Democratic dads think that all families should be eligible for a child benefit — rather than limiting a child benefit to families with at least one working parent — compared to more than two-thirds of Democratic moms. And Democratic dads are slightly more likely than Republican dads to say that families have it easier today than they did in the 1970s — while majorities of GOP dads, GOP moms, and Democratic moms say families today have it harder.

5) Just your every day disturbing world with the modern Republican party, “The MAGA-fication of North Idaho College
G.O.P. activists set out to root out the “deep state” at home. An Idaho community college may never be the same.”

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — The February meeting of the North Idaho College board of trustees was, by recent standards, civilized.

There were no shoving matches or speeches from far-right podcasters. Nobody pulled the fire alarm. The parade of community members who, under the wary eye of campus security officers, took turns at the microphone mostly kept their voices below shouting volume, until an hour or so before midnight, when a woman cried “Shame on you!” and stormed out of the room.

Mostly, people seemed stunned that it had actually come to this.

For most of the past two years, the college’s governing board has been a volatile experiment in turning grievances into governance. Trustees backed by the county Republican Party hold a majority on the board. They have denounced liberal “indoctrination” by the college faculty and vowed to bring the school administration’s “deep state” to heel and “Make N.I.C. Great Again.”

The injection of such sweeping political aims into the routine administration of a community college that had 4,600 students enrolled last year, one better known locally for its technical training programs than the politics of its faculty, has devolved into a full-blown crisis. The school has faced lawsuits from two of the five presidents it has had since the start of the previous school year. A district court judge ordered one of those presidents reinstated on Friday in a ruling that castigated the trustees for “steering N.I.C. toward an iceberg.” The college has lost professors and staff and had its debt downgraded by Moody’s, which cited the school’s “significant governance and management dysfunction.”

The troubles culminated last month in a letter from the regional higher education commission, which warned that the 90-year-old college could be stripped of its accreditation if changes were not made in a matter of weeks — an effective threat of closure and a potential catastrophe for Coeur d’Alene, a town of 56,000 in the Idaho Panhandle. The college is the sixth-largest employer in Kootenai County and a source of skilled labor for much of the local economy.

“As a businessperson here, it’s heartbreaking to me to be standing on the brink of the loss of this institution,” said Eve Knudtsen, the owner of a Chevrolet dealership in the neighboring town of Post Falls. Ms. Knudtsen, a Republican, attended N.I.C., as have both of her daughters, and she said a third of the technicians hired by her dealership came out of the school.

“It’s pretty much a dystopian farce,” said Kathleen Miller Green, an assistant professor of child development who attended the nearly six-hour, capacity-crowd meeting at the school’s student union building on Feb. 22. “It’s laughable if you don’t have to live it.”

6) Drum is right to regularly point out that the what happened with Flint water is not nearly as bad as you think:

I’ve written many times about the Flint water crisis, and after all the data was in my conclusion was pretty simple:

  • The screw-up with Flint’s water was a terrible tragedy that never should have happened.
  • However, in the end there was little damage done. Lead levels never got all that high and the problem was fixed fairly quickly. There were probably no more than a handful of children who were seriously affected.

To this day, conventional wisdom is just the opposite: namely that lead levels in children skyrocketed and produced a huge spike in special education. One of the scientists who was among the first to sound the alarm over Flint was transformed from hero to villain in a heartbeat when he declined to go along with this.

He’s back now with some co-authors to take a retrospective look at what happened. Here’s the key chart:

Even at the height of the crisis, testing in children showed blood lead levels that were essentially the same as the Michigan average and far lower than Detroit, which had a safe water supply the entire time. During the whole of the crisis (which encompassed 18 months in 2014-15), the number of Flint children with elevated lead levels was 3.9%. In Detroit it was 8.1%.

Why does this matter? It’s simple: continual panic over a nonexistent crisis is bad for residents, who have lived for years with elevated outrage and stress, and bad for their children, who internalize the idea that they’re going to grow up stupid.

7) Myers-Briggs is fun (I’m an ESTJ!), but it’s not social science and people really need to stop using it. Good stuff from Adam Grant:

Dear Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,

Do you remember the day we met? I was a wide-eyed high school senior, and you were an exotic beauty. It was love at first sight. Our first date was magical: I opened up to you like I had never done with anyone before. In return, you opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing the world.

We had so much in common back then. Sadly, as the months passed, we started to grow apart. It began when I met your family.

Your mother and grandmother were obsessed with Carl Jung, who made up his three “types” based on his personal experiences rather than science (with the help of your mother, who made up the fourth). You had years of those experiences, and I was young and naïve, so why would I doubt you?

But when I studied for a doctorate of my own, I learned that this was Mesearch, not Research. And a new girl caught my eye. Her name was Big Five, and she was raised by an entire extended family with PhDs in psychology, over multiple generations. They gave birth to her through a very different process. Instead of relying on their own limited experiences, they went out and polled thousands of people in different parts of the world, to find out how they viewed personality.

Instead of inventing categories, Big Five’s ancestors realized that the major dimensions of personality could be found in natural language. If we look across the world’s cultures, we should find words to describe the most important psychological characteristics of people. One study included 1,710 adjectives in English, which ultimately made up five major categories of personality, not four. She was multicultural: the same basic categories replicated in many languages, from Chinese to Filipino, German to Italian, Dutch to Polish, and Hebrew to Russian. They called her Big Five.

Of course, Big Five’s parents realized that language is only one of many ways to see personality. To make sure that their categories were meaningful, they collected genetic evidence and fMRI data. They also found that there was really no such thing as a type — every personality trait was on a continuum, and it was very rare to be on one extreme or another.

Type wasn’t the only one of Jung’s original ideas that didn’t pan out. You said extraverts focused on the outer world and introverts on the inner world, but Big Five’s ancestors discovered that this was really about sensitivity to rewardsstimulation, and social attention. You said extraversion is about where you get your energy, but that’s false; both introverts and extraverts get energy from interacting with other people. You taught me that most people had a dominant preference for thinking or feeling, but research demonstrates that whether you prefer to use logic when making decisions has nothing to do with whether you’re concerned about how those decisions affect others. Giving me a thinking-feeling score is not like assessing whether I’m right-handed or left-handed. It’s more like evaluating whether I prefer soccer or Swiss cheese.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was still believing the misunderstanding of extraversion. 

8) For a few days there, everybody was talking about this Nathan Heller piece on “The End of the English Major.” It’s too long, but it is really good and thought-provoking. 

9) And a couple from the twitter… John Calipari says he is a fan of the Mellow Mushroom that DJC and I regularly have lunch at (at the very end of the clip). 

10) Great thread from Paul Poast on what caused the Iraq War:

11) Is there actually an anti-viral nasal spray that’s effective against Covid and not available in America, because…?

Enovid, an innovative anti-viral spray developed in Canada by an Israeli researcher and manufactured in Israel, has been proven effective in preventing viruses – including COVID-19 – from entering the body through the nasal cavity.


While public awareness of the coronavirus has lessened, prevention and treatment remain crucial, especially for members of high-risk groups, such as adults over 60, people with weakened immune systems, and individuals who work in closed spaces. Air travelers, who mingle with hundreds of people in overcrowded airports and jam-packed planes, few of whom are wearing masks, are another high-risk group. For all of the above, Enovid is the ideal solution.


According to SaNOtize, the Vancouver-based developer of the spray, nitric oxide released by nasal spray reduced SARS-CoV-2 log viral RNA load by more than 95% in infected participants within 24 hours of treatment, and by more than 99% in 48 to72 hours in two randomized, double-blinded controlled studies.

Credit - Tradis GatCredit – Tradis Gat

Enovid creates a mechanical obstruction in the nasal cavity that slows the entry of viruses and lowers the PH, which creates an acidic environment that slows down the rate of viral reproduction. The release of nitric oxide causes structural changes in the virus dose, reducing its attachment to the cell, slows down the penetration of the virus into the cell, and through protein restructuring, leads to a reduction in virus replication.


Nitric oxide has traditionally been used in hospitals as a gas to treat newborn babies with respiratory failure caused by pulmonary hypertension. SaNOtize developed proprietary technology that delivers nitric oxide at an effective dose across multiple therapeutic applications, including sprays, baths, lavages, gels, and creams. 

12) Wellesley College (traditionally, a “women’s college”) was already admitting trans-women.  Now the students want to admit trans-men, too.  Hmmm.  Basically, anybody but cis-gender men. 

13) This is really good, “Are Standardized Tests Racist, or Are They Anti-racist? Yes.”

These two perspectives—that standardized tests are a driver of inequality, and that they are a great tool to ameliorate it—are often pitted against each other in contemporary discourse. But in my view, they are not oppositional positions. Both of these things can be true at the same time: Tests can be biased against marginalized students and they can be used to help those students succeed. We often forget an important lesson about standardized tests: They, or at least their outputs, take the form of data; and data can be interpreted—and acted upon—in multiple ways. That might sound like an obvious statement, but it’s crucial to resolving this debate.

I teach a Ph.D. seminar on quantitative research methods that dives into the intricacies of data generation, interpretation, and application. One of the readings I assign —Andrea Jones-Rooy’s article “I’m a Data Scientist Who Is Skeptical About Data”—contains a passage that is relevant to our thinking about standardized tests and their use in admissions:

Data can’t say anything about an issue any more than a hammer can build a house or almond meal can make a macaron. Data is a necessary ingredient in discovery, but you need a human to select it, shape it, and then turn it into an insight.

When reviewing applications, admissions officials have to turn test scores into insights about each applicant’s potential for success at the university. But their ability to generate those insights depends on what they know about the broader data-generating process that led students to get those scores, and how the officials interpret what they know about that process. In other words, what they do with test scores—and whether they end up perpetuating or reducing inequality—depends on how they think about bias in a larger system.

First, who takes these tests is not random. Obtaining a score can be so costly—in terms of both time and money—that it’s out of reach for many students. This source of bias can be addressed, at least in part, by public policy. For example, research has found that when states implement universal testing policies in high schools, and make testing part of the regular curriculum rather than an add-on that students and parents must provide for themselves, more disadvantaged students enter college and the income gap narrows. Even if we solve that problem, though, another—admittedly harder—issue would still need to be addressed.

The second issue relates to what the tests are actually measuring. Researchers have argued about this question for decades, and continue to debate it in academic journals. To understand the tension, recall what I said earlier: Universities are trying to figure out applicants’ potential for success. Students’ ability to realize their potential depends both on what they know before they arrive on campus and on being in a supportive academic environment. The tests are supposed to measure prior knowledge, but the nature of how learning works in American society means they end up measuring some other things, too.

In the United States, we have a primary and secondary education system that is unequal because of historic and contemporary laws and policies. American schools continue to be highly segregated by race, ethnicity, and social class, and that segregation affects what students have the opportunity to learn. Well-resourced schools can afford to provide more enriching educational experiences to their students than underfunded schools can. When students take standardized tests, they answer questions based on what they’ve learned, but what they’ve learned depends on the kind of schools they were lucky (or unlucky) enough to attend.

This creates a challenge for test-makers and the universities that rely on their data. They are attempting to assess student aptitude, but the unequal nature of the learning environments in which students have been raised means that tests are also capturing the underlying disparities; that is one of the reasons test scores tend to reflect larger patterns of inequality. When admissions officers see a student with low scores, they don’t know whether that person lacked potential or has instead been deprived of educational opportunity.

So how should colleges and universities use these data, given what they know about the factors that feed into it? The answer depends on how colleges and universities view their mission and broader purpose in society.

14) As you know, I’m so tired of people insisting diet soda is bad for you when there’s so much evidence suggesting otherwise.  This is from a year ago, but recently shared with me:


Importance  There are concerns that low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages (LNCSBs) do not have established benefits, with major dietary guidelines recommending the use of water and not LNCSBs to replace sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). Whether LNCSB as a substitute can yield similar improvements in cardiometabolic risk factors vs water in their intended substitution for SSBs is unclear.

Objective  To assess the association of LNCSBs (using 3 prespecified substitutions of LNCSBs for SSBs, water for SSBs, and LNCSBs for water) with body weight and cardiometabolic risk factors in adults with and without diabetes.

Data Sources  Medline, Embase, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were searched from inception through December 26, 2021.

Study Selection  Randomized clinical trials (RCTs) with at least 2 weeks of interventions comparing LNCSBs, SSBs, and/or water were included.

Data Extraction and Synthesis  Data were extracted and risk of bias was assessed by 2 independent reviewers. A network meta-analysis was performed with data expressed as mean difference (MD) or standardized mean difference (SMD) with 95% CIs. The GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) system was used to assess the certainty of the evidence.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The primary outcome was body weight. Secondary outcomes were other measures of adiposity, glycemic control, blood lipids, blood pressure, measures of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and uric acid.

