Outdoor masks and youth sports

I was glad that our local rec soccer league encouraged masks for this soccer season back when we started because that turned out to be critical in encouraging my daughter to play this season when we made the decision back in January.  I’m also really glad, that in light of the declining case rates and ever-increasing evidence on the safety of outdoors, they went to voluntary mask use this past weekend.  I did quite enjoy coaching without a mask (mostly because the girls played great and won 3-2).  I think 4 of the 9 players continued to use their mask (will be interesting to see if that’s any different in this week’s practice or next weekend’s games).  I’m not quite sure what my daughter would have chosen to do, as she was actually home sick.  

Anyway, in light of all that, was very intrigued to see this study on kids outdoor sports and masking:

Hoeg also makes the point in a follow-up tweet, that this surely means we should probably eschew masks for recess as well.  

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the standpoint of rhetorical strategy, Valentino continued,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suhay went on:

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

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

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

5) Good Ezra Klein on the problems with bipartisanship:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10) Where’s that Novavax vaccine, anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When social science perfectly captures your marriage

Wow– this NYT Parenting column from Jessica Grose could not have more perfectly captured my marriage, “Why Women Do the Household Worrying
And how to get men to do more of it.”

I have been writing about the gender gap in housework and child care among heterosexual couples for almost a decade, and while more and more men are stepping up to do their fair share, there’s one thing that remains frustratingly uneven: the mental load, which is a mostly invisible combination of anxiety and planning that is part of parenting.

The way I usually describe it in my own life is: I can’t make my husband start thinking about summer camp in January, or when we’re running out of refills for the soap dispensers (apparently, a common gripe!). In other words, I can’t export my brain to him. In most aspects of domestic work, we are fairly equal — I probably do more housework and he does more child care, but we feel good about our balance. And yet, the mental load is more on me…

Because of the perniciousness of this issue, I was excited to read the work of Allison Daminger, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and social policy at Harvard University. She published a paper in the American Sociological Review that breaks down the mental load — “cognitive labor,” in sociological terms — into four parts: anticipate, identify, decide, monitor.

If we’re using the summer camp example, “anticipate” is realizing we need to start thinking about options for the summer before they fill up; “identify” is looking into the types of camps that will suit our family’s needs; “decide” is choosing the camp; and “monitor” is making sure the kids are signed up and their medical forms are sent in.

For this paper, Daminger conducted in-depth discussions with 35 couples, and found that the two parts of the process that are most heavily imbalanced are “anticipate” and “monitor” — women do the vast majority of those steps. “Identify” and “decide” tend to be done by men and women jointly. I talked to Daminger about her study and how parents can try to equalize their cognitive labor; a condensed and edited version of our conversation is below.

Jessica Grose: I loved the way you categorized the mental load into four discrete categories, and I was intrigued that the biggest gender disparity is in “anticipation” and “monitoring.” Can you tell me a little more about that?

A.D.: One of the things that my advisers were a little bit worried about when I started this project was they thought: You’re just going to find that women do more of this. How is that interesting? We know that instinctively.

And that’s why I really wanted to break down not just “women do more,” but what exactly is it that they’re doing more of? And are there aspects of it that are more and less gendered?

But the act of putting the item on the agenda seemed to be overwhelmingly something that women were doing, as well as on the back end, following up once the decisions had been made. And that was true, even in domains of life like household maintenance, where it was pretty clear to both parties that the man was ultimately responsible for clearing the gutters.

Women’s antenna seemed to be constantly up and looking for these things. Whereas men were often very happy to help once their partner had alerted them to the issue and they might’ve gotten to it eventually on their own, but women were consistently getting there first and either doing it themselves or saying: “Hey, this is the thing you need to handle. Are you thinking about it?”

And then the $1 million question is what to do about that…

J.G.: Is it because we have culturally defined good mothering as worrying and doing this sort of mental labor, whereas we don’t define good fathering in quite the same way?

A.D.: I think that’s exactly true. One of the things that I hear often from my respondents is, “She’s anxious, she’s uptight.” And I think part of that is if something goes wrong, like if the kid is not prepared with the materials they need for school that day, the mom is going to be the one who is held to account.

I don’t think that’s necessarily something that is at the top of people’s minds as they’re making decisions, but part of the worry comes from fear of something bad happening. And part of that is: I will be judged as a bad mother. I think notions of good fatherhood are changing. We expect men to help with changing diapers and to do a lot of the physical care work. And yet, we don’t see them as ultimately responsible for the child’s development and happiness in the same way.

Damn did all of this ring so true in my marriage.  And I really am a good husband and father (oh, wait, maybe not).  What’s interesting to me is that, as I’ve often discussed, I really am one of the least anxious people I know,  And my wife, though not anxiety-ridden, would likely consider herself more anxious than average.  So, I’ve just been blaming the unequal distribution of this on our different psychological temperaments, but, honestly, I think that’s hiding the pervasive, gendered approaches to parenting identified here.  Honestly, it probably just makes things worse in our marriage because of my default “what, me worry?” approach to most things.  

Anyway, lots of really good food for thought in here.  I am going to talk to my wife about stepping up and doing more of the monitoring.

The rapid tests are finally  here!

Finally, finally, finally affordable, rapid Covid-tests ($20 for a pair).

As of this week, you can buy relatively low-priced COVID-19 rapid tests to take at home. The tests are available through pharmacies and do not require a prescription to buy one.

This bit of good news comes the same week that all people ages 16 and up in the U.S. are eligible to get a vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration authorized Abbott’s BinaxNOW and Quidel’s QuickVue at-home tests in late March. Both are antigen tests. The BinaxNOW test is currently available and Quidel says it expects to start shipping the QuickVue tests next week.

“They are very reliable, if the question that you’re asking and the reason that you’re taking the test is, am I infectious right now and a risk of transmitting the virus to other people?” says Dr. Michael Mina, a Harvard epidemiologist who has advocated for at-home testing.

I literally needed these to be available 3 days sooner than they were as we had a Covid scare with my 10-year old daughter this week and it would’ve been great to have that rapid response instead of waiting 40 hours for the PCR.  Sarah had a fever and fatigue starting Monday night and got a test Tuesday morning.  The rapid tests are very accurate for someone early in a symptomatic case, so we could have had confidence in it and saved roughly 40 hours of a ton of stress– especially for Sarah’s unvaccinated brother, who was especially freaked out.

Yes, not quite as effective as the PCR, but still pretty damn accurate and they tell you the most important thing– am I likely to spread Covid-19 to another person.  I strongly suspect we will be using these on our unvaccinated children when visiting vaccinated family members in coming months.  But, damn, we should’ve been able to do this months and months and months ago.  

Parent less; socialize more

Really enjoyed this in the Atlantic because the reality is that most middle-class and above parents simply try too hard.  “Parents Are Sacrificing Their Social Lives on the Altar of Intensive Parenting.” One of the fundamental features of middle-class parenting is that so many parents believe they make more impact in their kids’ lives than they actually do.  Live in a safe middle-class neighborhood, value education reasonably, love your kids, and avoid the worst impacts on kids (ACES) and your kids will probably do fine.  So don’t obsess over it.  Here’s something I wrote about this a long time ago (time flies when you’re parenting).  Anyway, onto the latest:

Over the past few decades, American parents have been pressured into making a costly wager: If they sacrifice their hobbies, interests, and friendships to devote as much time and as many resources as possible to parenting, they might be able to launch their children into a stable adulthood. While this gamble sometimes pays off, parents who give themselves over to this intensive form of child-rearing may find themselves at a loss when their children are grown and don’t need them as much.

Covid and parenting (for the masses)

think I shared the link to my recent research on Covid and parenthood, recently published in Social Science Quarterly.  But, who really reads that :-).  So, Laurel and I wrote up a version of our findings for the masses.  I think it’s pretty good.  It’s mine— (though to be fair, any parts of it that seem to be of much higher quality than my blog writing, you can definitely credit Laurel, who is great at this stuff) you should just read it!  But, here’s some clips anyway, “You’re not imagining it – 3 ways COVID-19 has been extra hard on American parents”

Life has been extra tough for parents in three specific ways, as shown in our analysis of national data on pandemic experiences, the UNC Covid Panel Study Wave 3, published in Social Science Quarterly.

People who are parents are more likely than those who do not have children to report losing their job during the pandemic. Parents are also more likely than those without children to report having experienced a worsening financial situation over the past year.

Parents are also more likely than those without children to report having had COVID-19. Why exactly this is the case is a question better answered by epidemiologists than by social scientists. But it seems plausible that the demands of parenthood are increasing parents’ risk…

Fear was a constant factor this past year, for nearly everyone – but our research shows parents were more fearful and viewed COVID-19 as more of a threat than those without children. This finding is consistent with other research showing that parents, understandably, have a very strong desire to keep their children safe and that the act of caring for a child or children intensifies fears about possible threats.

The survey data used in our research also included questions about mental health. Respondents were asked how often they have been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless; feeling nervous, anxious or on edge; and not being able to stop worrying or control their worrying.

Parents were more likely than those without children to report experiencing these problems. Mothers were the most likely to indicate that they were depressed, anxious and worried – but fathers were also more likely to report these negative feelings than were men without kids…

Surveyed early in the 2020-21 school year, the plurality of parents, 49%, supported online learning, and 37% supported a hybrid option, which inherently increases in-person contact and therefore the potential for disease to spread. Caught between a need to do their jobs to support their families and critical concerns about the health and safety of their children, parents are in many ways in an impossible situation.

While the data in and of itself does not offer solutions to the significant toll of the pandemic on parents, it does show that the problems faced by parents are real. Parents who have been feeling overwhelmed over the past year should know that they are not alone. The challenges of parenting during the pandemic are real and widespread.


When the adults are vaccinated, but the kids aren’t

Emily Oster had a really good article a few weeks ago that she took a ton of heat for.  She made an effort to seriously address a very odd, liminal state we will soon be in– parents/adults fully vaccinated and kids not yet approved to receive vaccines.  What the hell to do with your general approach to life then is a massive question that will be weighing upon millions of American families.  

Oster made the eminently reasonable (from my perspective) argument that on a health level, the threat to your unvaccinated kids from Covid-19 is roughly the same as the threat to vaccinated grandparents.  And given what we know, mathematically this is the case.  Severe cases are so rare in kids that it is probably roughly equivalent to what we can expect in vaccinated seniors.  That would seem to be, undoubtedly, the type of information we use in making risk/benefit decisions in how we live our lives:

But the best available research indicates that families with young children don’t, in fact, have to live like it’s 2020 until 2022. Parents can go ahead and plan on barbecues and even vacations. The explanation for why lies in the resilience of kids to COVID-19, and in herd immunity.

