Quick hits (part I)

1) Love this from deBoer about public apologies and the woke mobs:

Would you like another little indication of how broken and ugly and unworkable progressive spaces have become? Check out this NYT explainer about an absurd controversy among medievalists, a field that takes academic self-importance to incredible new highs. Apparently a scholar named Mary Rambaran-Olm wrote a book review for the Los Angeles Review of Books; the book was by two bigwig medievalist academics, Matthew Gabriele and David Perry, who are just the living picture of the Weepy Self-Aggrandizing Good White Male Allies. The LARB rejected the review, they say because Rambaran-Olm refused to accept edits, she says because of, uh, toxic whiteness or whatever.

No one comes out looking good here. Rambaran-Olm looks transparently like someone who simply didn’t want to be edited, which is a common fault in academics, who are given far too much rope in their classes. (Although considering that the average academic journal article is read by a small handful of people the stakes are very low.) Like so much of what happens in social justice-y academic spaces, this is really a turf war about who’s going to reap the personal and professional benefits from shouting the loudest about diversity to the right audience. I don’t blame Rambaran-Olm, really, for being annoyed that to date in her field it’s been two white dudes, but then they’re very, very good at credit-seeking. I mention this controversy because the editor at LARBwho killed Rambaran-Olm’s piece apologized, then apologized for the apology when it was deemed insufficient. I would love to show you that, but she deleted her account, no doubt inundated with hate and anger for not apologizing enough, or in the right way….

I believe, deeply, in the positive value of guilt, shame, and contrition. I think working through your shit and contemplating the harm you’ve done is important, and I’ve tried to do a lot of it in the past few years. And I think we all should push back against the “nothing matters but what you want and how you feel” brand of sociopathy that’s popular now in inspirational memes. There’s a notion running around our culture that feeling bad about something you’ve done is always some sort of disordered trauma response, but that’s destructive bullshit. Most of the time when you feel bad about something you’ve done, you should. I’ve spent my adult lifetime trying to make amends to people I’ve hurt, and trying to understand my own culpability when my control over myself was not complete. I think about things I’ve done, and feel shame for them, every day of my life. I don’t want to wallow and I don’t think guilt in and of itself is productive. I am however certain that my guilt is an appropriate endowment to me.

But it’s become abundantly clear that there simply is no value in public apology. Admitting fault only emboldens critics. The mechanisms of social media always reward escalation and never reward calm and restraint. Contemporary progressive politics excuse any amount of personal viciousness so long as the target is perceived to be guilty of committing some identity crime. The notion of proportionality is totally alien to these worlds, and when people ask for such proportionality they’re accused of supporting bigotry. People who are friendly online shamelessly wage backchannel campaigns against each other, and almost no one on social media has the stomach to stand up for someone else when the mob comes for them. Most importantly, the public can never grant you absolution for what you’ve done; absolution is not the public’s to grant. The strangers on Twitter can’t accept an apology, even if they ever would, and they wouldn’t. You can ask the mob for forgiveness, but they have no moral right to grant it, and anyway they never will. They’ll just keep you wriggling on the end of a pin forever. Honestly: how often do people who make public apologies come out ahead in doing so, especially because they’re so often coerced and thus insincere?

Apology itself is good. But public apology is a useless and self-defeating ritual. If you have done something wrong to another, I recommend that you privately apologize to them. That person can then accept your apology or not. They can publicize your apology or not. But all of the moral value of apologizing will be preserved, while nothing of practical value to your life will be lost.

2) This is really good, “The Southernization of the Pro-Life Movement”

Before the mid-1970s, active opposition to abortion in the United States looked almost exactly like opposition to abortion in Britain, Western Europe, and Australia: It was concentrated mainly among Catholics. As late as 1980, 70 percent of the members of the nation’s largest anti-abortion organization, the National Right to Life Committee, were Catholic. As a result, the states that were most resistant to abortion legalization were, in most cases, the states with the highest concentration of Catholics, most of which were in the North and leaned Democratic.

This fit the pattern across the Western world: Countries with large numbers of devout Catholics restricted abortion, while those that were predominantly Protestant did not. Sweden—where Catholics made up less than 1 percent of the population—legalized some abortions as early as the 1930s; Ireland did not follow suit until 2018.

If the United States had followed this script, opposition to abortion probably would have weakened with the decline of Catholic-church attendance rates. Like Canada and England, where the leading conservative parties are overwhelmingly supportive of abortion rights, the Republican Party in the United States might have remained what it was for most of the 1970s: a heavily Protestant party whose leaders generally leaned in favor of abortion rights.

But in the United States, the anti-abortion movement did not remain predominantly Catholic. Southern evangelical Protestants, who had once hesitated to embrace the anti-abortion movement in the belief that it was a sectarian Catholic campaign, began enlisting in the cause in the late ’70s and ’80s. Motivated by a conviction that Roe v. Wade was a product of liberal social changes they opposed—including secularization, the sexual revolution, second-wave feminism, and a rights-conscious reading of the Constitution—they made opposition to the ruling a centerpiece of the new Christian right. When they captured control of the Republican Party in the late 20th century, they transformed the GOP from a northern-centered mainline Protestant party that was moderately friendly to abortion rights into a hotbed of southern populism that blended economic libertarianism with Bible Belt moral regulation…

But what really motivated anti-abortion activists to remain loyal to the GOP was not merely a platform statement but the promise of the Supreme Court. They believed that the Republican Party offered them the only path to a conservative judiciary that would overturn Roe v. Wade. If this goal required them to accept a conservative economic platform at odds with the views that many in the movement had held before Roe, well, that was of little matter, because many of the evangelical-Protestant anti-abortion advocates were political conservatives anyway.

As late as the beginning of this century, Texas still had a pro-abortion-rights (Protestant) Republican senator, while Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota were still represented in Congress by anti-abortion Democrats who were Catholic. But as the historically Catholic population of the North became less devout and therefore less inclined to follow the Church’s teaching on abortion—and as a younger generation of progressive Democrats began to view reproductive rights as a nonnegotiable part of the Democratic Party platform—anti-abortion influence in the politically liberal states of the Northeast diminished, while it expanded in the South.

The anti-abortion movement’s political priorities changed as a result. A movement that in the early ’70s had attracted some political progressives who opposed the Vietnam War and capital punishment became associated in the ’80s and ’90s with evangelical-inspired conservative-Christian nationalism. Early activists wanted to create a comprehensive “culture of life,” but many of the evangelicals who joined the movement in the late 20th century wanted to save America from secularism and take back the nation for God.

3) Seth Stephens-Davidowitz on the one parenting decision that matters most:

The results showed that some large metropolitan areas give kids an edge. They get a better education. They earn more money: The best cities can increase a child’s future income by about 12 percent. They found that the five best metropolitan areas are: Seattle; Minneapolis; Salt Lake City; Reading, Pennsylvania; and Madison, Wisconsin.

