Better late than never quick hits

0) Had a terrific vacation at the beach last week.  Read plenty of good stuff, but, more important to sit in the sun than to work on the blog.  And when I got back home, set back due to an AC failure.  Good news is that I had it repaired in less than 24 hours and I’m typing this in pleasant climate-controlled air.  Anyway…

1) Great conversation between Yascha Mounk and Sabrina Tavernise:

Mounk: You’re somebody who has spent much of your career as a foreign correspondent living outside the United States. You spent time in Russia and Turkey, some time in Lebanon and other places. But coming back to the United States, you suddenly felt like your experience of covering deeply divided societies gave you insight into the United States. [The U.S.] suddenly felt similar to both societies in a way that it hadn’t done when you were growing up here. What lessons can we take from these deeply divided societies? And how can we make sure that we have empathy for our fellow citizens who are on the other side of a political divide without excusing the most reprehensible actions?

Tavernise: I moved to Russia when I was 24 years old, and I started in journalism when I was 26. And I didn’t really know very much about the way the world worked at that point. And I feel like I kind of went out into that society speaking very good Russian—my Russian was very fluent—without very much humility, and with a lot of arrogance about who they were and how they were supposed to get their act together. I remember traveling to these little provincial towns, and I’d be writing about an aluminum plant or an oil company or a local election. And I remember thinking and writing in this way, “You know, guys, the widget factory is never coming back. I know everybody wants the widget factory because that was what was comfortable and safe. But that was a communist thing, and communism is over. You really need to get your act together. Why don’t you just go out and kind of invent something? Go out and build a business, go out and rearrange your life and your town in a way that will make you prosperous and more like us.” 

When I first came back to the United States, I’d been gone for the better part of more than a dozen years. And I started talking to Americans, also in provincial places, and I realized they were saying, “Oh, if only the widget factory that was here in the 70s, in the 80s, would come back! If only it would come back, then all of our problems would be gone.” I realized, oh, my God, it was the same thing. It was the same dynamic. And part of that was economic collapse. Part of that was extreme lack of trust in government and in each other. 

Another parallel was the disinformation that started to spread in Russia, quite early and very virulently. [With] every person you would talk to, every cab driver, you would get into it: “Gorbachev is actually being run by MI6.” Everybody had a theory of why life was so messed up, and who was responsible, who was to blame. And I remember thinking, “Oh, my God, this is just a bunch of tinfoil-hat stuff. These people were in the Soviet cave for 70 years, and they kind of got a little wacky in there. They didn’t modernize with everybody else.”

[But] more recently, in my own society, people say, “Oh, yeah, the election was stolen? Absolutely. Biden has basically been kidnapped, and there are all these people around him who are actually making the decisions and pulling the strings.” I realized we are absolutely not exceptional in any way. We basically have exactly the same problems and exactly the same group dynamics and exactly the same divides. We were richer and more developed, [but] that didn’t matter. That’s pretty sobering, because now we’re stuck. How do we get out of this situation? No one on the right I’m talking to even thinks that Biden is kind of a sentient, conscious individual. The elections [going forward] are going to be really fraught, because there’s been this poison pill injected into them by Trump, and it’s hard to know where it’s going. 

2) Great stuff on cuttlefish and the implications for the evolution of intelligence:

These studies suggest that cuttlefish are capable of self-control and of remembering their own past experiences. The next step will be tests of whether, like the jays, they are aware of how they will feel in the future, and can plan for it.

“We’re adapting these experiments that have been done in chimpanzees and corvids,” Dr. Schnell said, “to see if these animals that diverged from this lineage 550 million years ago have the same capacity.”

If they do, cuttlefish will have an important role in illuminating how and when intelligence evolves. Corvids and certain primates — including humans — each developed the ability to plan for the future, but they seem to have arrived at it independently, rather than inheriting the capacity from a common ancestor. Both kinds of creatures have complex social lives and lengthy life spans to learn from, commonalities that make it hard for biologists to say what traits or environment make intelligence a good investment for an organism.

The cuttlefish promises to add another dimension to the study of intelligence because they must have developed it in a completely different context.

“They don’t live a long time, unlike the corvids. They’re not highly social, unlike the corvids,” Dr. Clayton said. “It was very unlikely that it was social intelligence that was driving the evolution.”

There are still more tests to come. It’s not clear whether cuttlefish will turn out to have all the same skills as apes and corvids, or just a handful. If what they have is similar, then it’s possible that profound vulnerability, rather than long life or social complexity, is what has forced them to become so canny.

3) Philip Bump, “Want to know how a county voted? Find out how many White Christians live there.”

Here, as the title of the image says, are two maps of the United States. One shows every county in which at least half of the population is made up of non-Hispanic Whites who are Christian, as estimated by PRRI as part of its 2020 Census of American Religion. The other map shows counties that Preside nt Donald Trump won in the 2020 election. The darker the coloration, the greater each percentage.

 

So which is which?

The easiest way to tell is by looking at the Northeast. Much of New England votes reliably Democratic but is also densely White. So you can tell that Map B is the map of White Christians and Map A the map of 2020 election results.

The point, of course, is that it isn’t easy to differentiate between them. Looking at PRRI’s maps of the distribution of religious groups, the superficial similarity of White Christianity and Trump support is immediately obvious. But, of course, national maps of county-level data tend to obscure underlying trends, as anyone who has had a debate over how to depict presidential-vote results can attest.

4) I literally don’t get why paramedics are paid so little.  I’d like to see that addressed in this article.  I mean, like what’s going on economically that you can actually have a sufficient supply of people trained to treat heart attacks, major trauma, etc., on the spot for only $17/hour?

