The next NC governor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

1) I think my students would tell you I genuinely care about them and want the best for them. But, my god the coddling approach that the Chronicle of Higher Education teaching newsletter is always taking is just so grating:

  • Acknowledge the Bigger Picture. “We were brought up to just walk into the classroom and say, oh, this DNA molecule is so cool, or this new Shakespeare play is so cool,” said Bryan Dewsbury, associate professor of biological sciences and associate director of the STEM Transformation Institute at Florida International University. But that’s not working for today’s students, who face not only the pandemic but climate change and a host of other serious threats. “We have to stop pretending that the classroom and the campus and the online-course space are just completely disconnected to what’s happening in the wider world — and that people are walking in and just able to shelve all that chaos and just fully be present.”

So, expect less of my students because… climate change?

2) Really interesting interview on how two Supreme Court cases could make some pretty big differences in how social media companies operated. A lot of complicated issues involved.  Also, how had I never heard of this painting?

You said you were sympathetic with the goals, but it seems that the goals might have been just to stop companies from restricting far-right content.

Yes, I do think that’s the goal. But the first time that I saw litigation on claims like this, it came from more traditionally left sources. In Brazil, Facebook took down an image of a native Amazonian woman who was topless. And [the Ministry of Culture said] this was a violation of cultural diversity.

 

That’s hilarious.

The other one’s even crazier. I don’t know if you know the French “L’Origine du Monde,” which is a Gustave Courbet painting? It hangs in the Musée d’Orsay. Its credentials are impeccable, but it’s also a very closeup depiction of female genitalia. Facebook took it down. And the Frenchman who had posted it was, like, “But this is art. I have a right to post art.”

Both of these state laws require platforms to carry speech that the platforms don’t want to. And both of them imposed transparency obligations somewhat similar to the ones in the Digital Services Act in the E.U. The platforms challenged both of those laws in both aspects, the transparency and the so-called must-carry provisions, on a couple of different legal grounds. But the grounds that the Supreme Court would look at if they took it is whether the platform’s own First Amendment rights to set editorial policy have been violated.

The Florida one says that, if an online speaker counts as a journalistic enterprise, which is defined very broadly and strangely, or if they’re a political candidate or they’re talking about a political candidate, then the platform can’t take down anything they say, with almost no exceptions. There’s a weird obscenity exception. Basically, that means if you’re talking about a political candidate or you are a political candidate, you can share electoral disinformation or covid disinformation or racist biological theories. All kinds of things that I think most people would consider pretty horrific. Platforms would have to leave it up in Florida.

The Texas law is also motivated by a concern about conservative voices being silenced, but it comes at it a little bit differently. It says that platforms can engage in content moderation under their own discretionary terms, but they have to do so in a way that is viewpoint-neutral. And there’s a lot of disagreement and uncertainty about what it means to be viewpoint-neutral. I think, and a lot of people think, that it means that if you take down posts celebrating the Holocaust, you also have to take down posts condemning it. If you leave up posts that are anti-gun violence, you also have to leave up posts that are pro-gun violence.

Sorry, these examples are very dark. But that is what we’re talking about here: horrific things that people say on the Internet, that, effectively, platforms such as Facebook or YouTube would have to leave up under this Texas law, unless they want to take down a whole lot of user speech. They could not let anybody ever talk about racism at all, because they have to be viewpoint-neutral on the topic, or not let people talk about abortion at all, because they have to be viewpoint-neutral on the topic, etc.

3) Scott Alexander on AI is always interesting.  I was also listening to a podcast on ChatGPT today and what was really key was that the language model was trained by feedback from real humans.

So far, so boring. What really helped this sink in was reading Nostalgebraist say that ChatGPT was a GPT instance simulating a character called the Helpful, Harmless, and Honest Assistant.

The masked shoggoth on the right is titled “GPT + RLHF”. RLHF is Reinforcement Learning From Human Feedback, a method where human raters “reward” the AI for good answers and “punish” it for bad ones. Eventually the AI learns to do “good” things more often. In training ChatGPT, human raters were asked to reward it for being something like “Helpful, Harmless, and Honest” (many papers use this as an example goal; OpenAI must have done something similar but I don’t know if they did that exactly).

4) The Durham investigation is a complete embarrassment. Nice summary from Drum:

Today’s big New York Times piece about the Durham investigation is chock full of goodies about how Donald Trump and his lackeys desperately tried to prove that the FBI had illegally opened an investigation of Trump for no good reason. Attorney General Bill Barr and his special counsel, John Durham, were obsessed about this and became increasingly agitated as their investigation continued and they were unable to find anything that backed up their suspicions. They never did. We know now that, in fact, Trump’s presidential campaign did have links to the Russian government. The FBI did have a perfectly sensible reason to open an investigation into this. Vladimir Putin did try to interfere with the election in Trump’s favor. And several members of Durham’s team did quit because of disagreements with him over prosecutorial ethics.

There’s no single smoking gun in the story, just a long series of incidents that paint a damning picture of Barr’s Justice Department. In one of them, Barr received a tip from Italian intelligence:

[In 2019] the Times reported that Mr. Durham’s administrative review of the Russia inquiry had evolved to include a criminal investigation, while saying it was not clear what the suspected crime was. Citing their own sources, many other news outlets confirmed the development.

The news reports, however, were all framed around the erroneous assumption that the criminal investigation must mean Mr. Durham had found evidence of potential crimes by officials involved in the Russia inquiry. Mr. Barr, who weighed in publicly about the Durham inquiry at regular intervals in ways that advanced a pro-Trump narrative, chose in this instance not to clarify what was really happening.

Barr was normally a chatterbox, constantly tossing out tidbits about the investigation that made it seem as if they had the goods on the FBI. This time, however, he kept his mouth shut.

Why? Because the tip from the Italians linked Trump to financial crimes. That was the criminal investigation, but Barr saw no need to correct reporters who thought he was looking into criminal conduct by the FBI.

Nothing came of this investigation, but it’s telling nevertheless. And it’s a warning to everyone to take Durham’s final report with a salt mine’s worth of skepticism when it comes out. Past experience tells us that Durham will do his best to make it look like the FBI was guilty of massive crimes even though he was unable to prove any of them and unable to successfully prosecute even the minor charges he took to court.

Poor John Durham. He made his own bed, but this was partly because he got sucked into the black hole that is Donald Trump. Everyone who associates with Trump comes out of it looking worse than when they went in, and that’s what happened to Durham. In 2019 he was a respected veteran prosecutor. Four years later that reputation is in tatters. Nomen amicitiae sic, quatenus expedit, haeret.

5) Pamela Paul on the chilling effect of the American Dirt controversy:

Three years ago this month, the novel “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins landed in bookstores on a tsunami of enthusiasm. “Extraordinary,” Stephen King wrote in a prepublication blurb. “Riveting, timely, a dazzling accomplishment,” raved Julia Alvarez. “This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas,” Sandra Cisneros proclaimed. “This is the international story of our times. Masterful.”

The book’s momentum was nonstop. Riding on starred prepublication reviews from the trades, the book, a fast-paced road novel about a Mexican bookseller and her son trying to cross the border to escape a murderous drug cartel, was named an Indie Next List Pick by independent bookstores. Then came the rapturous reviews. “A thrilling adrenaline rush — and insights into the Latin American migrant experience,” raved The Washington Post. Cummins “proves that fiction can be a vehicle for expanding our empathy,” said Time magazine. Finally, the golden ticket: Oprah selected “American Dirt” for her book club. “I was opened, I was shook up, it woke me up,” Winfrey said.

It all fell apart with stunning speed. Following a blistering online campaign against the author and others involved in the book over who gets to write what, and in response to threats of violence against both author and booksellers, Cummins’s publisher, Flatiron Books, canceled her book tour. Cummins’s motives and reputation were smeared; the novel, eviscerated. “We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor,” Flatiron’s president said in a statement.

Looking back now, it’s clear that the “American Dirt” debacle of January 2020 was a harbinger, the moment when the publishing world lost its confidence and ceded moral authority to the worst impulses of its detractors. In the years since, publishers have become wary of what is now thought of as Another American Dirt Situation, which is to say, a book that puts its author and publishing house in the line of fire. This fear now hangs over every step of a fraught process with questions over who can write what, who should blurb and who can edit permeating what feels like a minefield. Books that would once have been greenlit are now passed over; sensitivity readers are employed on a regular basis; self-censorship is rampant.

A creative industry that used to thrive on risk-taking now shies away from it. And it all stemmed from a single writer posting a discursive and furious takedown of “American Dirt” and its author on a minor blog. Whether out of conviction or cowardice, others quickly jumped on board and a social media rampage ensued, widening into the broader media. In the face of the outcry, the literary world largely folded.

“It was a witch hunt. Villagers lit their torches,” recalled the novelist and bookseller Ann Patchett, whose Nashville home Cummins stayed in after her publisher told her the tour was over. The two were up all night crying. “The fall that she took, in my kitchen, from being at the top of the world to just being smashed and in danger — it was heartbreaking.”…

But if the proposal for “American Dirt” landed on desks today, it wouldn’t get published.

“In the past two or three years, there’s a lot of commentary about the publishing industry being increasingly eager to appease potential cancelers, to not get into trouble to begin with, to become fearful and conformist,” says Bernard Schweizer, a professor emeritus of English at Long Island University who is founding a small publishing company, Heresy Press, with his wife, Liang, to take on the kind of riskier work that now gets passed over. According to Schweizer, the publisher will look for work “that lies between the narrow ideological, nonaesthetic interests presently flourishing on both the left and the right” and “won’t blink at alleged acts of cultural appropriation.” As he told me: “The point is not to offend but to publish stories that are unfettered and freewheeling, maybe nonconformist in one way or another. Somebody may be offended or not, but that’s the kind of risk we want to take.”

For some aspiring writers, the mood remains pessimistic. “My take is the only take and the one everyone knows to be true but only admits in private: the literary world only accepts work that aligns with the progressive/woke point of view of rich coastal liberals,” the Latino writer Alex Perez said in an interview with Hobart magazine last fall. “This explains why everything reads and sounds the same, from major publishing houses to vanity zines with a readership of 15.” Shortly after publication of Perez’s interview, Hobart’s staff of editors quit and Perez was widely mocked on social media. Elizabeth Ellen, Hobart’s editor and the person who conducted the interview, posted a letter from the editor advocating for an atmosphere “in which fear is not the basis of creation, nor the undercurrent of discussion.”

6) It really is crazy that on an entirely regular basis the local school system simply fails to run the necessary busses to get kids to school.  It’s not even Econ 101 about what to do about the bus driver shortage; it’s Econ 01.  Just pay more or find other ways to make the job more enticing.  But, damnit, you’ve got to get the kids to and from school!

That means parents need to be prepared — sometime on short notice — to become their child’s chauffeur when the school bus is very late or isn’t running at all.

“Any day in the office I could get the message that I need to leave my job to get my child,” said Heather Wilson, a Raleigh parent whose daughter rides the bus to Farmington Woods Elementary School in Cary. “It’s definitely very stressful.”

The driver shortage is causing students to miss school, teachers to stay late watching students and bus drivers to feel burned out from the additional routes they’re running.

And the situation could get worse as more drivers retire or switch to other jobs with better hours and higher pay. School bus driver vacancy rates have soared post-pandemic.

7) Big story in the NYT this week about whether schools should tell parents when the kids switch gender identities. I don’t think this is an easy issue with an obviously right answer.  I do think all the trans “allies” who consider the very reporting of this story and a sympathetic hearing of the parents’ views to be so very wrong.  Mona Charen:

Advocates for “gender-affirming care” are vigilant, potent, and feared, trashing anyone who raises questions about rushing into transition as hatemongers who are attempting to “erase” trans people. But their campaign to stifle debate is ebbing. The Atlantic ran a sympathetic account of detransitioners, i.e., patients who’ve regretted sex changes and sought to restore their natal identity. Both of the authors are trans themselves. The New York Times Magazine also ran a piece highlighting competing views within the medical community about how best to handle the explosion of young people saying they think they’re trans, and acknowledging that social contagion may indeed be at work.

The Times also reported on the controversy (yes, there is a controversy) about the use of puberty blocker drugs in children. The Washington Post, noting the pattern of schools withholding information about students’ social transitions from parents, quoted Erica Anderson, a transgender woman and former president of the U.S. Professional Association for Transgender Health, to the effect that failing to notify parents is a form of malpractice: “If there are issues between parents and children, they need to be addressed. It’s not like kicking a can down the road. It only postpones, in my opinion, and aggravates any conflict that may exist.” And New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait chastised enforcers on the left who attempt to cow mainstream journalists on this topic:

The purpose of their rhetorical strategy is to conflate advocates of more cautious treatment of trans children with conservatives who oppose any treatment for trans children. This campaign has met with a great deal of success. Much of the coverage in mainstream and liberal media has followed this template—ignoring or denying the existence of the medical debate, and presenting anti-trans Republican politicians as the only alternative to gender-affirming care. This has been the theme . . . of mainstream organs like Politico and CNN, where coverage of the issue often treats progressive activists as unbiased authorities and dismisses all questions about youth gender treatment as hate-driven denial of the medical consensus.

It’s healthy that the suppression of competing views on this subject is starting to subside, because, as independent journalist Jesse Singal has indefatigably reported, the research on puberty blockers, cross-sex hormone treatment, and other aspects of the affirmative treatment model is actually quite weak. Several European nations, including France, Sweden, and Finland, have drastically limited treatment with puberty blockers, and the largest transgender clinic in Great Britain has been closed due to controversy about unprofessional standards.

8) I actually found this NYT feature on mass shooters infuriating, “We Profiled the ‘Signs of Crisis’ in 50 Years of Mass Shootings. This Is What We Found.”  They are deeply disturbed people suffering despair.

This is no coincidence. The killings are not just random acts of violence but rather a symptom of a deeper societal problem: the continued rise of “deaths of despair.”…

We think the concept of “deaths of despair” also helps explain the accelerating frequency of mass shootings in this country.

Every damn country has people like this, though.  Only in America do they have such ready access to guns.  It’s the guns, guns, guns!

9) I’m cranky about a lot this week. Like this guest essay on childhood obesity:

This month, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its first comprehensive guidelines for evaluating and treating children and adolescents with obesity. The paper, co-written by 21 prominent doctors, health researchers and obesity experts, advises health care providers that they may refer children as young as 2 years old to “intensive health behavior and lifestyle treatment” programs if they have a body mass index in the overweight or obese range. For children ages 12 and up with an obese B.M.I., doctors are encouraged to prescribe weight-loss medications and to offer those over age 13 with severe obesity a referral to a bariatric surgery center.

The paper’s authors see this new guidance as a brave leap forward in the fight against childhood obesity, which they frame as a “complex and often persistent disease” requiring early and aggressive treatment.

But the guidelines are rooted in a premise that should have been rejected long ago: that weight loss is the best path to health and happiness.

The academy’s guidelines are the latest sally in the war on obesity that health care providers, public health officials and the general public have waged to shrink our bodies for over 40 years. The approach hasn’t worked; Americansincluding kids, are not getting thinner.

Instead, we face an epidemic of anti-fat bias, which results in the stigmatization of fat people in schools, workplaces, doctor’s offices and other public spaces. In a study of almost 14,000 people enrolled in behavioral weight management programs across six countries, researchers found that over half of the participants had experienced weight stigma, with more than two-thirds of those encountering it doing so from doctors…

The guidelines acknowledge that experiences of “weight stigma, victimization, teasing and bullying” are major challenges faced by kids in larger bodies that contribute to disordered eating and worse mental health outcomes. Some health care providers, they note, are biased against fat patients in ways that compromise the quality of care and contribute to more severe illness and even death.

Yes, be nice to overweight people!  But, that doesn’t mean childhood obesity isn’t a serious health issue that we should not take diet and behavioral steps to try and reduce!

10) Loved this in Yglesias‘ mailbag about Reuben Gallego taking on Sinema in Arizona:

Gallego is a great type of candidate for Democrats to run in general — very solid working-class background, military veteran, knows how to talk to normal people — and I think specifically in Arizona is well-positioned to hold on to Democrats’ new voters while halting or partially reversing some Republican gains with Latinos. You can’t tell all that much from his electoral track record because he’s been running in very safe blue House seats, but he did run two to three points ahead of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in 2016 and 2020 respectively, which is what you want to see. Some House members use safe seats like that to be bomb throwers and cast prudence to the wind. That’s fine if that’s what you want to do (members of the Squad run on average 6+ points worse than a generic Democrat, but none of them are at risk of losing their seats), but Gallego doesn’t do that. He’s personable, he champions mainstream Democratic positions on economic issues, and he tries to represent his constituents. He’s also got good judgment, and his team features Rebecca Katz, late of the John Fetterman campaign, and Chuck Rocha, who was Bernie’s Hispanic outreach strategist in the 2020 cycle.

People get touchy about how exactly you characterize the Fetterman campaign, but I’d say it was a good example of how to run a race that progressive factionalists are happy with while avoiding progressive pitfalls and embracing banal popular messages.

But there are sort of three interrelated challenges facing Gallego:

  1. He needs to establish himself as quickly as possible as the immovable force in the race — the Democratic Party nominee who is either going to win the race and finish in first place, or else a Republican will win and Gallego will be in second. Sinema is a spoiler, don’t waste your vote on Sinema.

  2. He needs to define the campaign as having some texture to it other than “he’s more left-wing than Sinema.” I think that probably means trying to find at least one topic to be in some sense to her right on, even as he can clearly position himself as a champion of mainstream Democratic positions on taxing private equity managers and prescription drug pricing against her plutocrat politics. He’s got the progressive base locked down, but he needs to be more than a factional candidate.

  3. He needs to manage his elite politics — his relationship with Katie Hobbs and Mark Kelly and Chuck Schumer and the White House and the national press — to clarify that he, Gallego, the guy with the D next to his name, is standing up for mainstream Democratic Party positions, not for left-factionalist positions. The stuff Sinema killed from the reconciliation package was Biden/Wyden ideas on taxation and prescription drugs that Joe Manchin supports.

The upshot of all this is that as unrealistic as it sounds, I think a dream goal for a Gallego campaign would be to do something collaborative with Manchin on taxes, pharma pricing, and deficit reduction where they talk about how working-class people have a lot in common whether they’re rural whites in West Virginia or Latinos in southern Phoenix, and the Democrats need to be something more than a party for educated snobs.

We’ll see what happens. But I thought the launch ad was pretty great. My only criticism is that I think they are going to want to drop the framing that he is “challenging Kyrsten Sinema” for the seat. She has vacated the Democratic Party nomination and he is running to (a) get the Democratic Party nomination and (b) defeat the GOP nominee. Sinema is unpopular, electorally doomed, and should just bow out from running and go be a part-time lobbyist, part-time triathlete. If she wants to insist on running an obviously doomed spoiler campaign, that’s on her, but Gallego wants to rally the Kelly/Biden/Hobbs coalition of Democrats, independents, and McCain Republicans against the MAGA forces who’ve taken over the Arizona GOP.

11) I love German Lopez’s take on the classified documents– especially since it’s basically what I told my class earlier this week.  A cost/benefit lens and bureaucratic risk aversion explain so much:

Why does this keep happening? One possible reason, experts say, is that too many documents are classified in the first place. The federal government classifies more than 50 million documents a year. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of all of them. Some get lost and found years later — and many more are likely still out there…

Playing it safe

The government classifies all kinds of information, including informants’ identities, war plans and diplomatic cables. There are three broad categories of classification: confidential, secret and top secret. Technically, the president decides what is classified. But the job is delegated to cabinet and agency heads, who further delegate, through agency guidelines, to lower-ranked officials.

That system effectively encourages federal officials to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach to classification. The classification of a document reduces the risk that important secret information leaks and leads to trouble, particularly when it concerns national security. But if a document is not classified and is obtained by America’s enemies or competitors, the people who originally handled that information could lose their jobs, or worse.

In many agencies, officials “face no downsides for over-classifying something,” said Oona Hathaway, a professor at Yale Law School and former special counsel at the Pentagon. “But if you under-classify something, really dire consequences could come for you.”

So officials tend to play it safe. Of the more than 50 million documents classified every year, just 5 to 10 percent warrant the classification, Hathaway estimated, based on her experience at the Pentagon.