However, parents don’t merely pick a metropolitan area to live in. They have to pick neighborhoods within these areas, so Chetty and co. drilled down, determining that some were much more advantageous than others. They created a website, The Opportunity Atlas, that allows anyone to find out how beneficial any neighborhood is expected to be for kids of different income levels, genders, and races.

Something interesting happens when we compare the study on adoptions with this work on neighborhoods. We find that one factor about a home—its location—accounts for a significant fraction of the total effect of that home. In fact, putting together the different numbers, I have estimated that some 25 percent—and possibly more—of the overall effects of a parent are driven by where that parent raises their child. In other words, this one parenting decision has much more impact than many thousands of others.

Why is this decision so powerful? Chetty’s team has a possible answer for that. Three of the biggest predictors that a neighborhood will increase a child’s success are the percent of households in which there are two parents, the percent of residents who are college graduates, and the percent of residents who return their census forms. These are neighborhoods, in other words, with many role models: adults who are smart, accomplished, engaged in their community, and committed to stable family lives.

There is more evidence for just how powerful role models can be. A different study that Chetty co-authored found that girls who move to areas with lots of female patent holders in a specific field are far more likely to grow up to earn patents in that same field. And another study found that Black boys who grow up on blocks with many Black fathers around, even if that doesn’t include their own father, end up with much better life outcomes.

Data can be liberating. It can’t make decisions for us, but it can tell us which decisions really matter. When it comes to parenting, the data tells us, moms and dads should put more thought into the neighbors they surround their children with—and lighten up about everything else.

4) Catherine Rampell is not wrong, “hese GOP politicians aren’t pro-life. They’re pro-forced birth.”

Republican politicians working to overturn Roe v. Wade say they are pro-life and antiabortion. In fact, they are neither. What they are is pro-forced birth.

This distinction is about more than semantics. These officials have drawn a clear line, as evidenced by policies they’ve adopted in conjunction with their opposition to Roe. GOP-led states are making choices, today, that increase the chances of unplanned pregnancies and, therefore, demand for abortions; their choices also limit access to health care and other critical programs for new moms, endangering the lives and welfare of mothers and their children.

Consider Mississippi.

It was a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks that has set the stage for the Supreme Court to roll back nearly 50 years of reproductive rights. If the court does overturn Roe, as a leaked draft decision suggests it soon will, another Mississippi law would automatically “trigger,” banning nearly all abortions.

Some residents who find themselves with an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy might be able to leave the state to seek an abortion. But others without the means to travel or take time off from work will be forced to give birth. And in Mississippi, that is an unusually dangerous undertaking.

The United States has the highest maternal death rate in the developed world; Mississippi has one of the higher maternal death rates within the United States. The odds are worse for Black women, whose risk of death related to pregnancy and childbirth are nearly triple those for White women in the state.

Mississippi also has the country’s highest infant mortality and child poverty rates.

When asked this weekend how this track record squares with his avowed pro-life bona fides, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) acknowledged the state’s “problems” and said he was committed to devoting more “resources” to make sure that expectant and new mothers get the “help that they need from a health-care standpoint.”

That would be welcome news if it were true. But it isn’t.

Mississippi’s legislature recently considered whether to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage from 60 days to a full year after birth, as federal law newly allows states to do. If you care about the lives of new moms (and, by extension, their kids), this is a no-brainer. Roughly 6 in 10 births in the state are covered by Medicaid; 86 percent of the state’s maternal deaths occur postpartum. Pregnancy and delivery raise the risk of many health complications, including infections, blood clots, high blood pressure, heart conditions and postpartum depression. Giving low-income moms access to health care a full year after birth would save lives.

5) As I have literally no use for MCU, I actually loved Yglesias‘ deconstruction of the new Dr Strange movie and how it completely fails to take the implications of it’s ideas (most notably, the blip) seriously:

But I do think it’s genuinely unfortunate how casually they deal with this stuff. There’s an old cliché about science fiction as “the literature of ideas” that I think is important and true. And these Marvel movies are essentially science fiction. But they don’t have any ideas. The most fantastical things imaginable happen in the movies, but the world they’re set in is incredibly banal. None of these stupendous events seem to matter at all, and nothing makes much of an impression on anyone. Wouldn’t it be a big deal if there turned out to be a secret African nation full of advanced technology that reluctantly decided to change course and open itself to the world? Do people in, I dunno, Dallas feel bummed out that there are no superheroes there?

The blip is the most annoying example of this because it keeps coming up over and over again across properties without any effort to take it seriously. In this case probably because it’s an idea that, if you take it seriously, is too enormous and horrifying to get your head around. But it would be nice to see some ideas somewhere taken seriously.

6) I am always here for deconstructions of originalism!

What’s clear now is that the destruction is the intent. Originalism is just a clever trick of perspective. If you narrow your vision to look only for specific words that people used when the Constitution was drafted, you will always be engaged in a process of halting progress beyond that moment in time. Was there gay marriage in 1868? No? Well then, due process obviously doesn’t protect any right to marriage equality. You freeze recognition of rights as of the nineteenth century, while claiming to be neutrally applying interpretive principles to reach that conclusion. Of course, in order to achieve this result, you absolutely may not widen the perspective to consider the ultimate goals inherent in the Constitution. The question of whether the Framers (or the Constitution itself) contemplated an idea of securing the right to bodily autonomy is prohibited. Don’t ask whether it makes sense to apply eighteenth-century notions of personhood to a twenty-first-century country. Ask only whether the Constitution mentions “abortion.” …

Originalists argue that it’s not their fault that the drafters may have been slaveholders, or uniformly male, or white, or without any knowledge of contemporary technology or a more inclusive notion of humanity. Them’s the breaks; mere accidents of history. Or they argue that they are only interpreting the law as written. If you want to change the law, they say, that’s the role of the legislature, not the judiciary. But that, too, is a profoundly dishonest response. To say that is to say that the Dred Scott case was correctly decided when it was written, in 1857. At that time, as Justice Roger Taney wrote, Black people “had no rights which the White man was bound to respect.” That holding is now universally regarded as one of the most shameful in Supreme Court history. It is an object lesson in the misapplication of legal principles to profoundly inhuman ends. Black Americans should have been entitled to full citizenship, and to all the protections of the Constitution, from the moment the country was founded. Our legal system, however, didn’t recognize their rights, and that failure is the great crime of this country’s founding. The logic of originalism, as expressed in Alito’s draft opinion, would mean that Black Americans should not have been entitled to citizenship, or to their full humanity, until the civil-rights amendments said so. To say that the law is correct because it’s what the law says, is, at best, circular, and, in many instances, monstrous.

