Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consumer Spending
Jordan Weissmann/Slate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are clues.

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

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

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

What Nobel Laureates and Elite Athletes Have in Common

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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Gay and transgender people aren’t “filth”; it’s just teaching that they exist that is

I honestly don’t think it is particularly uncharitable to term NC’s Lieutenant Governor, Mark Robinson, a truly horrible person (seriously, just google for 5 minutes).  His latest is particularly deplorable:

Recently-released video showed Mr. Robinson telling a crowd in June: “There’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth. And yes, I called it filth.”

In August, he told a religious gathering: “If there’s a movement in this country that is demonic, and that is full of anti-, the spirit of Antichrist, it is the transgender movement.”

For starters, that’s right out of the 1950’s or so?  I mean, obviously, I think it’s horrible to refer to transgender people as “filth” but, that probably still plays to some degree with the Republican base in our culture war politics.  But, in this era when even a majority of Republicans support same-sex marriage, Robinson is just totally out on a limb of depraved cruelty.  So, what’s the response from Republicans?  Ignore, elide, and obfuscate.  From the N&O:

Some Republicans who responded to the Observer’s survey said they believed that Robinson was only referring to what books should be available in schools.

“I assume he was referring to pornography and/or obscenity that could steal a student’s innocence; therefore, he should not resign,” Rep. Kelly Hastings said in a statement. “As a Christian, I believe we are all sinners and can be forgiven by God.” Rep. Jake Johnson said in a statement that he believed Robinson was referring to “the display and promotion of explicit images being shown to young children, and any social agenda being pushed onto students.”

“Most parents I have spoken to agree that children are in school to learn to read, write, do math and learn basic social skills,” he added. “Not to be inundated with any social or political agenda.”

Of the Mecklenburg County delegation, most told the Observer that Robinson should resign. Reps. Kelly Alexander, John Bradford III, Carla Cunningham, Carolyn Logan, as well as Sens. Mujtaba Mohammed, Jeff Jackson and Joyce Waddell did not respond to the survey.

Both Jackson and Cheri Beasley, two candidates running for North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seat, have called on Robinson to resign.

For Democrats, though, calling out Robinson is relatively painless. “It doesn’t matter what Democrats say about Mark Robinson, it matters what Republicans say about Mark Robinson,” said Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University who studies the role of gender in politics.

Although that shift has included many Republicans, it is less apparent among white evangelicals — a major force in GOP politics, Miller said. Even among many Republican voters who wouldn’t approve of Robinson’s comments, LGBT issues are not among their top issues when they go to the polls, he said.

“If I’m a Republican in the North Carolina legislature, then I’m thinking: What do I risk or what do I gain by condemning his comments?” Miller said. “I don’t see a lot of gain in that because I’m sticking my neck out on a low-priority issue.”

Along with that, they would risk alienating evangelicals who do prioritize so-called “culture war” issues. “For Republicans to publicly call for Robinson to resign, I suspect, would be seen as akin to liberal cancel culture mobs,” Greene said.

Now, there’s a perfectly reasonable conversation to be had about what and when we teach about human sexuality in public schools.  This is not that.  Robinson could have said, “we don’t need schools pushing a liberal agenda to re-shape society and push a transgender/homosexual agenda on our children.”  Not great, but, just another day for a Republican politician.  But, he doubled down on “filth.”  And, it’s not at all clear what the logical argument is that says teaching about these things are “filfth” but there’s not actually anything wrong with them.  It’s really just offensive on every level (including intellectually, the idea that somehow this is not incredibly derogatory language about human beings based on their sexuality).  

As I alluded to, a better Republican party (one not in thrall to Donald Trump and it’s worst elements) would, of course, condemn this type of language.  But, apparently only liberals actually criticize their own for saying awful and inappropriate things.  So, ultimately, I guess it’s just being a horrible person and accepting that kind of behavior in co-partisans to own the libs.  Ugh.  

The Air Quality Op-Ed I meant to write

So, you may remember a very recent quick hit #13:

13) Local school/air quality news, “NC parents are buying air purifiers for schools. Are they worth the cost to fight COVID?”

Last school year, Wake County school system installed MERV-13 air filters in the HVAC units at each school. But the district is only providing individual air purification units to special-needs classrooms where students are unable to wear face masks.

The reason that Wake County hasn’t provided air purifiers in every classroom is the ABC Science Collaborative, a group formed by Duke University to advise schools on COVID issues.

“Air exchange, purifiers, or filters may help minimally, but have not been shown to help if people are masked.”

I’ve been meaning to write a whole post about this, but, what the hell?!?!  There’s plenty of evidence, just no large trials.  A lack of large RCT trials is not the same things as “no scientific data.”  This is just wrong.  

I had really thought about writing an Op-Ed about this.  And, honestly, if I wasn’t so busy on various strains of Covid research, I would have.  But, hey, fortunately, a group of NC State Engineering professors wrote a terrific Op-Ed, putting to shame all the people in my alma mater in the ABC collaborative.  This is really good:

The most recent research shows COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through aerosols, tiny particles emitted to the air as we exhale. These aerosols linger for hours and pose a risk to people in an indoor space long after an infected person has left. A recent study by leading researchers concludes that adopting a layered approach to risk mitigation is the best way to navigate the pandemic.

Unfortunately, this evidence has not reached local authorities. In a recent N&O article, we were dismayed to read that ABC Science Collaborative claims “There are no scientific data to support that the use of HEPA filters and ventilation work to prevent spread of COVID-19 when everyone is masking.” This statement appears to be based on an outdated and limited study conducted last winter, before classrooms were full and the far-more-infectious delta variant became the dominant form of this coronavirus.

Since then, several studies have confirmed that aerosol-removing air filtration units reduce the risk of transmission in classrooms…

We fully support mask mandates, but they alone are not a silver bullet. As any parent or teacher can attest, kids’ attention to proper mask wearing is imperfect at best. Thus, other layers of protection are essential. Air filtration should be used as a complement to enhanced building ventilation.