The misconception that emergency medics provide transportation, not medicine, leaves them to cope with all sorts of indignities. “They’re used to being second-class citizens,” says Michael Levy, the president of the National Association of EMS Physicians. In one hour—during which they may respond to several 911 calls—the median paramedic or EMT makes a little more than $17. That’s half the hourly pay of registered nurses and less than one-fifth the pay of doctors—if they’re paid at all. During the pandemic, emergency medics were literally enclosed in rolling boxes with COVID-19 patients. But in some states, they were not prioritized alongside other essential health-care workers for the first round of vaccines. After delivering their precious cargo to a hospital, in many cases they don’t learn the final diagnosis, or whether their patient ever makes it back home.

That medicine treats emergency medics like disposable, low-wage workers instead of the health-care professionals they are isn’t just unfortunate for the workers themselves—it also leads to less than optimal care for the rest of us on the day we may need it most.

5) Good Post editorial, “The U.S. is growing more unequal. That’s harmful — and fixable.”

First, the data: The combined wealth of all households in the United States added up to $129.5 trillion in the first quarter of this year. The wealthiest 1 percent held 32.1 percent of the total, up from 23.4 percent in 1989. The top 10 percent of households owned $70 of every $100 in household wealth, up from $61 in 1989. The bottom half, whose share never exceeded 5 percent, now holds just 2 percent of household wealth in the United States…

Though wealth inequality has grown in other industrialized democracies too, the U.S. figures mark this country as an outlier. A 2018 study of 28 countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development found that, on average, the top 10 percent of households owns 52 percent of wealth, while the bottom 60 percent owns 12 percent. But in the United States the top 10 percent held 79.5 percent and the bottom 60 percent held 2.4 percent…

The wealth gap did not develop overnight. It neither can, nor should, be entirely eliminated; but the United States could aim for a more equitable distribution similar to that of our peer nations today — and, indeed, that which prevailed in the country during the era of its greatest international prestige. Policy reforms, starting now, could make it happen.

6) This was interesting, “The Secrets of ‘Cognitive Super-Agers’: By studying centenarians, researchers hope to develop strategies to ward off Alzheimer’s disease and slow brain aging for all of us.”

Fewer than 1 percent of Americans reach the age of 100, and new data from the Netherlands indicate that those who achieve that milestone with their mental faculties still intact are likely to remain so for their remaining years, even if their brains are riddled with the plaques and tangles that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

Findings from the Dutch study may eventually pave a path for many more of us to become “cognitive super-agers,” as researchers call people who approach the end of the human life span with brains that function as if they were 30 years younger.

One day everyone who is physically able to reach 100 may also be able to remain mentally healthy. By studying centenarians, researchers hope to identify reliable characteristics and develop treatments that would result in healthy cognitive aging for most of us. Meanwhile, there is much we can do now to keep our brains in tiptop condition, even if reaching 100 is neither a goal nor a possibility.

These hopeful prospects stem from the study of 340 Dutch centenarians living independently who were tested and shown to be cognitively healthy when they enrolled. The 79 participants who neither died nor dropped out of the study returned for repeated cognitive testing, over an average follow-up of 19 months.

The research team, directed by Henne Holstege at Vrije University in Amsterdam, reported in JAMA Network Open in January that these participants experienced no decline in major cognitive measures, except for a slight loss in memory function. Basically, the participants performed as if they were 30 years younger in overall cognition; ability to make decisions and plans and execute them; recreate by drawing a figure they had looked at; list animals or objects that began with a certain letter; and not becoming easily distracted when performing a task or getting lost when they left home.

7) It’s been a while since I’ve adopted a pet, but can we all agree that so many rescue organization are over-the-top nuts?  I didn’t realize how bad it’s gotten. “Want to Adopt a Pet? Prepare for a Full Background Check.: Overlong applications, home inspections and fecal samples from existing pets are all fair game in finding a cat’s or dog’s “forever home.””

Shortly after the pandemic began, I started religiously checking Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet in search of a kitten. Whenever I saw one I wanted, I filled out an application. Unlike the two pages I’d submitted to adopt my dog in 2009, these were long, exhaustive and, in my opinion, a bit invasive.

One rescue organization asked that I fill out a seven-page application, submit five personal references and provide a detailed record of every pet I’ve owned since childhood. Another wanted my driver’s license number, multiple references, a fecal sample from each of my dogs, a personal meeting and a separate home visit.

Others wanted to know whether my yard was fenced; if I’d enroll my pet in a training class; if I had ever been divorced; how much time I spent at home; and what my overall discipline philosophy was.

8) This NYT “How to be happy” guide is really good.  As for me, I am, of course, already on most of it.

9) Damon Linker argues that the anti-anti-CRT people have gone too far, and I think he’s right.  Yes, systemic racism is a thing, but CRT goes way further than that to places that are a lot less defensible:

According to an adage attributed to George Santayana, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. But how to explain those who know history quite well and yet nonetheless repeat it?

That question has cropped into my head many times in recent weeks, as conservative activists and Republicans in Congress have actively denounced and in some cases acted to ban the teaching of what they call Critical Race Theory in public schools (both K-12 and universities) — and many of the left’s most intelligent writers have responded almost exclusively by railing against right-wing critics of CRT.

Put in slightly more schematic terms, the left is reacting to the anti-CRT movement by becoming loudly anti-anti-CRT. That is a big mistake, both intellectually and politically. How do we know? In part because we just lived through the folly of Republicans enacting the double negation of becoming anti-anti-Trump in order to avoid calling out the obscenity of the man himself.