One example of the extremes of classification: In a cable leaked by Chelsea Manning, an official marked details of wedding rituals in the Russian region of Dagestan as “confidential” — as if most such details were not already well known in a region of more than three million people.

Presidents have criticized the classification system, too. “There’s classified, and then there’s classified,” Barack Obama said in 2016. “There’s stuff that is really top-secret top-secret, and there’s stuff that is being presented to the president or the secretary of state that you might not want on the transom, or going out over the wire, but is basically stuff that you could get in open-source.”

In 2010, Obama signed the Reducing Over-Classification Act. It didn’t solve the problem, experts said.

The downsides

So what’s the harm? Experts say there are several potential dangers to over-classification.

For one, it keeps potentially relevant information from the public, making it harder for voters and journalists to hold their leaders accountable. One example: Starting in the 2000s, the U.S. ran a highly classified drone program to identify, locate and hunt down suspected terrorists in the Middle East and South Asia. The program’s existence was well known, and the destruction it caused was widely reported. Yet elected officials, including members of Congress briefed on the program, could answer few questions from constituents or reporters about it because the details were classified.

Over-classification can also make it difficult for agencies to share information with others, whether they are other U.S. agencies or foreign partners. “There are national security concerns — in terms of information not getting shared that should be,” said Elizabeth Goitein, senior director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program.

And, of course, the recent discoveries show how hard it can be to track all of these classified documents. “We’ve just overloaded the system,” Goitein said. “And that makes slippage inevitable.”

12) You know where I stand on Alec Baldwin’s guilt, but here’s the other side, “Why Alec Baldwin Could Be Found Guilty.”  Not to be belabor, but I just feel like a gun on a movie set is in important ways, fundamentally different from a gun in the rest of the world in ways that affect what would be considered “negligence.”

13) Sorry, but this is wokeness amok, “Stanford student may need to ‘take accountability,’ ‘acknowledge harm’ for reading Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’”

14) Good public post from Yglesias on the debt ceiling, “Republicans can’t even explain what they’re trying to do with the debt ceiling”

15) I ultimately found this New Yorker article not all that enlightening, “Republicans’ sustained and successful courting of Latino voters in South Florida could be a road map for the G.O.P. in 2024.”  And it raises the question of why it is so easy to convince South American immigrants that Democrats are basically socialists/communists when this is not remotely true. 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Jamelle Bouie, “The Supreme Court Is Turning Into a Court of First Resort”

There is another possibility. According to Mark A. Lemley, a law professor at Stanford, the Roberts court, with its conservative majority, is an “imperial” Supreme Court, undermining the power and authority of the other branches of government, as well as weakening the power of lower courts to act and make decisions. “The Court,” Lemley writes, “has taken significant, simultaneous steps to restrict the power of Congress, the administrative state, the states, and the lower federal courts.” It gets its way, he continues, “not by giving power to an entity whose political predilections are aligned with the Justice’s own, but by undercutting the ability of any entity to do something the Justices don’t like.”…

The upshot of all of this, Lemley writes, is a court that is “consolidating its power, systematically undercutting any branch of government, federal or state, that might threaten that power, while at the same time undercutting individual rights.”

This, I think, is a useful way of thinking about the current Supreme Court’s aggressive disregard for its own rules and tradition regarding case selection, methodology and precedent. The conservative majority is working to make the court the leading institution in American politics, with total control over the meaning of the Constitution and its application to American life.

Americans can and should challenge this. Here, as I’ve noted before, Abraham Lincoln is invaluable: “If the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court,” he said in his first inaugural address, “the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”

The first step toward challenging the Supreme Court’s power grab is to recognize the basic fact that, as the law professor Eric Segall has written, the Supreme Court is not actually a court. Yes, the justices of the Supreme Court work in a courtroom, wear robes and decide cases. But the court, he says, “functions much more like a political veto council than a court of law” and the justices “decide cases more like a traditional council of elders than typical judges.”

To see the truth about the Supreme Court is to see that it is not the ultimate arbiter of meaning, holding forth on how we must organize our political lives. It is to see, instead, that it is a political institution, jockeying for power and influence among a set of political institutions. It is to see that the Supreme Court exists to serve American democracy, and when it does not, then it can and must be checked by us, the people.

2) Love this from National Geographic.  Definitely learned some new ones here. “The 22 most amazing discoveries of 2022.”  I liked this one:

A bobcat eating python eggs shows ‘Everglades fighting back’

Burmese pythons have been overrunning the Florida Everglades for decades. These invasive animals are so ecologically destructive in part because they have no native predators—or so scientists thought.

For the first time, biologists have observed a native species, a bobcat, raiding a python nest and eating its eggs. Later, when the bobcat returned to find the snake guarding its nest, the cat took a swipe at the reptile. “When you get interactions like this and see the native wildlife fighting back, it’s like a ray of sunshine for us,” says Ian Bartoszek, an ecologist with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “In 10 years of tracking snakes, I can count on one hand the number of observations” of native animals standing up to the reptiles. The confrontation could represent a step toward restoring ecological balance in the python-troubled Everglades.

3) Apparently “stiff person syndrome” is a thing. And Celine Dion is suffering from it. 

4) Okay, I think I might actually start running up the stairs at work. “2-Minute Bursts of Movement Can Have Big Health Benefits”

Dashing up the stairs to your apartment, weaving between commuters as you dart toward the train — those small snippets of exercise, if they’re intense enough, can add up, according to a new study. The paper is among the first to examine what many exercise scientists have long hypothesized: A little bit of physical activity goes a long way, even movement you might not consider a workout.

The paper, published today in Nature Medicine, shows that tiny spurts of exercise throughout the day are associated with significant reductions in disease risk. Researchers used data from fitness trackers collected by UK Biobank, a large medical database with health information from people across the United Kingdom. They looked at the records of over 25,000 people who did not regularly exercise, with an average age around 60, and followed them over the course of nearly seven years. (People who walked recreationally once a week were included, but that was the maximum amount of concerted exercise these participants did.)

Those who engaged in one or two-minute bursts of exercise roughly three times a day, like speed-walking while commuting to work or rapidly climbing stairs, showed a nearly 50 percent reduction in cardiovascular mortality risk and a roughly 40 percent reduction in the risk of dying from cancer as well as all causes of mortality, compared with those who did no vigorous spurts of fitness…

One 2020 study linked four-minute bursts of exercise with longer life spans; another in 2019 found that climbing stairs for 20 seconds, multiple times a day, improved aerobic fitness. And still others have found that repeating just four-second intervals of intense activity could increase strength or counteract the metabolic toll of sitting for long stretches of time.

“Intensity is very effective at building muscle and stressing the cardiovascular system,” said Ed Coyle, a professor of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas who has researched intense bursts of exercise. Quick blasts of vigorous exercise, performed repeatedly with short rest periods, can increase oxygen uptake and keep cardiac arteries from clogging, he said, as well as power the heart to pump more blood and function better overall.

The new study, however, shows that the average person doesn’t need to go out of their way to identify those small spikes in activity; everyday movements, intensified, can be enough. And because they collected data from trackers that participants wore on their wrists, rather than questionnaires, which some exercise studies rely on, the researchers were able to analyze the impact of minute movements.

“It really just emphasizes how little vigorous physical activity can be extremely beneficial,” said Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario who was an author on the study.

5) David Wallace-Wells, “Covid-19 Isn’t a Pandemic of the Unvaccinated Anymore”

Americans received their first Covid-19 vaccine doses in December 2020, which means we are now approaching the beginning of the third year of the pandemic’s vaccine phase. And yet hundreds of Americans are still dying each day. Who are they? The data offers a straightforward answer: older adults.

Though it’s sometimes uncomfortable to say it, the risk of mortality from Covid has been dramatically skewed by age throughout the pandemic. The earliest reports of Covid deaths from China sketched a pattern quickly confirmed everywhere in the world: In an immunologically naïve population, the oldest were several thousand times more at risk of dying from infection than the youngest.

But the skew is actually more dramatic now — even amid mass vaccinations and reinfections — than it was at any previous point over the last three years. Since the beginning of the pandemic, people 65 and older accounted for 75 percent of all American Covid deaths. That dropped below 60 percent as recently as September 2021. But today Americans 65 and over account for 90 percent of new Covid deaths, an especially large share given that 94 percent of American seniors are vaccinated…

As many Twitter discussions about the “base rate fallacy” have emphasized, this is not because the vaccines are ineffective — we know, also from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, that they work very well. Estimates of the effectiveness of updated bivalent boosters suggest they reduce the risk of mortality from Covid in Americans over the age of 12 by more than 93 percent compared with the population of unvaccinated. That is a very large factor.

But it isn’t the whole story, or vaccinated older adults wouldn’t now make up a larger share of Covid deaths than the unvaccinated do. That phenomenon arises from several other factors that are often underplayed. First is the simple fact that more Americans are vaccinated than not, and those older Americans most vulnerable to severe disease are far more likely to be vaccinated than others.

It is also partly a reflection of how many fewer Americans, including older ones, have gotten boosters than got the initial vaccines: 34 percent, compared with 69 percent. The number of those who have gotten updated bivalent boosters is lower still — just 12.7 percent of Americans over the age of 5.

Finally, vaccines are not as effective among older adults because the immune system weakens with age. It’s much harder to train older immune systems, and that training diminishes more quickly. In Americans between the ages of 65 and 79, for instance, vaccination reduced mortality risk from Covid more than 87 percent, compared with the unvaccinated. This is a very significant reduction, to be sure, but less than the 15-fold decline observed among those both vaccinated and bivalent-boosted in the overall population. For those 80 and above, the reduction from vaccination alone is less than fourfold.

That is a very good deal, of course. But it also means that, given the underlying age skew, vaccinated people in their late 80s have a similar risk of Covid death as never-vaccinated 70-year-olds. Which is to say, some real risk. If it was ever comfortable to say that the unconscionable levels of American deaths were a pandemic of the unvaccinated, it is surely now accurate to describe the ongoing toll as a pandemic of the old.

6) German Lopez with lots of good stuff on ChatGPT:

Advanced efficiency

The upside of artificial intelligence is that it might be able to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently than any person can. The possibilities are up to the imagination: self-driving and even self-repairing cars, risk-free surgeries, instant personalized therapy bots and more.

The technology is not there yet. But it has advanced in recent years through what is called machine learning, in which bots comb through data to learn how to perform tasks. In ChatGPT’s case, it read a lot. And, with some guidance from its creators, it learned how to write coherently — or, at least, statistically predict what good writing should look like.

There are already clear benefits to this nascent technology. It can help research and write essays and articles. ChatGPT can also help code programs, automating challenges that can normally take hours for people.

Another example comes from a different program, Consensus. This bot combs through up to millions of scientific papers to find the most relevant for a given search and share their major findings. A task that would take a journalist like me days or weeks is done in a couple minutes.

These are early days. ChatGPT still makes mistakes, such as telling one user that the only country whose name starts and ends with the same letter is Chad. But it is very quickly evolving. Even some skeptics believe that general-use A.I. could reach human levels of intelligence within decades.

Unknown risks

Despite the potential benefits, experts are worried about what could go wrong with A.I.

For one, such a level of automation could take people’s jobs. This concern has emerged with automated technology before. But there is a difference between a machine that can help put together car parts and a robot that can think better than humans. If A.I. reaches the heights that some researchers hope, it will be able to do almost anything people can, but better.

Some experts point to existential risks. One survey asked machine-learning researchers about the potential effects of A.I. Nearly half said there was a 10 percent or greater chance that the outcome would be “extremely bad (e.g., human extinction).” These are people saying that their life’s work could destroy humanity.

That might sound like science fiction. But the risk is real, experts caution. “We might fail to train A.I. systems to do what we want,” said Ajeya Cotra, an A.I. research analyst at Open Philanthropy. “We might accidentally train them to pursue ends that are in conflict with humans’.”

Take one hypothetical example, from Kelsey Piper at Vox: A program is asked to estimate a number. It figures out that the best way to do this is to use more of the world’s computing power. The program then realizes that human beings are already using that computing power. So it destroys all humans to be able to estimate its number unhindered.

If that sounds implausible, consider that the current bots already behave in ways that their creators don’t intend. ChatGPT users have come up with workarounds to make it say racist and sexist things, despite OpenAI’s efforts to prevent such responses.

The problem, as A.I. researchers acknowledge, is that no one fully understands how this technology works, making it difficult to control for all possible behaviors and risks. Yet it is already available for public use.

7) And the Times’ technology reporter Kevin Roose with a really good rundown on ChatGPT.

8) Nice thorough look at NC turnout from Michael Bitzer.  What sticks out to me is the Republicans just keep getting more turnout.

9) Good stuff from Yglesias, “A lot of the best political messages are really boring”

So how did she pull it off? I think Dobbs was clearly an important factor, as it was in many states.

But a new report suggests that Cortez Masto and her campaign can offer some important lessons, namely that one incredibly banal message about law enforcement that she ran is apparently very potent. To an extent, this insight backs up things I’ve believed for a long time about the value of normie politics. But I also think that people who are more left-wing than I am will find a fair amount to like in this story because it suggests the possibility of making substantial gains in public opinion with very superficial gestures to the center.

Democrats’ best message, revealed

The key insight here comes from Data for Progress’ post-election report, which I recently heard Danielle Deiseroth, Marcela Mulholland, Julia Jeanty, and McKenzie Wilson describe in a post-election panel.

The report includes the results of a large sample experiment DFP did with Brian Schaffner that involved a sample of 77,197 registered voters. Each person was given six different head-to-head matchups between congressional candidates, with each candidate given a random set of demographic characteristics and also randomly assigned a policy message drawn from real things said by real politicians. This is designed to capture two things that a typical poll doesn’t:

  • Given these realistic settings, the impact of different messages on vote choice is just very very small — the vast majority of people vote consistently for either the hypothetical Democrat or the hypothetical Republican regardless of what message they are assigned. Campaign effects are small.

  • But because the sample is so large, you can pick up on the impact of small campaign effects. And that matters because so many races are so close. Small effects can be a big deal.

They ran 135 different Democratic messages in this experiment, of which 35 generated statistically significant campaign effects.

And now the big reveal, Democrats’ top campaign message:

I worked hand-in-hand with law enforcement to crack down on crimes and keep our communities safe. I led the fight to combat sex trafficking, helped protect victims of sexual assault, and passed legislation to combat law enforcement suicide. I’ve worked tirelessly to get law enforcement the support and resources they need to keep our communities safe

When I shared this factoid on Twitter, I got a somewhat incredulous response from a number of rightists who didn’t believe a Democrat would ever say that. This was funny because these are all real-world messages, in this case, one from Cortez Masto. You can see a version of it here on her campaign website, and it’s similar to the opening of her official bio on her Senate page.

The flip side of the rightists’ incredulity is that a lot of progressives I’ve talked to are a little disheartened to see that the very best thing DFP could come up with is so boring. This message doesn’t speak at all to the big, structural changes that get progressives out of bed in the morning. It doesn’t reference the existential battle for American democracy, and it doesn’t touch on the climate crisis that has become the progressive movement’s top priority or the abortion rights struggle that invigorated so many after the Dobbs decision. It’s just blah.

But part of the reason this blah message works is precisely because it’s blah. Persuadable voters aren’t persuaded by the stuff that gets progressives fired up, in part because if they were fired up about that stuff they wouldn’t be persuadable voters, and in part because everyone already knows that Democrats care about that stuff, so talking about it at the margin doesn’t change anything. And in that light, what takes the message from good to great is that despite being so blah, conservatives were incredulous that a Democrat would actually say it. The content is not that surprising or exciting but the context apparently is — voters were genuinely swayed by a Democrat making some extremely banal supportive statements about law enforcement.

And it’s not unique to Cortez Masto or her precise framing. This from John Fetterman apparently worked really well, too:

Everyone has the right to feel safe in their communities. I worked with the Chief of Police, our police officers, and the community to reduce violent crime. I’ve worked hand-in-hand with the police and I understand the challenges our police forces face and how to support them to make communities more safe. I will make sure law enforcement has the resources necessary to do their job, but I will also prioritize oversight, accountability, and violence prevention.

Fetterman’s version of this nods a bit more to the left by mentioning oversight and accountability, but is also even more straightforwardly tough on crime than Cortez Masto’s. He talks generically about violent crime instead of centering more feminist concerns like sex trafficking and sexual assault.

The point is that just being a Democrat who says loud and clear “I think it’s good when the cops arrest criminals” actually moves the needle meaningfully because people’s baseline impression of Democrats on crime has become so bad.

10) NYT Editorial on the Independent State Legislature case:

“The most important case for American democracy” in the nation’s history — that’s how the former appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig described Moore v. Harper, an extraordinary lawsuit that the Supreme Court considered in oral arguments Wednesday morning. Judge Luttig, a conservative and a widely respected legal thinker, is not one for overstatement. Yet most Americans aren’t paying attention to the case because it involves some confusing terminology and an arcane legal theory. It is essential that people understand just how dangerous this case is to the fundamental structure of American government, and that enough justices see the legal fallacies and protect our democracy.

First, the back story on the case: In 2021, North Carolina lawmakers redrew their congressional maps. The state had 13 districts at the time, and its voters were more or less evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. But the Republicans who are in control of North Carolina’s legislature didn’t want fair maps; they wanted power. In one of the most egregious gerrymanders in the nation, they drew 10 seats intended to favor themselves.

The North Carolina courts were not amused. A panel of three trial judges found that the 2021 maps were “intentionally and carefully designed to maximize Republican advantage” — so much so that Republicans could win legislative majorities even when Democrats won more votes statewide. The State Supreme Court struck down the maps, finding they violated the North Carolina Constitution’s guarantees of free elections, free speech, free assembly and equal protection.

That should have been the end of it: A state court applying the state Constitution to strike down a state law. But North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers appealed, arguing that the U.S. Constitution does not give state courts authority to rule on their congressional maps — even though the legislature had passed a law authorizing the courts to review redistricting plans like these. Instead, the lawmakers are relying on an untested theory that asserts that state legislatures enjoy nearly unlimited power to set and change rules for federal elections…

To be clear, this is a political power grab in the guise of a legal theory. Republicans are trying to see if they can turn state legislatures — 30 of which are controlled by Republicans — into omnipotent, unaccountable election bosses with the help of the conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court. The theory has no basis in law, history or precedent. The idea that state lawmakers exist free of any constraints imposed by their constitution and state courts makes a mockery of the separation of powers, which is foundational to the American system of government. By the North Carolina lawmakers’ logic, they possess infinite power to gerrymander districts and otherwise control federal elections. It is a Constitution-free zone where no one else in the state — not the governor, not the courts, not the voters through ballot initiatives — has any say.

On Wednesday morning, Justice Elena Kagan rejected the theory out of hand, saying it “gets rid of the normal checks and balances on the way big governmental decisions are made in this country. And you might think that it gets rid of all those checks and balances at exactly the time when they are needed most.”

In practice, the theory that the petitioners in the case are seeking to use would turn hundreds of state constitutional provisions into dead letters in federal elections. 

11) Good stuff from Brian Beutler on Musk and twitter.

12) Enjoyed these in Yglesias‘ weekly reader response:

Hutcheson: Granted that “cancel culture” in academe is not the world’s top priority problem but is there anything productive that a good faith conservative state legislature could do to promote less of an ideological bias in state universities.

I think conservatives need to think a little bit harder about what it is they actually think about higher education. Here are three different center-right narratives that are in reasonably wide circulation:

  • We need more practical education that is aimed at useful job skills and delivers economic benefits to individuals and society. This is like a conservative critique of student loan relief or something Marco Rubio would say.

  • We need more “old-fashioned” education that challenges preconceptions, wrestles with difficult ideas, and engages the canon. This is like the Chicago Principles or the kind of thing I heard a lot when I went to a Heterodox Academy conference.

  • We need to accept that education is largely just pointless status-seeking and consumption, and we should reduce the number of resources our society dedicates to this and the power and prestige of top universities. That’s in Bryan Caplan’s books and in a lot of takes you see on the internet about how employers should give job candidates IQ tests.

These takes all kind of converge to express a negative attitude toward incumbent universities, left-wing faculty, faddish political ideas, cancel culture, etc. But they’re actually very different claims. And in particular, the kind of ideas from bullet point two or in the book “The Coddling of the American Mind” have opposite implications from the ideas in points one and three. Right now, anti-coddlers are in a coalition with anti-humanists and education skeptics on the basis of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” but to devise a constructive anti-coddling agenda, you need to break out of that coalition.