As scientists and concerned parents, we implore WCPSS to do two things:

1. Keep pace with the latest in our scientific understanding of COVID.

2. Act quickly to implement low cost, low risk solutions equitably.

Many of the additional layers of protection come with multiple benefits, such as the use of improved air filtration long-term to keep school air healthy, and spending more time outdoors. These investments can improve our schools for many years to come.

Very good stuff.  Had I written the Op-Ed, I probably would have tried to include this from a July CDC report that the ABC folks chose to ignore:

Summary

What is already known about this topic?

Ventilation systems can be supplemented with portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners to reduce the number of airborne infectious particles.

What is added by this report?

A simulated infected meeting participant who was exhaling aerosols was placed in a room with two simulated uninfected participants and a simulated uninfected speaker. Using two HEPA air cleaners close to the aerosol source reduced the aerosol exposure of the uninfected participants and speaker by up to 65%. A combination of HEPA air cleaners and universal masking reduced exposure by up to 90%.

What are the implications for public health practice?

Portable HEPA air cleaners can reduce exposure to simulated SARS-CoV-2 aerosols in indoor environments, especially when combined with universal masking.

Anyway, it still kind of astounds me that public health professionals would advocate masks as a single magic bullet and ignore the layered risk reduction approach basically every serious person has been advocating.  And in schools with sub-optimal ventilation, air filtration should almost sure be part of that layered risk reduction.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) The tale of one journalist who had enough of “both sides!” journalism in the wake of January 6:

Andrew Taylor began his journalism career in the late 1980s, clipping newspaper articles for the politics reporters at Congressional Quarterly.

This spring, more than 30 years later, he quit his longtime job as a Capitol Hill reporter for the Associated Press.

He leaves daily journalism disgusted by what Congress has become and traumatized by the Jan. 6 riot — which he witnessed from inside the Capitol. He also leaves the profession doubtful that traditional, objective-style journalism is up to the job of covering today’s politics and government.

His is not a simple cause-and-effect story: At 59, with a spouse who works fulltime as an editor and the demands of three school-age children, Taylor was thinking of wrapping things up anyway.

But he’s very glad to be out of the Capitol — not just for the unanticipated danger he experienced there but the political and societal culture surrounding it…

The Capitol was Taylor’s second home, the focus of so much of his daily life and conversation. He still speaks of “the sanctity of the place”; it’s clear that on a certain level he became accustomed to its rhythms and routines. “You become invested in a functional ecosystem,” he said.

But that placewas already beginning to change long before Jan. 6, he said. “I was there when the wheels came off,” he told me, during the Obama era, when the tea-party caucus of conservative House members seized increasing influence. From that point on, “a large percentage of congressional activity was being spent posturing for political bases” rather than, say, putting together the budget.

He now sees the dysfunction as irrevocable.

He has particularly harsh words for House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, as prominent among those in Congress whose “approach to their jobs is too often bad-faith bull—-.” For similar reasons, he’s tough on Mitch McConnell, too. On his now more freewheeling Twitter account, Taylor quote-tweeted the Senate minority leader’s recent bluster about raising the debt limit and how Republicans “will not facilitate another reckless, partisan taxing and spending spree.”…

“So glad I don’t have to cover this,” Taylor wrote, along with a reminder of some inconvenient facts: “When Republicans controlled the government in 2017-18, Pelosi and Schumer facilitated debt limit increases both before and after enactment of debt-financed tax cuts.” Taylor added: “McConnell is wholly inconsistent here and I am being generous.”

Overall, Taylor fears that Congress is like a coral reef that has sustained so much piece-by-piece deterioration, with the departures of some of those who have integrity and respect for their elected roles in the democracy, that “you can’t put it back together again.”

And while he calls the Associated Press “a wonderful, essential organization” and praises many of his former colleagues in Washington journalism, he has become increasingly worried that traditional reporting can’t — or at least doesn’t — tell the full, disturbing story.

“The rules of objective journalism require you to present facts to tell a true story but the objective-journalism version of events can often obscure the reality of what’s really going on,” he told me.

As he sees it, the typical practices of putting everything that happens in the context of normal behavior, of giving ‘both sides’ an almost-equal say, and describing events in a neutral tone has an overall, damaging effect.

Put simply: “It sanitizes things.”

2) Let’s be honest, this is awfully damn tempting.  Just approve the things already! “Parents Are Lying to Get Their Little Kids Vaccinated: It’s surprisingly easy to get unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines for 10- and 11-year-olds who can “pass” for 12″  I’d think harder about it if my 10-year old could pass for 12, but not even close.

3) “Why At-Home Rapid Covid Tests Cost So Much, Even After Biden’s Push for Lower Prices”

For Americans looking for swift answers,the cheapest over-the-counter covid test is the Abbott Laboratories BinaxNOW two-pack for $23.99. Close behind are Quidel’s QuickVue tests, at $15 a pop. Yet supplies are dwindling. After a surge in demand, CVS is limiting the number of tests people can buy, and Amazon and Walgreen’s website were sold out as of Friday afternoon.

President Joe Biden said Thursday he would invoke the Defense Production Act to make 280 million rapid covid tests available. The administration struck a deal with Walmart, Amazon and Kroger for them to sell tests for “up to 35 percent less” than current retail prices for three months. For those on Medicaid, the at-home tests will be fully covered, Biden said.

An increased supply should help to lower prices. As schools open and much of the country languishes without pandemic-related restrictions, epidemiologists say widespread rapid-test screening — along with vaccination and mask-wearing — is critical to controlling the delta variant’s spread. Yet shortages, little competition and sticky high prices mean routine rapid testing remains out of reach for most Americans, even if prices drop 35%.

Consumers elsewhere have much cheaper — or free — options. In Germany, grocery stores are selling rapid covid tests for under $1 per test. In India, they’re about $3.50. The United Kingdom provides 14 tests per person free of charge. Canada is doling out free rapid tests to businesses…

Billions in taxpayer dollars have been invested in these products. Abbott Laboratories, for instance, cashed in on hundreds of millions in federal contracts and gave its shareholders fat payouts last year, increasing its quarterly dividend by 25%. Even so, according to a New York Times investigation, as demand for rapid tests cratered in early summer, Abbott destroyed its supplies and laid off workers who had been making them.