Results  A total of 17 RCTs with 24 trial comparisons were included, involving 1733 adults (mean [SD] age, 33.1 [6.6] years; 1341 women [77.4%]) with overweight or obesity who were at risk for or had diabetes. Overall, LNCSBs were a substitute for SSBs in 12 RCTs (n = 601 participants), water was a substitute for SSBs in 3 RCTs (n = 429), and LNCSBs were a substitute for water in 9 RCTs (n = 974). Substitution of LNCSBs for SSBs was associated with reduced body weight (MD, −1.06 kg; 95% CI, −1.71 to –0.41 kg), body mass index (MD, −0.32; 95% CI, −0.58 to –0.07), percentage of body fat (MD, −0.60%; 95% CI, −1.03% to –0.18%), and intrahepatocellular lipid (SMD, −0.42; 95% CI, −0.70 to –0.14). Substituting water for SSBs was not associated with any outcome. There was also no association found between substituting LNCSBs for water with any outcome except glycated hemoglobin A1c (MD, 0.21%; 95% CI, 0.02% to 0.40%) and systolic blood pressure (MD, −2.63 mm Hg; 95% CI, −4.71 to −0.55 mm Hg). The certainty of the evidence was moderate (substitution of LNCSBs for SSBs) and low (substitutions of water for SSBs and LNCSBs for water) for body weight and was generally moderate for all other outcomes across all substitutions.

Conclusions and Relevance  This systematic review and meta-analysis found that using LNCSBs as an intended substitute for SSBs was associated with small improvements in body weight and cardiometabolic risk factors without evidence of harm and had a similar direction of benefit as water substitution. The evidence supports the use of LNCSBs as an alternative replacement strategy for SSBs over the moderate term in adults with overweight or obesity who are at risk for or have diabetes.

Health care in America costs too much, part one million

OMG, the insidious ways that health providers are always coming up with to charge us more! (And it is largely the heath care providers, like hospitals, that are the problem, not the insurance companies).  One really ridiculous approach is to label every damn thing a hospital, as hospitals get higher reimbursement rates, even when it is clearly not a hospital.  The latest from here in NC:

Last month, some UNC Health patients received a letter informing them that three outpatient dermatology clinics would be converted into “hospital-based clinics.”

Almost everything about the health care at those clinics would stay the same, the letter assured patients. The location of the clinics, the doctors working there and the care they provided would not change.

What will change, the letter pointed out, is how patients are charged for that care.

Beginning on March 6, patients of the clinics have been charged an additional “facility fee” from UNC Hospitals.

This fee, which one health policy expert researcher called a “revenue-generating gimmick,” will almost always result in a more expensive bill for the patient and their insurance provider, said several experts interviewed by the N&O.

Health policy experts say this is an increasingly popular way for hospitals to get more money for providing the same care.By declaring free-standing clinics to be part of the hospital, they are able to tack on a facility fee, boosting their revenue.

“It squeezes dollars from the pockets of patients and payers and channels them to the hospital’s bank account,” said Ge Bai, a health policy researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health…

A national trend

In North Carolina, hospital-based clinics are common.

UNC Health operates 75, Duke Health 35 and WakeMed 24, according to spokespeople from the health systems. All charge facility fees.

Hospitals argue that facility fees are necessary to afford running large medical facilities at all hours of the day and night.

But critics question whether that facility fee is necessary for some of these clinics, like UNC’s dermatology offices, that keep regular hours and are miles away from a hospital. They point out that the health systems have many clinics that are not “hospital-based” and are able to operate without an added facility fee.

Hospitals have been purchasing and re-labeling independent physician clinics to boost revenues for the last decade or so, said Matthew Fielder, a health policy researcher at the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy…

However, a recent report to Congress found that people are increasingly seen by their doctors at places billed as hospital outpatient departments. The percentage of appointments at that type of facility rose from 9.6% in 2012 to 13.1% in 2019, the analysis found. That’s a 27% increase.

For patients, the change can result in hundreds or thousands of dollars added to their bills. One Ohio woman saw her portion of the bill for her arthritis injections increase from $30 to $354 after the clinic providing the injections was converted into a hospital department, Kaiser Health News reported.

Facility fees create a strong incentive for hospitals to buy up independent clinics and flip them into hospital clinics, said Barak Richman, a researcher at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy.

This is particularly problematic in North Carolina, which has one of the most consolidated health care markets in the country.

“It’s a widespread phenomenon,” Richman said. “It has fueled consolidation for nothing but bad reasons.”

Alan Wolf, a spokesperson for UNC Health, said the billing changes were necessary to keep up with wage and pharmaceutical inflation, which he said has “far exceeded reimbursement for dermatology services.”

He said the change will allow the clinics to hire more staff and cut appointment wait times.

Fielder said he’s unaware of any evidence that shows this type of reclassification meaningfully improves access to care.

Just, so, so wrong… but welcome to health care in America.  Many years ago my son saw an eating specialist at Duke for extreme picky eating (who would’ve guessed for my child :-)– but, hey, he loves pizza now), and there was nothing remotely hospital about the facility or our visit, but, yep, billed as a hospital.  And, of course, if we had better policy and, yes, regulation, we wouldn’t we be in this mess.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) NC House voted for a new law eliminating earth science requirement and adding a computer science requirement.  What happens in NC Senate remains to be seen.  Among other things, the standard HS curriculum will now only require 2 sciences, but UNC system expects 3.  Hmmm.

2) Surprised I missed this before, but a big Reuters investigation on youth gender transitions.  Short-version, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Frustrating version: an honest and open-minded exploration/discussion of these uncertainties gets you labeled a transphobe and subject to ridiculous amounts of online hate (not me, mind you, but others I respect).

The United States has seen an explosion in recent years in the number of children who identify as a gender different from what they were designated at birth. Thousands of families like the Boyers are weighing profound choices in an emerging field of medicine as they pursue what is called gender-affirming care for their children.

Gender-affirming care covers a spectrum of interventions. It can entail adopting a child’s preferred name and pronouns and letting them dress in alignment with their gender identity – called social transitioning. It can incorporate therapy or other forms of psychological treatment. And, from around the start of adolescence, it can include medical interventions such as puberty blockers, hormones and, in some cases, surgery. In all of it, the aim is to support and affirm the child’s gender identity.

But families that go the medical route venture onto uncertain ground, where science has yet to catch up with practice. While the number of gender clinics treating children in the United States has grown from zero to more than 100 in the past 15 years – and waiting lists are long – strong evidence of the efficacy and possible long-term consequences of that treatment remains scant.

Puberty blockers and sex hormones do not have U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for children’s gender care. No clinical trials have established their safety for such off-label use. The drugs’ long-term effects on fertility and sexual function remain unclear. And in 2016, the FDA ordered makers of puberty blockers to add a warning about psychiatric problems to the drugs’ label after the agency received several reports of suicidal thoughts in children who were taking them.

More broadly, no large-scale studies have tracked people who received gender-related medical care as children to determine how many remained satisfied with their treatment as they aged and how many eventually regretted transitioning. The same lack of clarity holds true for the contentious issue of detransitioning, when a patient stops or reverses the transition process.

The National Institutes of Health, the U.S. government agency responsible for medical and public health research, told Reuters that “the evidence is limited on whether these treatments pose short- or long-term health risks for transgender and other gender-diverse adolescents.” The NIH has funded a comprehensive study to examine mental health and other outcomes for about 400 transgender youths treated at four U.S. children’s hospitals. However, long-term results are years away and may not address concerns such as fertility or cognitive development.

Frustrating version: an honest and open-minded exploration/discussion of these uncertainties gets you labeled a transphobe and subject to ridiculous amounts of online hate (not me, mind you, but others I respect).

3) Like, for example, this very good post from Yglesias, that, yes, asks some tough questions, “Progressives need to engage with the specific questions about youth gender care”

It’s an excellent piece, and it helped me articulate why I disagree so strongly with the segment of Slow Boring’s audience that wants me to join them in complaining about elective pronouns and the contemporary progressive vocabulary of cis-versus-trans. These linguistic shifts are not just some pose or studied effort to slice the political salami just so — they speak to this core question of dignity.

I would add, with a gesture at Judith Shklar, that decent people are on guard against the politics of cruelty. Cruelty can be tempting and it can be fun, but even the worst of us know that cruelty is wrong. So there are always people seeking a higher justification for their cruelty, a reason that being an asshole is actually a high-minded undertaking serving some crucial purpose. And today’s backlash to trans rights clearly involves people doing this — bullies and wannabe bullies being jerks for sport.

And when bullies are working to make so many people’s lives harder, it’s enormously important, as Bouie does, to articulate the guiding principles that help us push back against their conservative crusade.

But it’s also important not to avoid venturing into the weeds of the specific policy questions we’re facing, and this is where I think progressives are falling short…

This is where you get into the reality that abstract political values don’t always answer factual questions.

Phunky and Joseph agree that teens should be able to get reversible gender-affirming treatments. But are puberty-blocking medications reversible? According to the United States government they are, but the UK’s NICE says there is no good clinical evidence on this.

Importantly, because youth gender dysphoria treatment is an off-label use of drugs that were originally created to treat precocious puberty, the big clinical trials that were conducted for FDA approval don’t really speak to the issue at hand in a clear way. Again, this is not some special feature of gender-affirming care or the fault of anyone in the trans community. But it’s also not a fever dream of the reactionary right. A structural feature of American health regulation is that the FDA sets a very high bar for approving drugs but a very light regulatory bar for their off-label use. Pharmaceutical companies have no incentive to organize new clinical trials because their medication is already being used for this purpose and the market is growing.

This is one of these things where it’s such a political hot button that most of the people offering any commentary on the issue have very strong feelings. I have scanned some of the relevant arguments from qualified professionals and it really strikes me as understudied and somewhat hard to say. My point, though, is that the enduring values articulated by Douglass and channeled by Bouie can’t determine any particular factual conclusion about the impact of medications.

Meanwhile, despite the attention given to the controversy about the reversibility of puberty blockers, the current World Professional Association for Transgender Health recommendations say that “hormones could be started at age 14, two years earlier than the group’s previous advice, and some surgeries done at age 15 or 17, a year or so earlier than previous guidance.” WPATH has its reasons for making this recommendation, but I don’t think Phunky and Joseph are drawing the line the way they did as an attack on the dignity of trans people. It’s quite possible they would change their stance if they knew that WPATH had changed its recommendation — people often have weakly held views and defer to expert organizations. But at a minimum, the current WPATH recommendations are laxer and the science of puberty blockers more uncertain than a casual scan of the coverage would lead you to believe.

4) Good stuff from Lee Drutman, “Democrats are for rich people? Republicans are not? Has the world turned upside down?”

Last week, my talented New America colleague Oscar Pocasangre and I released a new deep data-dive on the demographics and voter preferences of all 435 congressional districts. 

We had started last fall by asking how competitive districts were tugging differently on Democratic and Republican coalitions. We wound up with an even deeper understanding of the challenges both parties face in holding together their coalitions.

The report is chock-a-block with fascinating stuff. (I promise!). But the scatterplot that sticks out for me is our Figure 2. 

Districts vary considerably by percent of residents who identify as white. This is not news to anybody. Most districts have average income in the mid-five figures, but some districts have high average incomes: Also not news to anybody.

But if we break districts into four quadrants, splitting on the average, we get four types of districts. And that’s where it gets interesting… 


The most common type of district has a below-average income, and is more white than average. These are the districts where Republicans dominate. Of the 162 districts that fit this category (about 37 percent of districts), Republicans won 137 in 2022, or 85 percent.

But in the other three types of districts here, Democrats dominate.

Democrats do best in the more diverse and wealthier than average districts. Of these 82 districts, Democrats won 63 in 2022, or 77 percent.

Democrats also prevail among the more diverse (less white) and less affluent districts, winning 74 out of 102 such districts, or 73 percent — just a shade less than the less white, wealthier than average districts.

Finally, among the whiter and wealthier districts, Democrats also win the majority, 51 out of 89, or 57 percent. 

Put another way, Democratic members of Congress come from many different types of districts. Republican members of Congress overwhelmingly come from districts that are mostly white and less affluent than average.

5) I had a conversation the other day where someone suggested that the illiberal liberal overreach is receding because they don’t have Trump to animate them.  Chait makes this point in his latest newsletter:

6) Not your everyday NYT Op-Ed, “Let Us Eat Lungs

Federal policy in the United States allows butchers to sell virtually every part of an animal’s body as human food, with one notable exception: the lungs. In 1971 the Department of Agriculture declared animal lungs unfit “for use as human food” and banned them from the commercial food supply.