Children are not at high risk for COVID-19. We’ve known since early in the pandemic that they are much less likely to fall ill, especially seriously ill. Although scientists don’t quite understand why, kids seem to be naturally protected. As a result, you can think of your son or daughter as an already vaccinated grandparent.


Think about a grandmother who’s received, say, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Trial research indicates that the second shot reduces her risk of serious illness by about 95 percent. Her risk of death goes way down too, although the trials were not geared toward reaching a conclusion on that point. (The Pfizer control group recorded zero deaths.)

Different vaccines yield different results, but all of the vaccines approved by the FDA (Pfizer-BioNTech’s, Moderna’s, and Johnson & Johnson’s) are very effective, which is why the CDC has indicated that vaccinated individuals can interact unmasked with other vaccinated individuals. It hasn’t yet commented on flying, but I’m guessing the CDC will relax its flying advisories for vaccinated individuals in the next few weeks. It will continue to recommend masks, for the sake of protecting the unvaccinated population, because the science on transmission by the vaccinated is still hazy.

Now think about your child. The CDC has published some risk assessments by age. For comparison’s sake, I’ll phrase the findings the way I would the results of a vaccine trial: Being a child aged 5 to 17 is 99.9 percent protective against the risk of death and 98 percent protective against hospitalization. For children 0 to 4, these numbers are 99.9 percent (death) and 96 percent (hospitalization).  

The central goal of vaccination is preventing serious illness and death. From this standpoint, being a child is a really great vaccine. Your unvaccinated first grader appears to have about as much protection from serious illness as a vaccinated grandmother.

She’s not wrong.  And though Oster has been massively dragged by the epidemiological folks (“stay in your lane, Economist!”), I haven’t actually seen anybody dispute this basic analysis.  This criticism from Tara Haelle (who writes a lot of good stuff) was pretty typical:

And then, literally, the next sentence:

Regardless, typical children have extraordinarily low rates of hospitalization and death from Covid, and that’s reassuring.

That’s the key premise of the argument Oster is making!  Anyway, all sorts of stuff about how unvaccinated kids can still spread the virus!  But, again, that’s not the point.  Oster’s focus is on understanding the risk to your family from various activities.  And, maybe you are a monster for not considering the role of kids in transmission at a future point in time when all adults have access to a vaccine, but sure doesn’t seem that way to me.  

Oh, and of course this all makes Oster a racist and ableist, too:

Did you see what Haelle did there with that “up to 17%” (worthy of a political attack ad).  This is a great example of confounding absolute risk and relative risk.  Even if the risk to Black kids were 3x the risk to white kids the absolute risk would still be super low.  Call me racist, but, yes, Black and Latino (yes, because I don’t choose to insist on labeling a group by a name that the vast majority of the member of that group reject because I know better than them) parents who are vaccinated, but with unvaccinated kids, should be making roughly similar risk calculations to middle-class white parents.  

Yeah, sorry to get so worked up about a single critique, but it just pressed so many of my buttons.  Anyway, what we’re going to do in this uncertain middle ground is really important and we need solid advice and information for parents– not alarmism.   

For example, this NYT article was horrible: “Family Travel Gets Complicated Without a Covid Vaccine for Kids.  It was very much about those families who might not be able to engage in international travel with their unvaccinated kids (because of rules regarding vaccinated travelers, etc., not actual health risk).  Definitely not the decisions faced by your typical parents.  But then when it got to domestic travel, it was all alarmism with no mention at all of kids’ much lower risk of serious cases:

After a year of road tripsR.V.s and rental cottages, many Americans are now ready to fly again: Online searches for late-summer flights are up as much as 75 percent, and hotels on both coasts are reporting that they are sold out through October. But families, more than any other travel sector, continue to play it safe…

Montoya and Phil Hudson, who showcase their travels as a Black family on their popular blog, The Spring Break Family, are among them. “Most years we go pretty far — Spain, Italy, France, as far as we can go. This year it was about what’s reachable by car,” Ms. Hudson said. She and Mr. Hudson, who both work in the health care industry, are vaccinated, but admit they probably won’t be willing to fly with their two daughters, Leilah, 11, and Layla, 8, for several more months.

That’s because they want to wait for herd immunity to help keep their daughters safe. “The goal is to wait until the majority of the population is vaccinated, or has at least had the opportunity to become vaccinated,” Ms. Hudson said.

Waiting for a herd immunity before letting your 11-year old on an airplane with vaccinated adults is just not something that makes a lot of sense in protecting your 11-year old.  

In addition to preferring driving over flying this summer, travel analysts say families with children will also continue to opt for rental homes over hotel rooms.

In fact, when it comes to the vacation cottage market, parents are booking faster than anyone else. “Families are the number one group expected to travel in 2021,” said Vered Schwarz, the president and chief operating officer of Guesty, a short-term property management platform which reports that its summer reservations are already 110 percent higher than 2020, with families comprising more than 30 percent of those booking. “For families with unvaccinated children, private rentals are appealing — they are comfortable and they avoid hotels chock-full of crowded common areas,” she said.

Again… come on!  Stop worrying about whether your kid is going to be hospitalized from Covid she caught in a hotel corridor when it’s almost certainly more likely that she gets hospitalized from an automobile accident on your road trip.

We’re just so bad at risk assessment.  Especially when kids are involved.  And, yes, there’s all sorts of considerations to be considered with family travel, role of vaccinated versus unvaccinated versus kids in transmission, etc.  But an important part in how we deal with very confusing times ahead is being clear and honest about what the risks to children really are.  And, if they really do prove to be dramatically worse with one of the variants, that should certainly be a consideration as well.  But, in an incredibly fortunate quirk of this virus, kids are very rarely seriously affected and that needs to affect our decision-making.

Oh, and let’s get these damn vaccines approved for kids ASAP, too.  Glad to see we’re finally getting some good progress on that. 

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Placebo effect for the win!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What kind of drink?” the bartender replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Kids?

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

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

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

Here’s all these numbers in a graph.

Here’s all these numbers in a graph.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trapped priors: the basic cognitive version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trapped prior: the more complicated emotional version

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

1) Cool feature on how NC State got it’s own Covid testing lab going.  I especially enjoyed the video that actually shows all the cool automation involved.  And, the fact that there’s also just humans doing a lot of repetitive grunt work (like taking test tubes out of plastic bags).  

2) I’m all in on less yelling, but, I do like praising my kids (don’t think I really overdo it, though): “There’s a Better Way to Parent: Less Yelling, Less Praise.”  That said, some really good stuff here that really resonated with me on how we interact with younger kids in particular:

Joe Pinsker: Many American parenting strategies, you estimate, are only about 100 years old, and some of them arose more recently than that. What about American parenting sticks out to you as distinctive and particularly strange?

Michaeleen Doucleff: One of the craziest things we do is praise children constantly. When I was first working on the book, I recorded myself to see how frequently I praised my little girl, Rosy, and I noticed that I would exaggeratedly react to even her smallest accomplishments, like drawing a flower or writing a letter, with a comment like “Good job!” or “Wow! What a beautiful flower!”

This is insane if you look around the world and throughout human history. Everywhere I went, I don’t know if I ever heard a parent praise a child. Yet these kids are incredibly self-sufficient, confident, and respectful—everything we want praise to do, these kids already have it, without the praise.

It’s hard to cut back on praise, because it’s so baked in, but later on, I decided to try. It’s not that there’s no feedback, but it’s much gentler feedback—parents will smile or nod if a child is doing something they want. I started doing that, and Rosy’s behavior really improved. A lot of the attention-seeking behavior went away.

Pinsker: You visited an Inuit town in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, and spent time in households where children were almost mysteriously immune to tantrums. How did the parents you met respond when kids misbehaved?

Doucleff: One night while I was there, Rosy and I were staying with a woman named Sally who was watching three of her grandchildren—so, four kids under 6 years old in this house. Sally just approached everything they did with the most calmness and composure I have ever seen. At one point, a little toddler, maybe 18 months at the time, I think he was pulling the dog’s tail or something. Sally picked him up and, when she did, he scratched her face so hard that it was bleeding. I would have been irate, but Sally, I saw her kind of clench her teeth, and just say, in the calmest voice, “We don’t do this.” Then she took him and flipped him around with this playful helicopter move, and they both started laughing. Then it was over—there was no conflict around it.

If the child’s energy goes high—if they get very upset—the parent’s energy goes so low. Another time on our trip, in the grocery store, Rosy started having a tantrum, and I was getting ready to yell at her to stop. But Elizabeth, our interpreter, came over to her and addressed her in the calmest voice. Immediately, Rosy just stopped—when she was around that calmness, her whole body relaxed. I was like, Okay, I’m just doing this tantrum thing completely wrong.

Pinsker: You write about how when Sally and Elizabeth see behavior like that, they think about the causes of it differently than many American parents do. What is the narrative they have for why young kids act out?


The Inuit parents and elders I interviewed almost laughed when I said that. One woman said something like, “She’s a kid—she doesn’t know how to manipulate like that.” Instead, what they told me is that young children are just these illogical, irrational beings who haven’t matured enough and haven’t acquired understanding or reason yet. So there’s no reason to get upset or argue back—if you do, you’re being just like the child.

This has totally shifted the way I interact with Rosy—I have so much less anger. She’s trying her best. Maybe she’s clumsy and illogical and irrational, but in her heart, she loves me, she wants to do well, and she wants to help.

3) Ezra, right again, “Biden Is the Anti-Trump, and It’s Working: If you can dial down the conflict, you can dial up the policy.” 

But another way of looking at it is that Trump’s communication strategy was successful in getting Trump what he actually wanted: Attention, not legislation. Biden wants legislation, not attention, and that informs his team’s more targeted approach. “You can be all over every newscast and insert yourself in every conversation, but if you aren’t driving that conversation toward a focused agenda, it isn’t doing you a lot of good,” Kate Bedingfield, the White House communications director, told me…

A few pieces of political science research are shaping my thinking here. In 2012, Stephen Nicholson, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, published an interesting paper called “Polarizing Cues.” In it, Nicholson asked people their opinions of proposed housing and immigration policies, sometimes telling them that Barack Obama supported the policy and at other times telling them that George W. Bush or John McCain supported the policy. What he found was that opinions didn’t much change when people heard that a political leader from their own party supported a bill. But opinions changed dramatically when you told them a political leader from the other side supported a bill — it led to sharp swings against the legislation, no matter the underlying policy content.