More than a year ago, Abbott said the company would sell its BinaxNOW in bulk for $5 a test to health care providers, but that option is not available over the counter to the public. Even with the anticipated price decrease, a two-pack will be more than $15. Abbott did not comment further.

Schrier said in spring that test prices were high because “big companies are buying up all the supplies.” Also, “their profit is far higher making 1,000 $30 tests than 30,000 $1 tests” — in other words, they can make the same amount of money for many fewer tests.

4) This is just a super-fun collection of soccer goals.  

5) David Epstein on his failed newsletter launch and Hanlon’s razor.  This is so apt– definitely going to use this term more!

As a very loyal subscriber (with two email addresses!) to my own newsletter (gotta keep numbers up), I was immediately confused by what I had wrought — no offense to this other fellow, who I’m sure is a Ryantastic guy. Then the messages started.

I would say the tenor of messages I received ranged from curious, to querulous, to I’m a hippo and you got between me and my water source. I received a few messages — just a few, but they’re important — suggesting that I had either sold subscriber information or subscribed people to something without their consent.

I immediately jumped on the phone with a member of the Bulletin team to find out what I had done. Reader, until you have tried, you will never know how hard it is to have a stern emergency conversation with tech support while maintaining a straight face and repeating the name/word Ryantastic. A dozen “Ryantastics” later, I learned what happened.

If you can’t wait, you can skip below to the “What Actually Happened” section. But before I tell you, I’d like to do my Range Widely thing and use this as a teachable moment to discuss a critical thinking principle. Namely: “Hanlon’s razor.”

The most common (if not the most polite) formulation of Hanlon’s razor is: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” The term “razor” means that the principle helps you “shave off” unnecessary explanations.

(You may be familiar with the more popular “Occam’s razor,” the idea that the simplest explanation is often the correct one. The most implausible part of Contact is that Matthew McConaughey’s character is a philosopher who hasn’t heard of Occam’s razor. What are you doing all day man?!)

The idea of Hanlon’s razor is that we more often make better judgments if we search for common, reasonable explanations of behavior we don’t like, instead of assuming the worst right away. I like this idea; I think Hanlon’s Twitter might be a nice place. I especially like this idea right now, because I’d prefer you treat Ryantastic-gate as a screw-up instead of a nefarious plot. But this wouldn’t be my newsletter if I didn’t try to investigate whether Hanlon’s razor actually is a good principle for thinking. So let’s begin.

Intuitively, I think it is a good principle. I spent a decade as an investigative reporter, generally assuming the worst motivations behind whatever I was investigating; sometimes that bore out, but often I was surprised to find that some organizational screw-up or other was a result of carelessness or poor communication. I found the same for journalism itself. Early in my journalism career, I was a fact-checker, and I usually concluded that writers who reported inaccurate facts were simply making mistakes, or were blind to their own biases, not proactively conspiring to distort the truth.

As the book Super Thinkingnotes, Hanlon’s razor is an attempt to correct what psychologists refer to as “fundamental attribution error.” That is, we all tend to judge the behavior of others as if it represents something fundamental about them, even though we don’t judge ourselves that way. When you see someone run a red light, it’s because they’re a jerk who doesn’t care about anyone else. When you run a red light, it was an accident, or you were really in a rush, or this intersection sucks anyway.

6) The case that we’re actually winning the war on poverty:

7) This is good, “Jurors don’t know what the penalties for a guilty verdict will be. They should.: If juries knew the consequences of their decisions, they’d deliberate more carefully — and could serve as a check on punitive laws”

That’s because most American jurisdictions follow a rule of jury ignorance, meaning that neither judges nor lawyers may tell jurors what punishment a defendant could receive if convicted. There are rare exceptions — state courts in Louisiana and North Carolina, for example — but in most American courtrooms, judges go to great lengths to make sure that jurors don’t know what will happen after a “guilty” verdict.

Keeping juries ignorant, however, exacerbates one of the U.S. criminal justice system’s worst tendencies — its inclination to grow more punitive. Evidence from both history and social scientific experiments suggest that jurors are less likely to convict if they know a defendant’s punishment could be extremely harsh. The rule of jury ignorance eliminates an important check on the system. If politicians thought juries would be less likely to convict when a sentence was severe, for instance, they would be less likely to pass draconian laws.

Replacing ignorant juries with informed ones therefore could be an important criminal justice reform. As a general rule, then, we propose that judges should tell jurors the range of sentences, including the statutory maximum and any mandatory minimums, that a defendant would face upon conviction. (We make the case in a forthcoming article in the Vanderbilt Law Review.)

There are obstacles to this reform — notably a 1994 Supreme Court decision that described jury ignorance as a “well established” principle. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the opinion, said there was “a basic division of labor in our legal system between judge and jury”: Juries find guilt, judges sentence. (In that case, Shannon v. the United States, the defendant, who had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, wanted the jury to be told that he would be confined involuntarily even if the jury concluded he was insane. The jury wasn’t told, and he was found guilty.)

But that opinion was weakly argued, and not well grounded in judicial history. The argument that juries should be informed about sentences should appeal to both liberal and conservative justices of an “originalist” bent — with liberals focusing on how such a reform would democratize the criminal justice system, and originalists focusing on the fact that the ignorant jury lacks a solid historical foundation.

Indeed, juries informed about punishment were quite familiar to the founding generation.

8) I’ve always thought the survey-based estimates of propensity for partisan violence seemed unrealistically high.  Some new PS research on the topic that, says, yes, they are.  Fascinating thread on how disengaged survey respondents are likely leading to large over-estimates.  

9) Gotta love this idea– potty-training cows to reduce emissions:

A herd of “clever cattle” in Germany have successfully been potty-trained and can now relieve themselves in a designated area nicknamed the “MooLoo,” scientists say — a move that they hope will help lower greenhouse gas emissions amid the global warming crisis.

There are an estimated 1.4 billion cows on Earth and they happen to emit a lot of harmful waste products — through burping, urination and defecating — making the animals a major driver of climate change.