As a doctor who enjoys eating nose to tail, including an animal’s internal organs and entrails, I believe that the lung ban makes no medical sense and accomplishes little to keep the American public safe. The Department of Agriculture should discard the rule.

When people first hear about this rule, even scientists and food law experts I’ve spoken to, they often presume that it is designed to protect us from dangerous infections that can harbor in animal lungs, like tuberculosis and anthrax. But the language of the ban’s stated rationale says little about lung infections. When the Department of Agriculture proposed the rule in 1969, it purported to protect people from eating things like dust, flower pollen and fungal spores that animals (including humans) inhale.

The rule was based on studies conducted around 1970 in which pathologists at the Department of Agriculture cut open the branching airways of animal lungs to study them much more deeply than in a typical post-mortem examination. The pathologists found those inhaled airborne particulates. They also found stomach contents, which may have refluxed up the animals’ esophagi and into their airways before or after death.

Notably, the pathologists did not mention any serious infections, which are generally discovered with a typical superficial examination — the same check that every internal organ undergoes before being U.S.D.A. approved. (Infected specimens should, of course, be kept out of the food supply.)

Still, the Department of Agriculture felt that such impurities rendered lungs unfit for human consumption and banned them outright. Scottish haggis, which includes the organ, disappeared from store shelves and butcher shops in the United States. (Dried lung treats for pets, however, are legal and widely available. Also, the ruling does not extend to those who hunt and slaughter animals for personal consumption.)

To be clear, there is little scientific data to show that ingesting these impurities is dangerous — or, conversely, that it is safe. But a basic understanding of how our lungs clean themselves suggests how nonsensical the Department of Agriculture rule is.

Needless to say, I will not be partaking regardless of FDA regulations.

7) It really was pretty interesting to see just how far the Texas Tech DEI bureaucracy had inserted themselves into the faculty hiring process, “In rare move, Texas Tech rescinds DEI litmus test for faculty. Others aren’t as lucky.”

As diversity initiatives have proliferated on campuses in recent years, FIRE has expressed repeated concern that mandatory diversity statements — in which a faculty member must pledge allegiance to prevailing views about diversity, equity, and inclusion to get hired or promoted — impose an illiberal campus orthodoxy. This week, a Wall Street Journal piece shed light on Texas Tech University’s use of these statements to weed out candidates with dissenting views, exposing the dark underbelly of a practice that FIRE has long criticized. It also prompted the university to take the unprecedented, and welcome, step of rescinding the policy and reviewing hiring practices across all departments. 

On Monday night, National Association of Scholars Senior Fellow John D. Sailer announced in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece the release of 99 pages of internal documents revealing how faculty applicant statements discussing contributions to DEI served as a political litmus test for hiring at Texas Tech University. 

The records, obtained from the public university via public records requests, cast a bright light on the ideological conformity demanded of candidates for Texas Tech faculty positions. FIRE has long argued that these statements are intended to reward adherence to highly specific views on diversity and punish those who hold different views. The Texas Tech records show that’s exactly what’s happening, with rubrics describing with particularity which views professors are expected to express and which views were unacceptable: 

Don’t know the difference between “equity” and “equality”? You’ll get dinged for that. Might you have forgotten to acknowledge that the land on which you hope to teach was once occupied by Native Americans? You’ll be knocked for that, too.

The search committee flagged one candidate for espousing “race neutrality” in teaching. He expressed that respecting students and treating them equally regardless of race was best practice, but this raised the school’s alarm for reflecting “a lack of understanding of equity and inclusion issues.” Conversely, an immunology candidate received high marks for mentioning “inclusivity in lab” and referencing their “unconscious bias.” 

8) Yasmin Tayag on the difficulty of making sense of the research on masks:

An important feature of Cochrane reviews is that they look only at “randomized controlled trials,” considered the gold standard for certain types of research because they compare the impact of one intervention with another while tightly controlling for biases and confounding variables. The trials considered in the review compared groups of people who masked with those who didn’t in an effort to estimate how effective masking is at blunting the spread of COVID in a general population. The population-level detail is important: It indicates uncertainty about whether requiring everyone to wear a mask makes a difference in viral spread. This is different from the impact of individual masking, which has been better researched. Doctors, after all, routinely mask when they’re around sick patients and do not seem to be infected more often than anyone else. “We have fairly decent evidence that masks can protect the wearer,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Brown University, told me. “Where I think it sort of falls apart is relating that to the population level.”

The research on individual masking generally shows what we have come to expect: High-quality masks provide a physical barrier between the wearer and infectious particles, if worn correctly. For instance, in one study, N95 masks were shown to block 57 to 90 percent of particles, depending on how well they fit; cloth and surgical masks are less effective. The caveat is that much of that support came from laboratory research and observational studies, which don’t account for the messiness of real life.

That the Cochrane review reasonably challenges the effectiveness of population-level masking doesn’t mean the findings of previous studies in support of masking are moot. A common theme among criticisms of the review is that it considered only a small number of studies by virtue of Cochrane’s standards; there just aren’t that many randomized controlled trials on COVID and masks. In fact, most of those included in the review are about the impact of masking on other respiratory illnesses, namely the flu. Although some similarities between the viruses are likely, Nuzzo explained on Twitter, COVID-specific trials would be ideal.


The handful of trials in the review that focus on COVID don’t show strong support for masking. One, from Bangladesh, which looked at both cloth and surgical masks, found a 9 percent decrease in symptomatic cases in masked versus unmasked groups (and a reanalysis of that study found signs of bias in the way the data were collected and interpreted); another, from Denmark, suggested that surgical masks offered no statistically significant protection at all.

Criticisms of the review posit that it might have come to a different conclusion if more and better-quality studies had been available. The paper’s authors acknowledge that the trials they considered were prone to bias and didn’t control for inconsistent adherence to the interventions. “The low to moderate certainty of evidence means our confidence in the effect estimate is limited, and that the true effect may be different from the observed estimate of the effect,” they concluded. If high-quality masks worn properly work well at an individual level, after all, then it stands to reason that high-quality masks worn properly by many people in any situation should indeed provide some level of protection.

9) Super-depressing Washington Post story on authoritarian regimes giving draconian sentences for protest.  Gift link.

That’s all — a click.

They are hardly alone. The world’s political prisons are bulging. A string of popular uprisings over the past few years brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to the streets, protesting against authoritarianism in Hong Kong, Cuba, Belarus and Iran; against the military junta that toppled democracy in Myanmar; and against strict restrictions on speech and protest in Russia and China. Also, Arab Spring uprisings swept Egypt, Syria and elsewhere a decade ago, and protests broke out in Vietnam in 2018. Most of these protests were met with mass crackdowns and arrests. Thousands of participants — largely young and demonstrating for the first time — have been held in prison for demanding the right to speak and think freely and to choose their leaders.

Authoritarian regimes often work in the shadows, using secret police to threaten dissidents, censor the media, prohibit travel or choke off internet access. But when prisons are jam-packed with thousands who simply marched down the street or sent a tweet, the repression is no longer hidden; it is a bright, pulsating signal that freedom is in distress.

Arrested for political protest

Belarus, Cuba and Vietnam have thrown thousands into prison in recent years.

*Justicia 11J says 990 people are imprisoned and convicted or pending trial in Cuba.


Political prisons are, sadly, not new. During the 20th century, the practice of mass repression grew to immense proportions in Joseph Stalin’s gulag system of forced labor camps. Political prisons have been notorious in Fidel Castro’s Cuba; Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; Cold War East Germany; apartheid South Africa; North Korea; and, in recent years, in China’s Xinjiang region.

According to the classic definition, formulated by Carl J. Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1956, a totalitarian dictatorship is characterized by an ideology, a single party led by one person, a terroristic police, government control of all communications, a weapons monopoly and a centrally controlled economy. In today’s world, fewer authoritarian states run a command economy. But many embrace the other characteristics. The political prisons are where the threads come together, punishing those who challenge a regime’s monopoly on power.

10) Stuart Stevens on Nikki Haley:

I remember the first time I saw Nikki Haley. It was in a high school gym before the 2012 South Carolina Republican presidential primary. Tim Scott, who was then a congressman, was holding a raucous town hall, and Ms. Haley was there to cheer him on. The first woman to be governor of South Carolina, the first Indian American ever elected to statewide office there, the youngest governor in the country. Whatever that “thing” is that talented politicians possess, Ms. Haley had it. People liked her, and more important, she seemed to like people. She talked with you, not to you, and she made routine conversations feel special and important. She seemed to have unlimited potential.

Then she threw it all away.

No political figure better illustrates the tragic collapse of the modern Republican Party than Nikki Haley. There was a time not very long ago when she was everything the party thought it needed to win. She was a woman when the party needed more women, a daughter of immigrants when the party needed more immigrants, a young change maker when the party needed younger voters and a symbol of tolerance who took down the Confederate flag when the party needed more people of color and educated suburbanites…

As a former Republican political operative who worked in South Carolina presidential primaries, I look at Ms. Haley now, as she prepares to launch her own presidential campaign, with sadness tinged with regret for what could have been. But I’m not a bit surprised. Her rise and fall only highlights what many of us already knew: Mr. Trump didn’t change the Republican Party; he revealed it. Ms. Haley, for all her talents, embodies the moral failure of the party in its drive to win at any cost, a drive so ruthless and insistent that it has transformed the G.O.P. into an autocratic movement. It’s not that she has changed positions to suit the political moment or even that she has abandoned beliefs she once claimed to be deeply held. It’s that the 2023 version of Ms. Haley is actively working against the core values that the 2016 Ms. Haley would have held to be the very foundation of her public life.

11) On the viral spread of psychogenic disease (Tik Tok tics) among today’s teens.  I’m sure this has no relationship whatsoever to insanely increasing rates of gender dysphoria in teens. 

Over the next year, doctors across the world treated thousands of young people for sudden, explosive tics. Many of the patients had watched popular TikTok videos of teenagers claiming to have Tourette’s syndrome. A spate of alarming headlines about “TikTok tics” followed.

But similar outbreaks have happened for centuries. Mysterious symptoms can spread rapidly in a close-knit community, especially one that has endured a shared stress. The TikTok tics are one of the largest modern examples of this phenomenon. They arrived at a unique moment in history, when a once-in-a-century pandemic spurred pervasive anxiety and isolation, and social media was at times the only way to connect and commiserate.

Now, experts are trying to tease apart the many possible factors — internal and external — that made these teenagers so sensitive to what they watched online.

Four out of five of the adolescents were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, and one-third reported past traumatic experiences, according to a study from the University of Calgary that analyzed nearly 300 cases from eight countries. In new research that has not yet been published, the Canadian team has also found a link to gender: The adolescents were overwhelmingly girls, or were transgender or nonbinary — though no one knows why.

12) Horse virus story from history! “A virus crippled U.S. cities 150 years ago. It didn’t infect humans.”

In the late 19th century, American cities moved to a soundtrack of clopping and clanking. Horses pulled commuters on streetcars, hauled construction materials for new buildings, carted groceries to homes, and conveyed patrons to theaters and baseball games.

But in late September 1872, horses fell sick on several farms near Toronto. Within days, a veterinarian found an additional 14 sick horses in the city. Within a week, the count grew to 600. The mysterious “Canadian horse disease” spread quickly, following rail lines into bustling cities and knocking out the workhorses that had powered the United States into a new era.

A fire devastated Boston’s commercial district, in part because horses were too sick to haul pump wagons. In New York, boxes lay untouched at railroad depots and city piers, among the busiest in the world. People lost work. Garbage went uncollected, mail undelivered. Political rallies, just weeks ahead of the presidential election, were canceled. Streets fell silent in such far-flung cities as Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco. In D.C., streetcar service was shut down, as was horse- and mule-drawn traffic on the C&O Canal.

Known as the Great Epizootic, the outbreak of what was later determined to be the equine flu hit the vast majority of the country’s horses between October 1872 and March 1873, temporarily paralyzing cities in a crisis “comparable to what would happen today if gas pumps ran dry or the electric grid went down,” University of Tennessee historian Ernest Freeberg wrote.

Fortunately, the crisis was short-lived. Most horses rallied, and life in each locale resumed within several weeks. But the 150-year-old episode serves as an early example of how vulnerable modern life can be to a disease outbreak among animals. It’s a strikingly familiar theme at a time when an outbreak of avian flu has helped send egg prices soaring (and has infected some mammals) — and when a virus believed to have started in animals in a Chinese open-air market jumped into humans and shut down much of the globe starting in 2020.

13) This is pretty wild, “How Supergenes Beat the Odds—and Fuel Evolution: Stretches of DNA that lock inherited traits together often accumulate harmful mutations. But they also hold genetic benefits for species.