When I called Nicholson to ask him about the paper, he gave an insightful explanation for the results. Humans tend to see diversity in the groups we belong to, and sameness in the groups we mistrust, he said. A Democrat knows there are many ways to be a Democrat — you can be a Biden Democrat, an A.O.C. Democrat, an Obama Democrat, a Bernie Democrat, a Clinton Democrat. So a signal from any one Democratic leader is weaker, because he or she may not be the leader you care about. But no matter which kind of Democrat you are, Republicans blur in your mind into an undifferentiated mass of awful, so a signal from their political leaders is stronger. The process works the other way, too, of course. A recent Gallup poll showed 88 percent of Republicans disapprove of Biden — the more Biden makes the American Rescue Plan about himself, the more they’ll hate it.

Then there’s the book “Stealth Democracy,” by the political scientists John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse. They marshal a mountain of survey data to show that Americans have weak and changeable views on policy, but strong views on how politics should look and feel. Many, if not most, Americans believe “political conflict is unnecessary and an indication that something is wrong with governmental procedures,” they write. The more partisan fighting there is around a bill, in other words, the more Americans begin to believe something must be wrong with the legislation — otherwise, why would everyone be so upset?

Mitch McConnell understood all of this, and he ginned up political bickering to undermine Obama’s agenda. But Biden seems to understand it, too. When I talked to Bedingfield, she kept circling back to Biden’s preference for rhetoric and strategies that turn down “the temperature” on American politics. But Biden isn’t taking the usual Washington strategy toward that goal, which is to retreat to modest bills and quarter-measures. Instead, his theory seems to be that if you can dial down the conflict, you can dial up the policy.

4) Enough with the damn culture war Catholic bishops who want to deny certain vaccines over abortions that happened decades ago.  

5) Sure, there’s lots of awfulness on twitter.  But, without it not only would I know 90% about Covid, I also would not happen across great posts like this one about “disinterpretation.”  This is so good and captures so well what is wrong with so much contemporary discourse.  I’m definitely going to be talking about disinterpretation into the future:

I’m providing very small examples, but this style of discourse is endemic to Twitter and plays out on a larger scale all the time — commentators are constantly being characterized as believing things they don’t believe, and entire intellectual positions are stigmatized based on associations with ideas that they don’t have any substantive affiliation with, often just because they don’t appear to fit into classic left-right or liberal-left binaries. If I critique Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility workshops I’m told I oppose making the workplace diverse; if I say doxing civilians can be hyper-punitive I’m told that I’m a reactionary uninterested in the fight against mass incarceration (something I’ve written about the moral degeneracy of for the better part of a decade). An increasing share of my responses simply involve telling people “I did not say that” or “please read what I wrote.”

Misinterpretation versus disinterpretation

So what’s happening?

One way to look at it is that nobody reads. When people are coming to conclusions that just aren’t supported by what they’re reading or making questionable inferences when alternative conclusions are possible, it’s a sign of a low literacy environment. 

But one must also consider the specific kind of illiteracy on display. It’s not just poor reading, it’s poor reading that exhibits discernible patterns of antagonism, and effectively treats public debate as a battlefield. When people are constantly manufacturing positions you don’t hold and bombarding each other with false choices, it’s illustrative of a climate in which nothing is untouched by polarization, in which everything is a proxy for some broader orientation which must be sorted into the bin of good/bad, socially aware/problematic, savvy/out of touch, my team/the enemy. 

This filtration process is so intense that people want to sort out any given comment into one of these bins before they’ve even fully interpreted them. If you’re not inclined to “read the room” — one of the most common exhortations among the braindead Twitterati — in a specific corner of the Internet and dutifully put forward instantly recognizable talking points, then your comments are flagged as at odds with what’s considered sensible. There’s an almost algorithmic quality to the way that this scanning and sorting process works, which would explain how people come to conclusions that often don’t make much sense outside of the function of identifying irregularities.

On a micro level our debates are stained by straw-manning and non-sequiturs and motte-and-bailey fallacies, but the aggregate effect is something more systematic and more insidious. Call it disinterpretation — incorrect interpretation in an adversarial, antisocial, and exploitative manner.

6) Norm Ornstein, “Democrats can’t kill the filibuster. But they can gut it.”  Listen up Manchin and Sinema.

Make the minority do the work. Currently, it takes 60 senators to reach cloture — to end debate and move to a vote on final passage of a bill. The burden is on the majority, a consequence of filibuster reform in 1975, which moved the standard from two-thirds of senators present and voting to three-fifths of the entire Senate. Before that change, if the Senate went around-the-clock, filibustering senators would have to be present in force. If, for example, only 75 senators showed up for a cloture vote, 50 of them could invoke cloture and move to a final vote. After the reform, only a few senators in the minority needed to be present to a request for unanimous consent and to keep the majority from closing debate by forcing a quorum call. The around-the-clock approach riveted the public, putting a genuine spotlight on the issues. Without it, the minority’s delaying tactics go largely unnoticed, with little or no penalty for obstruction, and no requirement actually to debate the issue.

One way to restore the filibuster’s original intent would be requiring at least two-fifths of the full Senate, or 40 senators, to keep debating instead requiring 60 to end debate. The burden would fall to the minority, who’d have to be prepared for several votes, potentially over several days and nights, including weekends and all-night sessions, and if only once they couldn’t muster 40 — the equivalent of cloture — debate would end, making way for a vote on final passage of the bill in question.

7) Zeynep’s substack posts are just so good and this is no exception.  I just love the way her mind works.  “Vaccine Efficacy, Statistical Power and Mental Models”

I’ve recently been thinking of another mental model divergence, one that is coloring our interpretation of (and worries around) vaccines, variants and their efficacy. 

In a nutshell, here’s the divergence. A lot of our discussions seem to treat the immune system like a wall with a fixed height: if a taller wave comes over it, it will wash over the wall.  Like the sea wall that was meant to protect the Fukushima nuclear reactor from tsunami waves but was too short to do so.

Another facility, the Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant had a higher sea wall and survived despite being closer to the epicenter of the Tsunami.

 If that’s what the vaccine trials were measuring—the height of thewall that is our immune system comparing vaccine effectiveness would make a lot of sense.  Many high-profile, highly-credentialed people have been (misleadingly) describing it exactly in that manner: that if a vaccine is 95% effective, those 5% are left “unprotected.” If Moderna and Pfizer and 95% efficacious, and if Johnson and Johnson is 66%—well, that would mean that 34% of the people are left “unprotected.” right?

Wrong. To get to why that assumption is not right—and why those vaccine efficacy numbers are not the height of the wall that represents the immune system—let me first mention something important The two mRNA vaccines do appear to be spectacular, but they were tested under conditions where those pesky “variants-of-concern”—the B.117 (UK one) and B. 1.351 (South Africa) and P1–were not widespread. If tested now, under equal conditions, those numbers may be closer. Plus, Johnson & Johnson is a single-shot with a trial with a booster underway. So those efficacy numbers may well be much closer in reality than they appear from the trial results. But let’s leave that aside for a moment.

The trials have predefined “endpoints” that we measure for statistical comparison. In all these trials, the endpoint is any symptomatic disease. Not any infection (though a few have measured this), and not deaths or hospitalizations or even severe disease (though, obviously that’s what we care about!). Why? Pretty simple actually: it is the best compromise between a good indicator of a vaccine that works well and statistical power

Simply put, statistical power is the calculation that gives you the trial size you need to make a meaningful comparison between two groups. The rarer the thing you are measuring, the larger the group needs to be. Consider a randomized trial to figure out if one can create a “national player of the year”  award-winning basketball player at the college level with a summer boot camp teaching MAGIC TECHNIQUE in the high school senior year before the player goes to college and joins a team. Let’s say our control is a summer boot camp that teaches REGULAR TECHNIQUE. There are currently about six such awards per year, from six different organizations. Sometimes they go to the same person: Zion Williamson won all six in 2018-2019. Sometimes they don’t. 

So let’s say we took 10,000 thousand top-playing high school players, randomized them to each group, and then watched what happened. Let’s say that one person who attended the MAGIC TECHNIQUE camp won two of the awards in a year, and nobody from the group got the REGULAR TECHNIQUE won any of the six awards. Are we confident that those results will always be the case? Of course not. Let’s say we repeat it next year, and again, a person who attended the camp won all six awards. Any more confident? Not really. The outcome is just too rare. We’d have to keep repeating this for many years to get even the slightest inkling of what’s really going on.

A more sensible way to do this would be to measure something a lot more common. Say: being drafted to college basketball at all. Take the same top 10,000 promising high school players, randomize them in their junior year of high school for MAGIC TECHNIQUE and REGULAR TECHNIQUE summer camp. Then check how many got recruited to play basketball at the college level—which appears to be about 1,500 total per year. Now we are getting into better statistical territory, though, here too we still wouldn’t be able to feel super confident if the results were close. It appears that about 3.5% of high school players are recruited each year, so we expect 175 out of each group (of 5000) to be recruited on average, if things are happening just by chance. If it is 180 vs 170? We won’t be that sure this is a real difference. If a MAGIC TECHNIQUE group has 250 recruits to 100 from the REGULAR people? Looks more like a statistically significant effect.

I gave eyeball numbers here, but these are, in fact, fairly precise statistical calculations. We can calculate these things, and we have an idea of what kind of trial size we need to have the kind of statistical power to differentiate things we expect to be different at what kind of level.

Which brings me back to vaccine efficacy. The vaccine trials have as any endpoint any symptomatic disease,  rather than hospitalization or death, for the same reason it is easier to measure the effectiveness of a technique by looking at whether a high-schooler makes it into a college basketball at all rather than whether they become an MVP college basketball player for that year: it’s easier and quicker to look at something that’s a lot more common.

But here’s the twist: There is, of course, a relationship between mild COVID—or breakthrough cases, getting symptoms of COVID despite being vaccinated—in that if you aren’t even getting mild disease, you are certainly not getting severe consequences. But the converse is not true: an inability to prevent mild disease does not necessarily signal an inability to prevent severe disease, hospitalizations and death. That would be the case if vaccinations and the immune system, indeed, had operated like a wall; if a wall can’t stop a five-foot wave because it is too short, it certainly can’t stop a nine-foot wave.  

Also, an amazing anecdote in here about Facebook and how, Mark Zuckerberg is operating off a mental model that fundamentally understands human nature.

8) I was so into knowing everything I could about Fighter Jets when I was a kid.  Damn did I love the F-16.  But, damn, what a fiasco that we haven’t been able to successfully replace it with the F-35 decades later.  

The U.S. Air Force’s top officer wants the service to develop an affordable, lightweight fighter to replace hundreds of Cold War-vintage F-16s and complement a small fleet of sophisticated—but costly and unreliable—stealth fighters.

The result would be a high-low mix of expensive “fifth-generation” F-22s and F-35s and inexpensive “fifth-generation-minus” jets, explained Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown Jr.