City Dweller: Any thoughts on the White House’s just-announced guidance on incorporating “indigenous knowledge” into federal agency decision-making?

I’ve read this twice, and I don’t really understand what it says.

I think it’s an example of a dynamic that is pretty toxic: academics like to come up with striking-sounding terms for things, then foundations tend to port these academic concepts into an advocacy context, and then executive branch officials want to show responsiveness to the advocates, so they embrace weird, radical-sounding jargon, the upshot of which may actually be pretty banal. There was a Nature article right around Thanksgiving whose headline was about “Decolonizing” agricultural research, but its specific proposal was that “decolonization should go beyond simply citing colleagues from developing countries to including them in conferences and as co-authors.” Now if I were trying to communicate the idea “it would be good to invite more scholars from poor countries to conferences about agriculture,” I think I would just say that. These scholars might have valuable perspectives, and the conferences are a networking opportunity that could help the field.

So back to “indigenous knowledge” — is this a fancy, off-putting, radical-sounding way of saying “we should consult with indigenous communities about what’s up when we make changes?” That sounds very reasonable! Or are we actually endorsing some radical epistemological ideas? I find the document very unclear and the overall rhetorical approach to be at best unhelpful.

13) Kid in the area brings a gun to school and shoots a window before handing it over to a teacher. And this…

Seth Lanterman-Schneider, 39, of Willow Spring is charged with selling/giving a weapon to a minor, which is a misdemeanor, according to the sheriff’s office.

This needs to be a felony!!

14) Good stuff from Benjamin Mazer, “COVID Science Is Moving Backwards”

At the outset of the crisis, the world’s scientists used their grit and genius to develop new ideas with unprecedented speed; collectively, the COVID vaccines and treatments they produced saved tens of millions of lives. But their historic push for knowledge has lately slowed and sputtered in its tracks. Society spent billions of dollars to answer a single, urgent question: How do you combat a novel respiratory virus? Now, all of a sudden, we find ourselves a little baffled by the follow-up: How do you handle a respiratory virus that is familiar? …

What’s pushing COVID science backwards? Don’t blame viral evolution—or not entirely. The emergence of new subvariants does weaken the effects of our vaccines. (It may also render some monoclonal-antibody treatments obsolete.) But the bigger problem isn’t that the virus has become a stranger. It’s that we’ve come to know it all too well.

Most of the groundbreaking research that led to our current vaccines and treatments was performed in a type of human that no longer exists in any but the smallest numbers: Homo uninoculatus uninfectus, which is to say, a person who has neither gotten sick with COVID nor ever taken a vaccine against it. The original vaccine studies by Moderna and Pfizer excluded participants who were known to have caught COVID. Paxlovid was authorized based on a study of unvaccinated subjects. The other antivirals, too, were tested only in those who hadn’t gotten any shots. Yet here’s where we are right now: Seven in 10 Americans have received at least a primary vaccine series, and more than 95 percent have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies from vaccination, infection, or both. Globally, 13 billion shots have been administered, and nearly every country has suffered through widespread disease. We developed all these drugs for a world of COVID virgins, and now that world is gone.

This is very good news: Patients with preexisting immunity are at far lower risk. New infections are a lot milder, on average, than they were in 2020. Fewer patients are entering ICUs with lungs damaged by the severe pneumonia we saw at the start of the pandemic, and those hospitalized with COVID are trending older and sicker overall. Clearly we’re living through a new—and better—phase of the pandemic. But the same development also makes it harder to figure out whether vaccines are still doing what they’re meant to do.

15) I cannot believe the degree to which Pro Publica just completely lit their reputation on fire over bad translations in the Chinese lab leak story.  It’s really kind of amazing.  James Fallows with details.

The central figure in the story is a man named Toy Reid, the one shown in that dramatic black-and-white photo. He is an American who speaks Mandarin and claims to have unique insight into the nuance and meaning of official Chinese documents. He is introduced thus:

[Communist] Party speak is “its own lexicon,” explains Reid, now 44 years old. Even a native Mandarin speaker “can’t really follow it,” he says. “It’s not meant to be easily understood. It’s almost like a secret language of Chinese officialdom. When they’re talking about anything potentially embarrassing, they speak of it in innuendo and hushed tones, and there’s a certain acceptable way to allude to something.”

For 15 months, Reid loaned this unusual skill to a nine-person team [the “minority oversight” staffers] dedicated to investigating the mystery of COVID-19’s origins.

My BS-detectors all switched on when I first read this. I know only a little about Mandarin. But enough to doubt that properly reading official documents is some extremely rare “unusual skill.” I know a little more about editing investigative stories, and about the moments when you’d ask a reporter, “Wait a minute, does this make any sense?”

—Almost as soon as the story appeared, it was met with questions, criticism, and derision from the very large group of people accustomed to reading Chinese documents, including Party statements. You can see a summary of the pushback in a Semafor piece by Max Tani, and some line-by-line critique in this widely circulated Twitter thread by Jane Qiu. People I’d known and worked with in the Chinese-translator community, both Chinese and international, were all critics.

Here is a crucial point: Skepticism about the story was entirely separate from views on the “lab leak” hypothesis itself (which the story supported, as had the Republican staff report). I have no idea where the pandemic virus came from and have never joined arguments about its origin. I don’t know enough. This post is explicitly not about the “lab leak” idea. The same is true for most people questioning the ProPublica story. The controversy involves language, evidence, and journalistic transparency and accountability.

16) Nice 538 piece on the high-tech soccer ball in use at the World Cup.

17) What I found amazing about this story, “ABC News Pulls Daytime Co-Anchors After Revelations of a Romance” is how stunningly well-documented the romantic assignations of these two C-list celebrities were.  

18) Enjoyed this on Kanye and mental illness:

Which brings me to Kanye West, now known as Ye, and probably the most famous mentally ill person in the world right today. West’s mental state has been in freefall for years and he has been talking about his bipolar disorder for a while. His manic behaviour goes off and on, and right now, it is very much on…

I’m Jewish, but when I read West’s posts I didn’t feel offended. I just felt sad that an artist so talented is now so clearly out of his tree. Maybe West really does think Diddy is being controlled by Jewish people. Or maybe that reflects his true feelings as much as that man in hospital was genuinely turned on by Richard and Judy. “Being bipolar doesn’t make you racist,” people shout on Twitter. Not necessarily, but poor mental health makes you say a lot of crazy stuff, because it’s not about being sexily impetuous or soulfully sensitive. It’s about being out of your fucking mind. And I get that’s not special or sparkly, but then, tuberculosis is a lot less pretty than some of those Victorian novels made it sound. Illness sucks…

Yet I would bet that many of the same people who are demanding West be held accountable for his actions would be horrified at the idea of sending a mentally ill person who commits a terrible crime to prison. He should be sent to a psychiatric hospital, they would say. That is correct, and the same is true of West. He doesn’t need punishment — he needs help.

And, yes, it feels good to say “mental illness doesn’t make you anti-semitic.”  But we don’t say “mental illness doesn’t make you think you are Jesus” or “mental illness doesn’t make you think CIA agents are after you.”  But, of course, it does!  What Kanye is saying is decidedly not okay, but it really does need to be seen through the perspective of a man clearly in a genuine mental health crisis.

19) Not quite a simple pill yet, but actually bringing some nice rigor and standardization to fecal transplants.

20) Ian Bogost writes in the Atlantic, “ChatGPT Is Dumber Than You Think: Treat it like a toy, not a tool.” For the record, I think he’s dead wrong. 

But you may find comfort in knowing that the bot’s output, while fluent and persuasive as text, is consistently uninteresting as prose. It’s formulaic in structure, style, and content. John Warner, the author of the book Why They Can’t Write, has been railing against the five-paragraph essay for years and wrote a Twitter thread about how ChatGPT reflects this rules-based, standardized form of writing: “Students were essentially trained to produce imitations of writing,” he tweeted. The AI can generate credible writing, but only because writing, and our expectations for it, has become so unaspiring.

Yes, right now, it is a very predictable and boring writer.  So are most people who aren’t paid to write! (And even many of them)

21) A couple of good takes on the utter nonsense on twitter and Hunter Biden’s laptop

22) But Mona Charen’s is fantastic:

So what is this really about? Consider the timing.

For seven years, the right has been explaining, excusing, avoiding, and eventually cheering the most morally depraved figure in American politics. That takes a toll on the psyche. You can tell yourself that the other side is worse. Or you can tell yourself that the critics are unhinged, suffering from “Trump derangement syndrome” whereas you are a man of the world who knows nobody’s perfect. But then Trump will do what he always does—he’ll make a fool of you. You denied that Trump purposely broke the law when he took highly classified documents to Mar-A-Lago and obstructed every effort to retrieve them. And then what does Trump do? He admits taking them! You scoff at the critics who’ve compared Trump with Nazis. And then what does he do? He has dinner with Nazis! (And fails to condemn them even after the fact.) You despised people who claimed Trump was a threat to the Constitution, and then Trump explicitly calls for “terminating” the Constitution in order to put himself back in the Oval Office.

Hunter Biden seems to be corrupt. He traded on his father’s name. He has abused drugs and engaged in other unsavory practices. He’s a mess. But there is nothing relevant to public policy or civic virtue here. President Biden is hardly the first president to have troubled family members. But Joe Biden didn’t hire Hunter at the White House, and if there is any evidence of the president using official influence on Hunter’s behalf, we haven’t seen it. The Department of Justice under President Trump opened an investigation into Hunter Biden. President Biden has left it alone. It’s ongoing.

The right has a deep psychological need for the Hunter Biden story. They desperately want Joe Biden to be corrupt and for the whole family to be, in Stefanik’s words, “a crime family” because they have provided succor and support to someone who has encouraged political violence since his early rallies in 2015, has stoked hatred of minorities through lies, has used his office for personal gain in the most flagrant fashion, has surrounded himself with criminals and con men, has committed human rights violations against would-be immigrants by separating children from their parents, has pardoned war criminals, has cost the lives of tens of thousands of COVID patients by discounting the virus and peddling quack cures, has revived racism in public discourse, and attempted a violent coup d’etat.

They know it. It gnaws at them. That’s why the Hunter Biden story is their heart’s desire. But here’s something else they need to meditate on: Even if everything they’re alleging about Joe Biden were true; even if he did pull strings to help his son and even profited unjustly thereby, it still wouldn’t amount to a fraction of what Trump did. And it still won’t wash out the “damn’d spot.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) Democrats not acting in the lame duck to do anything about the debt ceiling is insane.  Though, all it takes is one or two insane Democrats to ruin it for the whole damn country.  Oh, yeah, and all the Republicans.  Greg Sargent:

It’s clear that the incoming House GOP majority will try to use debt-limit extortion to extract all kinds of concessions from Democrats. This will likely focus on refusing to raise the nation’s borrowing limit to try tosecure deep spending cuts. The slimness of the GOP majority will empower the MAGA caucus, which will wield this weapon to wreak havoc we can only guess at.

A top Senate Republican has now signaled that his party will use the debt limit to seek cuts to entitlements. Sen. John Thune (S.D.) flatly declared this week that if Republicans withhold support for raising the debt limit — which would threaten default and economic disaster — it could increase pressure on Democrats to “deliver” on raising the Social Security retirement age. This is ominous coming from the Senate GOP whip.

Unfortunately, there are reasons to be skeptical that Democrats will usethe lame-duck session to protect the country from the damage this could unleash. Senate Republicans are supposed to be the sober ones, relative to the House GOP. If such threats from a GOP leader in the upper chamber aren’t enough to get Democrats to act, what would be?

The need to do somethingduring the lame-duck session to eliminate the threat of debt-limit extortiondid not get addressed in a meeting Tuesday between President Biden and congressional leaders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters: “That didn’t come up.”

This is not exactly encouraging. “I’m extremely concerned,” Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), who has long argued for dealing with the debt limit, told me. “We must do this now. If we don’t, we’ll come to deeply regret it.”

True, securing lame-duck action on the debt limit would be challenging. First, there is already a ton to do, from fixing the Electoral Count Act of 1887 to preventing future coups to funding the entire government.

Second, action would require either Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on one side, or Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on the other, to play against type in a dramatic way.

2) You know I’m always here for takedowns of originalism, “Originalism is bunk. Liberal lawyers shouldn’t fall for it.”

Liberal lawyers — and liberal justices, for that matter — risk being caught in an originalism trap.

Originalism, the belief that the meaning of the Constitution was fixed at the time it was adopted, is the legal theory that dominates the thinking of this conservative Supreme Court. Not all of the conservative justices are committed originalists. I count four of the six — all but Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and perhaps Samuel A. Alito Jr., who describes himself as a “practical originalist.” But they have all written or joined originalist rulings.

 

Given that reality, liberals can’t lightly dismiss conservatives’ insistence that the Constitution should be interpreted based strictly on the original meaning of its text. In the current circumstances, liberal advocates appearing before the court would be remiss not to make an originalist case.

But there’s also little evidence, at least in the highest-profile cases, that it will do them much good. When originalist arguments favor a result the conservative justices dislike, they’re content to ignore them, or to cherry-pick competing originalist interpretations that comport with their underlying inclinations. Originalism doesn’t serve to constrain but to justify.This is not a fair fight — or an honest one.

And it is one with dangerous consequences. The more liberals present originalist arguments, the more they legitimate originalism rather than refuting it and offering a compelling alternative. Courtroom advocates need to win the case at hand, yet that undermines the more critical long-term effort to wrench the court away from its reliance on what is, at least as currently practiced, a flawed doctrine that peddles the illusion of impartiality in the service of a conservative result.
 
Because originalism purports to freeze our understanding of the Constitution as written at the end of the 18th century or amended in the second half of the 19th, it is skewed to a cramped reading of the document, unleavened by modern science and sensibilities. Why should we understand — much less accept — the constitutional meaning as fixed at a time when women lacked the right to vote, when recently enslaved Black people attended segregated schools, when the economy was agrarian, and when the notion of gay rights was unthinkable?
 

3) Great N&O story about how the poultry industry is running roughshod over North Carolina and is just a perfect example of externalities amok (i.e., they get the profits, ordinary citizens get the environmental degradation and unpleasant living conditions). This really is worth your time.

4) OMG the new OpenAI chatbot is insanely good.  Every twitter professor I know has been struck by this the past couple days.  I’m honestly going to have to radically revise my exams starting now.  The current chatbot could surely get at least a B-, and probably higher, on my tests.  I definitely need to do a full post on this.  For now, my twitter thread with some examples.

5) I’m enjoying seeing a much more robust discussion of expected goals in this year’s World Cup.  Nice explainer of how they work in soccer here. 

6) Good piece from Nate Cohn on Black turnout in the midterms.

There was a lot of good news — or at least news that felt good — for Democrats this election cycle, from holding the Senate to remaining stubbornly competitive in the House.

But as more data becomes final, it’s clear that Black turnout is not one of those feel-good stories for the party.

We won’t get conclusive numbers for months, but the evidence so far raises the distinct possibility that the Black share of the electorate sank to its lowest level since 2006. It certainly did in states like Georgia and North Carolina, where authoritative data is already available.

The relatively low turnout numbers aren’t necessarily a surprise. After all, this was not supposed to be a good year for Democrats. Perhaps this is one of the things that went about as expected, with no reason to think it portends catastrophe for Democrats in the years ahead.

Still, relatively low Black turnout is becoming an unmistakable trend in the post-Obama era, raising important — if yet unanswered — questions about how Democrats can revitalize the enthusiasm of their strongest group of supporters.

Is it simply a return to the pre-Obama norm? Is it yet another symptom of eroding Democratic strength among working-class voters of all races and ethnicities? Or is it a byproduct of something more specific to Black voters, like the rise of a more progressive, activist — and pessimistic — Black left that doubts whether the Democratic Party can combat white supremacy?

Whatever the answer, it is clear that the relatively low Black turnout was not exactly disastrous electorally for Democrats in 2022. With the possible exception of the Wisconsin Senate race, it’s hard to identify a high-profile election where Democrats might have prevailed if the Black share of the electorate had stayed at 2014 or 2018 levels.

But it does help make sense of one of the stranger features of this election: how Republicans fared so well in the national vote, but routinely underperformed in critical states and districts. With the important exceptions of Georgia and North Carolina, the Black population share was below the national average in virtually all of the key districts and Senate contests.

Georgia and North Carolina are two of the states where voters indicate their race when they register to vote, offering an unusually clear look at the racial composition of the electorate. In both states — along with Louisiana — the Black share of the electorate fell to its lowest levels since 2006…

Perhaps more remarkable is that Raphael Warnock, the Democratic senator from Georgia, and Ms. Beasley fared so well, even with Black voters representing such a low share of the electorate. Mr. Warnock and Ms. Beasley appear to have fared better among non-Black voters than any Democrats in recent memory in either state.

7) Crazy story. “A Man Fell From a Cruise Ship. And Survived.”

The passenger, according to the Coast Guard, turned out to be James Grimes, 28, who had been traveling with his parents and siblings on the five-day cruise. His family had last seen him the night before, around 11 p.m.

But by 10:45 on Thanksgiving morning, when there was no sign of him, the family notified the crew, the Coast Guard said.

At 8:10 p.m., more than nine hours after his family reported him missing, a passing tanker spotted the man near the mouth of the Mississippi River and alerted the Coast Guard.

Rescuers found Mr. Grimes struggling in the water, waving frantically and trying to keep his head above the surface.

When the crew of the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter lifted him out, he was in shock, had mild hypothermia and was extremely dehydrated, said Lt. Seth Gross, who managed the search and rescue operation for the Coast Guard. But he was alive and in stable condition.

Mr. Grimes, whose family described him as an exceptional swimmer, had treaded in 65- to 70-degree water for hours, withstanding rain, 20-knot winds and three- to five-foot waves in the Gulf of Mexico, where bull sharks and blacktip sharks are common, Coast Guard officials said.

“This case is certainly extraordinary,” Lieutenant Gross said. “The survival instinct, the will to survive is just crazy.”

8) A UNC professor makes the case for a return to oral exams.  This one I felt the need to comment upon:

I’m tenured, have reasonable-sized classes, and yet this would still be an incredibly profligate use of my time (no, I’m not grading hundreds of students, but I have significant research and service constraints on my time). The simple fact is that, for the vast majority of faculty, this is time-wise, just a really inefficient way to assess students. And as many have pointed out, unfairly advantages extroverts, the more confident, etc. (and I say this as a confident extrovert).

9) Radley Balko did an overly credulous interview with the head of the Oath Keepers a decade ago and now provides a nice mea culpa and a thoughtful examination of how he got things so wrong.  We should all practice thinking like this.  

10) Just finished Amazon Prime’s “The Peripheral.”  Loved it!

11) Crazy story of a pilot who somehow accidentally fell out of plane near here a few months ago.  It is now, officially, indeed, an accident.  Seems like something out of a Cohn Brothers movie or something. 

12) Yes, I really cannot wait to see Cocaine Bear

13) This is important, “The $6 Billion Shot at Making New Antibiotics—Before the Old Ones Fail”

The possible collapse of Brown’s treatment could be avoided, if there were another option. Right now, there are no new antibiotics that doctors can add to his regimen. In the US, antibiotic innovation has skidded to a halt. The last novel class approved by the FDA debuted in 1984.

Independent analysts and drug-company personnel all say the measure is critically needed. But the Congress that reconvenes this week will be bruised from vituperative electioneering and distracted by races that remain unresolved. The body will also have to make decisions on a raft of legislative proposals that were delayed earlier in the year by hyperpartisan jostling, and will have to choose what they can accomplish before their session ends around Christmas Eve. If the Pasteur Act can’t get through by then, it will need to be reintroduced when the new Congress convenes in January. But that session will be focused on the 2024 election, and it could be hard for other issues to break through.

“If this doesn’t pass, or something like it doesn’t get implemented, then I don’t know what Plan B is,” says Joe Larsen, a vice president at Locus Biosciences Inc. who launched an Obama–era program of antibiotic investment while serving in the US government’s Biomedical Advanced Research Development Authority. “We need to re-envision the way we support antimicrobials in the US.”

14) This was pretty interesting, “The Physics of Scuba Diving”

15) The truth about job interview questions:

16) Oh man, Haiti is just such a disaster right now. “Gang Warfare Cripples Haiti’s Fight Against Cholera: The disease is spreading in the Caribbean nation in part because armed groups control poor neighborhoods with ruthless violence and prevent doctors from providing basic care.”