 

But there’s an even more pertinent parallel further back in American history. Roughly seventy years ago the left’s forebears made precisely the same move when confronted with an overly zealous, demagogic critic of communism. Rather than single out Sen. Joseph McCarthy for hysterical overreach while also acknowledging that communism was a serious threat that demanded vigilance, they instead became anti-anti-communists, elevating “McCarthyism” into the real danger, perhaps even the only danger, and dismissing concerns about communism as a phantom threat…

Left-leaning critics of the ascendant anti-CRT movement like to point out that Critical Race Theory isn’t being taught in schools. Strictly speaking, this is correct, and I’ve made the point myself. CRT is a diffuse academic specialty animating the work of serious scholars across a range of fields, including law, history, and various disciplines in the social sciences. Much of this work is worthwhile and fruitfully provocative in its emphasis on structural dimensions of racial oppression in the past and present. But the suggestion that this scholarship is regularly being taught in K-12 history classes, or even in survey-level courses to undergraduates, is risible…

Others on the left will quietly concede that the past and present of American life is indeed more complicated than the most simple-minded construals of systematic or structural racism imply. Yet they will point out more loudly that conservatives hardly do better at advocating pluralism and complexity in the classroom. On the contrary, they propose and prefer uncritical patriotic homilies like those contained in the report produced by Donald Trump’s “1776 Commission.”

This is certainly true of some on the right. But that’s precisely why the country needs liberal-minded leftists to ally with liberal centrists in taking a stand against the pious simplicities proffered by illiberal ideologues on both extremes. Public schools should be teaching the story of the past and present in a way that foregrounds the admirable as well as the shameful, that shows students how to hold contrary and complex views in their minds at the same time, that highlights our noblest principles as well as our most egregious faults, in the past as well as in the present.  

But that’s not what we’re getting from the left. Instead, we’re seeing savage critiques of the critics of CRT, but almost nothing about the simple-minded counter-homilies that their own allies are proposing. 

10) That said, indeed, let’s be careful here.  Somehow I never read Jamelle Bouie’s 1619 Project essay, and it’s great.  Students need to learn stuff like this.  “America holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more power than others.”

The Republican rationale for tilting the field in their permanent favor or, failing that, nullifying the results and limiting Democrats’ power as much as possible, has a familiar ring to it. “Citizens from every corner of Wisconsin deserve a strong legislative branch that stands on equal footing with an incoming administration that is based almost solely in Madison,” one Wisconsin Republican said following the party’s lame-duck power grab. The speaker of the State Assembly, Robin Vos, made his point more explicit. “If you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority — we would have all five constitutional officers, and we would probably have many more seats in the Legislature.” The argument is straightforward: Some voters, their voters, count. Others — the liberals, black people and other people of color who live in cities — don’t.

Senate Republicans played with similar ideas just before the 2016 election, openly announcing their plans to block Hillary Clinton from nominating anyone to the Supreme Court, should she become president. “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” declared Senator John McCain of Arizona just weeks before voting. And President Trump, of course, has repeatedly and falsely denounced Clinton’s popular-vote victory as illegitimate, the product of fraud and illegal voting. “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide,” he declared on Twitter weeks after the election, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

The larger implication is clear enough: A majority made up of liberals and people of color isn’t a real majority. And the solution is clear, too: to write those people out of the polity, to use every available tool to weaken their influence on American politics. The recent attempt to place a citizenship question on the census was an important part of this effort. By asking for this information, the administration would suppress the number of immigrant respondents, worsening their representation in the House and the Electoral College, reweighting power to the white, rural areas that back the president and the Republican Party.

You could make the case that none of this has anything to do with slavery and slaveholder ideology. You could argue that it has nothing to do with race at all, that it’s simply an aggressive effort to secure conservative victories. But the tenor of an argument, the shape and nature of an opposition movement — these things matter. The goals may be colorblind, but the methods of action — the attacks on the legitimacy of nonwhite political actors, the casting of rival political majorities as unrepresentative, the drive to nullify democratically elected governing coalitions — are clearly downstream of a style of extreme political combat that came to fruition in the defense of human bondage.

11) Appreciated reading the details of how the Raleigh Zebra Cobra was captured.  

12) Meanwhile a black bear was camped out in a tree near a local hospital and was lured down with doughnuts.  

13) As the parent of an intellectually disabled adult (here we are at the beach last week), I really appreciated former Obama adviser David Axelrod talking about the challenges for parents of intellectually-disabled adults.

14) Really appreciate BB sharing this article on NHL draft pick values with me.  After the first half of the first round, it’s really just a crapshoot.

15) Katherine Wu on the fact that we should not label all breakthrough Covid infections the same.

The first thing to know about the COVID-19 vaccines is that they’re doing exactly what they were designed and authorized to do. Since the shots first started their rollout late last year, rates of COVID-19 disease have taken an unprecedented plunge among the immunized. We are, as a nation, awash in a glut of spectacularly effective vaccines that can, across populations, geographies, and even SARS-CoV-2 variants, stamp out the most serious symptoms of disease.

The second thing to know about the COVID-19 vaccines is that they’re flame retardants, not impenetrable firewalls, when it comes to the coronavirus. Some vaccinated people are still getting infected, and a small subset of these individuals is still getting sick—and this is completely expected.

We’re really, really bad at communicating that second point, which is all about breakthroughs, a concept that has, not entirely accurately, become synonymous with vaccine failure. It’s a problem that goes far beyond semantics: Bungling the messaging around our shots’ astounding success has made it hard to convey the truly minimal risk that the vaccinated face, and the enormous gamble taken by those who eschew the jabs.

The main problem is this. As the CDC defines it, the word breakthrough can refer to any presumed infection by SARS-CoV-2 (that is, any positive coronavirus test) if it’s detected more than two weeks after someone receives the final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But infections can come with or without symptoms, making the term imprecise. That means breakthroughs writ large aren’t the most relevant metric to use when we’re evaluating vaccines meant primarily to curb symptoms, serious illness, hospitalizations, and death. “Breakthrough disease is what the average person needs to be paying attention to,” Céline Gounder, an infectious-disease physician at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, told me. Silent, asymptomatic breakthroughs—those that are effectively invisible in the absence of a virus-hunting diagnostic—are simply not in the same league.