And, as Judge Mizelle’s ruling in Florida shows, crafting legislation that overcomes conservatives’ determined misreading of it is virtually impossible. Mizelle, a Trump appointee, held that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had exceeded its authority in issuing a mask mandate on airplanes, because the law creating the C.D.C. only authorizes the agency to issue public-health regulations regarding “inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination,” and the destruction of infected or contaminated “animals or articles.” Mizelle reasoned that because masks don’t do any of those things—they don’t fumigate, or disinfect, or sanitize; they merely trap particles containing the virus—the C.D.C. has no authority to require passengers to wear them. The question, according to Mizelle, is not whether masks are effective in preventing the spread of covid-19 across state lines, or whether they are still necessary as a policy matter. It is whether the statute grants the C.D.C. the authority to have an opinion about masks in the first place. Notwithstanding the fact that it’s right there in the name (Centers for Disease Control), Mizelle says that the words of the statute don’t cover masks. Originalism told her so.

7) deBoer again on the romanticization of mental illness.  So good:

Most importantly: I thought I made this very clear, but the whole point of my perspective is that the people who are most hurt by this infantilizing insistence that mental illness makes you beautiful and deep are the very people who buy into that ideology. They are the ones I write for. Not to mock them, but to impress on them: this isn’t going to work. It isn’t going to last. The benefits you think are accruing to you from treating your mental illness as some benevolent conveyor of meaning are illusory, and in time you will be left all too aware that this shit just hurts. You’re not always going to be a photogenic 22-year-old, showcasing your disorder on Instagram. If you’re really afflicted, someday you’ll be a 43-year-old working on your second divorce, estranged from many of the people who once meant the most to you, 30 pounds overweight from meds, unemployed, and broke. And none of this shit, none of it, will comfort you in the slightest. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But I’ve been in a half-dozen psychiatric facilities in my life, and the people in them aren’t self-actualized and being their best selves. They’re in profound pain. Many of them have ruined lives. The romanticism that would obscure this basic, tragic reality is what I am absolutely committed to opposing. And I invite you to go ahead and tell someone whose life has been irreparably damaged by their mental illness that they should be grateful for it, a notion that crops up again and again in these spaces. Go right ahead.

I have sympathy for people with diabetes and think they should receive free and effective medical care. But that’s what it is, sympathy – an acknowledgment that someone has suffered a hindrance, a problem, a dis-ability. It would be absolutely bizarre if I insisted on “honoring” their diabetes, of treating it like something that should inspire pride. Lines have been muddied here for no coherent reason and to no positive effect. I don’t know why it’s so hard to understand the statement, “people with mental illness are not bad, they’ve done nothing wrong, they don’t deserve to be punished or disrespected for having mental illness, but the illnesses themselves are bad, by definition, and should not be celebrated.” Just as diabetes or heart disease or cancer should not be.

Some things in life are just sad and broken and can’t be changed. That’s our existence. And the obsession with turning every negative into a positive, through the application of cliches and good intentions, is a sign of a culture that has forgotten how to live with tragedy. I sincerely and passionately believe that people would be far healthier if they stopped injecting their struggles for mental stability with romance or inspiration or woowoo bullshit and instead accessed the dignity that comes from living with pain without ceremony.

8) Was watching the Maple Leafs (why not the Leaves) vs. Lightning the other night.  Why are they the exact same shade of blue.  And why are the Panthers and Capitals the exact same shade of red.  Had fun exploring pantones and hex codes for NHL teams here and the NHL really needs some more variation in the shades of the primary colors it uses.  

9) How can you resist? “‘He’s Not OK’: The Entirely Predictable Unraveling of Madison Cawthorn

10) Are pandemic-based loosened standards leading to disengagement among college students?  Maybe. Personally, I had a terrific class this last semester (during which I pretty much applied my usual standards):

The pandemic certainly made college more challenging for students, and over the past two years, compassionate faculty members have loosened course structures in response: They have introduced recorded lectures, flexible attendance and deadline policies, and lenient grading. In light of the widely reported mental health crisis on campuses, some students and faculty members are calling for those looser standards and remote options to persist indefinitely, even as vaccines and Covid therapies have made it relatively safe to return to prepandemic norms.

I also feel compassion for my students, but the learning breakdown has convinced me that continuing to relax standards would be a mistake. Looser standards are contributing to the problem, because they make it too easy for students to disengage from classes.

Student disengagement is a problem for everyone, because everyone depends on well-educated people. College prepares students for socially essential careers — including as engineers and nurses — and to be citizens who bring high-level intellectual habits to bear on big societal problems, from climate change to the next political crisis. On a more fundamental level it also prepares many students to be responsible adults: to set goals and figure out what help they need to attain them.

Higher education is now at a turning point. The accommodations for the pandemic can either end or be made permanent. The task won’t be easy, but universities need to help students rebuild their ability to learn. And to do that, everyone involved — students, faculties, administrators and the public at large — must insist on in-person classes and high expectations for fall 2022 and beyond.

11) Ruy Teixeira indicts the left of the Democratic party across a bunch of issue domains here.  I don’t agree with all of it, but some good points.  Here’s the abortion part:

7. Abortion. With the likely impending demise of Roe v. Wade at the hands of the Supreme Court, the Democratic Left is on high alert. Unfortunately, that high alert doesn’t seem to be too centered on what most American voters would actually support. With the enthusiastic support of the Democratic Left, Chuck Schumer had the Senate vote on a bill that would effectively have legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy (perhaps a third of Americans support legal third trimester abortions). Of course, it failed.

As the previously-cited Dimitri Melhorn noted:

The fight about abortion is all about framing. Most Americans are in the middle. Republicans ranged from moderately pro-choice to hardline pro-life but no one really cared because Roe was the law of the land. The hardline pro-life position in other words did nothing to bother most voters. Democrats’ historic track record in attacking people with even soft pro-life sympathies and purging them from the caucus created this current moment of threat to women by helping associate Democrats with an extremely unpopular position rather than the Safe Legal and Rare positioning that could actually win elections….Democrats are intensely skilled at allowing the GOP to get away with unpopular extremism by running to their own extreme.

As the great Casey Stengel might have put it: “Can’t anyone here play this game?”

The thread that runs through all these failures is the Democratic Left’s adamant refusal to base its political approach on the actually-existing opinions and values of actually-existing American voters. Instead they entertain fantasies about kindling a prairie fire of progressive turnout with their approach, despite falling short again and again in the real world. It hasn’t worked and it won’t work.  

Instead, what they need is a plan on how to win outside of deep blue areas and states (the average Congressional Progressive Caucus leader is from a Democratic +19 district). That entails compromises that, so far, the Democratic Left has not been willing to make. Cultural moderation, effective governance and smart campaigning are what is needed to win in competitive areas of the country. If democracy is in as much danger as the Democratic Left appears to believe, would not such compromises be worth making? And wouldn’t winning make a nice change of pace at this point?