17) Loved this from Freddie deBoer, “Your Personality Has To Be Load-Bearing”

If the stuff you buy isn’t who you are, then what are you? I would say that your personality is simply your behavior, including your expressions. It would be lovely if our selves were only the product of our conscious choices, but as a species we are famously unaware of ourselves and act based on impulses and influences we would never choose. Sigmund Freud, and all that. Your personality is the way you talk and act; it’s your behaviors under a given circumstance that might be different from the behavior of others. The constituent elements of our personalities can’t be fully enumerated, but I would name honesty, creativity, gentleness, courage, perceptiveness, equanimity, extroversion, intelligence, kindness, and a sense of humor as essential parts. What I’m here today to argue is that these things have to be constitutive of you as a human being. You cannot be Mac Guy, not for long, not really. And I want to say also that the desire to be Mac Guy is profoundly human and something I have a lot of sympathy for.

The thing is that it’s hard to be a person. It’s hard! Our personalities are something that we both are and do, and we are always being evaluated by the others around us. Appearing attractive or admirable to other people, for most people most of the time, is something like the work of life. And like any other kind of work, there’s pressure to do it well. To fail at the construction of a self could hardly be more fraught with stakes and meaning. Looking around at your life and finding not much to be proud of is a common condition. To try and find that thing, that one external thing that shapes and animates your life, is a constant temptation, whether it’s Buddhism or Marxism or Alcoholics Anonymous or always carrying a guitar around for no reason or pretending to have Tourette’s on Twitch or buying every FunkoPop or being the guy who always has a toothpick hanging out of his mouth or your new boyfriend or cottagecore or vintage electronics or reading on the subway or the Buffalo Sabres or your insouciant yet political Twitter feed or your skill at Mario Kart or being a cat person or having an opinion on “Cat Person” or your Polish heritage or your pink gold iPhone or all your guns. These various external things can be core to our self-presentation, can be healthy and positive elements of our lives, and can amount to signals to others about what we value and enjoy. But they can’t fulfill our fundamental desire to be somebodies, to be people. I’m sure people in the comments will trouble the distinctions I’m drawing, and that’s fine. I still believe that, at the core of things, you can be your studied indifference to the vagaries of fate, but you cannot be the motorcycle you bought to broadcast it.

I have already discussed this issue when it comes to the realm of “fandom” specifically. I think people within that world – generally speaking, the world of intense devotion to cultural products in the realms of sci-fi, fantasy, superheroes, comic books, fan fiction, and the like – are particularly at risk of obscuring the boundaries of the self, confusing what they like with what they are. This is why such people are so often still filled with resentment over perceived slights against their cherished properties despite the fact that such properties are commercially dominant in our world today; they can’t separate a difference in artistic tastes from insults to the self. You can broaden this to the entire concept of the “stan” and the frightening fan communities you find on the internet, such as those celebrating K-pop or Taylor Swift. Oftentimes, people deeply ensconced in these worlds are attempting to offload the burden of having a personality (of being a person) onto the art they enjoy. Such art is celebrated and, more importantly, acknowledged as real, as they would like to be. If you want to be a Star Wars fan existentially, if you want that to be your personality, there’s so much stuff, so much to grab onto that has heft and the feeling of being real – movies and shows and comic books and bedsheets and commemorative Coke cans but also communities and lore. The self? For a lot of people, that feels flimsy and not worthy of other people’s attention.

18) Fatherhood changes your brain!

The time fathers devote to child care every week has tripled over the past 50 years in the United States. The increase in fathers’ involvement in child rearing is even steeper in countries that have expanded paid paternity leave or created incentives for fathers to take leave, such as GermanySpainSweden and Iceland. And a growing body of research finds that children with engaged fathers do better on a range of outcomes, including physical health and cognitive performance.

Despite dads’ rising participation in child care and their importance in the lives of their kids, there is surprisingly little research about how fatherhood affects men. Even fewer studies focus on the brain and biological changes that might support fathering.

It is no surprise that the transition to parenthood can be transformative for anyone with a new baby. For women who become biological mothers, pregnancy-related hormonal changes help to explain why a new mother’s brain might change. But does fatherhood reshape the brains and bodies of men – who don’t experience pregnancy directly – in ways that motivate their parenting? We set out to investigate this question in our recent study of first-time fathers in two countries…

Dads’ brains change, too

As with practicing any new skill, the experience of caring for an infant might leave a mark on the brains of new parents. This is what neuroscientists call experience-induced brain plasticity – like the brain changes that occur when you learn a new language or master a new musical instrument.

A sparse but growing body of research is observing this type of plasticity in fathers who experience the cognitive, physical and emotional demands of caring for a newborn without going through pregnancy. In terms of brain function, for instance, gay male fathers who are primary caregivers show stronger connections between parenting brain regions when viewing their infants, compared with secondary male caregivers…

We found several significant changes in the brains of fathers from prenatal to postpartum that did not emerge within the childless men we followed across the same time period. In both the Spanish and Californian samples, fathers’ brain changes appeared in regions of the cortex that contribute to visual processing, attention and empathy toward the baby.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I don’t know that I’ve ever watched the Raleigh Christmas Parade, but I had it on today since my son’s marching band was set to march in it.  And, damn, if a truck pulling a float didn’t have a brake failure and run over an 11-year old girl (I have one of those!), killing her.  Just awful. 

2) There was a lot about the value, or lack thereof, of SAT scores in college admissions these days, but I was disappointed in that I felt like the article never answered the headline, “What Does an SAT Score Mean Anymore?”

3) Matt Grossman interviews David Shor, “Does the 2022 election show how Democratic campaigns win?”

4) One of the interesting stories I have not seen addressed at all in national midterm coverage is how damn well Republicans did in NC, “Amidst a Red Ripple, North Carolina Republicans Swept to Victory”

5) Really nice graphical interactive from the Post on where the votes shifted most from 2020.  Worth the gift link for you to check out.

6) This is so good from Brian Beutler:

① The reason they midterms came as a big surprise is that Democrats outperformed “fundamentals”

② But what Democrats and data scientists think of as “the fundamentals” were defined before we passed through the looking glass of Donald Trump

③ If Trump swamps those fundamentals, Dems need to readjust to a political landscape where he looms large, at least until he and his political methods are vanquished..

But I think you can make a pretty good case in hindsight that, of every midterm since 2002, the one where the incumbent party had the best opportunity to defy “fundamentals” was 2018, not 2022. 

Unlike today, the economy of 2018 was perceived to be very good. Unlike today, the incumbent party in 2018 hadn’t made dramatic policy change. Yes, Republicans passed an unpopular corporate tax cut, and yes they tried to pass toxically unpopular legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and throw millions of people off of health insurance. But that effort failed, and—crucially—it failed a year and a half before the election. And yet Republicans lost their sizable majority in dramatic fashion, and lost the national popular vote for the House by an earthshaking margin.

Again, why did Trump Republicans in 2018, when unemployment was 3.8 percent, perform as badly as Barack Obama Democrats did in 2010, when unemployment was almost 10 percent? Many, many Democrats told themselves it was because they’d stopped the health-care repeal and then run health-care-centered campaigns in frontline districts. But that isn’t as tidy an explanation as it appears at a glance. It doesn’t account for why the swing to Dems was fairly uniform nationwide, even in places where the campaigns were not particularly health-care focused or competitive. It doesn’t account for the year-and-a-half lag between the failure of the repeal effort and the midterm. 

My personal sense has always been that voters mobilized to address a multifaceted emergency; the danger that Republicans would retain their trifecta and take another run at health care was part of the emergency, but all elements of it fit under a huge umbrella embroidered gaudily with the last name TRUMP.  

Which is to say, Trump, through malice and degeneracy, cost Republicans an opportunity to overperform the fundamentals in 2018, and provided Democrats an opportunity to do so last week. He overwhelms the fundamentals, or is a fundamental unto himself.

7) Greg Sargent, “How Marjorie Taylor Greene’s MAGA House will boost Trump”

But there’s a less obvious way that Republicans can wield House probes to political advantage. If they can confuse voters — and seduce the news media — into treating any and all congressional oversight as inevitably politically motivated, they will succeed in a whole different fashion.

This goal — which entails obfuscating the basic distinction between oversight conducted in good faith and in bad — will be within reach for Republicans, due to a peculiar situation. The House select committee examining Donald Trump’s coup attempt will release its report before the end of this year, and might make criminal referrals. Those findings will be debated well into next year, while Trump is running for president.

Which means that for House Republicans, the goal of next year’s investigations will not just be to let a thousand Hunter Biden probes bloom. It will also be to discredit revelations produced by Democrats about Trump…

Congressional oversight of the department serves a critical public function. We want law enforcement to feel constrained by oversight, which Republicans could theoretically do in good faith, in a valuable and revelatory way.

But Republicans have signaled something different. Greene describes Jan. 6 defendants as “political prisoners.” She and others have demanded the defunding of the FBI simply because it executed a lawfully approved search, which they describe as unchecked jackbooted lawlessness, of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Their position, then, is essentially that all investigative activity involving Jan. 6 and Trump is inherently illegitimate. So their oversight is likely to metastasize into an industrial-strength bad-faith effort to discredit all such activity, expressly to protect Trump from accountability, and to bury the Jan. 6 committee’s final report in a blizzard of propaganda. Republicans could even try to defund continuing law enforcement investigations and prosecutions.

8) These four scenarios for 2024 primaries strike me as about right.

Scenario 1: Trump Clears the Field

Scenario 2: A Crowded Field Splits the Anti-Trump Vote

Scenario 3: The DeSantis Hype Is Real

Scenario 4: A Moderate Candidate Threads the Needle

9) So tired of insane stories like this, “Suburban Mom Handcuffed, Jailed for Making 8-Year-Old Son Walk Half a Mile Home: Heather Wallace plead guilty to child endangerment and can no longer work with kids.”  Worst part?  Sounds like the cop who made this awful call is a Q Anon adherent:

As they stood on her porch, the officers told Wallace that her son could have been kidnapped and sex trafficked. “‘You don’t see much sex trafficking where you are, but where I patrol in downtown Waco, we do,'” said one of the cops, according to Wallace.

This statement struck her as odd.

“They were basically admitting that this is a safe neighborhood,” she says.

The officer then asked Wallace whether she would let her son walk home again, now that she knew about the sex trafficking.

“I still didn’t know it was illegal and I said, ‘I don’t know,'” says Wallace. “That’s when the cop replied, ‘Okay, I’m going to have to arrest you.'”

10) This is good. “Mark Kelly’s (Likely) Win Is an Indictment of Sinema’s Politics”  No way Sinema makes it out of a Democratic primary in two years. 

11) An interesting take on Trump’s announcement speech, “At long last, Trump gives his concession speech”

It was rambling. It was vain. At times, it was weird. What’s with that tale he keeps telling about giving Chancellor Angela Merkel a “white flag” to symbolize German surrender to dependence on Russian energy? There was a scary — if possibly unintended — evocation of Jan. 6, 2021: “The corridors of power” in Washington, he warned, “are our corridors and we are coming to take our corridors back.”

Still, Donald Trump’s hour-long speech Tuesday night should be remembered not just for the things he said, including his announcement that he will seek another presidential term in 2024. What mattered most was what he did not say: that Joe Biden and the Democrats thwarted his reelection in 2020 by fraud.

Trump has been repeating that outlandish lie endlessly for the past two years, including as he barnstormed the country on behalf of Republican candidates in the midterm elections.

And yet on Tuesday, with all eyes upon him and his political future on the line, he omitted it. Yes, there were allusions to the supposed need for an election revamp based on hand-counted paper ballots, which Trump called a “very personal job for me.” He floated innuendo about “a very active role” by China against him in our 2020 election.

At no time, however, did he repeat his false claim of massive cheating in 2020, nor did Trump say Biden holds office illegitimately; by repeatedly criticizing the current president’s record, he backhandedly implied the opposite. He even indirectly acknowledged the reality of the 2022 results by boasting that “by 2024,” when he intends to head the ticket, “the voting will be much different.”

12) Good thread from G. Elliott Morris on the good year for the polls.

13) This was quite interesting, “The Fading Art of Preserving the Dead: A dwindling group of professionals is tasked with navigating the often fraught passage from life to death.”

But the world he belongs to, the world of embalming, is increasingly losing its sway over the American way of death.

Data gathered by the National Funeral Directors Association shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans in 2021 were cremated after death, an increase from around 25 percent in 1999. More than 60 percent of people surveyed were interested in having so-called green burials, which are cheaper than traditional funerals and limit the chemicals allowed into the body for preservation. Embalmers are becoming more difficult to find; most funeral homes rely on contractors like Mr. Harvell, who may be the sole embalmers for a dozen funeral-home clients.

According to people in the industry, things have been trending away from embalming for decades. “Absolutely there’s a shift going on,” said Tim Collison, the chief operating officer of The Dodge Company, the largest embalming fluid manufacturer in the country. “There’s less demand — it’s not an expanding market.” Dr. Basil Eldadah, a physician with the National Institute on Aging, said, “We’re just in this place in our society where we’re questioning the way that things have always been done.”

14) You know I love me some first amendment and don’t like the heightened attacks from both right and left, “How America turned against the First Amendment: Moderation laws. Book bans. Courts that keep getting played. America’s politicians are tired of the First Amendment getting in their way, and no one seems to care.”

15) Almost done watching “All Quiet on the Western Front” on Netflix.  I think it’s terrific. 

Brief midterm thoughts

Spent so much of today reading and talking about the midterm (and enjoying a non-politics night by watching hockey) that I didn’t have much time to write anything.  That said, here’s highlights from the notes I took for my election wrap-up talk today (plus a few additions)…

Winners:

1) Democrats.  Not a red wave.  Red ripple.  Models say that if you have low 40’s president and economic problems, R’s should gain 40 house seats and multiple Senate seats.  Not so much.

2) Democracy!  4 of 5, and hopefully 5 of 5 2020 pivotal states rejected election deniers from Governor/Secretary of State positions.  We, hopefully, won’t have election deniers responsible for certifying elections in key 2024 states.  Also, all the folks in on Trump’s big lie (hundreds of R candidates) are so far conceding when they lose, e.g., Bo Hines, Maryland R governor candidate who was at “stop the steal”.

3) Pollsters: Mainstream public pollsters were really right about margins and close races.  (Interesting side note on recent R pollster polls).  Maybe there really is just a huge Trump-on-the-ballot effect.

4) Republicans.  Taking the House is no small thing!  Even if it is priced in.

5) Split-ticket voters.  Still exist.

6) Quality candidates.  Quality still matters.

Losers

1) The red wave

2) Media coverage that gets played like a fiddle by Republicans and R pollsters

3) Kevin McCarthy is going to have an insane job.

4) Immediate certainty about the Senate.  Big deal. If 51 R’s, what does Romney do on confirmations. [Had to squeeze the Senate into this framework somewhere]

5) Trump. His handpicked candidates probably lost the Senate.  DeSantis is killing it.  

6) Florida as a swing state.  We really need to understand as social scientists what has been happening there.

 

NC

1) If you had said back in the winter that R candidate defeats D candidate by 4 points, in midterm year with D president, I would have said, yeah, sounds about right.  Both candidates were good candidates who ran good campaigns.  Don’t let people tell you otherwise.  These people are skilled politicians with skilled advisers and not stupid. 

2) Surprised Bo Hines lost.  I still think he was a good enough candidate, though.

3) SC court flip is a big deal

4) Republicans are 1 seat short in House short of a supermajority.  Big deal, could also be interesting.  Really interesting to see how R’s go on abortion.  If Republicans are smart, they’ll push a 15 week ban which will divide Democrats.  I think their base, though, will make them push for much greater restrictions which will lead to political backlash.

 

My teenage son asked me what to make of the election and I said I already had explained it all at the talk :-).  Two minutes later, though, I came across Eric Levitz’s election post-mortem and just emailed it to him.  It’s really, really good.  My favorite kind of article– a political writer/thinker I greatly respect comes, independently, to largely the same conclusions as me.  So, if you want to know what else I think, just read this

And because you know I almost always agree with Yglesias (though he was, admittedly, too skeptical), this is a really nice post-election take. 

Political messaging that works

I’m not even sure if there’s any social science on what I’m about to discuss.  Probably not, because it would be hard to do.  But, my anecdotally-based theory for a long time about negative political messaging is that effective negative campaign messages are those that work hand-in-glove with earned media (i.e., what journalists decide to cover).  Of course negative ads about inflation are effective now for Republicans because the media is talking about inflation all the time.  But, negative ads that run and fall into a void of earned media, I don’t think matter all that much. 

I think the classic case of this is the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” campaign against John Kerry in 2004.  This started out as a relatively small political ad, but came to dominate earned media coverage about Kerry’s campaign. Once the media is doing your dirty work for you and running with the negative message, now you’re on to something.  

I think the far more typical pattern, and what you are seeing here in NC, is Cheri Beasley running ads about Budd’s questionable family business practices and Budd running ads about Beasley’s judicial decisions in favor of criminals (Budd is not so big on due process, apparently).  Anyway, I suspect there’s some value to these negative Beasley ads as they follow into a “soft on crime” theme that Republicans are broadly pushing– seemingly with some success– at the moment.  But, it’s not like there’s earned media stories on “Beasley’s questionable judicial record” or anything like that.  And I certainly have seen nothing to suggest the media writ large cares at all about Ted Budd’s family business dealings.

So, a long way of saying that the key for really successful negative attacks is that the media amplifies them for you, rather than having them disappear into the aether, the moment the 30 second ad is over.  

I loved Brian Beutler’s newsletter last week because it was the best extended treatment I’ve seen of just this phenomenon:

I got prompted on Twitter this week to weigh in on a debate over how well or poorly Democrats have prosecuted the case against Republicans, and what I came up with maps pretty neatly on the home stretch. 

It’s helpful as a starting point to distinguish the things Democrats do when they know the cameras are on from the things they do to attract the cameras. This distinction is a very close cousin of what people in the biz call paid media vs. earned or free media, but I think it’s easier to grasp without leaning on jargon, and I think it’s also more accurate, because there is overlap between the two (something that will become important as you read on). 

In the former category you have the whole gamut of things politicians do in an Official Capacity: Give speeches, run ads, host town halls, hold congressional hearings, etc.

In the latter category you have an infinite number of strategic and tactical things newsworthy people can do to become irresistible to news reporters: leak information, say controversial things, break character, flout norms, whatever. 

And the overlap actually brightens the distinction between these two categories. Almost all official speeches are dull and quickly forgotten, but every now and again one manages to capture national attention, whether it’s Donald Trump calling immigrants rapists and murderers or Barack Obama insisting there is no red or blue America, just the United States of America. (It’s no surprise that imprinting a speech on the American psyche requires having a distinct voice.)

Similarly, most campaign ads are forgettable but some capture things just so and we remember them years later. Here we see a similar distinction between, e.g., the Willie Horton ad (crude, racist, vile) and, e.g., this famous old Obama campaign ad (creative, stark, substantive). In Congress, most investigations and hearings aren’t media spectacles, but they can be, if the subject matter is of national import (the January 6 hearings) or if the party controlling Congress wants to create a spectacle (BENGHAZI). 

On the other side of the Venn diagram, we can tell a similar story. Most political stunts fall outside the realm of Normal Politics Stuff and lean heavily on affect. The Brooks Brothers Riot was a high-return stunt; Trump understood that he could always reset the news cycle by calling up Fox News and saying a different outrageous thing; rechristening french fries as freedom fries was a stunt. Bernie Sanders held the Senate floor for a zillion hours (giving a speech, yes, but to no real end) and it helped cement his place as the tribune of America’s political left. 

And what I’ve noticed—what I’d say about this midterm and the last couple decades of politics—is that Democrats excel at the official stuff, the by-the-books stuff, the textbook material, but have little sense for the alchemy of fostering news narratives, either through those normal channels or (more importantly) the abnormal ones…

Biden, on the other hand, said many of the right things (and a couple wrong ones) in his democracy speech, too, but the whole thing existed entirely outside the center of the Venn diagram, a staged event, where he knew the cameras would be rolling, the content of which wasn’t designed (or was poorly designed) to generate follow-on debate or backlash—the special sauce that attracts cameras instead of playing for ones that happen to be rolling. 