THOUSANDS OF MILES from home in the steamy Amazon rain forest in the mid-1800s, the British naturalist Henry Walter Bates had a problem. More than one, really; there were thumb-size biting insects, the ever-present threat of malaria, venomous snakes, and mold and mildew that threatened to overtake his precious specimens before they could be shipped back to England. But the nagging scientific problem that bothered him involved butterflies.

By the time Bates’ discovery reached the scientific cognoscenti in England, Charles Darwin’s then new proposal of natural selection could explain why this brilliant mimicry occurred. Birds and other predators avoid Heliconius butterflies because they are toxic to eat, with a bitter taste. The mimics were not toxic, but because they looked so much like the foul-tasting Heliconius, they were less likely to be eaten. The closer the resemblance, the more potent the protection.

What Bates and many later evolutionary biologists couldn’t explain was how this mimicry was possible. Getting the right shades of aquamarine and fiery orange in the right places on the wings required a constellation of precisely tuned genes. Those traits would have to be inherited with perfect fidelity, generation after generation, to preserve the Heliconius disguise. Maybe real Heliconius butterflies could afford to deviate a bit in coloration because their toxins could still teach predators to stay away in the future, but the mimics needed to be consistently flawless replicas. Yet the random reshuffling and remixing of traits in sexual reproduction should have quickly disrupted the essential coloring patterns.

Today we know that in many species the answer is supergenes—stretches of DNA that lock several genes together into a single inheritable unit. “They’re kind of a wild card,” said Marte Sodeland, a molecular ecologist at the University of Agder in Norway. This aggregated form of inheritance “has obvious advantages, because it allows rapid adaptation, but there’s a lot we don’t know yet.”

Supergenes once seemed like an evolutionary oddity, but the rise of genetic sequencing has shown that they are far more common than researchers believed. Not all supergenes may serve a function, but work in just the past few years has revealed that traits in a wide range of animal and plant species might be driven by these groups of genes that function like a single gene. Supergenes help wild sunflowers adapt to a range of environments, such as sand dunes, coastal plains, and barrier islands. In other families of plants, they produce subtle but important variations in their sexual organs and fertility that help to prevent inbreeding. Research published last spring showed that in some fire ant species, supergenes determine which type of social organization predominates—whether a colony has a single breeding queen or more than one, and whether it produces more males or females. (Specific supergenes in humans haven’t been confirmed, but likely candidates have been found.)

14) Really interesting book excerpt in the Atlantic, “What Really Took America to War in Iraq: A fatal combination of fear, power, and hubris”

Fear, power, and hubris explain America’s march to war in Iraq. By thinking otherwise, by simplifying the story and believing that all would be well if we only had more honest officials, stronger leaders, and more realistic policy makers, we delude ourselves. Tragedy occurs not because our leaders are naive, stupid, and corrupt. Tragedy occurs when earnest and responsible officials try their best to make America safer and end up making things much worse. We need to ask why this happens. We need to appreciate the dangers that lurk when there is too much fear, too much power, too much hubris—and insufficient prudence.

15) This is really going to get a full post soon, as I just listened to the best podcast limited series ever, but, for now, Kristof: “Two-Thirds of Kids Struggle to Read, and We Know How to Fix It”

A lovely aphorism holds that education isn’t the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.

But too often, neither are pails filled nor fires lit.

One of the most bearish statistics for the future of the United States is this: Two-thirds of fourth graders in the United States are not proficient in reading.

Reading may be the most important skill we can give children. It’s the pilot light of that fire.

Yet we fail to ignite that pilot light, so today some one in five adults in the United States struggles with basic literacy, and after more than 25 years of campaigns and fads, American children are still struggling to read. Eighth graders today are actually a hair worse at reading than their counterparts were in 1998.

One explanation gaining ground is that, with the best of intentions, we grown-ups have bungled the task of teaching kids to read. There is growing evidence from neuroscience and careful experiments that the United States has adopted reading strategies that just don’t work very well and that we haven’t relied enough on a simple starting point — helping kids learn to sound out words with phonics.

“Too much reading instruction is not based on what the evidence says,” noted Nancy Madden, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who is an expert on early literacy. “That’s pretty clear.

“At least half of kids in the U.S. are not getting effective reading instruction.”

Other experts agree. Ted Mitchell, an education veteran at nearly every level who is now president of the American Council on Education, thinks that easily a majority of children are getting subpar instruction.

Others disagree, of course. But an approach called the “science of reading” has gained ground, and it rests on a bed of phonics instruction…

I became intrigued by the failures in reading after listening to a riveting six-part podcast, “Sold a Story,” that argues passionately that the education establishment ignored empirical evidence and unintentionally harmed children.

“Kids are not being taught how to read because for decades teachers have been sold an idea about reading and how children learn to do it,” Emily Hanford, a public radio journalist who for years has focused on reading issues, says in the first of the podcasts. She told me that the podcast has had more than 3.5 million downloads.

One of the targets of the podcast is Lucy Calkins, a professor at Columbia University Teachers College who has a widely used reading curriculum. Calkins has acknowledged learning from the science of reading movement and from Hanford, and she told me how she has modified her curriculum as a result — but she also says that phonics was always part of her approach and that media narratives are oversimplified.

As Calkins and others revise their materials, skeptics worry that curriculums still aren’t fully committed to phonics but layer it onto other strategies, leaving students befuddled.

It’s easy to be glib in describing these reading wars. Everyone agrees that phonics are necessary, and everyone also agrees that phonics are not enough.


What’s clear is that when two-thirds of American kids are not proficient at reading, we’re failing the next generation. We can fix this, imperfectly, if we’re relentlessly empirical and focus on the evidence. It’s also noteworthy that lots of other interventions help and aren’t controversial: tutoring, access to books, and coaching parents on reading to children. And slashing child poverty, which child tax credits accomplished very successfully until they were cut back.


Actually, this is overly-generous to the phonics-deniers.  But, more on that in a future post. 

16) I loved this New Yorker interview with Aubrey Plaza.  Also loved “Emily the Criminal” which I watched this week (and you should, too– it’s on Netflix).

17) Yglesias makes the case for cautious optimism on police reform

18) Derek Thompson on the mental health crisis among teen girls:

American teenagers—especially girls and kids who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning—are “engulfed” in historic rates of anxiety and sadness. And everybody seems to think they know why.

Some psychologists point to social media, whereas others blame school shootings; others chalk it up to changes in parenting. Climate-change activists say it’s climate change. Atlantic writers like me blather on about the decline of physical-world interactions. These explanations aren’t equally valid, and some of them might be purely wrong. But the sheer number of theories reflects the complexity of mental-health challenges and suggests that, perhaps, nobody knows for sure what’s going on…

Why is it so hard to prove that social media and smartphones are destroying teen mental health?

The story seems simple from a distance: Teen anxiety increased during a period when smartphones and social media colonized the youth social experience. Offline time with close friends went down. Time spent alone staring into a virtual void went up. Sounds pretty bad.

But the academic literature on social media’s harms is complicated. Perhaps the most famous and trusted study of the effects of social media on polarization and mental health is “The Welfare Effects of Social Media.” When researchers paid people to deactivate their Facebook accounts, they found that online activity went down, offline activity went up, both polarization and news knowledge declined, and subjective well-being increased. Many participants who had been randomly selected to leave Facebook stayed off the site even weeks after they had to, suggesting that using social media may be akin to compulsive or addictive behavior. The researchers describe the effect of Facebook deactivation on depression and anxiety as “small—about 25-40 percent of the effect of psychological interventions including self-help therapy.”

In a few years, the assumption that social media is making us crazy might look eye-bleedingly obvious, like a surgeon-general warning that sucking on cigarettes to pull addictive carcinogens into your lungs is, in fact, bad for your lungs. But the best evidence we have suggests that social media isn’t really like smoking. My guess is that it’s more of an attention alcohol—a substance that, in small doses, can be fun or even useful for adults, but in larger doses can cause problems for certain people. But maybe even that’s too strong. Just as academics now believe we overrated the danger of online echo chambers (in fact, social media probably exposes us to a much wider range of views than cable news does), we’ll realize that we unfairly blame social media for declining mental health.

“There’s been absolutely hundreds of [social-media and mental-health] studies, almost all showing pretty small effects,” Jeff Hancock, a behavioral psychologist at Stanford University, told The New York Times last year. I think we still need more high-quality studies and randomized trials to fully understand what’s happening here…

Why are Americans so mentally distressed even as they’ve become better at talking about mental distress?

It’s obvious, you might say: As anxiety rates have escalated, more people have had to build their own personal therapeutic glossary.

Or maybe something else is going on. In the past few years, a great deal of U.S. discourse has absorbed the vocabulary of therapy, with frequent references to trauma, harm, emotional capacity, and self-care. But the ubiquity of “therapy-speak” on the internet has coincided with the emergence of an internet culture that is decidedly anti-therapeutic.

Research from both the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Beihang University, in Beijing, have found that intense and negative emotions are among the most likely to go viral online. Anger and outrage seem to be aerodynamic on the internet not only because we’re drawn to the emotional meltdowns of our fellow humans, but also because demonstrating outrage about a topic is a good way of advertising one’s own moral standing.

Anger, outrage, and catastrophizing are exactly what modern therapists tell their patients to avoid. One of the most popular modes of clinical psychology is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which formalizes an ancient wisdom: We don’t often control what happens in life, but at the margins, we can change how we think about what happens to us. We can learn to identify the most negative and unhelpful thoughts and restructure them, so as to guide us toward better feelings and behaviors. In life, treating minor problems as catastrophes is a straight path to misery—but online, the most catastrophic headlines get the most attention. In life, nurturing anger produces conflict with friends and family; online, it’s an excellent way to build an audience.

Modern internet culture has adopted therapy-speak while repeatedly setting fire to the actual lessons of modern therapy. It’s a bizarre spectacle, like a hospital where fake doctors know the words for every disease but half of the surgeries result in sepsis. In the open expanse of the internet, we could have built any kind of world. We built this one. Why have we done this to ourselves?

19) I’ve read about ChatGPT “watermarks” but couldn’t really understand.  Now, I do!  So cool. 

20) Party Down is one of the best TV comedies ever.  So cool that they’ve made some new episodes. 

21) Maryn McKenna, “The Bird Flu Outbreak Has Taken an Ominous Turn: The avian flu has killed millions of chickens, decimated wild birds—and moved into mammals. Now the poultry industry needs new measures to stop its spread.

“When there’s public discussion of addressing zoonotic disease, it almost immediately turns to vaccination, preparedness, biosecurity—but no one discusses addressing the root cause,” says Jan Dutkiewicz, a political economist and visiting fellow at Harvard Law School’s Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law and Policy Clinic. “We would never have a debate about preventing cancer from tobacco products without talking about stopping smoking. Yet when it comes to zoonotic disease risk, there is a huge reticence to discuss curbing animal production.”

That might be an unthinkable proposal, given that Americans ate an estimated 1.45 billion wings during the Superbowl last Sunday—and that as a culture, we’re not inclined to ask many questions about how our food arrives at our plates. “Industrial animal production operates and maybe even depends on a distance between the consumer and the realities and violence of industrial animal production,” says Adam Sheingate, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University who studies food and agriculture policy. “Most people really prefer not to know how their food is produced.” Still, he points out, when disease risks from food become clear, other nations respond rapidly—such as when the UK changed cattle-farming practices after Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, the human variant of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow disease,” killed 178 people in the mid-1990s.

“This is not to say we get rid of poultry,” says Andrew deCoriolis, executive director of Farm Forward, a nonprofit that works to improve farm animal welfare. “It’s to say: We have to understand what are the factors that are the biggest risk drivers, and perhaps legislate changes to them. That could be moving farms out of flyways, it could be reducing the number of barns on a particular location, it could be reducing animal density within the barns.”

Dreadful though it is, it’s possible to construe the current outbreak as an opportunity to begin gathering big data about what makes poultry production so vulnerable. Precisely because the disease has spread so widely, data could reveal patterns that haven’t been visible before—whether affected farms use certain feed or water systems, for instance, or buy just-hatched birds from specific breeding lines, or are sited in particular landscape features or lie under the migration routes of identifiable birds. “There isn’t a lot of research to show what are absolute best practices, because viruses are stochastic—you don’t know exactly when you’re going to get an introduction,” says Meghan Davis, a veterinarian and epidemiologist and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

After the 2015 outbreak, which up to that point was the worst poultry producers could imagine, the industry focused on identifying the human networks that made its farms vulnerable. Companies tried to control how visitors might unknowingly expose them to the virus: through sharing housing with workers from another property, or driving a truck from an infected farm onto a clean one, or carrying mail or even a cell phone that might have been contaminated. The extraordinary expansion of H5N1 flu into wild birds now may mean that producers also have to think about how the environment itself invites exposure. Wetlands attract ducks. Copses shelter raptors that pursue rodents that scavenge spilled grain. It’s an approach that concedes that biosecurity can never be perfect, and that a production system can never fully seal itself off from the world.