12) One of the things that has always frustrated me about the “life begins at conception” people is that they are all in on limiting abortion, but, conveniently ignore IVF.  Presumably, because they know how incredibly politically unpopular it would be for them to oppose IVF.  But, it now seems possible that an empowered and emboldened far right could actually come after IVF in some states. 

13) I keep on reading some version of this from the right (and even from Ruy Teixiera).  Here’s Henry Olsen:

Yet Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is scheduling a vote this week on a bill that would effectively make abortion legal without restrictions for the duration of a woman’s pregnancy.

The various explainers on this are awful.  I actually just went and did something I very rarely do– I read the bill!  It no more allows abortion without restriction for 9 months than Casey does.  It’s really just the Casey standard of mother’s life/health after viability.  

14) Derek Thompson is so right about human progress:

What if we invented a technology to save the planet—and the world refused to use it?

This haunting hypothetical first popped into my head when I was reading about Paxlovid, the antiviral drug developed by Pfizer. If taken within a few days of infection with COVID-19, Paxlovid reduces a vulnerable adult’s chance of death or hospitalization by 90 percent. Two months ago, the White House promised to make it widely available to Americans. But today, the pills are still hard to find, and many doctors don’t know to prescribe them.

The pandemic offers more examples of life-saving inventions going largely unused. Unlike Paxlovid, COVID vaccines are known to every doctor; they are entirely free and easily available. But here, too, invention alone hasn’t been enough. COVID is the leading cause of death for middle-aged Americans, and the mRNA vaccines reduce the risk of death by about 90 percent. And yet approximately one-third of Americans ages 35 to 49 say they’ll never take it.

My hypothetical concern applies even more literally to energy. What if I told you that scientists had figured out a way to produce affordable electricity that was 99 percent safer and cleaner than coal or oil, and that this breakthrough produced even fewer emissions per gigawatt-hour than solar or wind? That’s incredible, you might say. We have to build this thing everywhere! The breakthrough I’m talking about is 70 years old: It’s nuclear power. But in the past few decades, the U.S. has actually closed old nuclear plants faster than we’ve opened new ones. This problem is endemic to clean energy. Even many Americans who support decarbonization in the abstract protest the construction of renewable-energy projects in their neighborhood…

The second lesson is about progress, generally: Invention is easily overrated, and implementation is often underrated.

Many books about innovation and scientific and technological progress are just about people inventing stuff. The takeaway for most readers is that human progress is one damn breakthrough after another. In the 19th century, we invented the telegraph, then the telephone, then the light bulb, then the modern car, then the plane, and so on. But this approach—call it the eureka theory of progress—misses most of the story. In the 1870s, Thomas Edison invented the usable light bulb. But by 1900, less than 5 percent of factory power was coming from electric motors. The building blocks of the personal computer were invented in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. But for decades, computers made so little measurable difference to the economy that the economist Robert Solow said, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”…

Progress is a puzzle whose answer requires science and technology. But believing that material progress is only a question of science and technology is a profound mistake.

  • In confronting some challenges—for example, curing complex diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia—we don’t know enough to solve the problem. In these cases, what we needis more science.
  • In other challenges—for example, building carbon-removal plants that vacuum emissions out of the sky—we have the basic science, but we need a revolution in cost efficiency. We need more technology.
  • In yet other challenges—for example, nuclear power—we have the technology, but we don’t have the political will to deploy it. We need better politics.
  • Finally, in certain challenges—for example, COVID—we’ve solved most of the science, technology, and policy problemsWe need a cultural shift.

15) Abortion exceptions for rape and incest used to be standard GOP policy.  That’s changing.  To which, I say… yes, please push really hard for abortion bans with no exceptions.  That will more than counteract the public opinion problems from those pushing too far on the left.  

16) My teenage son wishes he were taller.  I will not be encouraging him to get limb-lengthening surgery, however. 

17) Sad, disturbing story, “A Woman’s Haunting Disappearance Sparks Outrage in Mexico Over Gender Violence”

18) Zeynep on the FDA and kids’ vaccines:

We want to be sure, of course, that vaccines are safe, and thus far, the trials for under-5 vaccines have not raised any safety concerns. Plus, children who are 5 years and a month old aren’t a different species than those who are 4 years and 10 months old — and we have plenty of data points on the safety and the benefits of these vaccines since they were authorized for children over 5 just about six months ago.

So what should the F.D.A. do?

First, it should stop all the five-dimensional chess games that predict blowback due to perverse behavioral outcomes, and often do so without a sound social science basis. It’s good that the officials consider vaccine confidence as a key issue as they try to navigate such a challenging time. However, those concerns should be based on a realistic understanding of how people are likely to actually behave, and the officials should prioritize empowering and informing people, rather than trying to guide behavior by withholding tools. There should especially be no room for pop psychology. Transparency is great, proper communication is essential, and, above all, providing tools that help protect children as soon as possible is crucial.

19) I think David Brooks is mostly right here, “Seven Lessons Democrats Need to Learn — Fast”

20) Since I’m 50 I recently had my first colonoscopy.  Not really so bad.  I’m in the need to come back in 5 years instead of 10 category (a couple of small polyps), but the worst part was simply waking up at 4:30am for prep part 2.  Anyway, doing that to my digestive tract really did get me wondering about the impact on my microbiome.  Good news— I should already be back to normal (about 2 weeks):

Large bowel preparation may cause a substantial change in the gut microbiota and metabolites. Here, we included a bowel prep group and a no-procedure control group and evaluated the effects of bowel prep on the stability of the gut microbiome and metabolome as well as on recovery. Gut microbiota and metabolome compositions were analyzed by 16S rRNA sequencing and capillary electrophoresis time-of-flight mass spectrometry, respectively. Analysis of coefficients at the genus and species level and weighted UniFrac distance showed that, compared with controls, microbiota composition was significantly reduced immediately after the prep but not at 14 days after it. For the gut metabolome profiles, correlation coefficients between before and immediately after the prep were significantly lower than those between before and 14 days after prep and were not significantly different compared with those for between-subject differences. Thirty-two metabolites were significantly changed before and immediately after the prep, but these metabolites recovered within 14 days. In conclusion, bowel preparation has a profound effect on the gut microbiome and metabolome, but the overall composition recovers to baseline within 14 days. To properly conduct studies of the human gut microbiome and metabolome, fecal sampling should be avoided immediately after bowel prep.

21) Apparently “dirty soda” is all the rage.  It’s just soda with milk.  I tried it with my Diet Dr Pepper.  Pretty… pretty… good.  

22) Yglesias (and helper Milan Singh) analyzes the leftward shift of the Democratic party through looking at the party platforms.  This actually makes a lot of sense:

In “Republicans have changed a lot since 2008,” Matt argued that the Elon Musk/Colin Wright meme depicting a leftward-moving left versus a steady-state right underrated the extent of change in the Republican Party. But contrary to many of the takes online, the Democratic Party has changed, too.