16) I would’ve missed this if not for SAM sharing with me.  Profound biotechnological advancement, “Tapping Into the Brain to Help a Paralyzed Man Speak
In a once unimagined accomplishment, electrodes implanted in the man’s brain transmit signals to a computer that displays his words.”

Three years ago, when Pancho, now 38, agreed to work with neuroscience researchers, they were unsure if his brain had even retained the mechanisms for speech.

“That part of his brain might have been dormant, and we just didn’t know if it would ever really wake up in order for him to speak again,” said Dr. Edward Chang, chairman of neurological surgery at University of California, San Francisco, who led the research.

The team implanted a rectangular sheet of 128 electrodes, designed to detect signals from speech-related sensory and motor processes linked to the mouth, lips, jaw, tongue and larynx. In 50 sessions over 81 weeks, they connected the implant to a computer by a cable attached to a port in Pancho’s head, and asked him to try to say words from a list of 50 common ones he helped suggest, including “hungry,” “music” and “computer.”

As he did, electrodes transmitted signals through a form of artificial intelligence that tried to recognize the intended words.

Pancho (who asked to be identified only by his nickname to protect his privacy) also tried to say the 50 words in 50 distinct sentences like “My nurse is right outside” and “Bring my glasses, please” and in response to questions like “How are you today?”

His answer, displayed onscreen: “I am very good.”

In nearly half of the 9,000 times Pancho tried to say single words, the algorithm got it right. When he tried saying sentences written on the screen, it did even better.

By funneling algorithm results through a kind of autocorrect language-prediction system, the computer correctly recognized individual words in the sentences nearly three-quarters of the time and perfectly decoded entire sentences more than half the time.

17) While on vacation I read Andy Weir’s Hall Mary Project.  Loved, loved, loved it!  And, 2/3 of the way through, my 15-year old definitely feels the same.  I love how seriously Weir takes the science.  But, I had a nagging feeling about him not taking language/communication quite seriously enough.  Thus, I loved this essay on that part of the book.  But don’t read this if you think you will be reading the book.

18) Haven’t read much on gut microbiomes lately, so very much appreciated BB sharing this with me, “Gut-microbiota-targeted diets modulate human immune status”

Summary

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.

19) I found this “How to Raise Kids Who Won’t Be Racist” essay to be interesting just in the idea that, apparently many people have the idea that ignoring the fact that race is a thing will help your kids be less racism.  Ummmm… no.

Even if we don’t want them to, children do notice differences in race and skin color. And that means that attempts to suppress discussions about race and racism are misguided. Those efforts won’t eliminate prejudice. They may, in fact, make it worse.

So-called colorblind parenting — avoiding the topic of race in an effort to raise children who aren’t prejudiced — is not just unhelpful, it actually perpetuates racism.That’s because racism isn’t driven solely by individual prejudice. It’s a system of inequity bolstered by racist laws and policies — the very fact that opponents of teaching critical race theory are trying to erase…

When children aren’t presented with the context required to understand why our society looks the way it does, “they make up reasons, and a lot of kids make up biased, racist reasons,” said Rebecca Bigler, a developmental psychologist who studies the development of prejudice. Children often start to believe that white people are more privileged because they’re smarter or more powerful, Dr. Bigler says.

Parents should explicitly challenge these wrong assumptions and explain the role of centuries of systemic racism in creating these inequities. Brigitte Vittrup, a psychologist at Texas Woman’s University, and George W. Holden, a psychologist at Southern Methodist University, found that white children whose parents talked with them about race became less prejudiced over time, compared with children whose parents didn’t have such conversations.

Another study co-written by Dr. Bigler found that white children who had learned about racial discrimination had more positive attitudes toward Black people than children who were not exposed to that curriculum. The same researchers later found that classroom discussions about racial discrimination also had a positive impact on Black children.

20) Important research here, “Who is most likely to develop severe COVID-19 even after a second jab?” Answer: older people with serious health conditions.

21) So, is it wrong of me to still talk about gypsy moths? “This Moth’s Name Is a Slur. Scientists Won’t Use It Anymore.”

22) As you know, I’m a big fan of Matt Yglesias and a big fan of Noah Smith.  So I really enjoyed the latter interviewing the former.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Lots of new interesting analysis of the 2020 election past week.  Nice summary in the NYT: “Biden Gained With Moderate and Conservative Voting Groups, New Data Shows: President Biden cut into Donald Trump’s margins with married men and veteran households, a Pew survey shows. But there was a far deeper well of support for Mr. Trump than many progressives had imagined.”

2) I used to be a pretty big tennis fan way back when.  Hardly at all anymore.  Very thorough and interesting NYT piece on the off-the-court troubles with tennis and the economic issues, in particular.  I was particularly intrigued by the hockey comparison.

What especially bothered him, though, was a sense that the A.T.P. was failing at its most basic duty: to promote the interest of the players. “There’s no way that tennis shouldn’t have 300 players making decent livings,” he said. Pospisil was acutely aware of how much better middle-of-the-pack athletes in other sports had it. The N.H.L. was his reference point: The league had roughly 700 players and, in 2019, a guaranteed minimum salary of $700,000. More than half the players were earning more than $1 million per year. Coaching and travel were free, as was health care, and players were paid even when they were out with injuries, which was not the case in tennis.

Pospisil recognized that a team sport could offer benefits that an individual sport could not. “Tennis is its own animal,” he said. But the share of revenue that the players received from the tournaments — around 17.5 percent across the two tours and the four majors — struck him as inexcusably low. Players were the ones pulling in the fans and driving the revenue, and in his view, they were being exploited. And when he thought about why the 300th-best hockey player was making seven figures while Chris O’Connell, the 139th-best tennis player, was barely solvent, the answer was self-evident. It wasn’t because N.H.L. team owners were inordinately generous; it was because N.H.L. players had a union and tennis players did not. “It was a logical conclusion,” Pospisil said.