22) Frank Bruni on RDS:

But the latest wave of commentary underestimates him — and that’s dangerous. He’s not Walker: Nate Cohn explained why in The Times early this week, concluding that DeSantis “has a lot more in common with Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan” when they were gearing up for their first presidential bids than with Walker, Kamala Harris or Rick Perry, whose sizzle fizzled fast.

He’s also not Jeb Bush. It has become popular to make that comparison as well, likening DeSantis to his predecessor in the Florida governor’s mansion. But DeSantis has the very venom that Bush didn’t. He’s a viper to Bush’s garter snake.

23) The AP African-American studies controversy is so much more complicated than both sides are presenting it.  Finally, John McWhorter with far and away the best explanation of what’s really going on here:

I’d like to make clear that I disapprove of the vast majority of DeSantis’s culture warrior agenda, a ham-handed set of plans designed to stir up a G.O.P. base in thrall to unreflective figures such as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. If DeSantis runs for president, he will not get my vote.

However, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and in terms of how we tell the story of Black America, the board did the right thing, whether because of DeSantis’s threat or for more high-minded reasons. The take that I saw in the course’s original draft depicted the history of Black America over the past several decades as an unbroken stream of left protest against a seemingly unchanging racist hegemon. There is certainly drama in the procession. The Black Panthers, the Black arts movement, Black studies departments, Black Lives Matter. Incarceration, reparations and Black struggle. Amiri Baraka, Molefi Kete Asante, Manning Marable (all notably left-leaning writers). But Black history has been ever so much more than protest and professional pessimism; note how hard it is to imagine any other group of people whose history is written with this flavor so dominant.

This is not education but advocacy. And in no sense does racism mean that the difference has no meaning. The key issue is the difference between opinions that are considered and debated and opinions that are mostly uncontested and perhaps considered uncontestable — essentially opinions that are treated as if they were facts.

Of course, it is possible to teach about opinions rather than facts. When that is properly done, the opinions are presented along with intelligent counterproposals. Given that Black conservatives — or skeptics of progressive narratives often processed as mainstream after the late 1960s — were nowhere to be found in the A.P. curriculum (except for Booker T. Washington, who has been dead for over a hundred years, and Zora Neale Hurston, whose conservatism is all too often downplayed), it is reasonable to assume that opinions from the left were going to be presented with little or no meaningful challenge.

Certain takes on race are thought of by an influential portion of progressive Americans — Black, white and otherwise — as incarnations of social justice. To them, our nation remains an incomplete project that will remain mired in denial until these ways of seeing race are universally accepted and determine the bulk of public policy. These issues include ones in the earlier version of the A.P. course, such as the idea that Black people may be owed reparations and that one of the most accurate lenses through which to view America is through the lens of intersectionality.

I imagine that to people of this mind-set, incorporating these views into an A.P. course on African American studies is seen as a natural step, via which we help get America woken by appealing to its brightest young minds. But for all the emotional resonance, the savory intonation of key buzzwords and phrases and the impassioned support of people with advanced degrees and prize-awarded media status, views of this kind remain views.

To dismiss those in disagreement as either naïve or malevolent is unsophisticated, suggesting that racial enlightenment requires comfort with a take-no-prisoners approach and facile reasoning. Not even the tragedies of America’s record on race justify saying “I’m just right, dammit!” as if the matter were as settled as the operations of gravity…

Some C.R.T. advocates, for example, conclude that systemic oppression means that views from those oppressed via intersectionality must be accepted without question, as a kind of group narrative that renders it egregious to quibble over the details and nuances of individual experience. As the C.R.T. pioneer Richard Delgado put it, nonwhite people should protest based on a “broad story of dashed hopes and centuries-long mistreatment that afflicts an entire people and forms the historical and cultural background of your complaint.”

But this perspective, called standpoint epistemology, while intended as social justice, also questions empiricism and logic. Who really thinks that its absence from an A.P. course constitutes denying that slavery happened or that racism exists? C.R.T. advocates too often discuss white people as an undifferentiated mass, as in claims that white people resist letting go of their power, a view memorably promulgated by the legal scholar Derrick Bell. There is a rhetorical power in this sociological shorthand, but it also encourages a shallow classification of American individuals as bad white people and good everybody else. Fact this is not.

To pretend that where Blackness is concerned, certain views must be treated as truth despite intelligent and sustained critique is to give in to the illogic of standpoint epistemology: “That which rubs me the wrong way is indisputably immoral.”

And I hardly see this as applying only to people I disagree with. I have broadcast my views about race for almost a quarter century. Naturally, I consider my views correct — that’s why they are my views — and contrary to what some may suppose, conservative white people are by no means the core of people who often see things my way. I am always gladdened to find that there are quite a few Black people from all walks of life who agree with me. Yet I would protest seeing my views on race included in an A.P. course as facts or uncontested opinions.

There are certainly conservatives who think discussion of racism should be entirely barred from public life. This is, on its face, blinkered, ignorant and pathetic. But to pretend that controversial views on race from the left are truth incarnate is being dishonest about race as well. It sacrifices logic out of a quiet terror of being called racist (or, if Black, self-hating). How that is progressive or even civil in a real way is unclear to me. In being honest enough to push past the agitprop, I hate having to say that in this case, DeSantis, of all people, was probably right.

24) And, lastly, Pamela Paul wrote what struck me as a very reasonable defense of JK Rowing on gender issues.  I swear, if all you saw about this was what leftists on twitter had to say, you would genuinely think Paul had written something along the lines of “all transgender people deserve to die.” 

“Trans people need and deserve protection.”

“I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others but are vulnerable.”

“I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them.”

“I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.”

These statements were written by J.K. Rowling, the author of the “Harry Potter” series, a human-rights activist and — according to a noisy fringe of the internet and a number of powerful transgender rights activists and L.G.B.T.Q. lobbying groups — a transphobe.

Even many of Rowling’s devoted fans have made this accusation. In 2020, The Leaky Cauldron, one of the biggest “Harry Potter” fan sites, claimed that Rowling had endorsed “harmful and disproven beliefs about what it means to be a transgender person,” letting members know it would avoid featuring quotes from and photos of the author.


Is computer science science? And should NC HS students learn it?

So, I find this piece of news really interesting.  NC is looking to change it’s high school science requirements by eliminating the earth science requirement and replacing it with computer science:

North Carolina lawmakers could replace earth science with computer science as a high school graduation requirement.

Legislation that will be considered Tuesday by the state House K-12 Education Committee would make computer science one of the science credits students need for graduation. House Bill 8 would also make it possible for students to take computer science instead of the earth science credit they now must complete.

“Of all the things that keep me up at night, eliminating earth science isn’t necessarily one of them if it means we could replace it with computer science,” Republican State Superintendent Catherine Truitt told the House K-12 Education Committee last week.

But some state lawmakers and teachers don’t think computer science should be treated as a science requirement. They say replacing earth science with computer science will weaken the science instruction that students receive.

“Students are only required to take 3 HS science courses, as it is,” Janine Kube, a high school science teacher tweeted Feb. 7. “Now they want to reduce that down to 2 HS courses. How is that going to impact our student’s future in competing with students from other nations that actually believe in science?”

So many thoughts.  But, first, one thing that frustrates me is just how amazingly bad the rationale for the change seems to be:

The proposal to require computer science comes as some business and education leaders are pointing to a skills gap in the state’s workforce. North Carolina already has thousands of unfilled jobs that require some computer science knowledge.

“We know that 70% of jobs in 10 years time are going to require some kind of computer science knowledge,” Truitt, told lawmakers. “We’re not talking about jobs in IT (information technology). We’re talking about jobs in hospitals, in banking, in manufacturing. Kids need to learn computer science.”

Computer science majors can earn 40% more over their lifetimes than the average college graduate, Jamey Falkenbury, Truitt’s director of Government Affairs, told lawmakers…

Is computer science math or science?

North Carolina high school students currently must take three science credits to graduate: physical science, biology and earth science/environmental science. House Bill 8 requires students to take computer science as a science class but says it can’t be used to fulfill the biology or physical science credit — leaving earth science as the option that can be swapped out.

If the legislation becomes law, the new computer science requirement would go into effect with ninth-grade students beginning in the 2024-25 school year.

Questions have been raised at the last two House Education Committee meetings about replacing the earth science credit.

Rep. Laura Budd, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, said at the Jan. 31 meeting that she agreed students need to learn more about computer science. But she questioned why computer science wasn’t made a math course.

“Computer science is more computation of information, algorithms that sort of thing,” Budd said. “With most computer science degrees, they are closer akin to math in that they require basics in algebra, calculus, that sort of thing.”

Falkenbury responded that it fit better to make computer science a science credit than a math credit.

“There’s a lot of students that take earth sciences right now,” Falkenbury said. “But you get a lot of earth science in biology. So do you really need to take basically two biology courses?”

That explanation didn’t sit well with Rep. Zack Hawkins, a Durham Democrat.

First, that “We know that 70% of jobs in 10 years time are going to require some kind of computer science knowledge” bit.  Come-on!  Knowing how to use Word or Excel (clearly what that statistic is based upon) is not exactly “computer science.”  Heck, if they want basic computer literacy (not the worst idea!) they could fold it in with the new financial literacy course they now require instead of a second year of history.  

And, that “earth science is just another biology class” line.  Ugh.  That said, based on my HS education lacking earth science and based on daily conversations with my 11th grader about the AP earth science class he just completed, I’m far from convinced of the necessity of earth science for a good science education.  And, yeah, nobody is publicly saying this at all, but a lot of material in earth science is about climate change (honestly, arguably too much– my good liberal son found it eye-rolling at times).  

Also, not to start some huge thing, but computer science really does seem more math than science to me.  Natural science classes you learn about the scientific method, perform experiments/actual science, do lab reports, etc. I don’t think there’s anything particularly analogous in computer science. 

I also have serious doubts as to whether what kids my daughter’s age (currently in 6th grade) end up getting will be anything remotely resembling actual computer science (of which I have no doubt of the value for learning logical thinking, algorithms, etc.) and instead just a pretty basic here’s how a bunch of computer software works course.  The fact that “earth science= biology” and 70% of jobs will need computer science people are behind this does not give me a lot of confidence.  

Alright dear readers… really want your thoughts on this one!

[Oh, yeah, and I’m still feeling fine, Covid positive, and bitter about it]

Continuing isolation quick hits (part II)

1) OMG this is just the absurdist end-point of leftists eating themselves, “Durham fails to condemn anti-gay bill because of debate over who is more oppressed” 

Things got heated at Durham City Council’s Thursday work session when council member and former Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson introduced a resolution that would take a firm stance against the transphobic bills being filed in the North Carolina General Assembly.

North Carolina Republicans have filed at least two bills that directly target trans youth in North Carolina. The most worrisome of these is the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” — also known as N.C.’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill — that has already passed the N.C. Senate and will soon get a vote in the House.

This type of resolution seems like a no-brainer for Durham, the city that held North Carolina’s first Pride parade. Yet the conversation ended up taking a turn when Mark-Anthony Middleton, the current Mayor Pro Tem, had a concern over the phrasing of the second sentence in the resolution.

“WHEREAS, members of the LGBTQ+ community currently experience the highest rate of hate-motivated violence among all marginalized communities in the US.”

Middleton said he felt this wasn’t factually accurate, as the FBI’s hate crime tracking data shows that race is the most common reason victims of hate crimes were targeted. Johnson pointed out that, when compared to the size of the overall U.S. population, LGBTQ individuals experience the highest rate of hate crime victimization. 

From there, other members of the council began weighing in on the resolution and the argument between Johnson and Middleton. Johnson eventually asked if the rules could be suspended so that the council could hold a vote, even though that isn’t part of work session procedure. The council voted against changing things up, and now the resolution will be voted on in 10 days.

2) I really, really liked the movie Tar. (And shoutout to Peacock TV, which is proving to be my best $2/month).  Loved this analysis of key scenes from the movie.  And, I really liked this exploration of the movie’s reality (definitely don’t read this if you haven’t seen it). 

3) Ethan Mollick with a guide to making a remarkably effective fake video of yourself (it looks fake if you are looking for it, but could easily fool people not paying close attention) for less than $10 in software and tools. 