One way to see this is in the evolution of the party’s platform, which is why Milan carefully read the 2012 and 2020 Democratic platforms in their entirety. The point of this exercise isn’t that the mass electorate scrutinizes these documents in detail, but that the statements are a chance for party leaders to tell the world what the party aspires to be and do. It’s of course possible that a party could smuggle some totally obscure new policy commitment into the platform that doesn’t reflect anything other than platform-writing. But that’s really not the case here…

But the shift on criminal justice issues is much broader than that, with the 2020 platform not just expressing awareness that police officers sometimes do bad things but adopting a thoroughgoing skepticism of punishment. Today’s Democrats say that people under 21 should not be sentenced to life without parole and that juvenile records should be automatically sealed and expunged. The 2020 platform calls the War on Drugs a failure, opposes jailing people for drug use, and supports federal legalization of medical marijuana and decriminalization for recreational use. It also calls for eliminating cash bail, the crack-cocaine sentencing disparity, and the death penalty…

Eight years later, the 2020 platform promises to “embed racial justice” throughout the governing agenda:

We will take a comprehensive approach to embed racial justice in every element of our governing agenda, including in jobs and job creation, workforce and economic development, small business and entrepreneurship, eliminating poverty and closing the racial wealth gap, promoting asset building and homeownership, education, health care, criminal justice reform, environmental justice, and voting rights.

You see that racial justice embedding at work in the climate plank’s promise of targeting “40 percent of the overall benefits to disadvantaged and frontline communities.” You see it in a promise to “prioritize support for Black entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurs of color” and to “end violence against transgender Americans and particularly against Black transgender women.”

The new platform invokes the racial wealth gap — an idea not present in the 2012 platform — on five separate occasions, while the 2012 platform mentions wealth only to condemn a Republican Party approach “that benefited the wealthy few but crashed the economy and crushed the middle class.”

And that’s a general trend. This chart illustrates the frequency with which specific words and phrases are mentioned in the 2020 and 2012 platforms; it shows a large increase in mentions of “health care” plus frequent invocation of terms related to race and identity categories…

This post has been very platform-centric because platforms are a convenient index.

But the ideological movement — not an overthrow of the party establishment by leftists, but the establishment leaders themselves taking on new ideas — is clearly visible in other forms. In June of 2016, Dylan Matthews wrote for Vox that “President Obama’s huge reversal on Social Security is a big win for liberals.” In July of that year, Victoria Massie wrote “Hillary Clinton said ‘systemic racism’ in tonight’s speech. That’s major.” On May 27 of 2020, David Roberts described a new consensus approach to climate policy on the left, and on May 28 he published a piece arguing that Joe Biden should embrace this consensus even though Biden “just won without them.”

You can see that both of those articles have July 2020 updates at the top noting that Biden had basically done what Roberts recommended and adopted the new progressive consensus. Pivoting left after winning a primary is a little odd, but it’s what Biden did, and progressives acknowledged it at the time.

There’s lots of room for debate about whether this was a good idea. But the people who yelled at Elon Musk that he was imagining this leftward transformation are being silly. The fact that DW-NOMINATE scores don’t pick up on it is a limitation of that metric — not to say that it’s wrong, but just that analysis of roll call votes only tells you so much.

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is going into my Public Policy syllabus, “We Pay to Keep the Old Out of Poverty. Why Won’t We Do the Same for the Young?”

Others have argued that American poverty persists because government assistance makes Americans unwilling to work. As the former representative Paul Ryan put it, “There are nearly 100 programs at the federal level that are meant to help, but they have actually created a poverty trap.” But our high child poverty rate isn’t because poor people feel less incentivized to work or they’re just plain lazier in the United States. We manage to have both high employment levels and high poverty rates at the same time.

The real difference is that the United States does far less to reduce its child poverty rate than some of its foreign peers. “It’s no more complex than we spend less, and so poverty rates are higher among kids,” Hilary Hoynes, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, told me.

There are a number of social programs that other countries offer that the United States doesn’t. We don’t have universal health care (although we do have the Children’s Health Insurance Program for low-income kids, as well as more expanded coverage through the Affordable Care Act). We also spend far less on child care and early childhood education.

But the most important distinction is that most other countries give parents more money when their children are young, many of them through direct child allowances. “The evidence is overwhelming that child allowances are the single most important policy for preventing child poverty,” said Irwin Garfinkel, an economist at Columbia. Giving parents cash goes an incredibly long way toward erasing poverty.

By contrast, we’ve spent significant resources over the past half-century on alleviating elderly poverty. Social Security is the greatest anti-poverty program we have in the United States. It kept 26.5 million people out of poverty in 2020, most of them seniors. Unemployment insurance, the safety net program that clocks in next, lifted 5.5 million people above the poverty line. We rarely talk about it this way, but Social Security is a form of direct cash payment to all Americans once they hit a certain age.

“It’s not rocket science,” Dr. Hoynes said. When it comes to how much we spend on the elderly, “we look pretty similar to other countries.” The United States simply spends less on a permanent safety net for children.

2) Great interview by Yascha Mounk of David Wallace-Wells on climate change:

First, what do you think is the most likely scenario at this point in terms of climate? And I know that that depends on political choices, and it’s really hard to project. But if you have made your best point estimate of where we’re going to be in fifty, or a hundred years, what do you think the climate and life on earth will look like? 

Wallace-Wells: Well, I think the first thing to say is that all of these projections are governed by several layers of uncertainty. There is uncertainty, as you point out, about human response and human action. And there’s also uncertainty about how the climate itself will respond, what sorts of feedback loops may be initiated, and exactly how quickly things like Arctic and Antarctic ice will disappear. So we’re making projections in a cloud of deep uncertainty. And for the most part, I think most humans alive on the planet today use that as an excuse to not worry too much about it. 

But I think the alternate approach, that we should be worrying about it more as a result, is probably more responsible, at least. But of course, as a human, I share the other impulse too. If I had to guess I would say that we’re looking at a level of warming this century somewhere between two and two and a half degrees Celsius, maybe a little north of that. And that’s basically because we are making remarkably fast progress driving down the price of renewable energy, which makes it now a good bargain just about everywhere in the world that’s investing in its own energy future. But we’re not nearly doing enough or moving fast enough to draw down our use of fossil fuels. So at the moment, we’re supplementing our existing energy base with renewables rather than replacing, which is what we really need to do.

Mounk: The battle against climate change is often framed as revolving primarily around economic sacrifices. And there is a part of that which is true. But what you’re talking about in terms of the falling price of renewable energies is that actually, in many places, it’s just becoming economically rational to deploy technologies that are better for the planet.