3) Okay, I haven’t actually watched this NYT video of January 6, but a lot of people I trust swear by it.  I am going to watch this week.

4) In search of another short comedy to mix in with my evening TV viewing I finally gave “Rick and Morty” a try after HBO Max dubbed it Rick and Morty day a few weeks ago.  I must say, I’m loving it and really glad I finally gave it a chance (after hearing good things about it for years).

5) Really liked this conversation on happiness between Yascha Mounk and Arthur Brooks:

Mounk: How do I analyze the parts of my life where I’m not as happy as I could be? How do I come up with a plan?

Brooks: When it comes to satisfaction, we’ve already talked about strategies: the chipping-away exercise by managing your wants, and trying to practice intention without attachment where you have audacious goals. All of these are very concrete strategies. But it starts with a diagnosis of your life. There are four dishes that you think are the dishes of happiness: money, power, pleasure, and fame. Those are the wrong dishes. The right dishes are faith, family, friendship, and work. 

When I say “faith,” I don’t mean a traditional religious faith, necessarily. You don’t need my faith. You need something that is more transcendent than the boring TV program, something that zooms you out from your own individual life. It gives you the adventure of the transcendent. [Another] dimension is family, the ties that bind kin. Never make the stupid error of not talking to a family member because of politics. One in six Americans, by the way, is doing that right now. And then there’s friendship. Vivek Murthy, our wonderful surgeon general, talks about the epidemic of loneliness. It’s the most important avoidable problem that we have in public health today, he believes. And one of the reasons is that people actually are getting more and more incompetent at romantic love and are denying themselves the psychological nutrition of friendship. And then the last [dimension that people] don’t understand is that you’ve got to have two parts of work, which is earning your success and believing that you’re serving other people. 

Mounk: Let’s talk about friendship for a moment. [There is a] difference between how I see friendship in Europe and how I see it in the United States. Friendship in Europe is an obligation: It’s a natural element of friendship that you do each other favors. If you’re sick at 3 a.m., you can ask a friend to go run to the pharmacy for you, and there’s nothing strange about that. 

It seems to me that in the United States, often friendship is much more modular: “We both have some free time, let’s go grab a beer together.” The implied mutual obligation isn’t part of a social contract of friendship to the same extent. Obviously, you choose your friends. But it seems to me that there are meaningful friendships which at some point take on a kind of givenness: You’ve been friends for so long, you’ve been friends in such a close way, that it acquires [some of the characteristics of] a familial relationship. And even if your friend is no longer the person whom you would choose to make friends with, or if your life circumstances start to diverge, there is a kind of imperative, which gives you satisfaction and purpose in life, to [maintain] those links. 

6) Not sure if we’ll get improved laws on exotic pets in NC or not due to the zebra cobra episode.  But, we just might and I’ll be using this example when I talk about agenda setting and policy change for a long time.  

7) So, the local Catholic parish I used to belong to is bringing in as a speaker the author of this book, “Slaying Dragons: What Exorcists See & What We Should Know.”  What we should know includes that yoga and Harry Potter are both tools of the devil.  Not sorry that’s no longer my parish.  Wow.  

8) Good stuff from Ed Yong on Delta:

1. The vaccines are still beating the variants.

The vaccines have always had to contend with variants: The Alpha variant (also known as B.1.1.7) was already spreading around the world when the first COVID-19 vaccination campaigns began. And in real-world tests, they have consistently lived up to their extraordinary promise. The vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna reduce the risk of symptomatic infections by more than 90 percent, as does the still-unauthorized one from Novavax. Better still, the available vaccines slash the odds that infected people will spread the virus onward by at least half and likely more. In the rare cases that the virus breaks through, infections are generally milder, shorter, and lower in viral load. As of June 21, the CDC reported just 3,907 hospitalizations among fully vaccinated people and just 750 deaths…

2. The variants are pummeling unvaccinated people.

Vaccinated people are safer than ever despite the variants. But unvaccinated people are in more danger than ever because of the variants. Even though they’ll gain some protection from the immunity of others, they also tend to cluster socially and geographically, seeding outbreaks even within highly vaccinated communities.

The U.K., where half the population is fully vaccinated, “can be a cautionary tale,” Hanage told me. Since Delta’s ascendancy, the country’s cases have increased sixfold. Long-COVID cases will likely follow. Hospitalizations have almost doubled. That’s not a sign that the vaccines are failing. It is a sign that even highly vaccinated countries host plenty of vulnerable people…

3. The longer Principle No. 2 continues, the less likely No. 1 will hold.

Whenever a virus infects a new host, it makes copies of itself, with small genetic differences—mutations—that distinguish the new viruses from their parents. As an epidemic widens, so does the range of mutations, and viruses that carry advantageous ones that allow them to, for example, spread more easily or slip past the immune system to outcompete their standard predecessors. That’s how we got super-transmissible variants like Alpha and Delta. And it’s how we might eventually face variants that can truly infect even vaccinated people.

None of the scientists I talked with knows when that might occur, but they agree that the odds shorten as the pandemic lengthens. “We have to assume that’s going to happen,” Gupta told me. “The more infections are permitted, the more probable immune escape becomes.”

9) It’s easy to forget we’re still imprisoning people at Gitmo.  This is good, “I was a prosecutor at Guantánamo. Close the prison now.”

I was one of the prosecutors for the only two litigated U.S. military tribunals since Nuremberg. These were the trials of Salim Ahmed Hamdan and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who were among those detained at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base after the attacks of 9/11. While it’s been 12 years since I served in Guantánamo, and the number of detainees has dropped dramatically, the realities that must be faced for trials to proceed haven’t changed. Military tribunals are sometimes a necessary consequence of war, but to drag the judicial process out for this long — up to nearly 20 years — is absurd and un-American. It’s an abandonment of our commitment to rule of law and what we consider to be fair jurisprudence.