4) I really respect Cochrane views (as people who take science/medicine seriously, generally do), so was pretty taken aback by their essentially “masks don’t work” review.  I’ve seen surprisingly few good takes on-line, but, Scott Alexander came through with something that made a lot of sense:

45: New Cochrane meta-analysis finds no evidence that masks work for preventing transmission of respiratory illnesses, including COVID, but that hand-washing does.

Context is that long before COVID, there was debate about whether respiratory illnesses were more droplet spread (in which case hand-washing > masks) or airborne spread (in which case masks > hand-washing), and some people who have been on Team Droplet for decades wrote this meta-analysis, which did indeed find handwashing > masks.

This shouldn’t be surprising – most of the studies included were the same pre-COVID studies that the establishment used to argue that hand-washing worked and masks didn’t back in March 2020. Most of these were studies showing that if one person in a household had flu, them wearing a mask at home didn’t seem to prevent their family from getting flu – although there were some issues here like “they were supposed to wear masks even while sleeping because they slept in the same bed as their spouse, but obviously they didn’t do that and then their spouse got the flu” which don’t translate to the COVID situation. The analysis does include two new COVID studies – one from Bangladesh that shows a positive effect from masks and one from Denmark that doesn’t (but people complain the lockdown there was so strict that there was too low a sample size of people getting COVID). But mostly it’s just the same set of studies. So this shouldn’t be a strong update on whatever you thought about the mask debate in March 2020.

In March 2020, I reviewed many of these same studies and concluded that while they pretty clearly showed that masking within households didn’t prevent flu from spreading, this seemed different enough from the spread of COVID in public places that it was hard to say, and given the low risk of masks, they were probably worth trying for most people. I still think this is true, although notice that this is a lower bar than “government mandate”.

More commentary hereherehereherehere, I’m focusing on the negative commentary since obviously the positive commentary is “haha, we were right, suck it”. This article discusses the broader transition from Team Droplet to Team Airborne among epidemiologists, and I would interpret continuing establishment support for masks as coming from this change at the theoretical level, rather than new RCTs (which mostly haven’t happened). I’m cynical enough to believe that most RCTs conducted during the pro-droplet-consensus period got pro-droplet results, but that once they get around to conducting new RCTs during the new pro-airborne-consensus period, they’ll get pro-airborne results. But people mostly haven’t gotten around to conducting new RCTs during the new pro-airborne-consensus period, so most RCTs are still pro-droplet, so all the meta-analyses come out pro-droplet for now. Trust Science!

5) What we really need is regulatory crackdown so that pharmaceutical companies cannot change one meaningless molecule and claim they have a new drug with new patent protection, but, until then, I love this idea, “Insulin is way too expensive. California has a solution: Make its own.”

The newer artificial insulins can be very valuable for people with diabetes who need to time their insulin injections with meals in mind, though it is not clear that artificial insulin is more beneficial than bioengineered human insulins for some patients, such as those with Type 2 diabetes. But, according to many academic experts, the amount of innovation in the insulin business hardly justifies the current costs for insulin products. Insulin is still, at its core, more or less the same product that debuted a century ago.

Nevertheless, pharmaceutical companies stand to make a lot of money by continually refreshing their products. Thus, the three major insulin manufacturers in the US — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi — continue to do that, and thereby maintain their control of the country’s insulin supply. The main mechanism the US has for bringing down prescription drug prices is allowing generic drugs to compete with brand-name versions. When a company develops a new drug, it gets a period of exclusivity, 10 years or more, in which it is the only one able to make or sell that drug. But after that exclusivity period has passed, other companies can make a carbon copy and sell it at a lower price. Studies find that once several generic competitors come on the market, prices drop significantly.

But pharma companies are savvy about finding ways to extend their monopolies, with insulin and other drugs, by making minor tweaks to the chemical compound and asking for a patent extension. In the case of insulin, the companies can also modify the delivery device to protect their market share. Each product is meant to be used with specific, company-designed injectors. Though the patents on the artificial insulin developed in the 1990s have started expiring, these companies continue to hold and extend monopolies on either their devices or other chemical compounds, making it harder for generic competitors to enter the market.

Other federal regulations have added to the challenge. The FDA began to treat insulin as a biologic drug in 2020 — meaning it is made with living materials instead of combining chemicals like conventional pharmaceuticals — which comes with a different set of standards for generic versions, which are known as biosimilars, as well as manufacturing challenges given the precise conditions these products must be made in. Biosimilars can cost up to $250 million to produce and take up to eight years to bring to the market, versus a one-year investment of as little as $1 million for conventional generics. And unless the FDA recognizes a new generic insulin as interchangeable with the products already on the market, health insurers might not want to cover it and doctors may not be willing to prescribe it.

6) How did I have no idea about these absolutely massive prehistoric elephants?? “These Extinct Elephants Were Neanderthals’ ‘Biggest Calorie Bombs’
A study of butchered bones from 125,000 years ago offers what researchers call “the first clear-cut evidence of elephant-hunting in human evolution.””

It is now accepted that the more typical Neanderthal was one who lived in southern Europe through the Ice Age and in central Europe during interglacial periods, as epitomized by Neumark-Nord. About 86,000 to 106,000 years ago, for instance, fisher-hunter-gatherers occupied the Gruta da Figueira Brava site on Portugal’s Atlantic coast.

Similarly, a new body of research has transformed our image of Neanderthals as knuckle-dragging brutes who wandered from cave to cave while gnawing on slabs of slain mammoth. Evidence is mounting that they were skilled toolmakers with a complex language who built shelters, traded jewelry and lived in large social groups.

“Until very recently, Neanderthals were considered simple slaves of nature who were living off the land, the first hippies,” Dr. Roebroeks said. “The truth is that they were using fire to shape their environment, as well as having a huge impact on the most massive animals alive at that time.”

Straight-tusked elephants were the largest terrestrial mammals of the Pleistocene, a geological epoch lasting until 11,700 years ago when vast ice sheets and other glaciers spread across North America and Eurasia. Adult males weighed as much as 14 tons, adult females about half that. The straight-tusked elephant, or Palaeoloxodon antiquus, was the reigning elephant ancestor of that time. It was much larger than the woolly mammoth and roughly twice as big as today’s African elephant.

7) This is good. Liberals should not back from either of these.  We just need to define the progressive vision, not the cramped and problematic conservative versions. “Ro Khanna on the Progressive Case for Patriotism and Capitalism”

8) Jennifer Rubin on PRRI’s new poll on white Christian nationalism:

When you hear the phrase “Christian nationalists,” you might think of antiabortion conservatives who are upset about the phrase “Happy Holidays” and embrace a vaguely “America First” way of thinking. But according to a Public Religion Research Institute-Brookings Institution poll released Wednesday, Christian nationalists in fact harbor a set of extreme beliefs at odds with pluralistic democracy. The findings will alarm you.

“Christian nationalism is a new term for a worldview that has been with us since the founding of our country — the idea that America is destined to be a promised land for European Christians,” PRRI president and founder Robert P. Jones explained in a news release on the survey of more than 6,000 Americans. “While most Americans today embrace pluralism and reject this anti-democratic claim, majorities of white evangelical Protestants and Republicans remain animated by this vision of a white Christian America.”The poll used the following beliefs to gauge how deeply respondents embraced Christian nationalism:
  • “The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation.”
  • “U.S. laws should be based on Christian values.”
  • “If the U.S. moves away from our Christian foundations, we will not have a country anymore.”
  • “Being Christian is an important part of being truly American.”
  • “God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.”

PRRI found that 10 percent (“adherents”) of American adults believe in these ideas overwhelmingly or completely; 19 percent agree but not completely (“sympathizers”); 39 percent disagree (“skeptics”) but not completely; and 29 percent disagree completely (“rejecters”).

Who are these people? “Nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants qualify as either Christian nationalism sympathizers (35%) or adherents (29%).” Put differently, Christian nationalist adherents are a minority but when combined with sympathizers still comprise a stunning 29 percent of Americans — many tens of millions.

Christian nationalists also make up the base of the Republican Party. “Most Republicans qualify as either Christian nationalism sympathizers (33%) or adherents (21%), while at least three-quarters of both independents (46% skeptics and 29% rejecters) and Democrats (36% skeptics and 47% rejecters) lean toward rejecting Christian nationalism.” In total, “Republicans (21%) are about four times as likely as Democrats (5%) or independents (6%) to be adherents of Christian nationalism.” Some promising news: There are fewer adherents and sympathizers among younger Americans. “More than seven in ten Americans ages 18-29 (37% skeptics, 42% rejecters) and ages 30-49 (37% skeptics, 35% rejecters) lean toward opposing Christian nationalism.” Support is also inversely related to educational attainment.

Christian nationalist adherents are emphatically out of synch with the pluralist majority. “Americans overall are much more likely to express a preference for the U.S. to be a nation made up of people belonging to a variety of religions (73%).” They also are much more likely to hold authoritarian and racist views…

More than 70 percent of adherents embrace replacement theory, nearly one-quarter harbor the antisemitic view that Jews hold too many positions of power and 44 percent believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than America, the poll found. More than 65 percent think Muslims from some countries should be banned. Almost 70 percent believe “the husband is the head of the household in ‘a truly Christian family’ and his wife submits to his leadership.”

If you think this sounds like MAGA tripe, you’re right. This is the hardcore MAGA base. More alarming: “Nearly six in ten QAnon believers are also either Christian nationalism sympathizers (29%) or adherents (29%).”

9) I love “Rick and Morty” and have definitely had concerns about how the loss of one of the co-creators may affect the show in the future, but this Vox essay suggests I need not worry and is a great appreciation of the show:

Hidden in all this clever recursion and juvenile brinkmanship are genuine human concerns. Throughout both shows, Jeff and Rick earnestly, even plaintively continue to wonder why they’re such walking disasters — at least they do when they can overcome their self-loathing long enough to get the question out. Why do people do bad things? Harmon wants to know, and he wants us to want to know.

10) No, “Last of Us” cordyceps is not coming for us, but we do need to worry about fungal pathogens:

Fungus-caused infections — real ones, not the ones sparking the zombie apocalypse on the popular show “The Last of Us” — pose a growing threat in the United States and around the world.

Mississippi has become the latest state to report residents infected with Candida auris, a highly contagious fungus that thrives in hospitals and nursing homes. It won’t be the last and, without dedicated effort, infections and deaths will continue to pile up.

The Mississippi Department of Public Health announced it has identified six people infected with C. auris. This pathogen can contaminate just about any surface imaginable, from intravenous lines and feeding tubes to bedsheets, doctors’ coats, and sinks. People who are elderly or immunocompromised are the most vulnerable to this pathogen, and it is often deadly: two of the six people infected in Mississippi have died.

The rapid ascent of C. auris is unsettling. The fungus has carved a deadly path around the globe since Japanese researchers identified the first-known infection in 2009. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2016 that it had logged seven cases of C. auris across four states: New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Illinois. By 2019, the pathogen had infected more than 700 people across 12 states, and the numbers continue to climb. In 2022, Louisiana, New Mexico, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Delaware, and Hawaii all confirmed their first C. auris cases, and nearly 5,000 people in the U.S. have now been infected with it.

Public health experts have for years been warning that C. auris and other fungal infections are a growing threat. Numerous studies have detailed the ways in which climate change may aid and abet the spread of these pathogens as the world warms. C. auris is just one of dozens of fungal pathogens affecting humans, yet the U.S. — and the world — has continually failed to take action against this threat.

A quick assessment of the armamentarium of antifungal agents shows just how underprepared countries are. No new classes of antifungal drugs have become available during the last 20 years, according to a study in the journal Drugs, and only one new agent from a known antifungal class has been approved in the last decade. Investment in this area is sorely lacking: the World Health Organization reports that fungal infections receive less than 1.5% of all infectious disease research funding.

11) Some good political science here, even if I find it mystifying as to why there would be a dozen co-authors, “Rooted in Racism? Race, Partisanship, Status Threat, and Public Opinion Toward Statehood for Washington, D.C.”

In recent years, a number of prominent elected officials on both sides of the partisan divide have weighed in on the possibility of making Washington, D.C., the nation’s fifty-first state. While Democratic supporters of statehood for D.C. emphasize issues of equal representation, some Republican opponents have stressed the partisan and ideological consequences of D.C. statehood. Other Republican opponents, in justifying their position, have made the claim that Washington, D.C., lacks the necessary and sufficient characteristics associated with statehood, and these claims have been widely interpreted as implicitly racist appeals. In this paper, using three nationally representative surveys, we explore whether mass opinion on this issue is primarily shaped by partisanship, ideology, racial status threat, or racial prejudice. We find clear and consistent evidence that while partisan and ideological attachments, as well as perceptions of racial status threat, influence opinion on statehood for Washington, D.C., the strongest determinant of opposition to statehood are negative racial attitudes. We take these results as further evidence of the debate over D.C. statehood, like debates over public policies that are purported to benefit African Americans, is intimately intertwined with negative racial views expressed by the mass public.