Wallace-Wells: Yeah. This is really one of the major shifts in the culture of climate change and climate action over the last five or ten years. The Kyoto Protocol, and Al Gore first warning us about climate change—those were undertaken at moments when we really thought that this was going to be a burdensome transition, that we would have to do it for the sake of each other and the planet and our lives in the future, but it was going to be expensive in the short and medium term. In part because renewable energy costs have fallen so dramatically, and because we’re getting a clearer sense of the catastrophic health effects of burning fossil fuels, that calculus has really changed. Just about every world leader acknowledges that. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that 90% of the world is now living in places where new renewable energy is cheaper than new fossil fuel energy. It’s a very, very different policy landscape than the one that we were operating in even during the Paris Accords negotiations in 2015. 

3) Love this NPR article on peak TV! (Except that, sorry, Severance was just a B show with quirky production design and poor episodic structure):

What resonates the most, though, from that talk in 2015, is the way Landgraf talked about the good and the great. A lot of people who heard those “peak TV” numbers from critics — 400 shows! — groused back that it didn’t really matter, because most of it was terrible. Landgraf, on the other hand, was careful to point out that this was not the point he was making. He didn’t think the problem was too much bad TV; he thought the problem was largely too much good TV. Or, maybe, too much good enough TV. The head of FX, after all, doesn’t care about total garbage shows or about how many of them there are; that’s not the competition, either for viewers or awards, or for critical attention. (There was a lot of speculation at the time that this part of the speech reflected in part FX’s frustration at a lack of awards recognition for The Americans.)

Here’s what he said about too much good TV: “There’s just too much competition, so much so that I think the good shows often get in the way of the audience finding the great ones.”

Maybe self-serving? Sure, of course. Landgraf is not an academic or a neutral arbiter; he’s a network executive who had (and has) his own business to worry about. But I think this phenomenon does exist, and not just for audiences. As a critic, I do feel overwhelmed by the amount of television — but not by the amount that’s terrible, most of which I get to ignore. I feel overwhelmed by the amount that’s okay. Perfectly fine. Watchable, but unremarkable. The ten-episode series that should be four; the four-episode series that should be a movie. The A-for-effort project that just doesn’t quite get where it’s trying to go. The adaptation of true events that’s well-made but has little to add to the podcast it’s based on. The show that stars very famous people doing solid work and nevertheless doesn’t make so much as a ripple.

It’s not that nothing is great. There are still exciting new shows out there; Apple’s Severance, for instance, is wonderful and innovative, weird and special and provocative. But at times, I do feel like I am kept very busy looking at B-plus shows that look a lot like other B-plus shows, that are nicely made and earnestly executed by talented people and that are perfectly okay if you like the kind of thing that they are.

But with the Netflix news last week, it does seem like perhaps we really have reached Peak TV. Maybe things really are going to contract, just a few years behind schedule. If that happens, it may come as a relief to viewers (both amateur and professional), but it will mean shake-ups with implications for jobs and creativity that are still very hard to predict. And of course, when money is hard to come by, it’s often the new voices that are sacrificed first.

Or, I suppose, this will all be wrong, and the number of shows will grow for the next seven years like they’ve grown for the last seven years, and in 2029, we’ll be back here talking about SuperPeak TV and the fact that our greatest movie stars are now making shows that exclusively air on those little screens at gas pumps. Nobody ever said it was easy to see the future.

4) Enjoyed this New Yorker profile of Emily St John Mandel, but, sorry Sea of Tranquility pales in comparison to Station Eleven..

5) Nice twitter thread on some new research on the impact of a university education on political values in Britain. Here’s the TL;DR:

6) Super low-N, but, what a great subject to study, “Nine weeks of high-intensity indoor cycling training induced changes in the microbiota composition in non-athlete healthy male college students”

7) Good Chait piece on Christopher Rufo, the evil genius behind the CRT-panic and now all the “groomer” nonsense.

8) German Lopez on how opioids are a cautionary tale for legalizing drugs:

Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. reached their highest point ever recorded last year, with more than 100,000 deaths over 12 months. Deaths are up nearly 50 percent since the start of the Covid pandemic.

Whenever I write about deadly overdoses, some readers ask: Why not legalize and regulate drugs? They argue that the government causes more harm by outlawing drugs and enforcing those bans through policing and incarceration. They suggest that legalization and regulation could better minimize the risks involved.

So today I want to explain why that argument goes only so far — and why many experts are skeptical.

“Drug warriors said we should have a drug-free nation, which was totally bogus,” Jonathan Caulkins, a drug policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University, told me. “But it is totally bogus on the other side to say we can legalize and all the problems will go away.”

In fact, we are living through a crisis that shows the risks of legalization: the opioid epidemic.

The problem began with a legal, regulated drug: prescription painkillers. Pharmaceutical companies promised the drugs would help address pain, a major public health issue. But when the pills were made widely available in the 1990s, their use skyrocketed — along with addiction and overdoses. And instead of carefully regulating the drugs, officials consistently gave in to profit-minded pharmaceutical companies, which sold opioids to millions of people.

America is poorly poised to legalize and regulate drugs, some experts said. It tends to resist regulation and favor free-market solutions more than other developed nations. It is one of two countries to allow direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads. The First Amendment protects some commercial speech, making drug marketing hard to regulate.

“The policy has to match the culture,” Caulkins said. And “we are not good at having bureaucracies that view their mission as defending the people against the industry.”

The painkiller saga illustrates this…

Experts widely agree that the U.S. government failed to properly regulate opioids. But that does not justify the prohibition and criminalization of drugs, argued Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group. “That’s a false binary,” she told me.

Many options exist between commercialized legalization and criminalized prohibition, experts said. Portugal decriminalized the personal possession of all drugs in 2001, but not manufacturing and distribution. Canada prohibits drugs, but allows for facilities where trained staff supervise drug users and may even provide substances to use.

Different drugs can also warrant different approaches. Marijuana is much safer than cocaine and heroin, and laws can reflect that.

And while the opioid crisis has shown the perils of legalization, it has also exposed the risks of prohibition. People who die from a fentanyl overdose often believe they are consuming heroin, cocaine or some other drug, not knowing it is actually fentanyl or contaminated with fentanyl. That is a problem of unregulated supply.

9) Jane Coaston on banning Russian tennis players from Wimbledon:

But limiting Russian influence by banning Russian and Belarusian tennis players from Wimbledon is unlikely to bring about a swifter end to the war in Ukraine or concretely damage Putin’s regime. Where’s the evidence that Russia’s president will be swayed to rethink his military aggression if these athletes aren’t allowed to compete at Wimbledon? What makes the governing bodies of Wimbledon and the L.T.A. think Putin will be devastated that Daniil Medvedev and Victoria Azarenka will not be heating up the courts at The Championships? Sports Illustrated reported that one player doubted Putin even cared about tennis.