My entire experience at Guantánamo was a rude awakening. I believed in the system after the first failed effort at prosecuting alleged terrorists was repaired in the Supreme Court case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, where the court acknowledged the unconstitutionality of the process. I thought our pursuit of justicecould be fair and impartial, and an example to the world. I was wrong. Everything I saw and experienced while serving in that assignment convinced me of that. Nothing I’ve observed since has changed my mind.
 

10) This… “Why You Still Might Want to Have a Home Covid Test on Hand: At-home rapid Covid-19 tests can offer unique benefits for weddings, parties, travel or for households with children or at-risk adults.”

11) Drum with some pushback on the “sky is falling” takes on democracy (like those I shared):

The New York Times, echoing the views of most liberals, says the Supreme Court is dismantling democracy piece by piece:

The latest blow came Thursday, when all six conservative justices voted to uphold two Arizona voting laws despite lower federal courts finding clear evidence that the laws make voting harder for voters of color — whether Black, Latino or Native American. One law requires election officials to throw out ballots that were cast in the wrong precinct; the other bars most people and groups from collecting voters’ absentee ballots and dropping them off at polling places.

This is starting to piss me off. Maybe the Supreme Court is bound and determined to take apart our voting laws no matter what, but the truth is that yesterday’s ruling can be laid directly at the feet of liberals. This was just a stupid case to bring. You can’t make a serious argument that there’s anything really wrong with either a ban on ballot harvesting or with requiring voters to cast ballots in the right precinct.

More generally, this kind of stuff, along with voter ID laws, is popular with the public, and this has nothing to do with the alleged existence of voter fraud. Even if there’s no fraud, the average Joe and Jane think ID laws make sense and are untroubled by common sense rules like being required to vote in the right precinct. Liberals will get nowhere by going after this stuff.

What’s more, none of it matters. The actual effect of these rules on Black and Hispanic voter turnout turns out to be minuscule. It is a waste of time—maybe worse than just a waste of time—to yell and scream about these kinds of laws.

What really is bad are provisions of these laws that allow Republican legislatures to replace election officials they deem insufficiently loyal to the Republican cause. If you talk to moderate voters, they’ll be shocked if you tell them about this. They’ll agree that these provisions are outrageous.

So why do we spend so much time protesting the stuff that doesn’t matter (and is popular) and so little time protesting the stuff that does matter (and is unpopular)? It is a vast mystery. And like I said, it’s really starting to piss me off. If democracy is truly at stake here, wouldn’t it make sense to be at least a little smart about trying to save it?

12) I follow a few of the “Intellectual Dark Web” types on twitter and they’re obsession with Ivermectin to treat Covid is just nuts.  Interesting to me that many of these people started out with reasonable complaints about cancel culture and wokeness and just end up off the cliff in conspiratorial nuttiness.  

13) I love the owner of the Carolina Hurricanes.  The following statements is completely ordinary for those into sports analytics, but it seems like you never see someone from the front office of a sports franchise say something like this:

Q: You want to win a Stanley Cup. What’s missing, what’s needed?

A: “I think we have to stay competitive, stay in the top percentage of the league every year. You hope that at some point you get the right thing to happen at the right time. Once you get into a playoff format with a small sample size, more random things have a bigger impact on the outcome. During the regular season, assuming you’re healthy, the better teams tend to make the playoffs. But once you’re in the playoffs it’s such a short series that the outcome is less about how good you are (in the regular season) but more how good you are and what happens in that exact moment. So we have to be there enough times with good players and good coaches and I think eventually we’ll get on the right run we need to win.”

14) The rule of law is so much more important than any one guilty person being punished.  And that’s why Bill Cosby was released. It’s really hard for Ian Milhiser to make this claim for his Vox audience, so he derides the decision every way he can, but does come down on this ultimate truth of our legal system.  

15) This was fascinating to me.  Apparently the writing is on the wall for Northern Ireland to cease to be.

16) Love this story! “Two women chatted in a bathroom. They soon realized they were each a match for the other’s husband, who needed a kidney.”

17) This was a really powerful essay. “I Am Breaking My Silence About the Baseball Player Who Raped Me”

Relitigating the 2020 NC Senate Race

So, there’s an interesting new behind the scenes about what went down with the sex scandal in Cal Cunningham’s campaign.  I learned about it from a tweet, which led me to follow-up with the following:

And, hey, a mini twitter spat.

Anyway, an animal lover followed up with a link to this great Miles Coleman analysis from April that I had somehow missed.

Now, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the sexual controversy might have cost Cunningham the election, but I also think a fair reading of the evidence very much suggests otherwise.  I certainly have this table (from Coleman) in mind when thinking about the election:

Table 1: 2020 federal and Council of State races in North Carolina

In 2020, no sitting statewide Republicans were defeated. Along those lines, every statewide Democrat who won was an incumbent seeking reelection — and their incumbency wasn’t really enough to guarantee robust margins.

In the case of Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC), his final 4.5% margin was considerably smaller than what polling suggested. Voters reelected Secretary of State Elaine Marshall to a seventh term, but her 2.3% margin was the closest of her career. Attorney General Josh Stein, a likely contender for governor himself in 2024, had razor-close races in both 2016 and 2020. Finally, though Republicans didn’t seriously challenge state Auditor Beth Wood, she still came within two points of losing to a candidate who faced criminal charges.

So a Cunningham win would have really stood out as a pro-Democratic outlier compared to the other statewide results, given that Trump carried the state, no Republican incumbent statewide officeholders lost, and some Democratic statewide incumbents had very close calls without the kinds of problems that Cunningham had.