Their frequent urination produces 55 to 110 gallons of methane each day and contains nitrogenous components that pollute Earth’s streams and rivers, make the waters dangerous for people to swim in or drink from, and pose a risk to wildlife.

The University of Auckland joined forces with scientists at a research laboratory in Germany for an experiment that would allow the cow’s urine to be collected, treated and neutralized — so it poses less of a risk.

According to researchers, 11 out of 16 calves were taught to use the MooLoo in just 15 training sessions — a result they said compares favorably to the amount of time it takes to toilet-train children ages 3 to 4.

“The common perception is that cows are placid, lovable, but perhaps not as bright as other animals,” said Lindsay Matthews, a New Zealand-based animal behavioral expert and one of the lead authors of the study. “The cute thing here is that the animals are causing a problem, because of [intensive] farming practices. And here, we can have them as part of the solution, by using their underestimated intellect.”

During the training process, the animals were rewarded with a sweet treat when they urinated exactly where they were supposed to go — in a special pen installed in their barn. If they toileted outside of the area they were offered a mild punishment: a short burst of water.

10) You know I love my apples.  Honeycrisps are good, but over-rated.  Good, but not worth the premium price and there’s a lot of other supermarket apples out there with better, more complex flavor.  Now Honeycrisp has an offspring that’s great for late summer when the apples from storage are old and bad.  Raves ripen early so they are fresh in August and September and they’ve got a great flavor.  Pretty excited to find these at my local Harris Teeter.

11) Frum on the NeverTrumpers dilemma:

Many of the conservatives and Republicans appalled by Donald Trump’s presidency clutched a hope through the bewildering years: Someday this would all be over and politics would return to normal.

But normal has not returned. Those elected Republicans who stood for legality when Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election found themselves party pariahs in 2021, on their way to being out of politics altogether in 2022.

And it’s not just a few politicians who have been displaced by the Trump era. Millions of voters have been too. “Never Trump is not a political party. It is a dinner party”: That jibe was heard a lot in 2017 and 2018. It has not been heard much since. In 2018, Democratic candidates won districts that had loyally voted Republican for 30, 40, 50 years, including those once held by Eric Cantor, Newt Gingrich, and George H. W. Bush.

The anti-Trump Republicans did not return home in 2020. Now, in 2021, their former party seems much more eager to welcome anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers than to win them back.

12) If you love a good subway like I do, you’ll also love this audio interactive, “The Hidden Melodies of Subways Around the World: When train doors close, these jingles warn riders to stand clear.”

13) Local school/air quality news, “NC parents are buying air purifiers for schools. Are they worth the cost to fight COVID?”

Last school year, Wake County school system installed MERV-13 air filters in the HVAC units at each school. But the district is only providing individual air purification units to special-needs classrooms where students are unable to wear face masks.

The reason that Wake County hasn’t provided air purifiers in every classroom is the ABC Science Collaborative, a group formed by Duke University to advise schools on COVID issues.

“Air exchange, purifiers, or filters may help minimally, but have not been shown to help if people are masked.”

I’ve been meaning to write a whole post about this, but, what the hell?!?!  There’s plenty of evidence, just no large trials.  A lack of large RCT trials is not the same things as “no scientific data.”  This is just wrong.  

14) I watched the 2015 movie, Sicario, this week.  It was so damn good.  How the hell did I not hear about this back in 2015?!  We need more movies like this– exciting, thrilling, wonderfully-directed, and about real human beings.

Police reform– NC Edition

From the N&O:

For the first time, North Carolina could soon keep track of when police officers kill people, or are caught lying under oath in court, or receive complaints from the community.

If Gov. Roy Cooper signs a criminal justice bill that passed the N.C. General Assembly with near-unanimous support in recent days, state officials will be ordered to start tracking that sort of information.

The bill, Senate Bill 300, is a bipartisan effort to crack down on bad cops — and to try to figure out whether problems like excessive force in the criminal justice system are confined to a small number of officers, or if they are more systemic.

“One of those things that shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but often becomes a partisan issue, is criminal justice reform,” said Sen. Danny Britt, a Lumberton Republican and the bill’s lead sponsor.

The bill would create several databases to track police use-of-force and disciplinary issues, but much of the information would not be available to the public, like details about which officers have been secretly banned from testifying in court for issues like lying under oath. That information would be available for the first time ever to the state boards that grant or take away the certifications required to work in law enforcement, but would continue to be hidden from the general public.

To quote myself from twitter…This bill is not perfect, but it is substantial progress. The politics on police reform has genuinely shifted in a positive way and real changes are happening. Not as fast or as big as activists would like, but things are getting better.

NC Vaccinations

Saw this NC infographic at the bottom of an N&O article I was reading yesterday.  Was very pleased to see the high rates here in Wake County.  Of course, our hospitals are at capacity because the people in surrounding counties are coming here for their medical care when they get Covid.  

Anyway, the color patterns on the map sure made me think of another map.  

Map shows how North Carolina counties voted in the 2020 presidential election.

 

Will it be different for universities (like NC State!) this Fall?

I’ve had a lot of conversations with friends/colleagues about the new semester (classes started this week).  In fact, here’s my first time in a full classroom since March 5, 2020:

Alas, I’m hearing a lot of pessimism. Lots of people concerned/convinced we’re going to be forced on-line again.  I was an optimist a year ago and completely wrong.  I’m an optimist again and, maybe, completely wrong again.  I do think, though, that more than anything the widespread (but, obviously, not enough) vaccinations change the calculus on this.  Decisions are different when the vast, vast majority of those most concerned about Covid (i.e., those of us vaccinated) are substantially protected against truly severe outcomes.  I think that matters a lot.  

But, the more I was thinking about this, I think there’s one very important detail that the pessimists have overlooked.  Last August when State and UNC both started, cases were at a real low point.  This chart from CDC data has the little box for August 20, 2020, the day NC State gave up on its in-person experiment in the 2nd week of classes.  They were pretty low, so, clusters at NC State and nearby UNC really stood out and garnered a lot of attention.  Are we going to have clusters again this semester?  Absolutely.  I’d be very surprised if somehow we didn’t.  But, a huge difference is that these clusters will be against the background of this record-setting, attention-consuming Delta surge.  In this context, a dozen infected fraternity members is far less compelling news than it was a year ago.  