If that plan sounds familiar, it’s because the Air Force a generation ago launched development of an affordable, lightweight fighter to replace hundreds of Cold War-vintage F-16s and complement a small future fleet of sophisticated—but costly and unreliable—stealth fighters.

But over 20 years of R&D, that lightweight replacement fighter got heavier and more expensive as the Air Force and lead contractor Lockheed Martin LMT +0.6% packed it with more and more new technology.

Yes, we’re talking about the F-35. The 25-ton stealth warplane has become the very problem it was supposed to solve. And now America needs a new fighter to solve that F-35 problem, officials said.

With a sticker price of around $100 million per plane, including the engine, the F-35 is expensive. While stealthy and brimming with high-tech sensors, it’s also maintenance-intensive, buggy and unreliable. “The F-35 is not a low-cost, lightweight fighter,” said Dan Ward, a former Air Force program manager and the author of popular business books including The Simplicity Cycle.

The F-35 is a Ferrari, Brown told reporters last Wednesday. “You don’t drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays. This is our ‘high end’ [fighter], we want to make sure we don’t use it all for the low-end fight.”

9) Good stuff from Arthur Brooks, “The Type of Love That Makes People Happiest: When it comes to lasting romance, passion has nothing on friendship.”

assionate love—the period of falling in love—often hijacks our brains in a way that can cause elation or the depths of despair. Thrilling, yes, but it can hardly be thought of as bringing contentment; indeed, during some historical periods it has even been connected to suicide.

And yet, romantic love has been scientifically shown to be one of the best predictors of happiness. The Harvard Study of Adult Development has assessed the connection between people’s habits and their subsequent well-being since the late 1930s. Many of the patterns uncovered by the study are important but unsurprising: The happiest, healthiest people in old age didn’t smoke (or quit early in life), exercised, drank moderately or not at all, and stayed mentally active, among other patterns. But these habits pale in comparison with one big one: The most important predictors of late-life happiness are stable relationships—and, especially, a long romantic partnership. The healthiest participants at age 80 tend to have been most satisfied in their relationships at age 50.

In other words, the secret to happiness isn’t falling in love; it’s staying in love. This does not mean just sticking together legally: Research shows that being married only accounts for 2 percent of subjective well-being later in life. The important thing for well-being is relationship satisfaction, and that depends on what psychologists call “companionate love”—love based less on passionate highs and lows and more on stable affection, mutual understanding, and commitment.

You might think “companionate love” sounds a little, well, disappointing. I certainly did the first time I heard it, on the heels of the amateur romantic comedy I described above. I did not move to Barcelona like a knight errant in search of “companionate love,” I can assure you. But let me finish the story: She said yes—actually, —and we have been happily married for 30 years. Our communication has improved—we text at least 20 times a day—and it turns out that we don’t just love each other; we like each other, too. Once and always my romantic love, she is also my best friend.

Being rooted in friendship is the reason that companionate love creates true happiness. Passionate love, which relies on attraction, does not typically last beyond the novelty of the relationship. Companionate love relies on its very familiarity. As one researcher bluntly summarizes the evidence in the Journal of Happiness Studies, “The well-being benefits of marriage are much greater for those who also regard their spouse as their best friend.”…

The deep friendship of companionate love should not be exclusive, however. In 2007, researchers at the University of Michigan found that married people aged 22 to 79 who said they had at least two close friends—meaning at least one besides their spouse—had higher levels of life satisfaction and self-esteem and lower levels of depression than spouses who did not have close friends outside their marriage. In other words, long-term companionate love might be necessary, but isn’t sufficient for happiness.

10) Way back when, I really thought therapeutics would be our way out of this.  Not so much, it turns out.  One in particular, EIDD 2801 seems particularly promising.  Interestingly, it still is actually  quite promising.  Though, I just don’t get, given that fact, how in the world we haven’t made more progress on clinical trials at this point.  Also, some pretty cool stuff in here on how drugs that are murder on viral RNA are often murder on human cells, so this is a tough nut to crack, but, this drug just may be the one to do it.  

11) As you know, I’m generally with Yglesias and the “do popular stuff” approach.  Brian Beutler makes a pretty good case for why that’s not all its cracked up to be.

One school of thought, which Matt adheres to, is that because the stakes are so high, Democrats and party activists should, as a prudential matter, embrace and emphasize ideas that poll very well, downplay or jettison ones that don’t, and certainly never let themselves be associated with toxically unpopular ideas. 

Not just prudential, actually. Empirical, too. Issue-polling essentialists point to the quantitative work of David Shor, who draws inferences about the effects that progressive issue-position popularity has on Democratic Party performance with key voting blocs. The idea is that when Democrats campaign on issues that are contentious among these blocs, or even just get marked by association with activists who push unpopular ideas (e.g. defund the police), they suffer almost mechanically. Thus, depending on how wise or pressing these issues are, Democrats should either denounce them (e.g. defund), abandon them (e.g. Medicare for all), or downplay them (e.g. a pathway to citizenship).

Associate the party with its most popular policy ideas, and its brand will improve; make the whole party more like its cautious, moderate, red-state or red-district members, who overperform the party at large, and Democrats will be more likely to win big majorities. Stop the party from smoking weed with the weird kids under the bleachers, and maybe it’ll get asked to the prom.

Simple as it sounds, I think this is a pretty impoverished view of politics, for reasons I’ll explain below, and, more importantly, I think we’re watching its shortcomings materialize in real time. Because to a large extent the Democratic Party already operates this way, and yet it is somehow not an unstoppable political juggernaut. It chases polls as much as is practicable, short of muzzling activists and expelling its left-most members, and it wins them 52 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Republicans ignore this theory of politics altogether, in favor of embracing incredibly unpopular ideas, making little to no effort to distance themselves from the radical, far-right, unhinged, and racist parts of their coalition. And they get 48 percent…

Zoom out enough and this is kind of obvious. The Democratic agenda is very popular; Joe Biden is quite popular; Donald Trump is extremely unpopular; and the GOP policy agenda is so politically toxic that they lie about it systematically and distract attention from it by publicly obsessing over Mr. Potato Head’s penis. But Republicans still bat at least .500 in elections, and just over a decade after suffering catastrophic, nationwide defeats, they wield immense power at all levels of government. You can account for some of this by reference to gerrymandering, Senate bias, the electoral college, and voter suppression, among other antidemocratic aspects of our system. But not that much. Trump lost one national popular vote by about two points, and other by about four. Democrats won a tiny House majority in 2020, but it isn’t as though gerrymandering tells the story there: They only won the national popular vote for the House by about three percent. 

And that was in an election where Democrats did basically everything according to the holy writ of public-opinion polling: They nominated their most moderate, popular presidential candidate, and a number of Senate candidates in the same mold, all of whom rejected last summer’s brief burst of activist “defund the police” rhetoric, which looms so large in the polling-essentialist minds. They tailored their agenda to public opinion, and made sure to emphasize the most popular aspects of it. And they won! It’s just hard to see the careful calibration of policy ideas as the thing that did the work. To me the global story of 2020 is that Republicans can wreck the country leaving half a million dead and millions more jobless, backing a widely despised president and a noxious policy agenda, and still perform pretty well in an election with little more than culture-war straw-grasping, and we are making a huge leap of faith if we assume a popular policy rollout is the antidote to that.

12) I’m sorry, but all the takes like this just bug me, “Vaccine nationalism: Why hoarding COVID jabs may prolong pandemic: United Nations chief has criticised global distribution, noting that 10 countries have administered 75 percent of all vaccine doses.”  Of course the US should be a good global citizen, but is it remotely realistic to expect us to divert vaccines to other countries while we still have vaccine scarcity in our own?  Sure, maybe in a much better world, but this is not remotely feasible in the national and global world we live in. 

13) Pretty sure I’m never going to start a band, but, if I do, damn it, it will be called “Strategic Monkey Reserve.”  The story, “Future Vaccines Depend on Test Subjects in Short Supply: Monkeys”

14) A lot of people have been worried that Americans wouldn’t want the J&J vaccine because it’s got lower efficacy against symptomatic Covid.  Turns out, though, a lot of people really like the idea of one shot and not two.  

15) I love this frame on voting rules from Jennifer Victor:

Each party wants us to believe that they are fighting for the very soul of America and they seek reforms to reinforce US democracy. Each party claims that the other party’s reforms are a threat to democracy and pose too great a risk to the country. The proposed reforms generally contradict one another (e.g., expand or restrict early voting). So which party seeks to strengthen democracy and which party’s reforms pose greater risks?

Ultimately, Republicans maintain their primary concern is about ensuring election integrity. That is, they want to ensure that only those who have a legal right to vote are allowed to participate in elections. On the other hand, Democrats maintain their priority is to ensure that everyone who has a legal right to vote is readily able to exercise it…

To use a science analogy, when it comes to voting and elections, Republicans are worried about Type I error and Democrats are worried about Type II error. These error types refer to challenges associated with causal inference. A Type I error refers to a false positive, such as a doctor telling you, you have a disease that it turns out you do not actually have. The Type II error refers to a false negative, such as a doctor informing you that your tests indicate you are not sick, when in fact you are. Both of these cases describe a faulty test, and both are problematic; however, they are not equally problematic. Further, it is not the case that a false positive is always worse than a false negative, or vice versa. Rather, the level of severity of the error is related to the context of the test…

Republicans remain concerned about false positives when it comes to elections and voting. When a non-citizen illegally casts a vote, it is like a Type I error where the vaccine was delivered to market when it should not have been. A false positive is an event that occurs in error. The voter, like the vaccine, was delivered in error.

Democrats, on the other hand, remain focused on Type II errors, or false negatives, when it comes to voting. When someone who has the legal right to vote is prevented from doing so, it is similar to a diseased patient being told they are healthy. A false negative is a needed event that does not occur. Erroneously preventing a legal vote from being cast is a Type II error because it means someone who should get something, doesn’t get it.

When it comes to elections and voting, which is worse, a Type I error or a Type II error? Republicans argue that it is worse to allow non-voters to vote than it is to prevent legal voters from participating in elections. But Democrats argue that it is much worse to prevent legal voters from voting than it is to mistakenly allow non-citizens to vote.

Of course, we could observe that the false positive event of illegal votes being cast occurs much, much more infrequently than the false negative event of legal voters facing barriers to voting; however, we could also look at the costs associated with each error.