So what could Biden have done that might’ve made his democracy speech a source of ongoing coverage in these fateful days? A few thoughts:

  • He could have named candidates—enemies of democracy—who simply can’t be trusted with public office. Kari Lake and Mark Finchem of Arizona, Jim Marchant of Nevada, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Doug Mastriano and Dr. Oz of Pennsylvania/New Jersey, Herschel Walker of Georgia, Don Bolduc of New Hampshire. He could’ve quoted Wisconsin GOP gubernatorial nominee Tim Michels who recently told supporters, ““Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor.”
     
  • After the speech, I left the television on in the background and heard (I think?) Claire McCaskill say something like, ‘I think Biden gave that speech because he’s afraid for America.’ So one option would have been for Biden to say “I’m afraid for America.” Or, “I’m afraid of what will happen if this speech doesn’t break through; I’m afraid that if people who want to tear down American democracy win power on Tuesday, we will never have another fair national election.” A sitting president saying that, as vulnerably as any president has ever said anything, would have been big news.
     
  • I was spitballing with a friend before the speech and mused that another way Biden could make sure reporters didn’t gloss over the content would be to indict media directly. So at the risk of doing the Fan Fiction Speech thing, he could’ve said, “Republicans want to rig all future elections so that they never lose control again, so that they can control your lives without leaving you any recourse. What’s worse, the bothsides media knows all this, they know gas prices will rise and fall, but the permanent stakes of this election are existential. They won’t tell you that, though. They’re scared—of losing access, of Republican retribution, of being accused of bias. And shame on them, because there’s nothing more important ahead of any election than one side encouraging terrorism against the other, of lying about the results, and openly plotting to steal power going forward, and there’s nothing more incumbent upon as as citizens to rise up and vote against them. The bothsides media will say I’m just trying to change topics from the economy, as if I’m ashamed of the lowest unemployment rate in history. They will go seek out Republicans who say Biden is just trying to scare people so they don’t vote their pocketbooks. Well trust me when I say they are lying to you, and people who will lie to you as a professional strategy—whether they’re elected Republicans or the bothsides media—don’t have your best interests at heart. Not for your pocketbook, not for your freedom.”

These are just ideas. I obviously can’t know if they would’ve “worked” either in the narrow sense of making the news media grapple with the content of the speech, or in the larger sense of turning the election around. But they’re gambits devised to make the speech filter down from the dais to television news to social media and ultimately the water cooler and dinner table. Fact check: Is Kari Lake an enemy of democracy? Why? The president is scared? What’s going on? He attacked the media? How dare he! But does he have a point? (Yes, reader, he does.)…

With four days left, Democrats are unlikely to stunt their way into a more favorable media environment and it would be a miracle (or catastrophe) if another significant development managed to change the thematic core of the election. But however the returns shake out, I hope Democratic officials start thinking about this missing element of party politics, and start gaming the bad rules of national political media as aggressively as Republicans do. That can mean more impassioned Obama speeches about Social Security, or more brandishing of abortion-ban horror stories, or a more cavalier attitude toward dated political norms that hamstring the liberal response to rising fascism. But it should be something different. 

I want them to try because, like Joe Biden, I’m scared for the country.

On a related note, I mentioned some time ago that the abortion horror stories we now hear on an almost daily are so amenable to political ads they practically write themselves (“I almost died from my miscarriage because Republican politicians made me go to another state!”).  And, yet, I’ve seen nothing like this. Just “Ted Budd is extreme on abortion.”  Give me stories!  The people want stories.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Interesting essay at NBC News, “The Source of the ‘Asian Advantage’ Isn’t Asian Values”

Yet, the idea that Asian-American success is the result of a unique cultural inheritance ignores the role of U.S. immigration policy in creating Asian-American success. In the mid-1800s Asian immigrants were recruited as laborers to work as farm laborers and on the first transcontinental railroad. They were despised laborers who toiled for low wages in the harshest of conditions. Confucian values were not seen as the key to success, but as a marker of racial and religious differences. Eventually, most Asians were excluded from immigration altogether due to fears of racial contamination.

But what a difference a law can make. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act changed the way Asians were seen in this country–from uneducated and unwanted scourge to hardworking students and examples of economic success. How did we go from backwards laborers to a so-called “model minority”? Too many people assume the community’s educational and economic success is due to the cultural traits of Asian Americans. Like Kristof, they believe Asian Americans care more about education than the average American.

There is another explanation. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act ended Asian exclusion and created two immigration priorities: high skills and family reunification.

“We must not let the advantages of immigration policy and positive attitudes from teachers fuel the myth of cultural superiority.”

After 1965, the U.S. started to recruit high-skilled immigrants from Asia. More than half of the Asian-American population immigrated after 1990, when these efforts were ramped up even further. Today, fully 72 percent of all high-skilled visas are allocated to immigrants from Asia. And the majority of international student visas go to Asian immigrants.

This mode of selective recruitment challenges the idea that Asian success in the U.S. is due to Asian values. That is too simple. If Asian cultural values were the explanation, why don’t we see the same kind of educational achievement in Asia as in the U.S.? We don’t.

2) Always like good pantone drama, “Adobe Just Held a Bunch of Colors Hostage: Certain Pantone collections now require users to pay $15 a month to access them—with colors turned black unless you pay up.”

3) I haven’t used predictit much this election, but I had a pretty good ROI on my 2020 bets.  Thorough story in the New Yorker on the history of and current challenges for legal betting markets. 

4) Man, reporters just love talking about “unaffiliated“, voters.  And I just love telling them, no, these are not all swing voters who don’t have partisan attachments!

Over the years, the political landscape in North Carolina has shifted, there are more unaffiliated voters in the state than ever before. As North Carolina becomes more of a purple state, fewer people are publicly designating what party they support.

“People are frustrated with the party system, they don’t really want to feel like they have to publicly choose one or the other,” Steven Greene, a professor of political science at NC State University said…

“I think its nonetheless important to recognize that the vast majority of those unaffiliated voters have pretty strong party inclinations,” Greene said. “And whether someone is registered as unaffiliated probably doesn’t tell you very much about how they’re going to vote.”

That means most unaffiliated voters are not necessarily swing voters or moderates that can be won over by candidates.

5) This is hilarious.  A women in Raleigh literally called 911 because her barbecue was pink (it’s supposed to be after smoking) and somehow still thinks she’s in the right.  Also, this reminded me that I haven’t been to Clyde Cooper’s in too long. 

6) This was really cool. How Peter Jackson used AI to make the Beatles documentary and a remaster of Revolver.  

The problem was in its master tapes. Beginning with Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles recorded most of their instruments and vocals to separate tracks. So for Martin, boosting the volume of a guitar or organ from Abbey Road or “The White Album” was probably as simple as moving a fader. But on earlier albums, the band often combined a few sounds to the same track. The effect was to lock multiple voices or instruments in place together, leaving no easy way for future remixers to tweak just one by itself.

Non-audiophiles may ask: Who cares? The original Revolver sounded good enough to top lists of the greatest albums ever made. Did it really need the overhaul?

Arguably, yes. For all the Beatles’ genius, they never imagined a day when their music would mainly be played through earbuds. The stereo versions of their early albums were mixed for novelty, with extreme separation between sounds in the right and left speakers, sometimes to the point of lopsidedness. (The Beatles themselves preferred the mono mixes, which are harder to find these days.) “Taxman” was a notorious offender, with bass, drums, and rhythm guitar on one side, and for much of the song, just tambourine and cowbell on the other. It’s been reported to cause dizziness in headphone listeners. For 56 years, there was no way to separate those instruments and rearrange them across the stereo field.

But then Peter Jackson took up the case. A few years ago, the Lord of the Rings director was hired to sift through 60 hours of unused footage from the 1970 Beatles documentary Let It Be and cut it into his own movie — 2021’s Get Back. Large sections of that footage had been marked as unusable because the band’s conversations were drowned out on the mono audio tapes by the sound of their instruments: John, Paul, and George had deliberately hidden their sensitive discussions from the original doc crew by noodling on their guitars. Jackson asked the engineers at his production company, WingNut Films, to see what they could salvage, and so they developed their own machine-learning “de-mixing” software capable of splitting up interlocked sounds. It worked so well decoupling music from speech on the Let It Be audio tapes that Get Back, which had been planned as a two-hour film, grew into an eight-hour TV miniseries (a hit for Disney+ last fall and, by some estimations, the best rock documentary ever).

Martin wondered if Jackson’s software could also be used to isolate the sounds on the Beatles’ early studio albums. Could it ever! And so now we have a remixed Revolver, a “Taxman” that won’t make anybody sick, and, presumably, boxed-set remixes of the band’s other six albums on the way for the 2023-2028 holiday seasons. At last, the most valuable music catalogue in history will be AirPod compliant.

“There’s no one who’s getting audio even close as to what Peter Jackson’s guys can do,” Martin recently told Rolling Stone. “It’s like you giving me a cake, and then me going back to you about an hour later with flour, eggs, sugar, and all the ingredients to that cake, that all haven’t got any cake mix left on them.”

7) Why the decline in Monkey pox?

When monkeypox cases in Europe began to decline this summer, researchers’ first question was: Is it real? Some worried that people might not be getting tested because of receding fears of the virus, coupled with strict isolation requirements for patients. “They might be reluctant to be confirmed and be told not to go out at all,” says Catherine Smallwood, monkeypox incident manager at the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Regional Office for Europe.

But the decline is now unmistakable. WHO Europe, which reported more than 2000 cases per week during the peak in July, is now counting about 100 cases weekly. In the Americas, the other major epicenter of the outbreak, numbers have dropped by more than half (see graphic, right). “We’re seeing a true decline,” Smallwood says.

Vaccines, behavior change among the most affected group—men who have sex with men (MSM)—and immunity after natural infection are all playing a role in that decline, says Erik Volz, an infectious disease modeler at Imperial College London, but how much each factor has contributed is unclear. “This is something we’ve debated a lot internally.”

In the United Kingdom, at least, vaccination campaigns have played a minor role, according to a model published as a preprint this month by Samuel Brand, an infectious disease modeler at the University of Warwick. Monkeypox’s reproductive number—the average number of new infections triggered by an infected person—began to drop by mid-June, even though campaigns only started in July, Brand notes. Several other European countries saw the same pattern.

That leaves behavior change and immunity from natural infections. A survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention among MSM in August found about half had reduced their number of sexual contacts. As awareness of the disease increased, people also became more likely to seek diagnosis and treatment early and to avoid sex while they were infectious. The UK Health Security Agency has presented data suggesting syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections declined as well—which would bolster the case for behavior change—although that signal is “suggestive but not conclusive,” Volz says.

Immunity acquired through infections in the most sexually active men may be the biggest factor, however. Monkeypox has been affecting mostly MSM and their sexual networks because parts of those networks are densely connected, with some people having a large number of sexual contacts. Rising immunity in that group could limit the viru’s ability to spread, says Jacco Wallinga, chief epidemic modeler at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. “Because the persons with a very high number of sexual contacts are also those at the highest risk of infection, the depletion of susceptibles due to natural infection is very rapid,” he says. Brand agrees. His model suggests that among the estimated 1000 people in the United Kingdom who have 120 sexual partners per month or more, “maybe half got infected by the time of the peak.” Still, Brand says his model suggests infections among this small part of the MSM population cannot explain the observed decline on their own. “I don’t think it is as plausible” as behavior change playing a role as well, he says.

8) One of my problems with land acknowledgements is that whatever tribes are being acknowledged quite likely took that land by force from earlier tribes.  Really interesting new book reviewed by Thomas Ricks:

In INDIGENOUS CONTINENT: The Epic Contest for North America (Liveright, 592 pp., $40), Pekka Hämäläinen asserts that the war for control of the continent was “one of the longest conflicts in history,” lasting some four centuries. Hämäläinen, a prizewinning historian at Oxford University, recasts the history of North America from a Native American, or Indian, perspective. (He uses those two terms interchangeably.) In the process, he has produced the single best book I have ever read on Native American history, as well as one of the most innovative narratives about the continent.

One of his running themes is how limited the Europeans were in their range of action. Essentially, for most of the time, the English, French and Spanish did nothing without approval from one or another Native American tribe or confederation. The Iroquois, who were the dominant economic, military and diplomatic power in the Northeast in the late 17th century, once had a tribal representative respond to a French official’s threat of war with the dismissive comment, “Let us see whether his arms be long enough to remove the scalps from our heads.”

Westward expansion, the author says, was led not by European colonists but by the Sioux, who perceived the huge advantage in migrating with the horse, an animal new to the Western Hemisphere, into the grasslands of the Great Plains. There, armed with muskets and gunpowder given to them by the French as tribute, they became the second Native American superpower, dominating the Upper Mississippi Valley.

In the Southwest, the Comanches used the same combination of the gun and the horse to rise to a dominant regional position. Soon all of their buffalo hunters were mounted, enabling them to reap a bonanza of protein that fueled the rapid expansion of the tribe. By the 1840s, Hämäläinen notes, Comanches may have grown to become 10 percent of the total Native American population on the continent.They found the Spanish useful and made them their “junior allies,” he writes.

9) Loved reading Bono’s take on various books. 

10) Katrina vanden Heuvel argues, “Democrats have helped working-class Americans. They need to say so loudly.”  I feel like they would do this more if it actually worked.  I think it just doesn’t, even though it really should.

11) German Lopez, “Racial disparities in incarceration have fallen.”

I want to explain one such shift that has gotten little attention: Slowly, the American criminal justice system has become more equitable. The racial gap among inmates in state prisons has fallen 40 percent since 2000, fueled by a large decrease in Black imprisonment rates, according to a new report by the Council on Criminal Justice, a think tank.

Finding the right balance between public safety and human dignity animated many of the criminal justice policies enacted in the U.S. over the past couple of decades. The decline in racial disparities is a remarkable reversal of policies now widely seen as unfairly punishing Black people. “It’s a tremendous drop,” said Thaddeus Johnson, one of the report’s authors…

Why did inequities in prison rates shrink? The decrease was the result of a decades-long effort to reduce what critics call mass incarceration.

That is their term for the harsher sentencing laws passed in response to a crime increase that began in the 1960s, which made the U.S. one of the world’s biggest incarcerators. Black communities were disproportionately affected and in some cases targeted by law enforcement, as the Justice Department has found in Ferguson, Mo., in Baltimore and elsewhere. By 2000, Black adults were locked up in state prisons at 8.2 times the rate of white Americans, after accounting for population.

Eventually, the high costs of incarceration and the racial disparities prompted activists from across the political spectrum to push for a rollback of the toughest punishments. Bit by bit, lawmakers obliged, reducing penalties mainly for nonviolent crimes.

As those changes took effect, incarceration rates dropped. Since Black Americans were more likely to be imprisoned, they benefited the most. Rates of arrest and imprisonment for Black Americans fell sharply, the Council on Criminal Justice analysis found. White arrests also fell, but by less. And the rate of white offenders being sent to prison actually increased.

12) The social science case for the “diversity” value of affirmative action.

The notion that racially diverse student bodies improve campus intellectual life has been roundly attacked by both liberals and conservatives. But the Roberts court should not be quick to dismiss diversity’s value and dismantle affirmative action. Because we have evidence that diversity works…

But we have found a way to quantify the value of diversity in higher education, as these GOP-appointed justices demanded. In a Columbia Law Review article published this year, we marshaled statistically significant evidence that the value of racial diversity is not illusory.

Our paper, “Assessing Affirmative Action’s Diversity Rationale,” examined the effect of increasing diversity in a setting familiar to the justices: student-edited law journals. The student editors of these publications select and edit the articles they will publish, with a goal of choosing those that will be cited most frequently by legal scholars. Citations are not a perfect measure of an article’s quality, but they are a widely used way to gauge the impact of research in many disciplines and to provide a metric for how well a journal is performing.

Over the past six decades, many leading student-run law journals — including the Yale Law Journal and the Harvard Law Review—have taken steps to increase the diversity of their mastheads, believing, like Powell, that a more diverse group of student editors would bring more diverse ideas and experiences to their publications.

More broadly, our article lends credibility to the idea that diverse student bodies, diverse faculties, diverse teams of attorneys and diverse teams of employees generally can perform better than non-diverse teams. These results, in sum, place empirical heft behind Powell’s much-derided diversity rationale.

13) Brownstein on crime:

These attacks assume that the changes in criminal-justice policies that some states and many cities have pursued over the past few years are undermining public safety and fueling higher crime rates.

But an exhaustive new study released today by the Center for American Progress refutes that allegation. Conducted by a team of seven academic researchers, the study compares cities that have elected so-called progressive prosecutors with places whose district attorneys continue to pursue more traditional approaches.

Countering conventional wisdom, the study found that homicides over recent years increased less rapidly in cities with progressive prosecutors than in those with more traditional district attorneys. It also found no meaningful differences between cities with progressive or traditional DAs in the trends for larceny and robbery. “I think it’s really important to emphasize the extent to which we looked for a relationship and found none” between a prosecutors’ commitment to reform and crime rates, Todd Foglesong, a fellow in residence at the University of Toronto and one of the co-authors, told me.

The data, from CAP, a liberal think tank and advocacy organization, reinforces the message from a study released earlier this year by Third Way, a centrist Democratic group. That report found that per capita murder rates in 2020 were 40 percent higher in states that voted for Donald Trump than in those that voted for President Joe Biden. The study found that eight of the 10 states with the highest per capita murder rates in 2020 have voted Republican in every presidential election in this century…

But although competing theories abound (such as more guns or less conscientious policing amid increased scrutiny of their behavior), there’s no real consensus about why crime picked up again starting around 2014. Nor is there any consensus on whether it will now recede from its pandemic heights.

Rick Rosenfeld, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and one of the authors of the CAP study, told me some evidence suggests that homicide rates have peaked. But property crime is likely to continue rising, he said, largely because the high price of conventional goods amid soaring inflation has increased the market for lower-cost stolen goods, which creates more incentives to steal. “We live in a multicausal world,” Rosenfeld, a former president of the American Society of Criminology, told me. “Some things may be pushing up crime rates at the same time other things are pushing them down.”

“Multicausal” is far from the world most Democratic candidates are living in these final weeks before Election Day. The CAP study makes a thorough case that the new policies the progressive prosecutors are implementing can’t be blamed for the rising incidence of crime. But the slugfest on the campaign trail underscores an equally important truth: that as long as crime rates are elevated, those criminal-justice reforms will remain politically vulnerable anyway.

14) Really good stuff from NYT on the sociology and demographics of election-denying, “Their America Is Vanishing. Like Trump, They Insist They Were Cheated.” (Gift link)

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really interesting profile of Ron DeSantis:

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He’s really good at ‘othering’ people,” said Mac Stipanovich, a veteran Florida Republican activist who was involved in the 2000 recount that handed the presidency to George W Bush, but has grown disgusted with the party under Trump. Perhaps one-third of the party was always composed of extremists and oddballs who were generally beyond the pale, Stipanovich estimated. Trump coaxed another silent third to come out of the closet. “This is the business model for today’s Republican party: stoking outrage, creating fear and then exploiting that fear,” he said.

2) Nate Silver on the growing pessimism for Democrats in the midterms.

From a modeling standpoint, another challenge is that Democrats were defying political gravity. The president’s party typically performs poorly in the midterms. There have been some exceptions and there is some reason to think this year may be one of them. But the model has been trying to balance polls showing Democrats having a pretty good year against its prior expectation that the electoral environment should be poor for Democrats.

As the election nears, the model relies on its priors less and trusts the polls more, so it was initially skeptical of buying into a post-Dobbs surge for Democrats. Right about the time the model had fully priced in Democrats’ improved polling, though, the news cycle shifted toward a set of stories that were more favorable for Republicans, such as immigration and renewed concerns about inflation.

It’s also possible to overstate the case for Republican momentum. Midterm elections tend not to turn on a dime in the way that presidential elections sometimes do. And there haven’t been any self-evidently important developments in the news cycle in the past week or so. If you’re one of those people who thinks gas prices are all-determining of election outcomes, they’ve even started to come down again slightly.

Rather, this is more a case of now having more evidence to confirm that the Democrats’ summer polling surge wasn’t sustainable.