Meanwhile, yes, deaths are going up, but, thanks to vaccines, the daily deaths remain in a much better position than they were a year ago (again, the box for August 20, 2020).  

 

 

So, are they going to shut us down?  Maybe.  But my take is that both of these charts indicate a very different situation from a year ago and one that suggests a pretty substantial likelihood of staying in-person.  Hopefully, that’s not just my optimism bias talking :-).

And, on a personal level I had almost forgotten just how much I love the hustle and bustle and just life of a fully in-person campus. Last Spring, when I taught in person, was just a hollow shell.  This is the real deal and from my perspective, the masks we are all wearing definitely keep us safer and hardly detract from that.  

Identity > health

I was going to do a post on how crazy it is that the local Wake County Republicans are planning censuring the Republican members (though, technically non-partisan) of the school board for voting for a mask mandate, but I just finished listening to this terrific Ezra Klein podcast interview with Lily Mason, and I decided I should just put them both in this post.  

Mason has written the book on political identity and is probably about the smartest person writing on the issue.  One part of her conversation with Ezra that particularly resonated was where she reflected upon the fact that she’s talked about that only an “alien invasion” or something like that could actually bridge our partisan divide.  Like most people who teach political parties, I suspect, many of us have used this same metaphor– I certainly have.  Alas, Mason and Klein agree that we’ve had our alien invasion– it was Covid– and we’ve failed miserably.  Kind of… yeah :-(.  

What could be further proof than the episode I’ve started with right here in Wake County.  

The Wake County Republican Party plans to censure two school board members who supported requiring that face masks be worn in schools — highlighting the political divide over the issue.

Last week, the Wake County school board unanimously approved continuing to require face masks, rejecting calls from some parents to make them optional. Now the Wake County Republican Party’s Executive Committee has scheduled a Monday night special meeting to consider a censure motion against the school board’s two GOP members: Karen Carter and Roxie Cash.

“As I’m sure you are aware, the recent School Board vote concerning the mask requirement for the upcoming school year was extremely controversial,” Mark Cavaliero, first vice chair of the Wake GOP, wrote in an email Thursday to both school board members. “Many of our party members are disappointed and angry, and are calling for us to issue a formal censure on the matter.”

Both Carter and Cash said they were disappointed by the potential public reprimand but stood by their vote on masking.

“I’m here to consider all that and not just to be doing what a party tells me what I ought to do.”

Cavaliero and Alan Swain, chair of the Wake County Republican Party, did not respond to an email requesting comment. The Wake GOP also did not respond to an email and voice mail requesting comment.

I mean, literally voting to keep our kids– Democratic and Republican kids– safe in schools draws a partisan reprimand?  And Wake County is a highly-educated county– we’re not some rural outpost– so you’d have to think the Republican Party leadership in Wake is educated (fortunately, the Republican school board members seem to be).  And, yet, here we are with just the most preposterous ignore all the science and literally endanger our own families to own the libs politics.  So utterly depressing.  There are all sorts of reasonable policy differences and debates to be had around Covid. Whether we should ignore a proven-effective, low-cost method to slow spread in schools should not be one of them.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) I’ve really enjoyed Freddie deBoer’s frequency of free substack posts of late.  Lots of good stuff.  Here he is on performative social justice on-line:

The social justice attitude is designed to assign people a spot in a moral aristocracy, and you were born ineligible to be one of the elect. It’s no wonder why contemporary social justice politics have achieved literally no structural change even while enjoying total dominance in our ideas industry. What’s the basic theory of change?

I’ve called this tendency political Calvinism in the past – the way that totalizing identity critiques render individual choices and morality irrelevant.

As with white men and their guitars, people will inevitably say “nobody says white people are inherently racist, that’s not the argument.” But, first, there are in fact many people who indeed believe explicitly that all white people are racist, as rhetorically inconvenient as that might be for you. More importantly, even if the “anti-racist” conventional wisdom doesn’t go that far, its proponents speak so recklessly and with such an emphasis on dunking on people to impress their peers that the message they send is inevitably the caricatured version. I promise you, most white people who aren’t already savvy extremely-online types who go on social justice Twitter will come away with the impression that they’re saying that all white people are racist. Which of course triggers the part of the brain that says “so I’ll be a racist, then.” Similarly, mockery of the phrase “not all men” may not usually be meant to imply that all men are guilty of whatever crime, though there is a vast second-wave feminist literature that insists very explicitly that yes, all men. Either way, the average dude is most certainly going to come away from the “not all men” discourse thinking that the point is that he’s bad merely by dint of being a dude. Is that fair? Who cares?

What is the inducement that social justice politics present to people from dominant groups to get them to join the cause? How do they make their cause attractive, appeal to these people’s self-interest? What, exactly, is the political strategy? You say that white people and men have great privilege in our society. Agreed. You also complain that they have vastly disproportionate power relative to their numbers. Agreed. So the obvious question is, how do you make it attractive to them to give up some of that privilege and that power, instead of just reveling in it and fighting to keep it? In my experience most people in the social justice set will respond that it’s bigoted even to ask; they’re not supposed to get anything in return. That’s “centering” their wants and needs, don’t you know, and we can’t have that. Which again invites the essential question – are you doing all this to convince people to stop being bad, or are you doing it so that everyone knows that you’re good? [emphasis mine]

2) Really good Yglesias post on immigration:

More and better immigrants

When conservatives aren’t talking about slashing legal immigration, they say they’d like to change the immigration system to put more emphasis on skills and less on family connections.

I think Democrats ought to explore that possibility, while completely rejecting the concept of linking that switch with Tom Cotton’s vision of cutting immigration levels in half. What they are ignoring here is that the current flow of immigrants to the United States is already highly educated, so doing this would actually reduce the number of skilled immigrants arriving.

 

There are a lot of different ways we could go from where we are right now to further enhance the number of skilled immigrants in the United States.