In elections where many false positives occur, the integrity of the election is undermined in the sense that elections are intended to be a mechanism to measure the preferences of people in society so that leaders can be selected and enact the voters’ preferences. If non-eligible voters participate, then it interrupts the sovereignty of the state. Americans would not expect to follow laws set by Canada or Mexico? So why should elections for selecting American lawmakers include non-Americans? Election integrity is a matter of defining who is a legal member of a state or nation. Strict rules about who can participate are about enforcing the boundaries of government sovereignty. The costs for violating this boundary include a weaker sense of citizenship and sovereignty. Questions of sovereignty and defining who controls the levers of government have been core themes of Republican politics for several decades. It’s easy to see why Republicans remain concerned about Type I errors in elections.

In elections where many false negatives occur, citizens who are governed by a legitimate authority do not participate in selecting that authority. These citizens are expected to follow the laws of the state, but they have not participated (by choice or force) in selecting the representatives who make the laws. Since the 1960s, the Democratic Party has aimed to promote democratic institutions that maximize inclusivity, although this aim has often been imperfect. The costs for violating the principle that democracies are participatory systems of self-governance are that the non-participants wind up being ruled by systems they did not select. Since elections are the primary institution that qualify a system to be called democratic, any rule that limits participation in elections is inherently anti-democratic. It’s easy to see why Democrats remain concerned about Type II errors in elections.

At the end of the day, you can have a democratic system with weakly defined sovereignty, but you can’t have a strictly sovereign system that systematically excludes participation from some groups and call it democracy.

If the goal is to build a democratic society where the systems have integrity and the barriers to participating are low, it is clear that the costs of Type II errors are much higher than the costs of Type I errors.

16) I feel strongly enough about this tweet of mine to include it here.

17) Very cool research from a team that includes someone (Will Cubbison) I advised as an NCSU undergrad many years ago! 

Southern states have used a variety of methods to disenfranchise African American voters. Empirical data on the effectiveness of these measures is rare. We present a unique data source from Louisiana that allows us to empirically document voter registration rates from the end of Reconstruction to the present. Using basic time series data, we document how voter registration rates changed over time in response to state restrictions. We then conduct a second analysis, which focuses on Louisiana’s use of the Understanding Clause to reduce voter registration among Blacks. We show that in parishes that used the Understanding Clause, Black registration rates dropped by nearly 30 percentage points, with little effect on white registration. The findings of this paper have important implications for understanding the potential for discrimination in the enforcement of modern, ostensibly nonracial, voter eligibility requirements, such as voter ID laws, which grant substantial discretion to local officials in determining voter eligibility.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Heather McGhee on race and economic policy in America:

The anti-government stinginess of traditional conservatism, along with the fear of losing social status held by many white people, now broadly associated with Trumpism, have long been connected. Both have sapped American society’s strength for generations, causing a majority of white Americans to rally behind the draining of public resources and investments. Those very investments would provide white Americans — the largest group of the impoverished and uninsured — greater security, too: A new Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco study calculated that in 2019, the country’s output would have been $2.6 trillion greater if the gap between white men and everyone else were closed. And a 2020 report from analysts at Citigroup calculated that if America had adopted policies to close the Black-white economic gap 20 years ago, U.S. G.D.P would be an estimated $16 trillion higher…

Racial integration portended the end of America’s high-tax, high-investment growth strategy: Tax revenue peaked as a percentage of the economy in 1969 compared with the average O.E.C.D. country. Now, America’s per capita government spending is near the bottom among industrialized countries. Our roads, bridges and water systems get a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Unlike our peers, we don’t have high-speed rail, universal broadband, mandatory paid family leave or universal child care.

And while growing corporate power and money in politics have certainly played a role, it’s now clear that racial resentment is the key uncredited actor in our economic backslide. White people who exhibit low racial resentment against Black people are 60 percentage points more likely to support increased government spending than are those with high racial resentment. At the base of this resentment is a zero-sum story: the default framework for conservative arguments, rife with references to “makers and takers,” “taxpayers and freeloaders.”

2) I’ve been relying on sound machines since my 18-year old son was a baby (and wish I had one for his older brother).  Never realized that “random nonrepeating white noise” was a key. 

3) Speaking of background noise, Wired, “The Brain’s ‘Background Noise’ May Be Meaningful After All: By digging out signals hidden within the brain’s electrical chatter, scientists are getting new insights into sleep, aging, and more.

4) Leonhardt on vaccinating teachers and getting kids back in school (one of mine will be on Monday for the first time in almost a year– yes, elementary, where evidence clearly suggests its the least risky school environment):

There are enough vaccine doses

The country now has enough vaccine doses to move teachers to the front of the line without substantially delaying vaccinations for everyone else.

Nationwide, about 6.5 million people work inside a K-12 school. It’s a substantially smaller group than the 21 million health care workers, many of whom were in the first group of Americans to become eligible for vaccines.

As a point of reference, Moderna and Pfizer have delivered an average of more than one million new doses to the federal government every day this month. That daily number is on track to exceed three million next month. Immediately vaccinating every school employee would push back everybody else’s vaccine by a few days at most.

A few states have already prioritized teachers, with Kentucky apparently the furthest along, according to Education Week. It has finished administering the first dose to the bulk of K-12 staff who want one. “This is going to help us safely get our kids back in school faster than just about any other state,” Gov. Andy Beshear said, “and it’s going to allow us to do it without risking the health of those that come in to serve those children.”


Schools have reopened safely

Even before teachers are fully vaccinated — a process which can take more than a month after the first shot — many schools have shown how to reopen.

It involves “masking, social distancing, hand-washing, adequate ventilation and contact tracing,” as Susan Dominus wrote (in a fascinating Times Magazine story on how Rhode Island mostly kept its schools open). It also involves setting up virtual alternatives for some students and staff members who want them. When schools have followed this approach, it has typically worked, according to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others.

In one of the most rigorous studies, a group at Tulane University looked at hospitalizations (a more reliable measure than positive tests) before and after school reopenings. The results suggest that at least 75 percent of U.S. communities now have Covid well enough under control to reopen schools without sparking new outbreaks, including many places where schools remain closed.

The evidence is murkier for places with the worst current outbreaks, like much of the Carolinas. And some schools do seem to have reopened unsafely, including a Georgia district that is the subject of a new C.D.C. case study.

Still, Douglas Harris, the Tulane economist who runs the research group, told me, “All the studies are suggesting we can do this, if we put our minds to it.” He added: “We can’t do school the old way, but we can do better than this.”

5) Some cool science history, “Researchers looking for mRNA were ridiculed by colleagues. Luckily, that didn’t stop them.: Sixty years ago, the scientists who were pioneering the technology that would make today’s COVID-19 vaccines possible were mocked and dismissed”

6) What we pay state legislators in NC is a joke and, generally, just a horrible idea, “Getting What We Pay For: How North Carolina’s legacy of a “citizen legislature” endures, with far-reaching effects on the state and its General Assembly”

I want to tell you about a job. Do it right and you could help reduce poverty, increase life expectancy, make our roads safer, and improve our schools. Interested? There are a few catches.

The first is the salary—the job pays $13,951 a year, a figure that hasn’t changed since 1995. You’ll receive a small stipend for every day you work, but that stipend won’t be enough to pay for a place to stay unless you prefer motels that end in the number six. Some of your colleagues cope by camping at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds on workdays.

The number of days you work will be unpredictable. Normally, you’ll work January through August. But maybe through October. Or perhaps only until July. Your schedule changes every other year, but sometimes the year that’s expected to be shorter ends up being the longer one. Also, the boss in another division can call you back whenever he likes.

Staff support? You won’t have a lot of it. You will have an assistant, and from time to time, floating staff in the office will offer some help. But the current management team just fired 14 highly educated staffers who were supposed to help you with the more wonky aspects of the job.

Interested in the position? Congratulations! You can now raise money from your friends, campaign for over a year, and potentially serve as a member of the North Carolina General Assembly.

That’s the current recruitment pitch to fill the most powerful branch of government in a state with more than 10 million residents. It’s a model that was designed in a different century and different era, and it no longer serves our state or its citizens; it’s time for a change.

For political scientists, “professionalism” in state legislatures doesn’t mean decorum and polish. Instead, professionalism is increased when a state pays its legislators more money, stays in session longer, and provides more staff. The assumption is that those resources will produce a legislative body composed of people who consider service in the legislature as their primary occupation…

Today, the logic for a less professional legislature rests on the idea that legislators should understand what it’s like to be one of us: Legislators shouldn’t trade the daily toil of the average citizen for the high life in the state Capitol. One might argue that low pay creates an incentive for legislators to reject overly long legislative sessions—to spend more time at home where they, theoretically, have a job that pays the bills. But in reality, it just weakens the system.

Consider how the current setup limits who can serve. It is impossible for vast swathes of the citizenry to take a low-paying job with few resources, requiring you to be away from your primary source of income for an unknown number of days each year. The system skews toward lawyers, retirees, business owners, investors—folks with comfortable incomes, flexible schedules, and the ability to take extended and sudden leaves of absence.

7) Plenty or reasons Black people are vaccine-hesitant, but Tuskegee is not the big factor is often made out to be.  

8) 538 look at why the Congressional polling was so off in 2020.  

So what happened? Were the polls just terribly off in 2020? Not dramatically, no. Yes, polls once again underestimated Donald Trump’s performance, but the magnitude of that error (about 4 percentage points) wasn’t all that different from past presidential contests, such as in 2012 when polls underestimated Barack Obama’s margin of victory by almost 4 points. And there have, of course, been much larger polling errors, too.

But one reason the polling in 2020 has received so much attention is that down-ballot polling, namely the generic ballot — which asks respondents whether they plan to vote for a Democrat or Republican in their local race for the U.S. House of Representatives — was also off by a similarly large margin in 2020. In fact, as the table below shows, the House popular vote was 4.2 points more Republican-leaning than the polls anticipated, making it the largest generic ballot polling miss in a presidential or midterm cycle since 2006…

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, told me he’s still in the process of understanding which voters aren’t responding to polls, but he thinks issues of non-response bias may be the likeliest culprit for polling error in 2020. Nailing down just how much of a role non-response bias played in that error won’t be easy, though. “If the error is due to non-response bias caused by a portion of the electorate that came out only to support Donald Trump, then the polls may be basically fine in 2022 and we really won’t know why,” said Murray. Remember, too, that the size and direction of polling error has historically been unpredictable, so we can’t just bank on Democratic bias being the new normal for pollsters to adjust to. That said, Murray did say this could all be a much bigger issue if the polls are “about 3 to 4 points more left-leaning in their responses because a skewed cohort of folks [have] tuned out from participating in traditional venues of political discourse.”

At this point, we don’t know how widespread of an issue non-response in polling is. But one thing we do know is that what happened down-ballot in 2020 was at least partially tied up in the outcome of the presidential race, as Trump also outperformed his polls and most voters voted for the same party for president and the House. In fact, presidential and generic ballot polls have largely moved in the same direction: In total, in five of the seven presidential elections since 1996, the polling error in the presidential race has gone in the same direction as the error in the House contest (which was true in 2020 as well).