That doesn’t mean it was fake: In fact, Democrats had a string of excellent special election and ballot referendum results in which they met or exceeded their polling. If you’d held the midterms in late August, I’d have bet heavily on Democrats to win the Senate. It sure would be nice to have another special election or two now, and to see how these polling shifts translate into real results. Polls can sometimes change for reasons that don’t reflect the underlying reality of the race, such as because of partisan nonresponse bias or pollster herding.

And certainly, Democrats have plenty of paths to retain the Senate. Republicans don’t have any sure-fire pickups; Nevada is the most likely, and even there, GOP chances are only 53 percent, according to our forecast. Meanwhile, Democrat John Fetterman is still ahead in polls of Pennsylvania, although his margin over Republican Mehmet Oz has narrowed. The model is likely to be quite sensitive to new polling in Pennsylvania going forward. If Democrats gain a seat there, meaning that the GOP would need to flip two Democratic-held seats to take the chamber, that starts to become a tall order. Nevada, sure, but I’m not sure Republicans would want to count on Herschel Walker in Georgia or Blake Masters in Arizona.

But the bottom line is this: If you’d asked me a month ago — or really even a week ago — which party’s position I’d rather be in, I would have said the Democrats. Now, I honestly don’t know.

3) To be fair, there’s some data in here, but, honestly, wasn’t the whole point of 538 to not have articles like this, “How 5 Asian American Voters Are Thinking About The Midterms.” (And, yes, it’s by the same author who wrote that it’s ableist to consider cognitive impairments when voting).

4) I didn’t realize the new Ebola outbreak is a new variant that’s not susceptible to the great new Ebola vaccine. That sucks.  Though, hopefully a new vaccine should be coming soon.

And this outbreak is different. Ebola is a disease of multitudes. For the most common species of the virus, successful vaccines have already been developed. But for others, no vaccine exists. To the dismay of health officials in Uganda, the version of the virus found in the body at Mubende was from the Sudan species, for which there is no vaccine.

Ebola has flared up intermittently in Africa for more than 40 years, most notably during an outbreak between 2013 and 2016 that infected 28,000 people and took more than 11,000 lives. During that outbreak, experimental vaccines against the most common form of the virus—the Zaire species—could be tested. They worked well, and have since been approved and used to protect people. But developing vaccines for rare viruses like Ebola is always a game of cat and mouse. The Sudan virus behind the current outbreak has caused only a handful of human cases over the past two decades. Work to develop vaccines to target this virus is underway, but none have been fully tested, let alone finished.

Using a Zaire vaccine against the Sudan virus isn’t an option, says Pontiano Kaleebu, director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute. “This has already been proven in the laboratory. The neutralizing antibodies do not respond,” he says. This means two things: that surveillance and physical control measures are currently the only tools available for limiting the virus’s spread, and that a working vaccine needs to be found as quickly as possible.

The candidate that’s farthest along is the single-dose ChAd3 Ebola Sudan vaccine, which is being developed by the Sabin Vaccine Institute, a nonprofit based in Washington, DC. By working with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and other organizations, the institute is planning to run a clinical trial in the current outbreak to see how well the vaccine works.

But there are only 100 doses available. With limited supply, health officials plan to give doses of the vaccine to immediate contacts of confirmed Ebola cases. Scientists then hope to use these contacts as potential candidates in the vaccine’s clinical trial—though the exact testing protocol they will use is still being worked out.

Kaleebu says they are hoping for accelerated production from the Sabin Vaccine Institute now that more doses are needed. But even if the number of vaccines used in the trial is small, they will still provide useful data, says Bruce Kirenga, a senior respiratory physician at Makerere University College of Health Sciences on the outskirts of Kampala.

5) Nice Yashca Mounk interview with Lis Smith on Democratic messaging:

Yascha Mounk: What are the main things political candidates should be doing, but aren’t? And what are the main things that they shouldn’t be doing, but are?

Lis Smith: The number one piece of advice that I give to candidates—and it shouldn’t be this complicated—is to just be normal: talk like a normal person, communicate in simple ways and with simple concepts. That’s a lot harder for a lot of political candidates than it should be. I worked for Pete Buttigieg, a Rhodes Scholar, but he was someone who, like Bill Clinton, another Rhodes Scholar, had a gift for taking really complex ideas and reducing them to points that everyone could understand—whether he was on CNN, at a think tank, or in front of a crowd in rural Iowa. It’s really important to act and speak like a normal person, and it’s something politicians don’t do enough. We get into a sort of wonky speak, or as James Carville says, “faculty lounge” speak. Speaking in front of a camera, or to a crowd, is really daunting to a lot of people. If they were just talking to friends around a dinner table, or at a bar, they would speak one way; but the second a camera turns on, they feel the need to speak in this stilted way. Or they’re just terrified of making a gaffe, so they end up speaking in this political gobbledygook.

You have a lot of political candidates who maybe watched too much of The West Wing or had advisors who watched too much of it. But unless you’re a poet, you should not engage in any poetry. If you’re not John F. Kennedy or Barack Obama, don’t try to speak like them. Look: like a lot of Democratic operatives, I went to an Ivy League college. I grew up in Bronxville, New York. But the difference between me and a lot of other Democratic operatives is that I cut my teeth in red states, places like South Dakota, Missouri, Ohio, and Kentucky. And so I understand how to speak to voters in a way that is not rooted in SAT words or advocacy group language.  

I wrote an Op-Ed for The Washington Post about this recently, because I was seeing these special interest groups put out things saying that “pro-choice” is harmful language; you need to say “pro-decision.” But no-one has ever heard anyone describe themselves as “pro-decision.” And so, you do see staffers who come out of this advocacy world, who have surrounded themselves with people who only share their worldviews—who think like them, talk like them, and live in bubbles where they don’t communicate with normal people. I think that distorts how politicians talk. 

Mounk: What are some of the big mistakes that candidates make?

Smith: Candidates should really limit how much time they spend on social media. It’s a good thing that younger candidates are more fluent in social media and modern technology. But there are some downsides. There is a distortionary effect that happens on social media, including really toxic group-think: e.g. the idea that unless you embrace the position that is popular online (which is oftentimes the most far-left position), you’re a Republican in disguise and you can’t be trusted. And if you take your cues from the online group, you’re going to be extremely out of touch with voters. 

We saw that when some prominent Democrats and Democratic groups embraced absolutely toxic, nonsensical slogans like “defund the police.” There was a time when, if you went online and said, “defund the police is a really bad slogan and it’s going to backfire on Democrats,” you would have gotten absolutely piled on. Now, I think people have come to realize this. After seeing the millions and millions of dollars that were spent against Democrats—even ones who had never even embraced that, just because certain Democrats had gone out there and embraced it—they understand that it was stupid. 

But that’s a problem that every campaign is gonna have to deal with. And it’s not just the candidates, it’s also the staff. A twenty-something year old staffer is not going to have the wherewithal to understand that just because some Twitter accounts are saying these things, it doesn’t mean that those views are held by the majority of voters. What’s really important is to get out and talk to the voters you’re trying to appeal to. If winning Twitter is your goal, you’re probably not going to win an election.

6) Relatedly, “Tim Ryan Is Winning the War for the Soul of the Democratic Party”

After years of being overlooked, Tim Ryan is pointing his party toward a path to recovery in the Midwest. On the campaign trail, he has embraced a unifying tone that stands out from the crassness and divisiveness that Mr. Trump and his imitators have wrought. A significant number of what he calls the “exhausted majority” of voters have responded gratefully.

And his core message — a demand for more aggressive government intervention to arrest regional decline — is not only resonating with voters but, crucially, breaking through with the Democratic leaders who presided over that decline for years. The Democrats have passed a burst of legislation that will pave the way for two new Intel chip plants in the Columbus exurbs, spur investment in new electric vehicle ventures in Mr. Ryan’s district, and benefit solar-panel factories around Toledo, giving him, at long last, concrete examples to cite of his party rebuilding the manufacturing base in which the region took such pride.

In short, the party is doing much more of what Mr. Ryan has long said would save its political fortunes in the Midwest. The problem for him — and also for them — is that it may have come too late.

7) You know I’m always fascinated by AI-generated art, ‘A.I.-Generated Art Is Already Transforming Creative Work”

For years, the conventional wisdom among Silicon Valley futurists was that artificial intelligence and automation spelled doom for blue-collar workers whose jobs involved repetitive manual labor. Truck drivers, retail cashiers and warehouse workers would all lose their jobs to robots, they said, while workers in creative fields like art, entertainment and media would be safe.

Well, an unexpected thing happened recently: A.I. entered the creative class.

In the past few months, A.I.-based image generators like DALL-E 2, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion have made it possible for anyone to create unique, hyper-realistic images just by typing a few words into a text box.

These apps, though new, are already astoundingly popular. DALL-E 2, for example, has more than 1.5 million users generating more than two million images every day, while Midjourney’s official Discord server has more than three million members.

These programs use what’s known as “generative A.I.,” a type of A.I. that was popularized several years ago with the release of text-generating tools like GPT-3 but has since expanded into images, audio and video.

It’s still too early to tell whether this new wave of apps will end up costing artists and illustrators their jobs. What seems clear, though, is that these tools are already being put to use in creative industries.

Recently, I spoke to five creative-class professionals about how they’re using A.I.-generated art in their jobs.

8) Alas, the N&O makes it super hard to cut and paste and this is subsciber only, but it’s a really important point, “As more people carry guns, thieves steal with ease — adding weapons to NC streets”

9) And this, “Durham had a tool for tracking stolen guns. North Carolina lawmakers killed it.” Because even though this is effective for fighting crime, heaven forbid gun owners should have to register their guns. 

10) I especially enjoyed the part of this about the NYT firing Opinion editor James Bennett as that was really peak wokism amok, “Inside the identity crisis at The New York Times”

Times management has clawed back its ability to run conservative points of view without facing a newsroom revolt. But has anyone noticed?  It’s hard to walk back high-profile grand gestures, like Bennet’s firing and the marketing of the 1619 Project, with quiet bureaucratic changes, columns and beat reporting.

One skeptic that the Times has an easy path back is Bennet himself. The former Opinion Editor and onetime heir apparent to run the Times spoke to me Saturday in his first on-the-record interview about the episode.

Bennet believes that Sulzberger, the publisher, “blew the opportunity to make clear that the New York Times doesn’t exist just to tell progressives how progressives should view reality. That was a huge mistake and a missed opportunity for him to show real strength,” he said. “He still could have fired me.”

Bennet, who now writes the Lexington column for The Economist, signed off on an editor’s note amid the controversy that the column “fell short of our standards and should not have been published.”

“My regret is that editor’s note. My mistake there was trying to mollify people,” he said.

The Times and its publisher, Bennet said, “want to have it both ways.” Sulzberger is “old school” in his belief in a neutral, heterodox publication. But “they want to have the applause and the welcome of the left, and now there’s the problem on top of that that they’ve signed up so many new subscribers in the last few years and the expectation of those subscribers is that the Times will be Mother Jones on steroids.”

Bennet, who spent 19 years of his career at the Times, said he remains wounded by Mr. Sulzberger’s lack of loyalty.

“I actually knew what it meant to have a target on your back when you’re reporting for the New York Times,” he said, referring to incidents in the West Bank and Gaza.

“None of that mattered, and none of it mattered to AG. When push came to shove at the end, he set me on fire and threw me in the garbage and used my reverence for the institution against me,” Bennet said. “This is why I was so bewildered for so long after I had what felt like all my colleagues treating me like an incompetent fascist.”

The Times declined to comment on Bennet’s words. The publisher told colleagues at the time that he was most upset that the Times seemed to have been blindsided by a series of controversies coming out of Bennet’s section. One thing that is clear in retrospect: while The Times sought to cast the firing into a question of performance, process, and Bennet’s ability to lead after the controversy, the move was widely perceived as a political gesture.

After we got off the phone, Bennet texted me a final note: “One more thing that sometimes gets misreported: I never apologized for publishing the piece and still don’t.”

11) You think any adult will face accountability for this?  I don’t.  Should they? Hell yeah! “2-year-old boy fatally shot was playing with loaded handgun, NC sheriff’s office says”

12) Do not call your physician by their first name unless they specifically ask you to! “‘Kind of Awkward’: Doctors Find Themselves on a First-Name Basis”

13) I found this a really interesting piece on creative writing programs and cancel culture.  Your mileage may vary.

14) This is really good, “I Did Not Steal Two Piglets. I Saved Them. A Jury Agreed.”

A jury in southern Utah let me walk free earlier this month after I took two injured piglets from a farm in the middle of the night that I had no permission to be on. The verdict, on felony burglary and misdemeanor theft charges that could have sent me and my co-defendant, Paul Darwin Picklesimer, to jail for more than five years, was a shock. After all, we had admitted to what we had done.

We’re animal rights activists. We believe the decision underscores an increasing unease among the public over the raising and killings of billions of animals on factory farms. Our rescue of the piglets took place during a clandestine three-month undercover operation I led into the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods. We focused on Smithfield’s Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah, which raises over a million pigs for slaughter every year.

We sneaked into the farm one night in March 2017. Inside, we found and documented sick and underweight piglets. One of them could not walk properly or reach food because of an infected wound to her foot, according to a veterinarian who testified on our behalf. The other piglet’s face was covered in lesions and blood, and she struggled to nurse from a mother whose teats showed gruesome reproductive injuries, the veterinarian, who reviewed video of the piglets and spoke to caretakers, said in a report. Given their conditions, both piglets were likely to be killed and potentially tossed into a landfill outside of Circle Four Farms, in which millions of pounds of dead pigs and other waste are discarded every year. Nationally, an estimated 14 percent of piglets die before they’re weaned.

But that would not be the fate of these two. After removing the piglets, our team nursed them back to health. We named them Lily and Lizzie. Some four months later, we shared a video of our actions with The Times. (Smithfield claimed that the video appeared staged. It was not.) In August, F.B.I. agents descended on animal sanctuaries in Utah and Colorado with search warrants for the two pigs. At the Colorado shelter, government veterinarians cut off part of Lizzie’s ear for DNA testing. Not long after, my four co-defendants and I were indicted in Utah…

The juror I spoke to also mentioned a third major factor that went beyond the legal issues: our appeal to conscience. During the closing statements in the trial, in which I represented myself, I told the jurors that a not-guilty verdict would encourage corporations to treat animals under their care with more compassion and make governments more open to animal cruelty complaints.

15) Very good stuff from Jake Tapper, “This is not Justice: A Philadelphia teenager and the empty promise of the Sixth Amendment”

16) David Graham, “What to Cheer About in the Sentencing of Steve Bannon”

The sentence is a landmark because no one has been sentenced to prison for contempt of Congress in decades. The term is shy of the six months that prosecutors sought, but well more than the 30-day mandatory minimum, as well as the probation that Bannon’s lawyers sought. He probably won’t see the inside of a cell for some time, if ever, as he is free while he appeals.

Bannon’s sentence is a victory for the rule of law—but not an unmitigated one. It is a message to those in the Trump orbit that you cannot simply ignore laws, and that Trump’s umbrella of protection has big holes. It also demonstrates that the ability to defy Congress is large, but not infinite. Yet even the most ardent Trump critics should not be too jubilant. The committee whose inquiry led to Bannon’s sentence seems to be steaming toward an abrupt end, a Trump-friendly Congress is likely, Bannon’s most nefarious activities are probably not going to be seriously harmed, and Trump himself has still evaded consequences in court.

17) Noah Smith is no fan of Xi Jinping,”China has shackled itself to…this one mediocre guy.”

But last year I do think I managed to catch something important that a lot of people seem to have missed: Xi Jinping is not as competent of a helmsman as he’s made out to be…

Already, the mistakes have begun piling up. Growth, especially all-important productivity growth, slowed a lot even before Covid and has now basically halted. The crash is due largely to Xi Jinping’s personal choices — his stubborn insistence on Zero Covid (which also has a dimension of social control), his willingness to let the vast real estate sector crash, and his crackdown on tech companies and other entrepreneurs. Overseas, Xi’s signature Belt and Road project has left a trail of uneconomical infrastructure, debt, and bad feelings around the world. His aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy, combined with his crackdown on Hong Kong and his use of concentration camps and totalitarian surveillance in Xinjiang, has soured much of the world on the prospect of Chinese leadership. And his promise of a “no limits” partnership with Russia blew up in his face when Putin bungled the invasion of Ukraine. Even Xi’s nationalized industrial policy — the Made in China 2025 initiative and the more recent push for semiconductor dominance — has not done much to accelerate growth, and has prompted the U.S. and other countries to switch from engagement to outright economic warfare.

18) It’s kind of amazing that there’s almost no experts in such an important part of the female anatomy.  Really interesting piece, “Half the World Has a Clitoris. Why Don’t Doctors Study It?
The organ is “completely ignored by pretty much everyone,” medical experts say, and that omission can be devastating to women’s sexual health.”

Some urologists compare the vulva to “a small town in the Midwest,” said Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a urologist and pioneer in the field of sexual medicine. Doctors tend to pass through it, barely looking up, on their way to their destination, the cervix and uterus. That’s where the real medical action happens: ultrasounds, Pap smears, IUD insertion, childbirth.

If the vulva as a whole is an underappreciated city, the clitoris is a local roadside bar: little known, seldom considered, probably best avoided. “It’s completely ignored by pretty much everyone,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin, a urologist and sexual health specialist outside Washington, D.C. “There is no medical community that has taken ownership in the research, in the management, in the diagnosis of vulva-related conditions.”

Asked what she learned in medical school about the clitoris, Dr. Rubin replied, “Nothing that sticks out to my memory. If it got any mention, it would be a side note at best.”

Only years later, on a sexual-medicine fellowship with Dr. Goldstein, did she learn how to examine the vulva and the visible part of the clitoris, also known as the glans clitoris. The full clitoris, she learned, is a deep structure, made up largely of erectile tissue, that reaches into the pelvis and encircles the vagina.

Today, Dr. Rubin has appointed herself Washington’s premier “clitorologist.” The joke, of course, is that few are vying for the title — out of embarrassment, a lack of knowledge or fear of breaching propriety with patients. “Doctors love to focus on what we know,” she said. “And we don’t like to show weakness, that we don’t know something.”

19) Nice follow-up on the Beagle story, ‘Profit, pain and puppies: Inside the rescue of nearly 4,000 beagles”

20) Paul Waldman’s twitter thread needs to be an article I can assign to all my classes.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Jennifer Rubin on the GOP and antisemitism:

It’s routine for Republicans “who surely know better,” as the Atlantic’s Peter Wehner aptly described them, to claim that they don’t subscribe to these views or that those reacting to antisemitic statements are simply being “politically correct.” Let’s get real. To subscribe to a party that tolerates antisemitism and is headed by a figure who regularly spouts racist, antisemitic and misogynistic rhetoric is to condone and endorse the same.

Moreover, hatred toward minorities is no sideline for the GOP these days. White grievance, xenophobia, the “great replacement theory” and Confederate idolatry have taken center stage. They are the emotional levers by which Republicans incite their base and draw attention away from their rotten governance. Sure, Republicans might not deliver drinkable water. And yes, they have no plan to solve inflation. But by gosh, they are going to “own the libs” by demonizing minorities and consigning women to motherhood.

2) $40/kg is a lot for a steak, but, pretty cool for a 3D printed, meat-free steak.  This will only get better at economies of scale.  I look forward to our meatless future. 

3) Good stuff in a WP Editorial, “California made prison phone calls free. Others should follow.”

Imagine having to go into debt to stay in touch with a loved one — all while fearing for their safety and well-being. That is the grim reality facing 1 in 3 families of incarcerated people in the United States, thanks to the sky-high costs of phone calls from prison. So it is welcome news that California has moved against this cruel situation. Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a law to make all phone calls from state prisons free. Now it’s time for other states, and Congress, to act.

This represents a clear market failure. The prison phone industry is a near-duopoly: Two companies control between 74 and 83 percent of the market. That, coupled with the fact that many facilities select which companies to use based on kickbacks rather than service, has permitted rapacious corporations to charge exorbitant rates without consequence. The industry earns more than $1.4 billion annually, largely profiting off low-income, incarcerated people of color.

Allowing inmates to affordably speak to relatives and friends would be a more humane approach — and a more effective one. Studies have shown that frequent and consistent family phone calls reduce recidivism and promote rehabilitation after release. In the long run, lowering phone costs could save taxpayers money and improve public safety.