  • You could adopt the Cotton/Perdue points framework, but just not do the part where they cut the total number of visas.

  • You could keep the current family-based framework but add on an education layer so that more distant relatives with English proficiency and STEM degrees (or whatever kind of degrees you like) get priority over closer relatives without those skills.

  • You could create new visa categories like allowing specific regions to sponsor visas for skilled immigrants.

Something that I am particularly attracted to is trying to create some non-capped visa categories. If I was traveling in Denmark and my kid got sick, I would have no hesitation about him being treated by a Danish doctor. We ought to have some kind of commission certify that foreign countries’ doctors are adequately trained to practice medicine in the United States, and then allow age-appropriate doctors from those countries to come in unlimited numbers. We should do the same for dentists.

I am extremely pro-immigration and would ultimately take this logic pretty far. If you’re under 40, speak English, and are a graduate of some suitable list of universities around the world, why not come to America? The politics of immigration is really, really, really tough. The public is kind of arbitrarily anchored on the status quo, and both increasing and decreasing legal immigration are very unpopular. So I’m not expecting huge short-term changes. But if we could improve the skill mix without decreasing the number of immigrants, I’m optimistic the politics will improve and we could move from there to push for more immigration.

The dark road

Immigration is the policy issue that worries me.

I believe that to the extent there’s an answer, openness to immigration is the secret sauce that makes the United States so uniquely prosperous and successful. We have a lot of immigrants, we have had a lot of immigrants for a long time, we are the number one desired destination for the plurality of immigrants, and in a way that’s not true for a lot of other countries, we have a well-established template for immigrant assimilation, immigrant success, and ethnic change. In America, we can elect an anti-immigrant demagogue with a Slovenia-born wife.

But even though American culture and American society are more immigrant-friendly than what you see in most places, it’s still not the case that there is a huge mass constituency in favor of immigration. Instead, what we had for a long time in this country was an elite consensus.

That consensus frayed in the breakdown of bipartisan immigration talks in 2007, frayed again in the 2012 campaign, frayed further in the breakdown of bipartisan immigration talks in 2013, and just straight broke during Obama’s final three years in office. Trump did not break it personally, though he did walk through the door that the breakage created. And because it’s really not personal to him, the future of anti-immigrant politics doesn’t hinge on him or his whims in the way that the future of anti-NATO politics does.

Some people look back on the restrictionist era of 1924-64 and think it all worked out fine. I see an era in which unique geopolitical circumstances sent Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi and the “Martians” to this country running from Hitler. Then came Operation Paperclip and the German rocket scientists. Some extraordinary people like Andy Grove fled here from Communism.

Now I think restrictionists believe that this shows we can be a global hub for talent without being open to mass immigration in general. And I hope that they are right! If we only let in 1,000 immigrants a year, they’d better be really talented scientists. But I’m hoping that we will not live through those kinds of geopolitical calamities, in which case the best shot for keeping the American talent magnet running is the one we used for most of our history: just being a pretty generically open place that is broadly considered a good place to move. I don’t want to lose that to demagogues. And I also don’t want cosmopolitans to throw the game to them by refusing to make any compromise with the electorate.

People would like strict enforcement of the immigration rules, and we ought to give it to them and use that to create space for constructive changes to the rules. It’s unfortunate that Obama’s effort to do that in 2013 didn’t work. But we should remember that it’s really hard to pass laws in America, and we shouldn’t over-read failures. He got 68 votes in the Senate and the bill would have had majority support in the House if John Boehner had brought it to the floor. That, to me, is the broad contours of a strategy that had real merit. The post-2014 approach of saying “we don’t love these rules, so we’re going to be a bit iffy about enforcement” hasn’t delivered security for the people it’s intended to help and seems to have only pushed the larger politics of immigration backward.

3) Chait on Ben Shapiro’s new book.  I didn’t read it all that closely because Shapiro isn’t worth the effort. But, I did like this part:

The bulk of Shapiro’s argument that left authoritarianism is more dangerous than right authoritarianism is done by simply ignoring the latter category altogether. Shapiro has published rationales for Trump’s abuses of power before, but they are largely absent here. The formula is to argue x > y, then proceed to focus entirely on x.

That is not to say Shapiro’s one-sided indictment of the left is baseless. His book mainly consists of a chronicle of the illiberal left’s very real efforts to ideologically cleanse elite institutions. The list of horribles is pretty familiar: social-media mobs whipping up panics against the likes of David ShorDonald McNeilGina Carano, and many others.

I know most of these episodes and have written about several of them. They are important markers of a disturbing cultural change, and too many liberals succumb to the temptation to justify or ignore these cases merely because they are exploited by people with bad motives, or because the right is worse. Of course, if you refuse to speak out against your own side’s abuses because the other side is worse, you are setting your standards at their level.

4) Lots of good analysis on the new census.  But, hey, this chart tells a lot.  

5) And David Hopkins with really good stuff on political implications of urban vs. rural, “As New Census Numbers Show, the Biggest Divide Isn’t North v. South Anymore—It’s Metro v. Rural”

The fundamental geographic division in American politics has traditionally been a sectional conflict setting the North against the South. The idioms of “red states” and “blue states” caught on widely after the 2000 presidential election because they could be applied to a regional divide—blue North, red South—that was already presumed to reflect the main axis of political debate and competition. But the partisan difference between large-metro and rural residents has now become much larger than the gap between northerners and southerners.

 

Until 1996, the difference in presidential voting between residents of the nation’s largest 20 metropolitan areas and inhabitants of rural (non-metropolitan) counties resembled the difference between the South (defined here as the eleven states of the former Confederacy plus West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma) and the North (defined as all other states from the Atlantic coast west to Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri). Between 2000 and 2008, the urbanism gap was somewhat, though not dramatically, larger than the regional gap. By 2016 and 2020, however, the partisan difference between large metros and rural areas had become fully three times as large as the North-South difference, which had visibly narrowed (from 12 to 9 percentage points) from its 2008 peak.