12) I don’t know how I had never come across this 10-year old Gladwell talk at Google, but it’s really good, “Why Did I Say “Yes” to Speak Here?”

13) This Vox video on the Titanic’s insufficient number of lifeboats is the best thing I’ve seen on the subject by far. 

14) Here’s a fun technology story, “‘My Watch Thinks I’m Dead’ Dispatchers for 911 are being inundated with false, automated distress calls from Apple devices owned by skiers who are very much alive.”

Winter has brought a decent amount of snowfall to the region’s ski resorts, and with it an avalanche of false emergency calls. Virtually all of them have been placed by Apple Watches or iPhone 14s under the mistaken impression that their owners have been debilitated in collisions.

As of September, these devices have come equipped with technology meant to detect car crashes and alert 911 dispatchers. It is a more sensitive upgrade to software on Apple devices, now several years old, that can detect when a user falls and then dial for help. But the latest innovation appears to send the device into overdrive: It keeps mistaking skiers, and some other fitness enthusiasts, for car-wreck victims.

Lately, emergency call centers in some ski regions have been inundated with inadvertent, automated calls, dozens or more a week. Phone operators often must put other calls, including real emergencies, on hold to clarify whether the latest siren has been prompted by a human at risk or an overzealous device.

“My whole day is managing crash notifications,” said Trina Dummer, interim director of Summit County’s emergency services, which received 185 such calls in the week from Jan. 13 to Jan. 22. (In winters past, the typical call volume on a busy day was roughly half that.) Ms. Dummer said that the onslaught was threatening to desensitize dispatchers and divert limited resources from true emergencies.

15) Great stuff from Jeff Maurer, “Debt Ceiling Idiocy Shows the Dangers of Living in a Fantasyland”

But here we are, trying to find a way forward that’s compatible with the Bizarro World of false narratives that Republicans have been living in for years.

The first falsehood warping Republican brains is the idea that the deficit needs to be mostly or completely eliminated to avoid catastrophe. This idea has become a bedrock of Republican orthodoxy over the course of several decades. Remember the National Debt Clock, which showed up in Times Square in 1989? Remember the Balanced Budget Amendment that was part of Newt Gingrich’s 1995 Contract with America? Remember Paul Ryan’s YouTube videos, which were delivered with the solemn tone of a tough-love dad who’s worried about your marijuana use? Conservatives keep warning of a fiscal crisis that never comes. Of course, the kernel of truth here is that debt does matter; leftists who have convinced themselves that it doesn’t are in a cult every bit as deranged and disappointingly sexless as the Republican one. But it’s become an article of faith on the right that we must move the deficit towards zero AND FAST, which doesn’t comport with reality.

Republicans love to compare the federal budget to a household budget. But the federal budget is different from a household budget in a few crucial ways. For starters, you and I can’t print money. I mean…I suppose we could. could run off a few million Maurer Bucks on the ol’ HP ink jet, but if I try to buy a Whopper with them, they’ll kick me out of Burger King. Also, my self-produced currency is unlikely to become a coveted store of value around the globe, and that remains true even in a world in which people buy Dogecoin. In contrast, the dollar is the world’s reserve currency, which makes it easier for the US to borrow money. Finally, a lot of federal borrowing is done in-house; America can borrow money from Americans, whereas I can’t borrow $1,000 from my son, because he is both a baby and a deadbeat.

Which is to say: We don’t need to balance the budget. And in fact, we shouldn’t: A singular focus on a balanced budget would cause us to pass up low-interest-high-yield investments that we should make. Our goal should be to keep the debt manageable, and our definition of “manageable” should change depending on economic conditions. The obsession with zero deficit is an overly-simple view promoted by people who either have ulterior motives or who don’t understand how the federal budget works.

The second Republican misunderstanding driving this insanity is the idea that a vote to raise the debt ceiling “puts more money on the nation’s credit card”. In reality, the money has already been charged to the card, and raising the debt ceiling just lets us pay the bill…

The third relevant brain worm is the myth that the budget could be balanced through a few relatively-painless cuts. Republicans frequently object to suggestions that they want to cut Social Security or Medicare, and obviously, tax hikes are as heretical to GOP doctrine as Lobsterfest is to Orthodox Judaism. So, if the deficit is a crisis, then what’s the proposed solution?

Republican rhetoric tends to focus on non-defense discretionary spending. That is: nuts-and-bolts government function stuff like highways and diplomacy, plus more touchy-feely stuff like environment, health, and education. That stuff doesn’t butter a typical Republican’s toast, and even a liberal like me will admit that not every penny of that spending is crucial funding keeping vulnerable Americans from being dragged out to sea by economic currents and ripped apart by sharks. But to talk about non-defense discretionary spending as a solution to the budget deficit is basically a non-sequitur.

The bottom line is that there just isn’t enough money there. Non-defense discretionary spending is usually around $600 billion (adjusted for inflation); the deficit has averaged $1.16 trillion over the past 15 years. So, if you carved out the whole District of Columbia, floated it into the Atlantic ocean, and then sank it along with the entire federal government, you’d be about half way to where you’d need to be. For context, this spending is slightly below where it’s been for the last 35 years as a percentage of GDP. To allege a budget crisis and then shift to talk of shaving non-defense discretionary spending is like announcing a plan to lose 100 pounds and declaring that you’ll get there by reducing how often you eat bananas foster.

These three myths combine to form a simple, misleading, narrative, which goes like this: The government is on the brink of a fiscal crisis. This crisis can be solved without tax hikes or cuts to popular programs. Members of Congress who vote to raise the debt ceiling are authorizing more profligate spending instead of getting our fiscal house in order.

How much does the GOP base believe this narrative? Well, they believe it enough that most Republican members of the House seem scared to vote to raise the ceiling. We also might deduce something from the fact that the most zealous debt ceiling warriors seem to be those Republicans who are least in touch with reality. To wit: Major players include Ralph Norman, who doesn’t appear to know what the debt ceiling is, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, of whom former RNC chair Michael Steele recently said: “She doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about.” GOP leadership has ignored White House calls for proposed spending cuts, and of course they have: No cuts exist that are big enough to satisfy the Republican base and that are popular with the rest of the country. The GOP is reaping what they sowed: They promoted a lie, people believed the lie, and now those same people are demanding that their leaders take action in response to a crisis that doesn’t exist.

16) Just maybe this time the promising new Alzheimer’s drug is actually promising?  Really interesting stuff here on the latest drug and the history of false hope.

17) Good stuff from Phillip Bump, “The core weakness of the Republican Party, on raucous display”

Why is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) in Congress?

The 2020 campaign that first brought her to Washington wasn’t centered on the policy proposals Greene wanted to enact as a legislator. Her campaign was instead centered mostly on fringe rhetoric and chastisements of the D.C. establishment, including members of her own party. This was amplified after Republican leaders like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) criticized past comments of Greene’s that were racist or endorsed the QAnon conspiracy theory.

But that didn’t matter. Greene easily won the primary and then election in a district that backed Donald Trump by a 3 to 1 margin. So now she’s in Congress — and was a key ally of McCarthy in his struggle to be elected House speaker. Her willingness to throw bombs at her perceived opponents has made her a force in Republican politics, one that McCarthy clearly thinks is useful to keep close.

In other words, Greene is in Congress because her style of agitating the Republican base was useful in winning a primary in a deep-red district, winning election in a wildly pro-Trump one and in getting access to the core of Republican institutional power. And this, really, is the Republican Party’s central weakness, as made obvious in last year’s midterm elections: It is very, very good at energizing its base and not very good at appealing to everyone else.

On Tuesday night, President Biden delivered his State of the Union address. This annual event is Congress’s prom, an opportunity to get dressed up and be fancy with lots of expectations that people will be on their best behavior. Before this year’s iteration, McCarthy cautioned his caucus to behave, reportedly reminding them that the country would be watching.

To continue the prom analogy, this is a bit like the principal telling the jocks that the local news would be filming the dance and not to act up. Guess what the jocks are going to do? …

The other motivation for interrupting Biden is implicit: Many Republican elected officials are simply used to treating their opponents with overt disdain. Greene has endorsed QAnon theories and mused about executions of prominent Democrats. Given the rare opportunity to be face-to-face with Biden, we should expect her to demurely observe his speech?

We should not be surprised that McCarthy’s warning to his caucus about behaving went unheeded. We should not be surprised that his efforts to quell the uproar in the moment were ignored. We should not be surprised that on Wednesday morning he excused the interruptions as evidence of his caucus being “passionate.” After all, the story of McCarthy’s tenure as leader of his party has largely been about his failure to erect fences around the party’s fringe, from Trump on down.

There is simply a large element of his party that is focused on combating the left, on fighting Democrats or other elites in Fox News hits or punchy tweets. They do so for the same reasons some of them interrupted Biden’s speech: They want attention or they are simply behaving in the way they’ve become accustomed to behaving. There’s a Pavlovian element here. Greene and others have been successful at getting Republican votes by ginning up Republican anger. In districts where Republicans win easily, that works just fine. In the jostle to get attention and support from Republicans nationally, extremism in this regard is a boon. But in winning contested races? Less so.

18) So tired of stories like this!! Our laws and enforcement are both woefully insufficient.  And who are all the damn people buying dogs from these disreputable breeders and thereby propping up the whole sordid mess?!  Shame on them! “47 dogs rescued from backyard breeder, animal hoarding home in rural NC”

19) I’m in a monthly meeting with a faculty member who I am pretty sure never turns her camera on because she believes cameras on is “ableist.” Oh, yeah, that’s a thing.  As for me, I believe it’s rude to hide yourself and participate by voice only if you are perfectly capable of more fully participating.  It’s already diminishing human contact enough to be on in zoom instead of in person, that you really shouldn’t make it worse unless there’s a good reason (to be fair, there’s often good reasons, but a stand against ableism is not among them).   

20) It was pretty cool to read this Atlantic article on obstacles to nuclear power growth from within the nuclear power industry and think, “wow, that was really good” and then go back and see it was Jonathan Rauch. I love that guy. 

Small and safe is the vision, at least. Dozens of companies and labs in the U.S. and abroad are pursuing it. Kairos is well along, with a permit to build a full-fledged nuclear test reactor already moving toward federal approval, hopefully by the end of 2023. That test will depend on this one in Albuquerque, because molten-salt reactor cooling has not been tried in the United States since the 1960s, when a five-year experiment at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee, proved the idea viable. In a few days, the test unit’s top will be installed, crowning the device with bristling pipes and sensors. Nearby, welders ready those pipes and valves. Engineers stand on top of scaffolding slotting graphite reflectors into place.

As I tour the facility, however, I soon realize that the crucial technology is not 16 feet tall but about 5 foot 6, balding, with jeans and thick, black-framed glasses…

Nuclear power is in a strange position today. Those who worry about climate change have come to see that it is essential. The warming clock is ticking—another sort of countdown—and replacing fossil fuels is much easier with nuclear power in the equation. And yet the industry, in many respects, looks unready to step into a major role. It has consistently flopped as a commercial proposition. Decade after decade, it has broken its promises to deliver new plants on budget and on time, and, despite an enviable safety record, it has failed to put to rest the public’s fear of catastrophic accidents. Many of the industry’s best minds know they need a new approach, and soon. For inspiration, some have turned toward SpaceX, Tesla, and Apple…

The real challenge with giant nuclear plants like Fukushima and Three Mile Island is not making them safe but doing so at a reasonable price, which is the problem that companies like Kairos are trying to solve. But even people who feel scared of nuclear power do not dispute that fossil fuels are orders of magnitude more dangerous. One study, published in 2021, estimated that air pollution from fossil fuels killed about 1 million people in 2017 alone. In fact, nuclear power’s safety record to date is easily on par with the wind and solar industries, because wind turbines and rooftop panels create minor risks such as falls and fire. As for nuclear waste, it has turned out to be a surprisingly manageable problem, partly because there isn’t much of it; all of the spent fuel the U.S. nuclear industry has ever created could be buried under a single football field to a depth of less than 10 yards, according to the Department of Energy. Unlike coal waste, which is of course spewed into the air we breathe, radioactive waste is stored in carefully monitored casks.

And so environmentalists, I thought, were betraying the environment by stigmatizing nuclear power. But I had to revise my view. Even without green opposition, nuclear power as we knew it would have fizzled—today’s environmentalists are not the main obstacle to its wide adoption…
And so, in a generation, nuclear power went from the fuel of the future to not worth the bother. Supply chains withered; talented engineers and executives sought greener pastures. The United States, once the industry’s world leader, became an also-ran. Today, as Peterson said, we find ourselves “mired in this world where all you can get are light-water reactors, and they’re challenging and expensive to build, and we don’t have good alternatives. Breaking out of that set of problems is one of the critical things we need to do today.” That requires technological breakthroughs; more important, however, it requires attitudinal ones.