There’s also a variety of additional analyses that also point to this same conclusion.  Coleman’s conclusion:

As much as we’d like to treat elections like a science experiment — something that can be replicated but tweaked with different variables — they don’t actually work that way. So it’s hard to know with certainty what might have happened had Cunningham’s affair not become public. There is also some indication that it may have hurt Cunningham on the margins, at least in military-heavy areas and quite possibly elsewhere.

That said, we think there are some good reasons to think Cunningham would have lost anyway. Using Occam’s Razor, his biggest problem was that Biden simply didn’t carry the state. Tillis also did better than Trump in the suburbs, something we saw from several other Senate and House Republican candidates across the country in 2020. And Cunningham doing a little bit better than Biden in the Election Day vote — these are the voters who would’ve had the most time to digest the scandal — also suggests that the scandal may not have been decisive.

As someone who does know a lot about biases of human information processing and biases of media coverage, I think there’s every reason to think that takes that essentially say “sex controversy cost Cunningham the Senate seat” play into both of these.  Again, not that we can say definitively that’s not so, but, not only does the balance of the evidence suggests otherwise, the evidence suggests we’re going to be primed to want to believe the sexier takes despite the evidence.  

The vaccine skeptical and the vaccine not yet

Good stuff from Gallup on the latest on vaccine attitudes:

Seventy-six percent of U.S. adults say they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or plan to be, a number that has been stable over the past three months but is higher than in late 2020 and early 2021.

Line graph. Seventy-six percent of U.S. adults in May 2021 have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or plan to be, similar to the 75% and 74% measured in April and March, respectively. When Gallup first asked the question in July 2020, 65% planned to get vaccinated, which dropped to 50% in September before recovering by December…

Gallup’s data suggest the ceiling on vaccination could be about 80% of U.S. adults. That would include the 76% who are already vaccinated or plan to be plus the 5% who do not plan to get vaccinated but say they are at least somewhat likely to change their mind…

As of the May 18-23 survey, 60% of U.S. adults report they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 4% have been partially vaccinated, 12% plan to be vaccinated and 24% do not plan to be vaccinated.

Among those not planning to be vaccinated, 78% say they are unlikely to reconsider their plans, including 51% who say they are “not likely at all” to change their mind and get vaccinated. That leaves one in five vaccine-reluctant adults open to reconsidering, with 2% saying they are very likely and 19% saying they are somewhat likely to change their mind and get vaccinated — equivalent to 5% of all U.S. adults…

The one in four vaccine-reluctant adults are not distributed equally across major demographic groups:

  • About half of Republicans, 46%, compared with 31% of independents and 6% of Democrats, do not plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Americans without a college degree are much more likely than college graduates to be vaccine-hesitant, 31% to 12%.

  • Vaccine hesitancy is more common among middle-aged Americans (33% of those between the ages of 35 and 54) than among younger (22%) and older Americans (20%).

Meanwhile, it surely is related to these other demographics, but an important part of the variation is regional:

Experts are concerned that states across the South, where vaccination rates are lagging, could face a surge in coronavirus cases over the summer.

A dozen states — many of them in the Northeast, including Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut — have already reached a benchmark of at least 70 percent of adults with at least one vaccine dose, a goal President Biden has set for the nation to make by July 4. But in the South, that marker is nowhere in sight for several states.

In 15 states — including Arkansas, the Carolinas, Georgia and Louisiana — about half of adults or fewer have received a dose, according to a New York Times analysis. In two states, Alabama and Mississippi, it would take about a year to get one dose to 70 percent of the population at the current pace of distribution.

Public-health experts and officials in states with lower vaccination rates say the president’s benchmark will help reduce cases and deaths but is somewhat arbitrary — even if 70 percent of adults are vaccinated, the virus and its more contagious variants can spread among those who are not.

Ugh, yes, Carolinas, not just our retrograde neighbor to the South.  

One thing I would love to read more about is the people who express a clear intent to get the vaccine, but have not yet.  One thing we should definitely be figuring out is how to get these people vaccinated as soon as possible.  If they were truly low-hanging fruit, they’d already be vaccinated, but, they are presumably at least medium-hanging fruit that we need to figure out why they haven’t been vaccinated yet, despite their intent, and how to make it easier for them.

Easy guns –> Police brutality

Here’s just an everyday story in America— thank God the sheriff’s deputy wasn’t killed:

A veteran Wake County sheriff’s deputy was shot with an AK-47 assault rifle Wednesday morning while serving an eviction notice at a Raleigh apartment complex, Sheriff Gerald Baker said.

Sgt. Ronald Waller underwent surgery Wednesday afternoon at WakeMed, Baker said at a news conference at the hospital. Waller, who was starting the “long road of recovery” Wednesday night, has worked for the sheriff’s office for over 20 years, agency spokesman Eric Curry said in an email update…

The shooting occurred on Torquay Crossing in the River Birch at Town Center Apartments on Old Wake Forest Road.

A suspect, Eddie Dewain Craig, 32, was taken into custody, Baker said. Craig was charged with two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon with intent to kill, three counts of attempted murder, three counts of assault on a law enforcement officer with a firearm and assault With a dangerous weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, according to Raleigh police…

Waller approached a door at the apartment complex around 10:13 a.m. Wednesday to serve civil papers, according to Baker and Curry. Civil papers can include eviction notices or summonses to court.

“It is perhaps one of the most dangerous jobs that you are going to find in law enforcement,” Baker said. “You never know what’s going to be on the other side of that door when it opens.”

So, you are the police and one of your officers was just shot with a military assault rifle delivering a run-of-the-mill eviction notice.  That’s got to increase the incentive for the “dynamic entry” SWAT style assaults which lower the risk to officers while raising the risk to innocent bystanders and completely non-violent targets of warrants, notices, etc.  As long as we think it is completely fine in America for mentally ill people to own extremely dangerous weapons of war we’ll continue to have police officers needlessly maimed and killed in the line of duty and policing agencies over-reacting to this in ways that hurt communities and innocent people.  Want to ameliorate the cycle?  Let’s start with the damn guns.  