4) I just had my students read this for class this past week and it’s about the best thing I’ve seen for understanding modern presidential primary campaigns.  Definitely worth your time, “Voters need help: How party insiders can make presidential primaries safer, fairer, and more democratic”

More specifically, we argue that:

  • Professional input makes the process more representative. Copious theory and evidence, dating back to the time of America’s Founders, show that nomination by plebiscite (popular vote) can collapse into randomness or minority capture, and it does not dependably aggregate and reflect the preferences of Democrats and Republicans. When many candidates are in the field, professionals help majorities and coalitions to form, and they help prevent minorities and factions from capturing the process.
  • Professional input strengthens quality control. Primary elections place insufficient emphasis on evaluating nominees with an eye toward competence at governing: that is, selecting individuals with traits such as coalition-building skill, connections to varied constituencies, ability to work with others, and IOUs to and from other politicians. Only professionals can fill that gap.
  • Professional input deters renegades. Combined with the party ballot’s accessibility to all comers, the plebiscitary nomination process opens the field to demagogues and charlatans. Party leaders have strong incentives to keep candidates off the party ballot who are dangerous to both the party and democracy.
  • Professional input checks the power of billionaires and media elites. Influence in nominations has shifted dramatically toward actors who bear no responsibility for governing. Billionaires can bankroll themselves or favored candidates, while media elites propel those who break norms and generate conflict. Party professionals tend to favor candidates who are responsible to broad voter constituencies and other members of the governing party.
  • Professional input is widely acceptable to Americans. There is nothing undemocratic or un-American about professional vetting of nominees. To the contrary, even as the nation became more democratic and inclusive since its founding, formal and informal vetting of candidates by parties and professionals remained standard practice until just a decade or so ago. Even today, survey results indicate that most Americans support giving parties and professionals a voice in the process.
  • Restoring professional input is mechanically easy, but politically hard. Methods might include superdelegates, early votes of confidence, ratings or signoffs by party stalwarts, use of influence on debate participation, unbinding convention delegates, routing more campaign money through the party organizations, and many more possibilities. The harder challenge is pushing back against democracy fundamentalism, the idea that more democratization is always good for democracy—something which the Founders knew is not true.

We do not claim that primary elections have no place or serve no purpose. To the contrary: They test candidates’ abilities to excite voters, raise money, and campaign effectively; they provide points of entry for fresh faces, ideas, and constituencies; they force candidates to refine their messages and prove their stamina. What we do claim is that primaries are insufficient. By themselves, they are only half of a functional nominating system.[1] Without professional input, the nominating process is fraught with risks that turn filling the country’s highest office into game of chance. If Democrats don’t think it can happen to them, they are deluding themselves.

5) Perry Bacon Jr on the case for the Democratic Party:

The Democratic Party’s voters (not necessarily its leaders) are what we want America to be. They are diverse on a number of dimensions, unified around laudable goals such as reducing economic and racial inequality, and actively trying to make the United States the best nation it can be.

Because the news media tries to cover both parties equally critically, the story of U.S. politics today is often depicted as an extreme Republican Party facing an almost-as-extreme Democratic Party dominated by over-educated elites who are hostile to the values of average Americans and leave them little choice but to vote Republican. But that’s an attempt to turn a one-sided problem into a two-sided one.

Being a consistent, stalwart Democratic voter today should not be dismissed as being overly partisan or unthinking. It’s common sense.

What unifies Democrats isn’t education or race but policy stances and values. Around 80 percent of Democrats support the Black Lives Matter movementraising the federal minimum wage to at least $15 per hourstricter gun lawsfree public collegethe right to an abortionhigher taxes on the wealthy to redistribute income, and say that increased attention on America’s history of slavery and racism in recent years is a positive development.

Those are not out-there views. The majority of Americans agree with Democrats on nearly all of those positions.

More important, these are the morally correct stands. We tend to think the issues of our day are more nuanced than the issues of past eras. But being deeply committed to ending slavery was a controversial position in the 1850s, as was being deeply committed to ending racial segregation 100 years later. Today, describing the United States as having racial practices and systems that end up maintaining disparities between White and Black people even if individual people are not being explicitly racist (this is what critical race theory essentially argues) is so controversial that it’s being banned from being taught in public schools in conservative areas. But 50 or 100 years from now, I suspect people studying this period of U.S. history will conclude fairly easily that critical race theory was correct and that the bans on teaching it were just an assertion of White power over Black people.

And it’s not just that Democratic voters are on the right side of a host of issues, in a way that is obvious now and will be even clearer in a few decades. It’s also that the Democratic Party is very representative of the broader nation. The Republican Party is way more White (the GOP is about 85 percent White) than the country is (59 percent). About 60 percent of people who voted for Joe Biden in 2020 are White. About 60 percent of Democrats are Christian, Jewish or part of another major religion tradition, compared with around 70 percent of Americans nationally. About half of Democrats have a four-year college degree, as do about 40 percent adults overall.

6) You will not be surprised to learn I loved this in Persuasion, “Talking About John Fetterman’s Stroke Is Not Ableism”

But no matter how much journalists, activists, and the campaign might disagree, it’s perfectly reasonable to be concerned about the health of a candidate running for one of the highest elected offices in the nation. Being a politician, especially a senator, is hard work. It requires long days negotiating with colleagues, listening to and giving speeches, sitting through hours of committee meetings, and the like. Physical and cognitive stamina are necessary to be effective. It’s valid for voters to ask whether or not Fetterman’s stroke would impact his job performance, and therefore his ability to effectively represent the people of Pennsylvania.


As recently as a few years ago, most people wouldn’t have denied that a stroke’s aftereffects are reasonable to consider when evaluating a Senate candidate. There is even a test case from 2016, when the Chicago Tribune explicitly cited Republican Senator Mark Kirk’s stroke as grounds for endorsing his Democratic challenger:

While a stroke by no means disqualifies anyone from public office, we cannot tiptoe around the issue of Kirk’s recovery and readiness. His health is a fundamental component of this race — a hotly contested matchup that could return control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats. We aren’t physicians; Kirk’s doctor attests to his good cognitive health. But we are voters. And our reluctant judgment is that, due to forces beyond his control, Kirk no longer can perform to the fullest the job of a U.S. senator.

When this was published, there wasn’t any pushback of the sort that is coming now from the people and groups so aggressively defending Fetterman. The lack of outrage is likely because Kirk was a Republican and, more importantly, people recognized the validity of the Tribune’s concern. The unfortunate truth is that strokes can be life-changing events with aftereffects that never fully go away, and so asking questions about Fetterman’s health shouldn’t be out of bounds. The media and the Fetterman campaign should be addressing the issue head-on…

Reasonable people can, of course, disagree about the point at which honest concern veers into genuinely offensive prejudice. Unfortunately, Fetterman’s challenger Mehmet Oz, and some right-wing media figures, are guilty of the latter. Oz’s campaign joked that “if John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke and wouldn’t be in the position of having to lie about it constantly.” Fox News’s Tucker Carlson made comments that were even more off-color when discussing the closed captioning that Fetterman used in the NBC interview: “Here you have one of the most famous politicians in the country merging with a computer … where exactly does the software end and John Fetterman’s consciousness begin?” 

It’s a shame that Fetterman’s allies have refused to differentiate between these types of attacks and earnest concern about Fetterman’s health. Though they might not realize it, those who fail to make this distinction are hurting their own cause; their public frustration has brought more attention to the issue of Fetterman’s health than the NBC interview alone ever would have. Likewise, a great number of Pennsylvanians are probably seeing charges of ableism and just rolling their eyes at yet another instance of tone policing from the left.  

7) I love Yglesias‘ distillation of politics here in his weekly Q&A:

Mark: Right wing activists on abortion and other issues are much more disciplined and strategic than left wing activists, whose theory of change is basically 1) throw soup on painting, 2) ???, 3) profit. But the voting bases are basically the opposite, where the GOP primary consistently elects insane people to lose winnable races, while Democratic primaries mostly nominate widely acceptable candidates. How do you explain this contrast?

If you go back to the origins of electoral democracy 200-300 years ago, you see a basic issue that emerges quickly — the median voter is always poorer than the national mean, so there is a potential electoral majority for redistribution.

There is a set of political forces — the right — that wants to resist that redistribution. And there is a contrary set of forces — the left — that wants to encourage it. The left’s strategy is to make this dynamic explicit and transparent — we the people can seize the levers of power and make ourselves better off. And the right’s strategy is to obfuscate — the left will denigrate God, endanger public safety, weaken our national defenses, and so forth. That’s politics boiled down to its essence.

But this in turn gives rise to the characteristic flaws of the left and the right.

On the left, that’s a kind of romanticism about politics that holds that every issue comes down to the masses versus narrow moneyed elites. It denies that the people themselves may just be wrong or short-sighted, so it believes that the answer to every problem is to raise the temperature with more dramatic stunts and “calling out.”

On the right, it’s a fondness for conmen and grifters. Because right-wing politics is organized as a conspiracy to mislead people into not voting to give themselves more money, it creates structures that elevate and reward hucksters and flim-flam artists. GOP politicians and conservative media figures elevated Donald Trump as a political spokesman in the Obama years not despite the fact that he’s a fraud and a liar but because he’s a fraud and a liar. They know it would be toxic to put a professor up there to tell people about the Chamley-Judd theorem and why we should cut capital gains taxes. You need someone who’s going to talk about Mexican rapists and how Obama is secretly Kenyan.

8) Unsurprisingly, I really enjoyed this NatGeo take on plant-based meat:

A single hamburger is by all measures an unsustainable product, requiring 660 gallons of water to produce, including lettuce, tomato, and a bun. And yet we’ve come to expect this subsidized luxury, the result of tens of billions of dollars in annual U.S. reimbursements to the meat and dairy industries over the past decade (versus a fraction of that subsidizing fruits and veggies). None of meat’s true cost—ethical, environmental, or nutritional—really matters to most people, an Arby’s restaurant executive told me in 2019. He also vowed that his company would never sell plant meat, because, as he declared, “people are not going to pay more for something that tastes worse.”…

My biggest shock recently was a chicken breast made with mycelium, the subterranean heart of a mushroom. It looked like a giant breaded guitar pick but flavorwise was so indistinguishable from breaded baked chicken that I wondered, from a practical standpoint, why we still bother raising chickens (or portobellos for that matter). Yet no company is good at making everything. When I tried the same vendor’s steak, made from the same mycelium, it had the texture of an aged fillet but the odor of a subway pole.

I watch the plant-based meat industry like I watch the Chicago Bears—with marvel, skepticism, and frequent disappointment.

But truth be told, much of the world solved its meat addiction millennia ago. Examine cuisines across the world, and you’ll see that cultures have evolved to harvest protein without meat.

I am not simply referring to the original plant meats: tofu, commonly thought to have been invented during the Han dynasty circa 150 B.C., or seitan, thought to have been developed in the area even earlier. In Mexico, corn tortillas and beans marry the essential amino acids to create a complete protein. Across South America, it’s beans and rice. In Ethiopia, it’s lentils and the ancient grain teff. And in India, ground rice and black gram, a relative of the mung bean, ferment together into a batter used to make steamed idli cakes and crisp dosas.

It’s difficult to imagine the human sacrifices that brought our culture this incredible knowledge. How many poisonous things did we eat before we learned that rice was worth cultivating? How many generations were malnourished until a tribe realized that one family—stronger and healthier than the rest—always ate certain plants in combination?

The first amino acid wasn’t discovered until 1806 (from asparagus, by the way). The last wasn’t discovered for another 120 or 130 years. By the time scientists found the 20 amino acids inside a complete protein, cultures had been reverse-engineering them into their diets for thousands of years.

Through this historical lens, I will admit that I begin to see plant meat differently—and for what it really is.

Consider that when we talk of the pea protein inside any popular plant burger, it’s not made from garden-fresh green peas but from an ingredient many Americans ignore in the grocery’s ethnic foods aisle: the split yellow peas cooked into popular Indian dals. Here, the cutting-edge combination of pea protein and rice in a plant-based burger is not particularly novel or unique. Rather, it is what the West does best: We have reconstituted tradition into a logo.

Repackaging these staple proteins as “meat” is more than a hot business trend; it is the colonialization of the global diet. We’re Americanizing and corporatizing the very components behind historical, meatless world cuisines that have successfully and satisfyingly fed countless generations.

9) The Clearer Thinking “World’s Biggest Problems” quiz was so much fun!  I did pretty well, I think.

10) Here’s a fun graph from it:

Deadliest animals 01

11) And a cool video about nuclear winter:

12) Are Republican Senators better at politics than Democrats?  Maybe.  When pro-life interests pushed hard for a legislative push on banning abortion, they basically said, forget it, we have elections to win:

On September 19, Republican senators received a letter from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America warning them in no uncertain terms that they needed to publicly back a proposed national ban on abortion within days — or risk taking a hit on their prized candidate scores.

Few budged. [all bold in original] The pressure campaign angered Republicans, who are still wary of the politics around the bill, authored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Within weeks, the same group had sent a follow-up letter toning down their demands and extending their deadline.

In the initial letter to lawmakers, obtained by Semafor, senators were given a deadline of September 30 — the date bolded, underlined, italicized and highlighted for emphasis — to sign onto the bill as a co-sponsor.

At the point the letter was sent, Graham’s bill was co-sponsored by only three more senators, according to Congress.gov: Steve Daines, Marco Rubio and Kevin Cramer. That number ticked up to nine after SBA’s warning.

But Graham’s bill proved divisive within the party. Publicly, prominent Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said they prefer to leave the issue to the states. Privately, there was frustration with the outside push from anti-abortion groups to back a national ban just as candidates were trying to find their footing in must-win races.

“We should be able to reasonably disagree on the best pro-life legislative strategy at this exact moment,” a Republican staffer familiar with the conversation around the SBA letter told Semafor. “Threatening pro-life senators with a reduced score unless they adopt a policy only previously discussed by SBA and Graham is divisive, and it’s going to make their scorecard look silly. SBA is overplaying their hand, and offices will remember this attempt to strong-arm us.”

The backlash seemed to have had an impact. In a follow-up letter on October 4, after the bill’s support had stalled, SBA made an apparent concession and told members they would “continue to add cosponsorship recognition” up to election day. They also noted they had “received questions” about how the bill would affect member scores, and that while “votes weighed most heavily” in their evaluations, they would also consider “the totality of each member’s pro-life activity.”

13) Nice interview with the always interesting David Hopkins on what a Republican Congress would do:

Graham Vyse: How do you understand the key aspects of the agenda U.S. Republicans will pursue if they win back power in Congress?

David A. Hopkins: Their agenda will have two parts: The first is about legislation and policy; the second, investigations. The Republicans’ legislative ambitions mostly relate to standard conservative policies, as they laid out in their Commitment to America policy platform introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives—though there’s more of an emphasis there than there has been in the past on cultural issues. Of course, Republicans won’t be able to achieve any of their legislative ambitions on their own, given President Joe Biden’s ability to veto legislation. But they will be able to use the subpoena power of congressional committees—and the public attention you can get from that power in conducting oversight hearings—to investigate their political opponents, including the Biden administration, Biden’s family, and the technology companies they accuse of discriminating against conservative users.

The last time there was both a Democratic House and a Republican president in the United States, the president was impeached twice. The last time there was a Republican House and a Democratic president, the Republican speaker got run out of town by his own party. So if you’re the presumptive speaker in the next Congress, Kevin McCarthy, one lesson you’re likely to take from recent American history is that there will be tremendous pressure from within your party to attack major Democratic and liberal targets. Now, that might not mean impeaching President Biden, but it certainly might mean investigating his family—or trying to impeach a cabinet official or some other senior member of the administration. Another lesson you’re likely to absorb is that if you don’t satisfy your party’s quests for political retribution, you could easily end up on the firing line yourself..

Vyse: Would you say they’re facing more pressure from their base—and from conservative media—than they would have faced in the past?

Hopkins: Conservative media keeps growing more powerful within the Republican Party in America. It was stronger during Donald Trump’s presidency than it was during George W. Bush’s presidency. The Fox News host Sean Hannity essentially recruited Herschel Walker to run for the Senate in Georgia this year. [Walker, a former American football star and emphatically right-wing politician, is now the Republican nominee.] There’s less and less of a distinction between the Republican Party and the American conservative media universe. The conservative media is now functionally a part of the party in a lot of ways.

Republican members of Congress are going to need to show their base that they’re doing something. Actually passing legislation is going to be really tough, and a lot of what their base is demanding isn’t about passing legislation; it’s about waging a broad symbolic war against the left.

Vyse: Why is that?

Hopkins: Conservative voters have come to understand politics as largely a symbolic, cultural battle. They don’t necessarily want a lot of policy changes; that’s not necessarily what they’re asking for. A lot of what they’re asking for—and what conservative media encourages them to ask for—are gestures of superiority over Democrats and the left.

Similarly, a lot of what people liked about Trump didn’t have to do with his policies, and his lack of many legislative accomplishments in office didn’t reduce his appeal with his base. Much of Trump’s appeal came from his daily combativeness against liberals, the media, celebrities, and anyone who opposed him. That’s what his bond with his supporters was largely based on. [emphasis mine]

This dynamic wouldn’t have held true for a Democratic president. Contemporary Democratic voters have a different set of expectations for their leaders, which are much more centered on legislative accomplishments and policy achievements.

Now, I do think that the average Republican member of Congress has policy goals, even if those goals won’t necessarily get a lot of attention in conservative media. They want to try to cut taxes and regulations and to oppose liberal expansions of the government—and they may have some points of leverage, including around the U.S. debt limit.

14) Drum on the Republicans improvement in the polls:

Democrats seemed to be doing well this summer as their approval level surged following the Dobbs decision. But now Republicans are surging back. This is partly because the out party always does well in midterm elections, but David Brooks thinks there’s more to it:

The Trumpified G.O.P. deserves to be a marginalized and disgraced force in American life. But I’ve been watching the campaign speeches by people like Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for governor in Arizona. G.O.P. candidates are telling a very clear class/culture/status war narrative in which common-sense Americans are being assaulted by elite progressives who let the homeless take over the streets, teach sex ed to 5-year-olds, manufacture fake news, run woke corporations, open the border and refuse to do anything about fentanyl deaths and the sorts of things that affect regular people.

Sure, I guess. But this is the farthest thing imaginable from something new. The details change from election to election, but this narrative began with Richard Nixon and became fully weaponized by Newt Gingrich and Fox News in the 1990s. It’s been part of the core Republican message for 50 years, and it’s been their nearly exclusive message for the past 20.

The most discouraging part of this is not that Republicans do it. What do you expect an opposition party to do? The discouraging part is that after 50 years Democrats still have no idea how to fight it.

It’s not that we lose every culture war battle. In fact, we win quite a few. But when Republicans sense weakness, they circle the wagons and beat the class war drums loudly and in unison. That’s what we don’t know how to fight.

Practically all the evidence suggests the United States is fundamentally a strong country right now. Probably the strongest in the world, and with the brightest future. It’s extraordinary to think of just how good a place it could be if only we could figure out a way to overcome the debilitating fear that so many people still have of progress and change.

15) I really enjoyed Katherine Wu on the bivalent boosters, especially about the under-studies randomness of side effect responses. I too have a spouse that is significantly annoyed by my minimal comparative side effects:

“Why don’t you feel anything?” my spouse howled at me from the bedroom, where his sweat was soaking through the sheets. “Sorry,” I yelled back from the kitchen, where I was prepping four days’ worth of meals between work calls after returning from an eight-mile run…

On average, then, mRNA-vaxxed people can probably expect to have an annual experience that’s pretty similar to the one they had with their first COVID booster. As studies have shown, that one was actually better for most people than dose No. 2, the most unpleasant of the injections so far. (The math, of course, becomes tougher for people getting another vaccine, such as the flu shot, at the same time.) There are probably two main reasons why side effects have lessened overall, experts told me. First, the spacing: Most people received the second dose in their Pfizer or Moderna primary series just three or four weeks after the first. That’s an efficient way to get a lot of people “fully vaccinated” in a short period of time, but it means that many of the immune system’s defensive cells and molecules will still be on high alert. The second shot could end up fanning a blaze of inflammation that was never quite put out. In line with that, researchers have found that spacing out the primary-series doses to eight weeks, 12 weeks, or even longer can prune some side effects.