9) EJ Dionne makes the case for the right kind of partisanship (he’s right):

In her book “On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship,” the political philosopher Nancy L. Rosenblum notes that partisans accept “pluralism and political conflict” as a positive good. Partisans, she writes, “see themselves as firmly on the side of the angels,” but acknowledge their partiality. This encourages them to embrace both “political self-restraint” and “mental and emotional discipline.”

And that gets at our problem now — not partisanship as such, but a flight from those disciplines. And while you are free to accuse me of partisanship, I’d insist that what is happening in the Republican Party is objectively a grave threat to the proper functioning of the party system.

Functional partisanship demands, at the bare minimum, commitments to abide by the results of free elections, to tell the truth about those elections and to offer all citizens equal opportunities to participate in the electoral process…

The best kind of partisanship, based on those universal values, promotes fierce but constructive arguments. It acknowledges that in a good society, most political differences involve not a choice between good versus evil, but among competing goods — efficiency, security, entrepreneurship, fairness, individualism and solidarity, to name a few. Compromise (along with, yes, bipartisanship) is easier when we’re honest about the trade-offs we’re making.

But that brand of small-D democratic partisanship requires agreement on certain fundamentals, not the least being a shared commitment to truth and a willingness to let the voters decide — all the voters, not an electorate rigged through voter suppression.

10) Helen Branswell, “Schools may see a burst of the common cold when they reopen, research suggests”

A curious thing happened when Hong Kong reopened schools after closing them because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It bears watching here.

Hong Kong closed its schools to in-person learning from late January 2020 to late May — and then again in early July, when more Covid cases were detected. Within a few weeks of schools reopening in October, they started to see large numbers of kids getting sick, despite mandatory mask-wearing, additional spacing between desks, and other measures to lower the risk of spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

But the children weren’t infected with the virus. Nor did they have influenza, which would have been another possibility. They were infected with rhinoviruses — one of the most common causes of the common cold.

11) This is so cool, “Octopuses Have a Secret Sense to Keep Their 8 Arms Out of Trouble: Even when an octopus can’t see light with its eyes, its arms seem to know it is there.”  You should totally click through and check out the video. 12) Also cool.  Scientists are using cloned black-footed ferrets to add genetic diversity to the super-threatened species.  

12) This is quite interesting, “The unequal impact of parenthood in academia”
Across academia, men and women tend to publish at unequal rates. Existing explanations include the potentially unequal impact of parenthood on scholarship, but a lack of appropriate data has prevented its clear assessment. Here, we quantify the impact of parenthood on scholarship using an extensive survey of the timing of parenthood events, longitudinal publication data, and perceptions of research expectations among 3064 tenure-track faculty at 450 Ph.D.-granting computer science, history, and business departments across the United States and Canada, along with data on institution-specific parental leave policies. Parenthood explains most of the gender productivity gap by lowering the average short-term productivity of mothers, even as parents tend to be slightly more productive on average than nonparents. However, the size of productivity penalty for mothers appears to have shrunk over time. Women report that paid parental leave and adequate childcare are important factors in their recruitment and retention. These results have broad implications for efforts to improve the inclusiveness of scholarship.
13) Love this idea from Noah Smith, “Why not tie minimum wage to local rent?”

This is a good solution, but I think we might be able to do even better. My idea is to tie local minimum wage hikes to increases in local rent. There are two reasons to do this:

  1. Because rent is a good proxy for the cost of living for poor people, and

  2. Because tying minimum wages to rent provides an incentive for cities to build more housing.

Rent is the biggest single expense that low-income Americans have, and they spend more of their income on rent than people with higher incomes do. Via Eli Dourado, here’s a chart showing the percent of consumption spending that goes to rent, for all the income deciles:

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Of course the y-axis is truncated, so the difference isn’t huge, but you can see that people at the bottom of the distribution spend over a quarter of their income on rent, while people at the top spend maybe one-sixth. A quarter of your income is a huge amount!

Also, inflation includes luxury items and stuff that people can make do without. But no one can make do without shelter, so it seems like if we want to make sure that minimum wage keeps up with the cost of living, we should look at the cost of the most essential items, like shelter and food, instead of inflation overall.

So indexing minimum wage to the cost of shelter would be better than indexing it to inflation. But what about indexing it to median wage? Well, tying minimum wages to (market) rent would have another added benefit: It would push cities to build more housing.

Currently, many American cities have an affordability crisis — high-income people have been moving in, but powerful homeowners dominate local politics, and these homeowners tend to fight against any new housing development. Rising demand for housing with stagnant supply has caused rents to spiral.

The solution, of course, is to build more housing, in order to accommodate the inflow of people. But NIMBYs block this at the local level. The federal government would like to get involved, but because of America’s federalist system, they don’t have many policy levers for forcing states and cities to build more housing. The best federal policy that people have been able to suggest is to hand out money, e.g. through HUD, and then making it conditional on hitting housing targets. But this is a pretty weak lever.

Suppose, though, that minimum wage increases were tied to (market) rents. Businesses that pay low wages — especially restaurants — want to keep minimum wage as low as possible. If they could only do this by lowering market rents, they would become a powerful pro-housing lobby! You’d see local NIMBY homeowners show up to planning meetings, only to get shouted down by local restauranteurs!

And the beauty of this system is, even if business lobbies DID succeed in holding down minimum wages by forcing local governments to build more housing and reduce local rents, it wouldn’t matter. Because rent would be so cheap, it would still work out in poor people’s favor; their wages would be lower, but so would their rent.

14) Carl Zimmer’s essay on viruses and what is easy to be “alive” is great.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) A great NYT science reporter was fired, for, apparently actually saying the n-word while discussing racist language.  In absolutely no way using the word as a slur on someone, simply using the word in a conversation about racist language.  This is insane!  It really is completely crazy that there is this one word in the English language that you can’t say period.  That makes no sense.  Of course, I don’t say it because I’m trying to live in society here, but, NYT literally said “regardless of intent.”  What the hell?  Intent is the difference between a life sentence for first degree murder and going home to sleep with your family unpunished for justifiable homicide.  Liked Omar Wasow’s brief thread.

2) Kristof on child poverty:

Imagine you have some neighbors in a mansion down the road who pamper one child with a credit card, the best private school and a Tesla.

The parents treat most of their other kids decently but not lavishly — and then you discover that the family consigns one child to an unheated, vermin-infested room in the basement, denying her dental care and often leaving her without food.

You’d call 911 to report child abuse. You’d say those responsible should be locked up. You’d steam about how vile adults must be to allow a child to suffer like that.

But that’s us. That household, writ large, is America and our moral stain of child poverty.

Some American children attend $70,000-a-year nursery schools, but 12 million kids live in households that lack food. The United States has long had one of the highest rates of child poverty in the advanced world — and then the coronavirus pandemic aggravated the suffering.

“The American Rescue Plan is the most ambitious proposal to reduce child poverty ever proposed by an American president,” Jason Furman, a Harvard economist, told me.

A couple of decades from now, America will be pretty much the same whether direct payments end up being $1,000 or $1,400. But this will be a transformed nation if we’re able to shrink child poverty on our watch.

So the most distressing part of 10 Republican senators’ counterproposal to Biden was their decision to drop the plan to curb child poverty. Please, Mr. President, don’t budge on this.

3) Edsall rounds up the social scientists to talk about Q Anon.  Including some good friends of mine:

The “loser” thesis received strong backing from an August 2020 working paper, “Are Conspiracy Theories for Losers? The Effect of Losing an Election on Conspiratorial Thinking,” by Joanne MillerChristina E. Farhart and Kyle Saunders, political scientists at the University of Delaware, Carleton College and Colorado State University.

They make the parallel argument that

People are more likely to endorse conspiracy theories that make their political rivals look bad when they are on the losing side of politics than when they are on the winning side, regardless of ideology/partisanship.

In an email, Miller compared polling from 2004, when John Kerry lost to George W. Bush, to polls after the 2020 election, when Trump lost to Biden:

A 2004 a Post-ABC poll that found that 49 percent of Kerry supporters but only 14 percent of Bush supporters thought that the vote wasn’t counted accurately. But this year, a much larger percentage of Trump voters believe election fraud conspiracy theories than voters on the losing side in previous years. A January 2021 Pew poll found that approximately 75 percent of Trump voters believe that Trump definitely or probably won the election.

Over the long haul, Miller wrote, “I find very little correlation between conspiratorial thinking and party identification or political ideology.” But, she quickly added. “the past four years are an outlier in this regard.”

Throughout his presidency, Miller wrote,

former President Trump pretty much governed as a “loser.” He continued to insist that he would’ve won the popular vote in 2016 had it not been for widespread election fraud. So it’s not surprising, given Trump’s rhetoric, that Republicans during the Trump presidency were more likely to endorse conspiracy theories than we’d have expected them to, given that they were on the winning side.

The psychological predispositions that contribute to a susceptibility to conspiracy thinking are complex, as Joshua Hart, a professor of psychology at Union College, and his student, Molly Graether, found in their 2018 paper “Something’s Going on Here: Psychological Predictors of Belief in Conspiracy Theories.”

Perhaps more interesting, Hart and Graether argue that conspiracy theorists are more likely “to perceive profundity in nonsensical but superficially meaningful ideas,” a concept they cite as being described by academics in the field as “b.s. receptivity.”

4) My co-author/friend Laurel got a great quote and our research got a link in this NYT essay on Covid and motherhood.  My favorite part was telling my wife about this yesterday, and, she’s like “you were in the article with the mom in the closet?!”

“It’s a recipe for madness,” said Laurel Elder, a political scientist at Hartwick College in New York who has been studying the mental health effects of parenting in the pandemic. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true: You don’t get a day off from being a mom.

Also, kind of cool to see that roughly 300 people have followed the NYT link to our paper since I checked mid-day Friday.

5) It is way too easy to completely falsely destroy someone’s reputation on the internet.  No good excerpts, just read this one: “A Vast Web of Vengeance: Outrageous lies destroyed Guy Babcock’s online reputation. When he went hunting for their source, what he discovered was worse than he could have imagined.”

6) Pretty sure it was in reference to #1 that Jesse Singal shared this Freddie deBoer post from 2017:

The woke world is a world of snitches, informants, rats. Go to any space concerned with social justice and what will you find? Endless surveillance. Everybody is to be judged. Everyone is under suspicion. Everything you say is to be scoured, picked over, analyzed for any possible offense. Everyone’s a detective in the Division of Problematics, and they walk the beat 24/7. You search and search for someone Bad doing Bad Things, finding ways to indict writers and artists and ordinary people for something, anything. That movie that got popular? Give me a few hours and 800 words. I’ll get you your indictments. That’s what liberalism is, now — the search for baddies doing bad things, like little offense archaeologists, digging deeper and deeper to find out who’s Good and who’s Bad. I wonder why people run away from establishment progressivism in droves.