Tenure, academic freedom, and the 1619 Project

I have mixed views on the 1619 Project. I think the balance of the evidence suggests NHJ really should have been more careful with her history, which she somewhat distorted to achieve her ideological goals.  That said, I think the larger point– really fundamentally re-thinking the role of slavery and Black Americans in our history and the very meaning of the American nation is a worthy and important undertaking. And, for the most part, accurately and very well done.

Anyway, on the back of her very impressive resume in journalism– and it’s damn impressive whether or not one agrees with her ideological project– Jones was offered a prestigious, tenured position a the UNC School of Journalism.   Alas, the best evidence seems to clearly indicate, though, that the UNC Board of Trustees (appointed by the Republican-led state legislature, refused to grant her tenure).  Apparently the Board of Trustees is basically a rubber stamp for every tenure case (mine too, presumably), but conservative outrage led to what seems like a transparently political denial.  They hang it on the reed that Jones is not a real academic (something that as a PhD professor tenured for my scholarship, I was initially open to), but, it turns out that it is common practice to give tenured Journalism positions to journalists who are not academics.  So, so much for that.  Anyway, good details in the N&O story:

Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones will not be a tenured professor when she joins UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media in July.

Instead, her role as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism will be as a fixed-term “Professor of the Practice,” with the option of being reviewed for tenure within five years.

The journalism school’s dean, Susan King, said she was told that the UNC-CH Board of Trustees was hesitant to give tenure to someone outside of academia.

But the news comes as Hannah-Jones has been a lightning rod for some conservatives critical of her work, particularly on The 1619 Project, which explores the legacy and history of Black Americans and slavery. Her piece won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, but faced scrutiny from some historians and politicians and led to a clarification from the New York Times.

“Investigative journalists always are involved in controversies,” King said. “They dig deep, and they raise questions that demand answers. Part of what they do is raise uncomfortable questions for people, institutions and systems.”’

NC PolicyWatch first reported that UNC “backed down from offering” Hannah-Jones the tenure-track position after conservative criticism.

The board has the authority to approve all tenured positions, which are lifetime appointments. In the message, King said she was told: “the board was worried about a non-academic entering the university with this designation.”

However, all of UNC-CH’s previous Knight Chairs have been appointed with tenure, and the position is designed to bring professionals into academia. Some Knight Chairs around the nation are not tenured positions, King wrote, but this will have implications for their next search and appointment of this role.

Tenure is a rigorous process that requires approval at many levels. Hannah-Jones was being courted by King before The 1619 Project was published and her hiring for this position has been months in the making.

As part of her tenure package, Hannah-Jones met with groups of faculty and taught a class at UNC-CH. She wrote a statement about her professional vision, teaching and service and presented her body of work to be explored by the journalism school’s promotion and tenure committee, which voted to approve her. That package was also reviewed by outside academics and presented to all tenured faculty in the journalism school. Then King presented it to the provost, to the promotion and tenure committee at the university level and then to the Board of Trustees.

Nice succinct statement from FIRE:

FIRE is investigating reports that the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees declined to follow through on a recommendation from the faculty and chancellor that journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, best known as the creator of The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” be granted a tenured appointment as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. Hannah-Jones will instead be offered a term appointment without tenure.

If it is accurate that this refusal was the result of viewpoint discrimination against Hannah-Jones, particularly based on political opposition to her appointment, this decision has disturbing implications for academic freedom, which is vital in allowing faculty members to voice divergent views and in avoiding casting what the Supreme Court called a “pall of orthodoxy” over the classroom. When decisions on academic tenure incorporate a form of political litmus test, this freedom is gravely compromised.

Also, what’s interesting is that our local right-wing Higher Education “thinktank” appears to be instrumental in drumming up opposition to NHJ that almost surely affected the Board of Trustees.  It’s kind of tempting to go through point-by-point just how ridiculous this article, “School of Journalism—or Ministry of Propaganda?” from their Director of Policy Analysis, but I will let’s it’s overblown, if not downright Trumpian language speak for itself:

The real goal of The 1619 Project was not historical or journalistic, but political agitation. And an angry, underhanded politics at that; Hannah-Jones admitted that her underlying intent is to get “white people to give up whiteness.” That is, to make them regard their identities as something abhorrent. As Arthur Milikh of the Heritage Foundation wrote:

The overriding lesson is clear: young people must learn to despise their nation—its Constitution, ideals, economic system, and its Founders.

Damn, somehow this white guy missed that lesson to hate myself and my whiteness when reading this nor do I hate the Constitution, etc.  I guess NHJ is a failure.

Anyway, not at all a precedent we want in academia and very concerning that this is happening in my own university system.  

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the standpoint of rhetorical strategy, Valentino continued,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suhay went on:

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

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

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

5) Good Ezra Klein on the problems with bipartisanship:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10) Where’s that Novavax vaccine, anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    So…

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

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

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

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

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

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

  7. Scream bloody murder!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why? There seem to be two main reasons.

1. The party of government

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

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

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

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

2. Vaccine skepticism

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

 

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

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

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

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

People are leaving mainline Protestant churches and Catholicism in particular.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

Sean Illing

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

Martin Gurri

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

Sean Illing

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

Martin Gurri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was right, of course.

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

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

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

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

Internet Costs Amongst OECD Countries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We worry for him,” Greene said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and about that vaccination for Alex:

May be an image of 1 person and indoor

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

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Placebo effect for the win!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What kind of drink?” the bartender replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Kids?

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

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

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

Here’s all these numbers in a graph.

Here’s all these numbers in a graph.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trapped priors: the basic cognitive version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trapped prior: the more complicated emotional version

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trumpublicans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think this following part is particularly key:

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

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

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

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

 

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