Dose matters a lot too: Vaccines are, in a way, stimulants meant to goad the immune system into reacting; bigger servings should induce bigger jolts. When vaccine makers were tinkering with their recipes in early trials, higher doses—including ones that were deemed too large for further testing—produced more side effects. Each injection in Moderna’s primary series contains more than three times the mRNA packaged into Pfizer’s, and Moderna has, on average, caused more intense side effects. But Moderna’s booster and bivalent doses contain a smaller scoop of the stimulating material: People 12 and older, for instance, get 50 micrograms instead of the 100 micrograms in each primary dose; kids 6 to 11 years old get 25 micrograms instead of 50. (All of Pfizer’s doses stay the same size across primaries and boosters, as long as people stay in the same age group.) People who switch between brands, then, may also notice a difference in symptoms…

The fact that I get fewer side effects than my spouse does not imply that I’m any less protected. A ton of factors—genetics, hormone levels, age, diet, sleep, stress, pain tolerance, and more—could potentially influence how someone experiences a shot. Women tend to have more reactive bodies, as do younger people. But there are exceptions to those trends: I’m one of them. The whole topic is understudied, Locci told me.

16) Vox with a nice feature on the NC Senate race (even if they didn’t talk to me).

DURHAM, North Carolina — Before locals packed inside Beyú Caffè in downtown Durham on a Tuesday evening in October, Rheba Heggs arrived early to save her seat. A retired attorney, she had come to see Democrat Cheri Beasley, who could become the first Black person to represent North Carolina in the US Senate.

A Black woman herself, Heggs visited North Carolina as a girl, decades before she relocated to the state to be closer to her grandchildren, and well before desegregation was complete. In the front row at Beyú Caffè, she was giddy with caffeine, and hopeful about witnessing history.

“I listened to … [Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown] Jackson the last few days. That is something I never expected to see in my lifetime. … This is the result of all the women who have come before, not just Black women, pushing,” Heggs said. “If [Cheri Beasley] wins — when she wins, it means so much. But it also means that the Senate becomes a working institution.”

North Carolina hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate in more than a decade, and most thought this year, with its tough climate for Democrats, would go the same way. But the race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr is actually competitive, with FiveThirtyEight’s tracking poll showing Republican Rep. Ted Budd with a less than 2 percentage point lead over Beasley, former chief justice of the state supreme court. Both are now attracting big spending from their parties and outside groups, with the Democrat-aligned Senate Majority PAC announcing an additional $4 million investment Thursday.

Even with polls close, Beasley has a tougher task ahead than Budd in the closing weeks of the campaign. There’s the recent history of close federal races slipping away from the state’s Democrats and the long history of parties in power struggling during the midterms. She has to thread a needle to assemble a coalition of enthusiastic urban, suburban, and Black voters while mitigating losses in increasingly red rural areas. But Beasley may be close to doing that, and defying history despite initially tepid investment from national Democrats.

That said, the two polls out since this article (though, only two polls) aren’t great.

17) Monkey Cage, “Why resentful rural Americans vote Republican”

As the midterms approach, political observers are once again talking about the widening divide between urban and rural voters. Over the past 25 years, rural areas have increasingly voted Republican while cities have increasingly voted Democratic — a dividing line that has replaced the North/South divide as the nation’s biggest source of political friction. That divide will influence which party takes control of Congress in January.

But why are rural and urban voters so sharply divided? Some scholars and pundits argue that it comes down to who lives where: that the disproportionately White, older, more religious, less affluent and less highly educated voters who live in rural areas are more likely to hold socially conservative views generally championed by Republicans. Meanwhile, urban areas are filled with younger, more racially diverse, more highly educated and more affluent people who hold the more socially liberal views generally championed by Democrats.

While all that matters, our new research shows that place itself also matters. Unlike Republican voters in suburbs and the cities, rural voters care about what we might call “geographic inequity” — the idea that rural areas receive less than their fair share from the government, are ignored by politicians, and are mocked and derided in popular culture. Without these beliefs, the urban-rural political divide would not be as vast as it is today…

Political scientist Katherine Cramer defines rural resentment as focused on three things. First concerns redistribution, or the belief that rural areas don’t receive their fair share of government resources and benefits. Second is representation, or the perception that most politicians ignore rural residents. And third, a sense of being culturally overlooked, that rural lifestyles and cultures don’t get the same respect as those of urban and suburban communities…

18) Big thanks to BB for sharing this twitter thread on how hard it is to actually have a playoff series be a reasonably reliable indicator of who the better team is.  And this related post.

19) Remember the missing crabs.  Excellent thread on the interaction between climate and overfishing.

20) Interesting study on just how much YouTube actually sends people down rabbit holes.

Contrary to popular concern, we do not find evidence that YouTube is leading many users down rabbit holes or into (significant) ideological echo chambers via its recommendation algorithm. While we do not find compelling evidence that these rabbit holes exist at scale, this does not mean that some that the experiences of the small number of individuals who encounter extremist content due to algorithmic recommendations are not consequential, nor does it mean that we shouldn’t be worried about the possibility for users to find harmful content online if they go searching for it. However, as we consider ways to make our online information ecosystem safer, it’s critical to understand the various facets of the problem.

While our study was designed to test whether the algorithm leads users down rabbit holes, into echo chambers, or in a particular ideological direction, these outcomes could still emerge from user choice (recall that the recommendations in our study were collected without user choice). So, for example, a well known article by Baskhy et al. shows that Facebook recommended an ideologically diverse array of content but users consistently clicked on ideologically congruent content. In another study of YouTube, Chen et al. found that other platform features—subscriptions and channel features—were the primary path by which users encountered anti-social content.

Furthermore, other platforms, like 4chan, are hotbeds for extremist content. Indeed, if an individual is bound and determined to jump down a rabbit hole online, they can do so fairly easily. What we explore in our work is incidental exposure: that is, users who are perusing content and encounter harmful content by accident, subsequently leading them down a rabbit hole. While recommendation systems may play a small role in this type of incidental exposure, we do not find significant evidence that they drive consumption of harmful content (at least on YouTube). Other studies have found that harmful content is often encountered off-platform via link sharing, driving users to extreme places on YouTube via the internet at large rather than the recommendation algorithm. That’s what makes this problem tricky. If it’s not just the recommendation engine and instead it’s the entire online ecosystem, then how do we fix it?

Our findings are consistent with—and add additional evidence to—a growing body of research showing that YouTube is not consistently pushing harmful or polarizing content to their users but rather that users self-select into viewing the content when offered. Collectively, the research suggests that there is unlikely to be one technological panacea to reducing the consumption of harmful content on YouTube. Instead, we need to be sure we focus both on the amount of harmful content online as well as the (many) paths which users might take to this content. Focusing solely on the role of YouTube’s algorithm in advertently luring people to extremist content may make for great headlines, but our research suggests that this alone is not going to get us at the crux of the problem.

21) Important new research on the insidious impact of Fox:

COVID-19 vaccines have reduced infections and hospitalizations across the globe, yet resistance to vaccination remains strong. This paper investigates the role of cable television news in vaccine hesitancy and associated local vaccination rates in the United States. We find that, in the earlier stages of the vaccine roll-out (starting May 2021), higher local viewership of Fox News Channel has been associated with lower local vaccination rates. We can verify that this association is causal using exogenous geographical variation in the channel lineup. The effect is driven by younger individuals (under 65 years of age), for whom COVID-19 has a low mortality risk. Consistent with changes in beliefs about the effectiveness of the vaccine as a mechanism, we find that Fox News increased reported vaccine hesitancy in local survey responses. We can rule out that the effect is due to differences in partisanship, to local health policies, or to local COVID-19 infections or death rates. The other two major television networks, CNN and MSNBC, have no effect. That, in turn, indicates that more differentiated characteristics, like the networks’ messaging or tendency for controversy, matter and that the effect of Fox News on COVID-19 vaccine uptake is not due to the general consumption of cable news. We also show that there is no historical effect of Fox News on flu vaccination rates, suggesting that the effect is COVID-19-specific and not driven by general skepticism toward vaccines.

22) Really cool post from Jeremy Faust on how ER docs think about treating their patients, “Two questions about headaches that ER doctors always ask—and the one they don’t, but should.”

And in general, an ER physicians’ job is sorting out which patients have “dangerous headaches” including subarachnoids, and which ones have bothersome headaches which need symptom control, but no further action. Again, most headaches (even extremely painful ones) are benign. But headaches that are different from anything a patient has previously experienced should be checked out.

Fewer than 1% of patients who come to the ER with a headache have a subarachnoid hemorrhage. If we ordered CT scans or MRIs on everyone with a headache, the system would break down and patients wouldn’t benefit. There aren’t enough scanners and not enough radiologists to interpret them. The system would grind to a halt, causing delays in diagnosing other time-sensitive conditions. Plus, we’d be harming patients by scanning all comers with headaches. Yes, the scans are low risk (though they add hours to an ER visit), but there’s radiation to consider, and the harms stemming from false positives (i.e., findings which look like disease, but are not). False positives often lead to further tests, leading to “medical misadventures.” Occasionally, a rare but significant complication occurs, which is particularly tragic when the procedure that caused it was unnecessary in the first place.

The goal is to only scan perhaps 10% of ER patients with headaches, and yet never miss a single dangerous condition. Doing this is a huge aspect of emergency medicine as a cognitive discipline.

23) Very good post from Yglesias, “Elon Musk’s business ties deserve more scrutiny”

Dozens of different controversies are swirling around Elon Musk at any given time, most of them related to people being angry and/or thrilled by the idea of a rich businessman vocalizing right-of-center political opinions.

What has gotten lost in this discourse is a more boring — but, I think, more significant — concern about his possible takeover of Twitter. This is because Musk, like most global manufacturing executives these days, has extensive business dealings with China. And while there’s nothing wrong with that per se, it means Musk has to watch what he says regarding the PRC, not just in his personal capacity as a business executive but potentially in his institutional role as well. And he’s not alone; Apple TV+, for example, has a rule that none of its content can portray China negatively.

That’s an unfortunate but straightforward consequence of Apple TV+ being so small compared to Apple’s core business of making and selling smartphones: they compromise the content business for the sake of the manufacturing business. The good news for the world is that Apple TV+ is a very small share of western cultural output. They’re doing well with niche content (I love “For All Mankind”), and they won an Oscar for “Coda.” But it’s a small service in the scheme of things.

The problem for the world is that Twitter would be the Apple TV+ of Elon Musk’s enterprises, much smaller and less important than Tesla, so its interests will always be sacrificed to advance Tesla’s interests. And Tesla, like Apple’s hardware business, is deeply enmeshed in China. But Twitter is much more important to global politics and culture than Apple TV+. That’s the whole reason the Musk/Twitter saga has been such a subject of fascination. Twitter is one of a handful of other influential media properties — The New York Times, the three cable networks, AM talk radio stations — that exert a cultural and political influence that far exceeds their modest financial footprints. Apple executives are much less polarizing and controversial than Musk. But pretty much everyone on both the left and right knows they’re a bit squirrelly about China for business reasons. And if they bought the New York Times, that would have dire implications for the integrity of their China coverage.

Musk is mercurial and I won’t pretend to be able to predict what he will do. But I think his business relationships with China and tendency to take pro-PRC positions in his public statements raise some disturbing questions about the future of Twitter that deserve much more scrutiny relative to the concern that he won’t be strict enough in policing hate speech.

24) Our current federal marijuana policy is just stupid.  Marijuana should be legal.  But that does not mean its an unalloyed good and we should take its potential harms to youth seriously.  Leanna Wen:

The dominant narrative about marijuana seems to be that it is harmless. Indeed, 19 states and D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana, and young people are increasingly nonchalant about using it. One study shows nearly half of college students said they consumed marijuana. Eight percent reported they used it daily or nearly every day. One in 5 high school students used marijuana in the preceding 30 days.

But there are real dangers associated with the substance, as a 2020 report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) showsAbundant research demonstrates how exposure to marijuana during childhood impacts later cognitive ability, including memory, attention, motivation and learning. Studies have linked regular cannabis use in adolescents with lower IQs in adulthood and higher propensity to drop out of high school. This association persists in college-age students. One large study followed college students and found frequency of marijuana use to correlate with skipping classes, lower grade-point average and longer time to graduation.

Some studies have also linked frequent cannabis use in youths to increased rates of schizophreniadepression and anxiety. One Lancet article reported that smoking high-potency marijuana every day increased the chance of developing psychosis by nearly five times.

More research is needed on whether the causality could be the other way around — perhaps those predisposed to mental health diagnoses are more likely to seek out marijuana. But as Nora Volkow, a psychiatrist and the director of NIDA, told me, “Based on the data we already have, we can clearly say that marijuana is not a benign drug, especially for children and adolescents.”

25) Talk about overdue! “The US Is Finally Considering Protections Against Salmonella

Last week, responding to pressure from these groups, the US Department of Agriculture announced that it is considering reforms to the way it regulates the processing and sale of raw poultry, the largest single source of salmonella infections. If the changes go through, they will give that agency the power to monitor salmonella contamination in live birds and slaughterhouses, and the power to force producers to recall contaminated meat from the marketplace.

The agency doesn’t have those powers now, even though salmonella causes more serious illnesses than any other foodborne pathogen. It sickens about 1.35 million people in the US each year; about 26,500 of them end up in the hospital, and 420 die. At its mildest, it causes fever and diarrhea that can last up to a week. But because it can migrate to the bloodstream and invade bones, joints, and the nervous system, it often leaves victims with arthritis and circulatory problems.

Today, the USDA can only ask meat producers to voluntarily recall their products, and companies don’t always move as rapidly as the agency would wish. That leaves consumers vulnerable to threats they do not know exist…

It might come as a surprise that the USDA didn’t already have this authority. But that agency (which regulates meat, poultry, and eggs; the US Food and Drug Administration oversees everything else) can force recalls only for contamination with one specific, small group of organisms: E. coli O157:H7 and a few related strains, which make toxins that destroy red blood cells. It got that power during the shocked national reaction to a 1993 outbreak that sickened 732 kids who ate hamburgers from the Jack in the Box fast-food chain. That outbreak killed four and left 178 with kidney and brain damage.

 

It’s a bad sign when even Wake County Republicans have gone crazy

The thing about living in Wake County, NC, is that generally speaking Republicans running for office are not the white ethnonationalist/Christian nationalist/burn-it-all-down crazies, but rather people who are just really into low taxes and limited government regulation (and willing to put up with the craziness in pursuit of their goals).  

Until now, that is, apparently.  For many years, I was represented in the Wake County School Board by a registered Republican (non-partisan elections) who was quite reasonable and moderate and who did a good job and who I indeed voted for a number of times.  

Times have changed.  The Republican-endorsed candidate for the school board in my very district is a complete nutcase:

Morrow, whom Rachmuth has personally endorsed, says parental rights are about respecting the privacy between children and their families and creating a partnership between parents and teachers. But most of the conversation around her candidacy takes a different tack. Morrow’s social media posts express some extreme views and have prompted some voters to form a group called Moms Against Michele Morrow.

One video shows Morrow, a Trump supporter, walking toward the Ellipse in Washington, DC, on January 6 to participate in Trump’s infamous Stop the Steal rally.

“We are here to take back America,” she says. “We are here to stop the steal. We are here to ensure President Trump gets four more years. And we are here to ensure the United States never becomes a communist country!”

In response to the video, Morrow says she was in DC simply to participate in a peaceful rally, which she had done several times before, and that she did not take part in the riot at the Capitol.

“I’m a law-abiding citizen. I broke no laws, I did no damage, I hurt no people,” she says. “I absolutely think anybody that broke laws … needs to be prosecuted. But merely participating in an event, saying that we wanted to protect election rights for everybody, is not the definition of an insurrectionist.”

Morrow, a member of conservative PAC Liberty First Grassroots, has also posted comments on social media calling mass shootings “fake event(s),” talking about the “One World Order” conspiracy theory, and implying “Satan is coming” in the form of the “Muslim movement” in America. [emphasis mine]

Yikes!  She won’t win here, but we’re a long way from Country Club Republicans.

Meanwhile, a few weeks ago, the headliner for a Wake County Republican event? Marjorie Taylor Greene.  

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene will visit North Carolina this month to headline a “2022 Roaring 20s” gala in Cary hosted by the Wake County Republican Party.

The Wake GOP, which describes itself as “a special group of Republicans dedicated to keeping North Carolina red and holding the line right here in Wake County,” announced Greene’s attendance at the Sept. 23 gala in a Facebook post Wednesday.

Greene, a Republican representative from Georgia, is an outspoken and controversial figure. She is known for claims of widespread election fraud during the 2020 presidential race and for comments she has made embracing QAnon, an online conspiracy movement that has propagated a litany of unfounded theories, such as alleging Democratic elites ran a child sex abuse ring.

So, even in the parts of the country (i.e., a well-educated, urban/suburban county) where you’d think there’s be grownups in charge of the GOP, that ship has sailed, sadly.  

Of course, this is symptomatic of the rot at the core of the GOP as this is not just Wake County.  German Lopez in NYT with a nice piece on the rehabilitation of MTG in the party.  

In February 2021, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia was dealt what would typically be considered a knockout blow in Washington politics: She lost her seats on House committees, where Congress does much of its work, because she had supported the QAnon conspiracy theory and spread other dangerous misinformation on social media.

But instead of being consigned to political oblivion, Greene has gained clout over the past two years, as my colleague Robert Draper explained in a New York Times Magazine profile of her that published online this morning.

Last month, Greene sat directly behind the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, as he unveiled his agenda for the midterm elections. Republican candidates often ask Greene to campaign for them. She has become a major fund-raiser within the party. And Greene told Robert she had talked with Donald Trump about being his running mate if he were to run for president in 2024.

“This is not at all what I expected when I began reporting on Greene,” Robert told me.

So how did Greene, who was a political pariah a few years ago, place herself at the center of Republican politics today? 

Greene’s rise did not come about because she apologized and abandoned her extreme views. Instead, her core supporters rallied around her because they agreed with at least some of her beliefs and liked that she stood her ground — a narrative that echoes Trump’s ascent.

Greene herself is a big supporter of Trump and his policies and falsely claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against him. “She’s a perfect reminder that Trumpism will not go away even if he does,” Robert said.

One telling moment: Early last year, House Republicans met to discuss whether to remove Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming from a leadership position after she voted to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 attack. (They eventually did.) In that meeting, Greene justified her support for QAnon and other conspiracy theories — and about a third of the conference stood up and applauded her.

“The headline tonight is that we tried to kick out Liz Cheney, and we gave a standing ovation to Marjorie Taylor Greene,” Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina warned at the time.

Since then, McCarthy, who would likely be speaker should Republicans regain control of the House in the midterms, has reportedly offered Greene prized committee assignments if she supports his run for the post — giving her back what she once lost, and then some.

We are getting ever further away from a sane, democracy-respecting Republican Party.  Alas, as long as sane, democracy-respecting Republicans keep telling themselves that the MTG’s of the world are preferable to the communist Woke mob (i.e., their fantasy version of the Democrats), here we are.  

Adults need to be criminally responsible when kids have guns!

So, I was already going to write this post last week when the worst thing that happened was a high school toilet getting shot.  But, now 5 people in my community have been murdered by a 15-year old with a gun.  Given that this story has had a  national impact (surprising to me, I thought we were completely inured to mass murder, I guess not when the offender is 15), there’s been almost a complete lack of details about what happened.  At this point, we have no idea how this obviously incredibly dangerous and very disturbed young person got a gun.  But, if history is any indication, it is almost surely due to irresponsible adults who will not be held accountable for their lethal irresponsibility.

I was already going to write this post based on a couple of stupid 14-15 year old kids who (accidentally, I think) shot a toiled in my son’s high school.  There’s nothing quite like getting a text from your child that says, “Code red. Not a drill.” I imagine that it is also not so great being the kid sending that text. As it turns out, my son and his classmates were never really in jeopardy, but, alas, the same cannot be said for so many other grieving parents and families.  The only bright side is that my son’s school has now had two code reds this year where, it turnout out, there was not actually a serious threat.  I guess reason for him and me to worry less time.  Unless, of course, it’s not.  But, again with the kid who brought this gun to my son’s school (and, yes he should never see the inside of a Wake County public school again), there was almost surely a grossly negligent adult.  And that adult will almost surely not face any serious consequences.  Until that changes, we’re only going to have more preventable cases of kids acting stupid with guns, which, unfortunately, often ends with another person, and not just a toilet, being shot.  

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