Look inside practically any state in the country and you’ll find blue dots corresponding to its densent and most populous urban centers, each surrounded by a sea of red rural hinterlands. The regional divide has declined since 2008 because the urban precincts of the South have grown bluer over time while the rural territories of the North have gotten redder, both shedding some of their sectional distinctiveness in the face of a consistent nationwide trend. This gave Donald Trump the ability to flip a few northern states with significant rural populations from blue to red in 2016 (such as Iowa and Wisconsin), while Joe Biden likewise outperformed previous Democratic nominees in Georgia and Texas in 2020 by winning the large metro areas of greater Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston—none of which had been carried by Barack Obama in his 2012 victory.

6) This fact has definitely been under-reported, Drum, “The reconciliation bill would make Obamacare truly universal”

7) Okay, so this…”‘He made me hate soccer’: Players say they left NWSL’s Spirit over coach’s verbal abuse.” Why do so many people still buy into this absurd belief that it is remotely okay (or effective) to be a verbally abusive coach.  So many great coaches who aren’t like this at all, and yet people like this keep getting jobs.

8) This NYT article was just silly, “5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Symphonies.” This giant list with classical music experts trying to impress with their esoteric choices.  Only one Beethoven and no Mozart?! 

9) I was curious, so I came across this quasi-random webpage and so much better, “The 20 Greatest Symphonies of all time.”

10) So, second intervals of intense exercise may be really beneficial.  Maybe.

11) Yglesias on nationalization of news and fearmongering:

The desert of the real

I would say the key thing about Fox isn’t that it’s unique, but just that it was the start of a trend. When there was one 24-hour cable channel, it made sense for CNN to replicate the staid view from nowhere sensibility. But as we got more and more of them, it made sense from a business perspective to do something like Fox. And now thanks to the internet, we are constantly in a world of infinite 24-hour news channels that are all fighting constantly for our attention.

And this is a really big country. There are over 100,000 K-12 schools in the United States. If you assume optimistically that in any given year, one out of every 100 teachers say or do anything racist at any school in the United States, that still leaves you with 1,000 racist teacher incidents per year. You could do a dozen “racist teacher” stories per week and still be leaving racist teachers on the table.

But at the same time, some other outlet could be doing 1,000 “woke administrator out of control” stories per week. And we’ll all be clicking and sharing and arguing about those stories nonstop.

And while one group of people are reading stories about soaring crime in Philadelphia, others are reading about Philly cops beating an autistic man while claiming to be the “town watch” while others face obstruction of justice and perjury charges related to covering up thefts. There are a lot of cops in America, and the state of our criminal justice data collection is really bad, so we only have the foggiest notion of what’s actually going on with crime or police corruption.

Obviously, lots of false or misleading stories end up going viral on Twitter or Facebook, and there are plenty of valid questions about how the platforms should manage that. But I think a lot of people misperceive why cracking down on misinformation is important. The main issue is that if you have any experience on the internet, it’s pretty easy to tell what kind of stories will get clicks. The difficulty is two-fold — it’s moderately difficult to find clicky stories to aggregate, and it’s very difficult to find them and write them up before competitors while simultaneously optimizing them for maximum engagement. A really appealing solution to these problems is to just make stuff up since you won’t face competition on the fake story. So if you allow fake stories to compete with real ones on a level playing field, the fake stuff will crowd out the real and kill your platform.

As a result, they do try to clamp down on misinformation. But the clampdown doesn’t do anything to dampen the crazy-making aspects of marinating 24/7 in an information marketplace designed to make you feel like you are constantly under threat.

12) You’ll recall I recently wrote a whole post about Hermann Pontzer and his amazing book Burn.  Now a really fascinating new study:

Everyone knows conventional wisdom about metabolism: People put pounds on year after year from their 20s onward because their metabolisms slow down, especially around middle age. Women have slower metabolisms than men. That’s why they have a harder time controlling their weight. Menopause only makes things worse, slowing women’s metabolisms even more.

All wrong, according to a paper published Thursday in Science. Using data from nearly 6,500 people, ranging in age from 8 days to 95 years, researchers discovered that there are four distinct periods of life, as far as metabolism goes. They also found that there are no real differences between the metabolic rates of men and women after controlling for other factors…

Central to their findings was that metabolism differs for all people across four distinct stages of life.

  • There’s infancy, up until age 1, when calorie burning is at its peak, accelerating until it is 50 percent above the adult rate.

  • Then, from age 1 to about age 20, metabolism gradually slows by about 3 percent a year.

  • From age 20 to 60, it holds steady.

  • And, after age 60, it declines by about 0.7 percent a year.

Once the researchers controlled for body size and the amount of muscle people have, they also found no differences between men and women.

As might be expected, while the metabolic rate patterns hold for the population, individuals vary. Some have metabolic rates 25 percent below the average for their age and others have rates 25 percent higher than expected. But these outliers do not change the general pattern, reflected in graphs showing trajectory of metabolic rates over the years.

The four periods of metabolic life depicted in the new paper show “there isn’t a constant rate of energy expenditure per pound,” Dr. Redman noted. The rate depends on age. That runs counter to the longstanding assumptions she and others in nutrition science held.

The trajectories of metabolism over the course of a lifetime and the individuals who are outliers will open a number of research questions. For instance, what are the characteristics of people whose metabolisms are higher or lower than expected, and is there a relationship with obesity?

One of the findings that most surprised Dr. Pontzer was the metabolism of infants. He expected, for example, that a newborn infant would have a sky-high metabolic rate. After all, a general rule in biology is that smaller animals burn calories faster than larger ones.

Instead, Dr. Pontzer said, for the first month of life, babies have the same metabolic rate as their mothers. But shortly after a baby is born, he said, “something kicks in and the metabolic rate takes off.”

13) Can you truly be addicted to diet soda?  Maybe, but, there’s a million worse things to be addicted to.  I’m addicted to taking my liquid sweet and to caffeine, but, not addicted to diet soda, per se.

14) Giraffes— who knew!

Giraffes seem above it all. They float over the savanna like two-story ascetics, peering down at the fray from behind those long lashes. For decades, many biologists thought giraffes extended this treatment to their peers as well, with one popular wildlife guide calling them “aloof” and capable of only “the most casual” associations.