7) Thanks to JP for sharing this John Moe substack with me.  Good stuff on Covid and mental health.  

8) Just because Netflix was telling me to watch Inception again today (I did not), but I did watch this musical selection.  I think this is probably my favorite bit of score-film combination that does not involve John Williams.

9) Good practical advice on mask use from Zeynep and Charlie Warzel.  But, honestly, we should have been getting this kind of advice from the CDC, etc., for months.  

10) And NPR with mask hacks.  Just get a clip in back and breathe.  

11) Annie Lowrey, “Earmarks Are Good: Why shouldn’t Democrats curry Joe Manchin’s favor with a few sky bridges and concert halls?”  Build a palace in WV or whatever it takes.  Just get Manchin on-board.

12) I don’t think Bari Weiss is even worth the extremely detailed takedown from Will Wilkinson, but it does nicely reveal how so much anti-wokeness is just as intellectually bankrupt as over-wokeness.  Hey, there’s a nice middle ground on this one, folks.

Bari Weiss’s latest New York Post column, “10 ways to fight back against woke culture,” is a pretty wild ride. I honestly can’t make out the argument that leads to Weiss’ conclusion that “It’s time to stand up and fight back” against woke scolds and her ten tips for beating them back. That said, the column is just jam packed with confident declarations advanced in a grand spirit of resounding moral authority that are, upon inspection, pretty puzzling. Yet I’m intrigued.

I doubt that Weiss’ piece hangs together intellectually, but now that I’ve read it a few times, I feel that it has a strong impressionistic emotional/moral/ideological coherence that bubbles up from the column’s jumble of assertion, admonition, and exhortation. I want to understand it! Maybe if I can make sense of the Bari Weiss gestalt, I can finally begin to understand the moral panic about “wokeness” and “cancel culture.” Maybe? Seems worth having a go. Even if I can’t bottle the ghost, I’m bound to learn something, right? So let us plunge into the unknown and proceed to parse and interrogate this New York Post column with a spirit of analytically rigorous adventure!

Weiss begins:

I realize the faddish thing to say these days is that we live in the worst, most broken and backward country in the world and maybe in the history of civilization. It’s utter nonsense.

Can it be faddish to say something literally no one says? It cannot. I think we’re all happy to allow for a bit of vivacious hyperbole, but I’ve never heard or read anyone make a claim that comes within a million miles of this. But, yeah, if anybody ever did say that the United States of America is the worst place on Earth, and maybe in all of human history, it would be nonsense. So there’s a point of agreement. Anyway, it’s clear enough that Weiss believes that too many Americans see their country in an excessively negative light, and she strongly disapproves of this.

Weiss doesn’t need to provide evidence that the U.S. circa 2021 is not in fact hellish beyond compare, because no one thinks that it is. Yet she goes ahead and offers a bit of evidence anyway, lest anyone is inclined to doubt that America is not in fact the absolute pits.

I have a few basic litmus tests in my own life: Can I wear a tank top in public? Can I walk down the street holding the hand of my partner, a (beautiful) woman, in many places in America without getting a second glance? Can I wear a Jewish star without fear?

I do not take those things for granted. I know very well that in many other places, the answers would be different, and my life wouldn’t be possible at all.

Yup, America’s definitely not the worst country on the planet or of all time. So ….?

13) This is pretty wild (and use photos at the article), “New Jersey man gets first successful face and double hand transplant”

14) I try and not to spend too much time posting on stuff that not only do I disagree with, but just isn’t that thought-provoking.  But, for some reason Karen Attiah’s “the first world is morally monstrous” schtick just really bugs me.  And its not that I particularly dislike being called morally monstrous.  Rather, “Wealthy nations are gobbling up vaccines. This moral failure will come back to haunt us.” I mean, wait until the wealthy nations aren’t under extreme vaccine scarcity before you blame them for not sending vaccines to Africa.  If we’ve reached this summer and the US is mostly vaccinated and we’ve done nothing to help poorer nations– sure, complain.  But now, it really makes no sense.

15) G. Elliot Morris, “Democrats will win more votes passing popular policies than compromising for bipartisanship’s sake”

As it turns out, political scientists are pretty smart and insightful people, and their research has a lot to say about these political calculations that many Democratic officials are making right now. Is it worth delaying progress to pursue bipartisan solutions?

Let’s briefly discuss two things: the popularity and positive electoral consequences of macroeconomic expansion, and the concerns about the appearance of unilateral policy-making.

For starters, we should recognize that a healthy economy confers a significant advantage to the party in power. We find evidence for this claim across disciplines: political prognosticators have long used economic measures like growth in the gross domestic product and per-capita disposable income as predicts in election-forecasting models; economists have evaluated claims that presidents manipulate the economy to boost their re-election prospects; and political scientists have shown that improvements in economic conditions (typically from pork-barrel spending) increase support for Congressional legislators. In 2020, it seems like the relative stability of per-capita income (eg when compared to, say, the unemployment rate) may have helped Donald Trump fare better in his re-election attempt than economic growth otherwise predicted.

What should we take away from this? The finding that presidents benefit from improved economic conditions maps pretty neatly on the Democratic dilemmas both over whether to eliminate the filibuster and if they ought to unilaterally pass a nearly $2T economic stimulus, or whether they should “compromise” with Republicans and pass a much smaller $600b bill. The research we’ve reviewed so far would suggest that Biden and his Senate co-partisans should just go for the bigger bill and disregard concerns over processes.

Further, it’s worth considering that almost every element of Biden’s agenda enjoys plurality support among all American adults, and most are popular with a majority.

16) I think this is the first time I’ve got a quick hit courtesy of my oldest son, “How an Eight-Sided ‘Egg’ Ended Up in a Robin’s Nest.”

It’s not as uncommon as you’d think for robins to find foreign objects in their nests. They play host to cowbirds, a parasitic species that lays eggs in other birds’ nests, where they hatch and compete with the robins’ own offspring for nourishment. Confronted with a cowbird egg, which is beige and squatter than its blue ovals, parent robins will often push the parasite’s eggs out. That makes the species a good candidate for testing exactly what matters when it comes to telling their own eggs apart from other objects, Dr. Hauber said.

The researchers 3-D printed two sets of decoy eggs. One group got progressively thinner, and the other got more and more angular. They carefully painted them robin’s egg blue, so birds could rely only on shape to tell the difference. Then they deployed these fake eggs in nests scattered around tree farms. As they revisited the nests, they kept track of which shapes had been removed by the nest’s owner.

The robins had a good eye for eggs that were too thin. Eggs that were about 75 percent the usual width were accepted more often than they were rejected. Eggs that were less than 50 percent the usual width were almost always kicked out.

But the pointed objects were not rejected nearly as often. In fact, only the very pointiest decoy, the eight-sided die shape, got pushed out almost every time.

“It was very surprising for us,” Dr. Hauber said.

The birds seem to be responding to variables that matter in nature. Cowbird eggs, for instance, are noticeably wider than their own, so robins may have evolved a canny sense of when width is off.

“They seem to be quite hesitant about rejecting eggs when the variable that we changed was not natural,” Dr. Hauber said, referring to the angular, pointed eggs. “Robins don’t know what to do with it, because they’ve never evolved to respond to it.”

And rather than toss out one of their own eggs by mistake, they let it lie.

17) Annie Lowrey again, “The Counterintuitive Workings of the Minimum Wage: The benefits of a $15 minimum would greatly outweigh the costs.”

Yet minimum wages have a way of screwing with economic intuition, and complicating the simple logic of supply and demand. The benefits of a $15 minimum would greatly outweigh the costs. More than that, new economic evidence suggests that those costs might be small ones anyway: Even in low-wage, low-density, low-cost-of-living parts of the country, a $15 minimum might not be a death knell for small businesses or a job killer for low-wage workers…

Even if the $15 minimum wage were to shrink payrolls in some places, low-wage workers—including those who experience joblessness—would still end up better off financially. Low-wage jobs tend to have tons of churn: Workers quit, get hired, and leave or get fired frequently. In any given month, one in ten low-wage workers leaves or starts a gig; fast-food restaurants have annual employee-turnover rates as high as 150 percent. That means a large share of low-wage workers experiences a spell of unemployment in any given year. Raising the minimum wage might extend that period of unemployment, Heidi Shierholz, the former chief economist at the Department of Labor, told me, as competition for the jobs heats up. But a worker earning $15 an hour for six months is stillbetter off than a worker earning $7.25 an hour for twelve months.

18) Stop with the hygiene theater, “COVID-19 rarely spreads through surfaces. So why are we still deep cleaning?”

19) I did quite enjoy this 7 year old article on the evolution of bees:

The first bees evolved from wasps, which were and remain predators today. The word ‘wasp’ conjures up an image of the yellow-and-black insects that often build large nests in lofts and garden sheds and which can be exceedingly annoying in late summer when their booming populations and declining food supplies force them into houses and on to our picnic tables. Actually, there are enormous numbers of wasp species, most of whom are nothing like this. A great many are parasitoids, with a gruesome lifestyle from which the sci-fi film Alien surely took its inspiration. The female of these wasps lays her eggs inside other insects, injecting them through a sharply pointed egg-laying tube. Once hatched, the grubs consume their hosts from the inside out, eventually bursting out of the dying bodies to form their pupae. Other wasp species catch prey and feed them to their grubs in small nests, and it is from one such wasp family, the Sphecidae, that bees evolved. In the Sphecidae the female wasps stock a nest, usually an underground burrow, with the corpses, or the paralysed but still living bodies, of their preferred prey. They attack a broad range of insects and spiders, with different wasp species preferring aphids, grasshoppers or beetles. At some point a species of sphecid wasp experimented with stocking its nest with pollen instead of dead insects. This could have been a gradual process, with the wasp initially adding just a little pollen to the nest provisions. As pollen is rich in protein, it would have provided a good nutritional supplement, particularly at times when prey was scarce. When the wasp eventually evolved to feed its offspring purely on pollen, it had become the first bee.