By taking this action, Wimbledon hasn’t banned a team competing under the Russian or Belarusian flag. Tennis players are independent contractors. At major tournaments like Wimbledon, they aren’t competing for their countries. Even if fans back home cheer for them, they are competing for themselves.

So, what is the ban doing? It’s doing something. It’s performing the act of action. And perhaps that’s the point. The do-something impulse is among our strongest, even when, in many cases, there’s very little you, I or Wimbledon really can do to make the Russian government stop its campaign of violence against Ukrainians. Inaction can feel weak, but action, even when it’s ineffective, often feels strong.

10) This is good from Jeremy Faust, “Four key facts that show legalized abortion saves and improves maternal lives.”

11) Science! “New method delivers life-saving drugs to the brain—using sound waves: An emerging technique harnessing ultrasound may revolutionize treatment of fatal or hard-to-cure conditions, from cancer to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.”

Focused ultrasound is “science-fiction medicine that is rapidly becoming non-fiction,” says Brad Wood, director of the National Institutes of Health Center for Interventional Oncology.

The novel procedure gets drugs into the brain by overcoming a major hurdle: the blood-brain barrier, a thin protective layer of specialized cells lining the very small blood vessels guarding the human body’s most privileged organ. It keeps out the bad stuff, such as pathogens, but it also prevents potentially useful things from getting in. As a result, virtually all medications for conditions such as brain cancer and neurodegenerative diseases are effectively unable to reach the site where they are needed most.

The challenge is that the brain is extraordinarily fragile and damage is irreversible, which is why surgeons want new strategies to bypass the blood-brain barrier. Methods such as surgical injection have been tried in the past but involve skin incisions, holes in the skull, and passing instruments through the brain, which all risk infection, bleeding, and swelling and could cause permanent brain damage. “When treating the brain, we have to remember the person, too,” says Lipsman, who is also the director of Sunnybrook’s Harquail Center for Neuromodulation. “Treating the heart, limbs, or lungs, won’t change someone’s personality, memory, or affect. Harming the brain will.”

That’s why focused ultrasound, which is noninvasive, is so appealing. Numerous teams around the world have now shown that opening the blood-brain barrier with ultrasound is safe and feasible, so the next hurdle is proving the medical benefits…

Focused ultrasound is not a new idea and has been used as a medical treatment since the 1950s. Beginning 15 years ago physicians used it to destroy uterine fibroids and prostate cancer and treat prostate gland enlargement. Today the procedure is being applied to more than 160 diseases and conditions at various stages of research and commercialization. Some of the FDA-approved techniques are used to treat tremors and some motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease—but these efforts are unrelated to opening the blood-brain barrier.

12) Remember the “pregnant persons” flap over an RBG quote last fall.  Jesse Singal just unlocked his excellent post on the matter:

I do think that when people talk about this, they slightly overcomplicate it. Like, if someone pressed me on why I was calling the person a ‘man’ — what I was really saying — I’d stammer a bit and turn slightly red and eventually admit that really, the only coherent answer is that I was making a strong guess about his physical anatomy. What’s going on in my brain is something like “Beard and suit and tie —> masculine-coded —> male anatomy —> ‘he.’ ” 

Of course things get more complicated with the idea that people should be allowed to choose their pronouns, which is something I am happy to go along with (except in some truly bizarre edge cases we can ignore for now). So if I was informed the beardy, male-seeming person went by ‘they,’ I’d use ‘they.’ I’d be switching, for the sake of politeness, from a system in which pronouns refer (at root, when you really get down to it) to someone’s biological sex to a system in which they refer to someone’s gender identity. Language is flexible; the world will continue to spin and the sun will come up tomorrow. But overall, ‘he’ still usually refers to biological sex, at root. I’m a ‘he’ not because I ‘identify’ as male — all these years later I still don’t understand what that means — but because I am physically, biologically male.

Whether or not you agree with my assessment of my own heness, it’s undeniably the case that sometimes when we say ‘girls’ or ‘women’ or ‘boys’ or ‘men,’ we are locked in quite specifically on biology and nothing else. When we refer to the effects of abortion laws on ‘women,’ we really do just mean “adult human females.” It doesn’t, and never has, had anything to do with how the adult human females in question identify, present, or anything else. To see why, imagine a sentence “We need to protect X’s rights to abortion,” where X refers to how people identify and where the sentence itself is coherent. I don’t think there’s any such sentence, because whether you can get pregnant and therefore might need an abortion has nothing to do with how you identify.

I know that that phrase “adult human female,” despite being right there in the dictionary, has now been successfully pathologized and is treated as borderline hate speech, but we really need it to understand what’s going on here linguistically. So, well, sorry! 

13) You are going to be hearing a lot from me about abortion pills, “Abortion pills by mail pose challenge for officials in red states”

The end of a national right to abortion could trigger a surge of interest in a method of pregnancy termination that has become popular in states that already restrict the procedure: Abortion pills by mail.

Many Republican legislatures have tried banning the pills from being shipped or prescribed. But some women have been able to circumvent the restrictions by getting their pills online from overseas pharmacies that can’t be reached by U.S. laws. The five-day regimen of tablets usually comes in an unassuming envelope, making it hard to police. With the Supreme Court possibly poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, people seeking abortions in the United States will probably flock to these sources, experts say.

“This is just not going to be stoppable,” said Gerald Rosenberg, a law professor emeritus at the University of Chicago law school.

This workaround will probably become another front in the battle over abortion rights.

Residents of Texas and about two dozen other states with sharp limits on abortions have already helped fuel the boom in medicationabortions, as patients seek alternatives to surgical abortions at a clinic, advocatessay. Another factor driving the trend has been coronavirus lockdowns, which limited face-to-face visits at medical facilities. Americans are more comfortable receiving medical care by Zoom-style video links, which allow doctors to prescribe and direct patients on how to take the pills from outside the borders of states that are hostile to abortion.

Mifepristone, sold under the brand name Mifeprex and also known as the abortion pill, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000 for medication abortion. The drug is used with a second pill, misoprostol, to induce what is essentially a miscarriage. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone, which is needed for a pregnancy to progress. Misoprostol, taken 24 to 48 hours after mifepristone, causes cramping and bleeding and empties the uterus. The medication is approved as safe and effective for use in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, although it is sometimes used “off label” after that…

“Mailed pills are hard to police,” said Rachel Rebouche, interim dean of Temple Law School. “That has not stopped [states] from trying.”

14) If this actually pans out, it really is an amazing medical development, “Patients Taking Experimental Obesity Drug Lost More Than 50 Pounds, Maker Claims: The data have not yet been peer reviewed or published. But experts said the drug may give people with obesity an alternative to bariatric surgery.”

An experimental drug has enabled people with obesity or who are overweight to lose about 22.5 percent of their body weight, about 52 pounds on average, in a large trial, the drug’s maker announced on Thursday.