21) Headlines like this all the time, of course, “Single Powerball Ticket Wins $754.6 Million Jackpot” got me thinking how much more good would we do in in the world and really change lives by having 100 $7 million jackpots.  That would be so much better!  Of course, I’m sure you’d sell way less tickets for that.

22) McWhorter on “racism” and policing:

As Duane Loynes Sr., an assistant professor of urban and Africana studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, told The Los Angeles Times’s Jaweed Kaleem, “Here’s a dirty little secret: Studies indicate that Black officers are just as brutal and at times even more brutal against Black bodies as their white counterparts.”

The point is not that we don’t have a grievous problem, but rather that the problem is not exclusively racist white cops. It’s cops, period. (An important note: When it comes to nonlethal mistreatment, as opposed to police shootings, studies demonstrate the existence of outright racial bias. This is very much a problem, but a very different problem from police killings.)

The way we are trained to view the situation is understandable, but outdated. As recently as the 1970s and 1980s, cops killed people — Black and white alike — at much higher rates in major cities than they do now, as the criminologist Peter Moskos has shown. I grew up in the Philadelphia of that era, where Mayor Frank Rizzo openly condoned cops’ brutality against Black people. By morbid coincidence, I saw the gruesome videotaped beating of Nichols shortly after I rewatched Melvin Van Peebles’ pioneering 1971 film “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” In the movie, Van Peebles plays a Black man on the run from racist white cops whose shameless, bloodletting brutality roughly corresponded to what some Black people of the period actually experienced. A lot of time has passed since then, but the way we discuss police brutality against Black people today can sometimes make it sound as if there is no difference between the situation Van Peebles depicted — of marauding, openly racist cops — and the one we face today.

Yet white Americans are also killed by police officers in appalling numbers — many more, overall, than Black Americans, owing to the fact that the latter make up only about 14 percent of the U.S. population. In 2022, The Washington Post’s database on cop killings documented that of 755 victims whose race was known, 225 were Black and 389 were white.

Because casual and sometimes lethal violence against Black people by cops is part of our shameful and still recent national narrative, names like those of the victims I cited earlier sometimes become national news stories. But the media rarely even covers police killings of white people, which don’t fit so neatly into that pre-existing narrative…

Police killings of unarmed or unthreatening American citizens are a national disgrace, and one that requires action. But action requires comprehension, and the simplest explanation — “racist white cops kill Black people” — is clearly often not the correct one.

Is “systemic racism” at work in Memphis?  Quite clearly.  That said, I think the fact that black cops killed a black man forces us to deal with the broader problems of policing and police culture rather than just simply saying, “see… racism.”

23) Drum on social security: “Fixing Social Security forever requires only 1.5% of GDP”

Social Security is back in the news. The word on the street is that MAGA Republicans—unlike Donald Trump himself—want to “reform” Social Security so it doesn’t go “bankrupt” and cut off our kids from their rightful pensions.

I’m willing to go toe-to-toe on the gritty details of Social Security with anyone, but not today. Instead, I’ll just give you a taste of the Social Security doomsaying we’re likely to get. Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, here is Travis Nix telling us that raising the payroll tax cap is a bad idea:

The Social Security administration forecasts that without benefit cuts or structural reforms the entitlement program will run out of money in 2035. In response, lawmakers in both parties are mulling the idea of lifting the payroll tax cap.

….[This] wouldn’t fix the structural issues with Social Security. Like a ponzi scheme, the program relies on the contributions of a shrinking young population to pay off an increasing elderly population.

….These programs need serious structural reforms—more tax revenue won’t save them….Lawmakers need to think bigger to offer real solutions. By raising the retirement age, letting workers put their tax in personal accounts instead of Social Security, and shifting Social Security to a flat benefit to make it a true antipoverty program, lawmakers could begin to address the crisis.

First off, Social Security will not “run out of money” in 2035. Current estimates say it will run about 25% short in 2035. That’s a big difference, but conservatives can never bring themselves to say it.

Second, it’s not a Ponzi scheme. If you cut off all the babble surrounding it, Social Security is just a standard social welfare program: Taxes go in and pensions go out. This can keep up forever, just like it can for Medicaid or the military or anything else.

Third, raising the retirement age saves money but does so mainly on the backs of the poor. Personal accounts are risky, which is why Social Security doesn’t use them. And a flat, small benefit for the few would destroy public support for Social Security. Nix surely knows all this.

Fourth, literally everything Nix implies is baloney. I’m excited to report that the Social Security Trustees now include Excel data in their annual report, which means I can recreate their charts on my own. Here’s the most basic, most important single chart you will ever see about Social Security:

That’s it. That’s all you need to know. Forget about high and low estimates or bend points or the accuracy of the Trustees’ actuarial assumptions or any of that. Those are trivial. What this chart tells you is that Social Security is not doomed to an endless spiral of death. It’s projected to eventually run annual deficits of about 1.5% of GDP forever.

So to fix it, all we need is reform that eventually adds up to 1.5% of GDP. That’s it. Some combination of tax hikes and benefit cuts that come to 1.5% of GDP. That will keep Social Security properly financed forever

24) Oh man do I hate unrealistic obsessions with “stranger danger” and I loved this Melida Wenner Moyer post so much!

During the show, host Brown took a moment to address the audience, saying: “Predators are a real threat. In the U.S., 2,300 children go missing each day. I know it’s uncomfortable, but it’s an urgent child safety issue.”


There is so much fear-mongering about child safety these days, and I believe it’s actually more dangerous than the supposedly scary things parents are being warned about.

Consider the terrifying statistic that 2,300 kids are reported missing each day in the U.S. That’s technically true, but extremely misleading. For one thing, an estimated 99 percent of those kids are found fairly quickly, and 98 percent of them are either runaways or abducted by family members. The F.B.I. reported that only between 52 and 306 children were kidnapped by strangers or acquaintances in 2019, which is a very, very small number, considering that there are about 75 million children living in the United States. As researchers from UC-Irvine explained in a 2016 research paper:

The actual risk of a teen or child being abducted by a stranger and killed or not returned is estimated at around 0.00007%, or one in 1.4 million annually—a risk so small that experts call it de minimis, meaning effectively zero.

And yet, according to a new Pew Research survey published in January, 28 percent of American parents say they are “extremely worried” that their children will someday be abducted.


Why are we so worried about abductions when they are so rare? Well, because of shows like The Parent Test. Okay, I’m oversimplying; there are many reasons, but the media sure hasn’t been helping. In a 2022 study, researchers in Australia analyzed the content of TV shows and other media that discussed child abductions and related issues. They found that 94 percent of the media coverage focused on scary risks and that only six percent mentioned the potential benefits of granting kids autonomy. (The reports of parents being arrested for not constantly supervising their kids don’t help, either.)

It’s worth pointing out, too, that violent crime rates have dropped precipitously since the 1990s, even though U.S. adults tend to say they think crime has been increasing:

Okay, but, you might be thinking — it’s better to be safe than sorry, right? I mean, if there’s even a slim chance your kid could be abducted or hurt, shouldn’t you teach them to be scared of strangers and supervise them as much as possible? Not necessarily. When we worry too much about stranger danger and overestimate the potential risks of giving kids freedom, we rob our children of important experiences and opportunities. (It’s important to note here that some American kids really do face horrific dangers. Black children are, for instance, are nearly six times as likely as white children to be killed with guns. So some parents are indeed right to be terrified, which is unfair and awful.)

Among other things, parents today are much less likely than parents of generations past to let kids walk to school alone and to let them play unsupervised. In fact, research has found that parents believe they should be communicating to their kids that the world is a terrible, scary place.

The problem is that all this over-protectiveness doesn’t give kids the chance to learn how to navigate the world. It may also make them more prejudiced. And when we constantly tell our kids to be afraid, they are more likely to develop anxiety. (To learn more about why over-protectiveness is dangerous — and what to do instead — check out the non-profit organization Let Grow and its resources.)

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t consider risk or teach our kids to be aware of it. What I am saying is that safety risks — especially to kids — are often overstated, and that this inaccurate messaging harms kids and society at large. I found myself quite frustrated that The Parent Test chose drama over data, fueling a dangerous parenting trope. What we need from the media is balance.

Yes, we should teach our kids what to do if strangers ring the doorbell. But if our kids are a bit too trusting at times, this does not mean we have failed them or that they have failed. We shouldn’t teach our kids that the world is always out to get them, and, assuming they really aren’t at much risk, we shouldn’t hide our children away to keep them safe.

The next NC governor?

Josh Stein. Or so that’s where I’m putting my money.  One of the cool things about NYT columnist Frank Bruni moving to Chapel Hill, NC is is forays into NC politics.  He may not have talked to the right NC “experts” 🙂 in this column, but an interesting preview of our 2024 gubernatorial race:

The 2024 governor’s race in North Carolina just got underway. You care.

Not because this state is the nation’s ninth most populous, though that’s reason enough. But because what happens here is a referendum on how low Republicans will sink and how far they can nonetheless get.

Attorney General Josh Stein of North Carolina announced his candidacy last week. At present he’s the likeliest Democratic nominee. He’s a mostly conventional choice, with a long résumé of public service and unremarkable politics. I say “mostly” because he’s in one way a trailblazer. He’d be the state’s first Jewish governor.

The likeliest Republican nominee, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, is also a trailblazer. He’d be the state’s first Black governor. But that’s the beginning, middle and end of anything forward-looking and progress-minded about him, and he’s extremism incarnate: gun-loving, gay-hating and primed for conspiracy theories, with a garnish of antisemitism to round out the plate.

Robinson hasn’t formally declared a bid, and he could face and be foiled by a primary challenge from a less provocative rival. But as Tim Funk noted in an article in The Assembly about Robinson’s flamboyantly combative speeches during Sunday worship services across the state, he was recently introduced in Charlotte as “the next governor of North Carolina.”

Heaven forbid. His election would almost certainly retard the state’s economic dynamism by repelling the sorts of companies and educated young workers attracted to it during the six years that Gov. Roy Cooper, a moderate Democrat who cannot run for another term, has been in office.

And if 2024 smiles on Republicans, Robinson could indeed emerge victorious…

Funk captured Robinson well in that Assembly article: “In the Gospel According to Mark Robinson, the United States is a Christian nation, guns are part of God’s plan, abortion is murder, climate change is ‘Godless … junk science,’ and the righteous, especially men, should follow the example of the Jesus who cleansed the temple armed with a whip, and told his disciples to make sure they packed a sword.”

Robinson’s religion is indeed the whipping, slashing kind. It mingles cruelty and snark. When Paul Pelosi was assaulted in his home by a hammer-wielding intruder, Robinson didn’t offer prayers for his recovery. He expressed doubt that Pelosi was an innocent victim — and mocked him.

He has referred to homosexuality as “filth” and to the transgender rights movement as “demonic.” He’s preoccupied with the devil, whose hand he saw in the movie “Black Panther,” which was “created by an agnostic Jew and put to film by satanic marxist,” he railed in a Facebook post that could have used some copy-editing.

His whole persona could use some copy-editing. It’s all exclamation points.

But that’s his power, too. “Mark Robinson is extremely popular with the Republican base and the Republican rank and file,” Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, told me. (He has no relation to Roy.) “The reality is that he’s a compelling speaker. And just as many Republicans thought that Donald Trump went too far but at the same time were happy he gave the finger to ‘the establishment,’ Mark Robinson has many of the same advantages.” …

The Republican Party has gone off the rails but keeps hurtling forward, damage be damned. We’d be foolish in North Carolina to trust that we won’t be part of the wreckage.

Yes, it is disturbing to think about Robinson as our next governor, but, honestly, this guy makes Doug Mastriano look like a sensible moderate (and Mastriano got killed in his election effort).  I suspect Josh Stein would love nothing more than to run against Robinson.  Mark Robinson’s shtick may work for a low-information Lieutenant Governor campaign, but no way he survives the scrutiny of a gubernatorial campaign in anything but a truly red wave year (and, as of now, there’s no reason to suspect 2024 to be a great Republican year).  

Of course, the sane Republicans (to whatever degree they exist) in NC know this, too, and it will definitely be interesting to see just what kind of candidates and efforts materialize against Robinson in the primary.  But, Mark Robinson’s all culture war all the time persona certainly represents the Republican base right now and he will be tough to beat in the primary.  Surely, a topic I will be returning to down the road. 

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