But more recently, as experts have paid closer attention to these lanky icons, a different social picture has begun to emerge. Female giraffes are now known to enjoy yearslong bonds. They have lunch buddiesstand guard over dead calves and stay close with their mothers and grandmothers. Females even form shared day care-like arrangements, called crèches, in which they take turns babysitting and feeding each others young.

Observations like these have reached a critical mass, said Zoe Muller, a wildlife biologist who completed her Ph.D. at the University of Bristol in England.She and Stephen Harris, also at Bristol, recently reviewed hundreds of giraffe studies to look for broader patterns. Their analysis, published on Tuesday in the journal Mammal Review, suggests that giraffes are not loners, but socially complex creatures, akin to elephants or chimpanzees. They’re just a little more subtle about it.

15) I’ve totally been loving Matt Amodio’s run on Jeopardy.  It’s also insane that they want to ask him about the most trivial anecdotes, but never tell us what he’s a PhD student in (computer science).  Nice profile here.  

16) Yglesias public post argues that thinks aren’t really as bad as we think.  I think he underplays the genuine threat to democracy– especially elections– but lots of good stuff in here.

17) Honestly, this Covid story just doesn’t add up to me.  Masked plus vaccinated plus outside still gets a super-spreader event?!  That’s like super-measles.

UNC cluster linked to outdoor event

At UNC, the cluster involves at least six School of Pharmacy students. The vaccination rate for that school is about 94 percent.

WRAL broke the news that the outbreak was traced back to an outdoor pre-orientation party for PharmD students on August 2nd.

Neel Swamy, a third-year pharmacy student and peer mentor, was at the event. He said around 150 people were there.

“All outside, no indoor component, and students were wearing masks pretty much the entire time, other than when they were eating,” said Swamy, who has tested negative.

“I think it’s easy for people who were not at that event to look at what happened at the School of Pharmacy and think, ‘Well, this is an example of students being irresponsible,'” Swamy said. “As someone who was at the event, and who is familiar with the pro-vaccination culture of the school, I can confirm for you that wasn’t the case.”

Good God to I so not there to be real evidence for masks outside (except for truly crowded events).  That would suck.

18) Ed Yong with another must-read on “How the Pandemic Ends Now.”

2. Next

But then what? Delta is transmissible enough that once precautions are lifted, most countries “will have a big exit wave,” Adam Kucharski, an infectious-disease modeler at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told me. As vaccination rates rise, those waves will become smaller and more manageable. But herd immunity—the point where enough people are immune that outbreaks automatically fizzle out—likely cannot be reached through vaccination alone. Even at the low end of the CDC’s estimated range for Delta’s R0, achieving herd immunity would require vaccinating more than 90 percent of people, which is highly implausible. At the high end, herd immunity is mathematically impossible with the vaccines we have now.

This means that the “zero COVID” dream of fully stamping out the virus is a fantasy. Instead, the pandemic ends when almost everyone has immunity, preferably because they were vaccinated or alternatively because they were infected and survived. When that happens, the cycle of surges will stop and the pandemic will peter out. The new coronavirus will become endemic—a recurring part of our lives like its four cousins that cause common colds. It will be less of a problem, not because it has changed but because it is no longer novel and people are no longer immunologically vulnerable. Endemicity was always the likely outcome—I wrote as much in March 2020. But likely is now unavoidable. “Before, it still felt possible that a really concerted effort could get us to a place where COVID-19 almost didn’t exist anymore,” Murray told me. “But Delta has changed the game.”

If SARS-CoV-2 is here to stay, then most people will encounter it at some point in their life, as my colleague James Hamblin predicted last February. That can be hard to accept, because many people spent the past year trying very hard to avoid the virus entirely. But “it’s not really the virus on its own that is terrifying,” Jennie Lavine, an infectious-disease researcher at Emory University, told me. “It’s the combination of the virus and a naive immune system. Once you don’t have the latter, the virus doesn’t have to be so scary.”

Think of it this way: SARS-CoV-2, the virus, causes COVID-19, the disease—and it doesn’t have to. Vaccination can disconnect the two. Vaccinated people will eventually inhale the virus but need not become severely ill as a result. Some will have nasty symptoms but recover. Many will be blissfully unaware of their encounters. “There will be a time in the future when life is like it was two years ago: You run up to someone, give them a hug, get an infection, go through half a box of tissues, and move on with your life,” Lavine said. “That’s where we’re headed, but we’re not there yet.”

None of the experts I talked with would predict when we would reach that point, especially because many feel humbled by Delta’s summer rise. Some think it’s plausible that the variant will reach most unvaccinated Americans quickly, making future surges unlikely. “When we come through, I think we’ll be pretty well protected against another wave, but I hesitate to say that, because I was wrong last time,” Rivers said. It’s also possible that there will still be plenty of unvaccinated people for Delta to infect in the fall, and that endemicity only kicks in next year. As my colleague Sarah Zhang wrote, the U.K. will provide clues about what to expect.

If endemicity is the future, then masks, distancing, and other precautions merely delay exposure to the virus—and to what end? “There’s still so much for us to buy time for,” Bansal told me. Suppressing the virus gives schools the best chance of staying open. It reduces the risk that even worse variants will evolve. It gives researchers time to better understand the long-term consequences of breakthrough infections. And much like last year, it protects the health-care system. LouisianaFloridaArkansasMississippiAlabama, and Missouri all show that Delta is easily capable of inundating hospitals, especially in largely unvaccinated communities. This cannot keep happening, especially because health-care workers are already burning out and facing a mammoth backlog of sick patients whose care was deferred during previous surges. These workers need time to recover, as does the U.S. more generally. Its mental-health systems are already insufficient to address the coming waves of trauma and grief. COVID-19 long-haulers are already struggling to access medical support and disability benefits. The pandemic’s toll is cumulative, and the U.S. can ill-afford to accumulate more. Punting new infections as far into the future as possible will offer a chance to regroup.

19) We’re not talking about this enough, “Trump’s coup attempt grows even more worrisome as new details emerge.” It was really, really bad.

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.  

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