20) Some nice social science on politics and mass incarceration: “Who Punishes More? Partisanship, Punitive Policies, and the Puzzle of Democratic Governors”

The growth of the carceral state over the last few decades has been remarkable, with millions of Americans in prison, jail, on parole or probation. Political science explanations of this phenomenon identify partisanship as a key explanatory variable in the adoption of punitive policies; by this theory, Republicans are the driving force behind growing incarceration. This article argues this explanation is incomplete and instead emphasizes the bipartisan coalition that constructed the carceral state. I argue Democratic governors are incentivized to pursue more punitive policies to compete with Republicans when those Democrats are electorally vulnerable. I test this proposition using a series of regression discontinuity designs and find causal evidence for Democrats’ complicity in the expansion of the carceral state. Democratic governors who barely win their elections outspend and outincarcerate their Republican counterparts. This article highlights Democrats’ role as key architects in the creation of vast criminal justice institutions in the states when those Democrats are electorally vulnerable.

Quick hits Part II

1) So enormously frustrating that we have the technology for accurate (no, not PCR accurate, but accurate enough to make a huge dent in transmission) $5, home, antigen-based Covid tests, but we’re still not there because the FDA only knows how to regulate tests for disease, not for public health.  $30 tests will not get us out of this mess.  $5 really could.  Best article I’ve seen on it courtesy of Vox.  

Two other challenges with testing at home, especially with a test people buy over the counter, are getting people connected to a medical professional for appropriate care or follow-up testing, and getting test results reported to public health authorities.

First, nuances in an individual’s situation might warrant different responses to a test result than a simple positive or negative might tell them, Baird notes. For example, someone with Covid-19 symptoms who receives a negative antigen test result might still be recommended for follow-up PCR testing to help verify they really don’t have the virus. On the other side, someone who tests positive but doesn’t have any symptoms or known exposures might also need follow-up, especially if they live in an area where there isn’t much virus circulating. These are all considerations a health care provider could walk someone through perhaps better than an app can.

Second, many experts have been advocating for low-tech, simple paper strip-based tests — akin to a pregnancy test — but that might mean that results are off the grid, keeping public health officials in the dark about where and how much the virus was spreading. “This is a concern — how are you going to get accurate counts of positive cases at the same time as giving people access to testing,” Kwik Gronvall says.

Ellume went higher-tech with its new test, ensuring results — transmitted via Bluetooth to the linked smartphone app — would be automatically transferred (with the person’s zip code and date of birth; name and email are optional) to public health officials. But the technology also nudged the price tag up from the $1 to $5 that Mina has proposed to $30. This would make frequent testing unlikely for someone earning, for example, the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) and paying for it out of pocket.

Abbott’s newly greenlit at-home test took a different route. It kept the test itself low-tech, but it requires interaction with a professional “certified guide” through an online medical service, who can advise people on best next steps and also report test results to public health channels. This means the test (which itself costs $5) actually retails for $25 to cover the cost of the professional’s time. Abbott’s test also requires people to meet the criteria of being in the first seven days of having symptoms (which also means not everyone can take it), and it takes extra time for the kit to be shipped.

2) I still love Facebook for sharing great photos of my kids, updates on my Achilles, etc., but, yes, I can appreciate the argument that it is a “doomsday machine.”  

People tend to complain about Facebook as if something recently curdled. There’s a notion that the social web was once useful, or at least that it could have been good, if only we had pulled a few levers: some moderation and fact-checking here, a bit of regulation there, perhaps a federal antitrust lawsuit. But that’s far too sunny and shortsighted a view. Today’s social networks, Facebook chief among them, were built to encourage the things that make them so harmful. It is in their very architecture.

I’ve been thinking for years about what it would take to make the social web magical in all the right ways—less extreme, less toxic, more true—and I realized only recently that I’ve been thinking far too narrowly about the problem. I’ve long wanted Mark Zuckerberg to admit that Facebook is a media company, to take responsibility for the informational environment he created in the same way that the editor of a magazine would. (I pressed him on this once and he laughed.) In recent years, as Facebook’s mistakes have compounded and its reputation has tanked, it has become clear that negligence is only part of the problem. No one, not even Mark Zuckerberg, can control the product he made. I’ve come to realize that Facebook is not a media company. It’s a Doomsday Machine.

The social web is doing exactly what it was built for. Facebook does not exist to seek truth and report it, or to improve civic health, or to hold the powerful to account, or to represent the interests of its users, though these phenomena may be occasional by-products of its existence. The company’s early mission was to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Instead, it took the concept of “community” and sapped it of all moral meaning. The rise of QAnon, for example, is one of the social web’s logical conclusions. That’s because Facebook—along with Google and YouTube—is perfect for amplifying and spreading disinformation at lightning speed to global audiences. Facebook is an agent of government propaganda, targeted harassment, terrorist recruitment, emotional manipulation, and genocide—a world-historic weapon that lives not underground, but in a Disneyland-inspired campus in Menlo Park, California.

3) If the people giving the injections are careful, there’s actually at least one extra dose per 5 dose vial of the Pfizer vaccine.  Hooray, that’s 20% more vaccinations.

4) Great stuff from 538 on the blue shift in the suburbs:

Suburban and exurban counties turned away from Trump and toward Democrat Joe Biden in states across the country, including in key battleground states like Pennsylvania and Georgia. In part, this may be because the suburbs are simply far more diverse than they used to be. But suburbs have also become increasingly well-educated — and that may actually better explain why so many suburbs and exurbs are turning blue than just increased diversity on its own.

According to Ashley Jardina, a political science professor at Duke University who studies white identity politics, it’s not that racial diversity isn’t a factor. Among white people, at least, educational attainment is often a proxy for how open they are to growing racial diversity, with more highly educated white people likely to think increased racial diversity is a good thing. “Education is so important because it’s intertwined with racial attitudes among white people,” Jardina said.

No matter how you slice it, it’s clear that communities that were pretty much uniformly white only a few decades ago are now far more racially diverse, with Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans making up larger shares of suburban and exurban populations than ever before. According to our analysis of data from a “diversity index” developed by USA Today that calculates the chance that any two people chosen at random from a given area are of different races or ethnicities, most suburbs have grown at least somewhat more diverse over the past 10 years. That’s particularly true in some of the states — like Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan — that were pivotal for Biden this year.1 

On the surface, those demographic shifts may seem like good news for Democrats, since nonwhite voters are much more likely to identify as Democratic than white voters. But when we dug into how these diversifying parts of the country have actually voted, we didn’t find a uniform shift toward Democrats.2 Some suburbs that grew more racially diverse over the past decade saw a smaller swing toward Biden than others — or even moved slightly further into Trump’s column. And other suburbs that didn’t diversify much at all still became much bluer in 2020.

Rather, it was education — and particularly how much more educated a place has gotten over the past 10 years3 — that was more closely related to increased support for Biden (especially once accounting for how educated a county was in 2010). Growing racial diversity in an area was still important, since the suburban counties that saw the biggest swing toward Trump were the ones that remained less racially diverse and less educated. But the political swing among diversifying counties was much less uniform than it was in counties that became more educated.

5) Very solid Q&A on vaccines with a long-time friend providing the Q’s and a new friend providing the A’s.  And, yes, I really love that I’m friends with a virologist!

6) Great stuff from Thomas Edsall on the rise of political sectarianism:

Viewing recent events through a Trump prism may be too restrictive to capture the economic, social and cultural turmoil that has grown more corrosive in recent years.

On Oct. 30, a group of 15 eminent scholars (several of whom I also got a chance to talk to) published an essay — “Political Sectarianism in America” — arguing that the antagonism between left and right has become so intense that words and phrases like “affective polarization” and “tribalism” were no longer sufficient to capture the level of partisan hostility.

“The severity of political conflict has grown increasingly divorced from the magnitude of policy disagreement,” the authors write, requiring the development of “a superordinate construct, political sectarianism — the tendency to adopt a moralized identification with one political group and against another.”

Political sectarianism, they argue,

consists of three core ingredients: othering — the tendency to view opposing partisans as essentially different or alien to oneself; aversion — the tendency to dislike and distrust opposing partisans; and moralization — the tendency to view opposing partisans as iniquitous. It is the confluence of these ingredients that makes sectarianism so corrosive in the political sphere.

There are multiple adverse outcomes that result from political sectarianism, according to the authors. It “incentivizes politicians to adopt antidemocratic tactics when pursuing electoral or political victories” since their supporters will justify such norm violation because “the consequences of having the vile opposition win the election are catastrophic.” …

Eli Finkel, a professor of psychology at Northwestern and the first author of the paper on political sectarianism I started with, contended in an email that “if we consider Trump’s efforts in isolation, I am not especially concerned,” because the failure of his attempts to overturn the election so far have “provided a crucial and unprecedented stress test of our electoral system.”

If, however, “we consider the support for Trump’s efforts from officials and the rank-and-file in the Republican Party, I am profoundly concerned,” Finkel continued,

The foremost political story of the Trump era is not that a person like Trump could be so shamelessly self-dealing, but that Republicans have exhibited such fealty along the way, including a willingness to cripple the founding document they claim to view as sacrosanct.

Political sectarianism, Finkel concluded,

has now grown so severe that it functions as the most serious threat to our political system since the Civil War. And although scholars debate whether one party is guiltier than the other, antidemocratic trends are growing stronger on both sides. If we don’t figure out a way to get this sectarianism under control, I fear for the future of our republic.

Some of those I contacted cite changes in mass media as critical to this increasing sectarianism.

Shanto Iyengar, a political scientist at Stanford and another of the paper’s authors, emailed to say:

I would single out the profound transformations in the American media system over the past 50 years. Basically, we’ve moved from an “information commons” in which Americans of all political stripes and walks of life encountered the same news coverage from well-regarded journalists and news organizations to a more fragmented, high choice environment featuring news providers who no longer subscribe to the norms and standards of fact-based journalism. The increased availability of news with a slant coupled with the strengthened motivation to encounter information that depicts opponents as deplorable has led to a complete breakdown in the consensus over facts.

Iyengar noted that research he and Erik Peterson, a political scientist at Texas A&M University, have conducted shows that:

the partisan divide in factual beliefs is genuine, not merely partisans knowingly giving the incorrect answer to factual questions because they realize that to do so is “toeing the party line.”

7) Good stuff from NPR, “Kindness Vs. Cruelty: Helping Kids Hear The Better Angels Of Their Nature”

8) More really interesting stuff on vitamin D and Covid (and respiratory health in general).  I’m convinced enough that I’m taking a vitamin D supplement (after discovering, much to my surprise, that my levels are low).

8) Two of my Covid-times favorites, Zeynep and Michael Mina make the case in an NYT Op-Ed for vaccinating as many people as possible as soon as possible with a single dose.  Personally, I’m totally persuaded by the wisdom of this case (and very smart of Zeynep to get an expert like Mina on board to make the case), but, alas, I think the likelihood is very, very low.  

9) Great, short video in the Post on how the coronavirus attacks.  


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