The company, Eli Lilly, has not yet submitted the data for publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal or presented them in a public setting. But the claims nonetheless amazed medical experts.

“Wow (and a double Wow!)” Dr. Sekar Kathiresan, chief executive of Verve Therapeutics, a company focusing on heart disease drugs, wrote in a tweet. Drugs like Eli Lilly’s, he added, are “truly going to revolutionize the treatment of obesity!!!”

Dr. Kathiresan has no ties to Eli Lilly or to the drug.

Dr. Lee Kaplan, an obesity expert at the Massachusetts General Hospital, said that the drug’s effect “appears to be significantly better than any other anti-obesity medication that is currently available in the U.S.” The results, he added, are “very impressive.”

On average, participants in the study weighed 231 pounds at the outset and had a body mass index, or B.M.I. — a commonly used measure of obesity — of 38. (Obesity is defined as a B.M.I. of 30 and higher.)

At the end of the study, those taking the higher doses of the Eli Lilly drug, called tirzepatide, weighed about 180 pounds and had a B.M.I. just below 30, on average. The results far exceed those usually seen in trials of weight-loss medications and are usually seen only in surgical patients.

Some trial participants lost enough weight to fall into the normal range, said Dr. Louis J. Aronne, director of the comprehensive weight control center at Weill Cornell Medicine, who worked with Eli Lilly as the study’s principal investigator.

Most of the people in the trial did not qualify for bariatric surgery, which is reserved for people with a B.M.I. over 40, or those with a B.M.I. from 35 to 40 with sleep apnea or Type 2 diabetes. The risk of developing diabetes is many times higher for people with obesity than for people without it.

15) NYT, “Russia’s Grave Miscalculation: Ukrainians Would Collaborate”

KRYVYI RIH, Ukraine — The solicitation to commit treason came to Oleksandr Vilkul on the second day of the war, in a phone call from an old colleague.

Mr. Vilkul, the scion of a powerful political family in southeastern Ukraine that was long seen as harboring pro-Russian views, took the call as Russian troops were advancing to within a few miles of his hometown, Kryvyi Rih.

“He said, ‘Oleksandr Yurivich, you are looking at the map, you see the situation is predetermined,’” Mr. Vilkul said, recalling the conversation with a fellow minister in a former, pro-Russian Ukrainian government.

“Sign an agreement of friendship, cooperation and defense with Russia and they will have good relations with you,” the former colleague said. “You will be a big person in the new Ukraine.”

The offer failed spectacularly. Once war had begun, Mr. Vilkul said, the gray area seeped out of Ukrainian politics for him. Missiles striking his hometown made the choice obvious: He would fight back.

“I responded with profanity,” Mr. Vilkul said in an interview.

If the first months of the war in Ukraine became a military debacle for the Russian army — deflating the reputations of its commanders and troops in a forced retreat from Kyiv — the Russian invasion also highlighted another glaring failure: Moscow’s flawed analysis of the politics of the country it was attacking. The miscalculation led to mistakes no less costly in lives for the Russian army than the faulty tactics of tank operators who steered into bogs.

The Kremlin entered the war expecting a quick and painless victory, predicting that the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky would fracture and that leading officials in the largely Russian-speaking eastern region would gladly switch sides. That has not happened.

16) Did not like this story! “‘Heartbreaking’: Wild fox kills 25 flamingos, 1 duck at National Zoo”  What’s up with that fox?  Just kill something and eat it– but 25?!

17) Technology FTW, “Small Drones Are Giving Ukraine an Unprecedented Edge: From surveillance to search-and-rescue, consumer drones are having a huge impact on the country’s defense against Russia.

“Drones changed the way the war was supposed to be,” says Valerii Iakovenko, the founder of Ukrainian drone company DroneUA. “It is all about intelligence, collecting and transferring data about enemy troops’ movements or positionings, correcting artillery fire. It is about counter-saboteurs’ actions, and it is of course search-and-rescue operations.” Iakovenko estimates that Ukrainian forces are operating more than 6,000 drones for reconnaissance and says these can link up with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite systems to upload footage. “In 2014, drones became the center of attention of intelligence units, but their scale cannot be compared to what we see today,” he says. (Russia first began its invasion of Ukraine in 2014 with its annexation of Crimea.)

Civilian drone researcher Faine Greenwood has tracked and logged almost 350 incidents in which consumer drones have been used in Ukraine, with the video footage shared on Twitter, Telegram, YouTube, and other social media. Many of the clips, which Greenwood has also mapped, are recorded by military forces, but others have been captured by civilians and journalists. The documented incidents are likely to be only a small fraction of the drone usage in Ukraine. Iakovenko says that in addition to collecting footage for possible war crimes, drones are being used to inspect buildings that have been hit and to help restore power supplies that have been damaged or knocked out.

“You get cheap airborne surveillance, or even strike capabilities, by using these,” says Ulrike Franke, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who has studied the use of drones in war. The drones allow troops on the ground to immediately surveil forces around them, retarget weapons, and take action that could stop enemy advances or save lives. “You have individuals or small militia groups that all of a sudden have their own airborne surveillance capability—that’s something you wouldn’t have had 10 years ago. There certainly have been tactical advances and tactical victories because of that.”

18) Fascinating twitter thread on the evolution of religion.

19) This could be a very interesting twist, “Your phone could reveal if you’ve had an abortion: Internet searches, visits to clinics and period-tracking apps leave digital trails.”

When someone gets an abortion, they may decide not to share information with friends and family members. But chances are their smartphone knows.

The leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion proposing to overturn Roe v. Wade raises a data privacy flash point: If abortion becomes criminal in some states, might a person’s data trail be treated as evidence?

There is precedent for it, and privacy advocates say data collection could become a major liability for people seeking abortions in secret. Phones can record communications, search histories, body health data and other information. Just Tuesday, there was new evidence that commercial data brokers sell location information gathered from the phones of people who visit abortion clinics.
 
“It is absolutely something to be concerned about — and something to learn about, hopefully before being in a crisis mode, where learning on the fly might be more difficult,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, a technology fellow at the Ford Foundation.

20) I can’t wait! “See Daniel Radcliffe as “Weird Al” Yankovic in the First Trailer for Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”

21) Good stuff on health care from Yglesias, “Overtreatment in American health care is a problem”

22) 30 foot border wall means 30 foot falls.  Yikes. “The border wall Trump called unclimbable is taking a grim toll: The journal JAMA Surgery offers one of the first attempts to measure injuries and deaths resulting from falls along new sections of the wall”

23) This conversation between Derek Thompson on adolescent mental health and parenting was fascinating.  I’ve been thinking about it so much since I listened to it. 

Quick hits (part I)

So much I wanted to write about this week.  But, alas, had to get the grades in.  At least, some pretty good stuff here, I think.  And lots more about abortion next week.

1) Loved this in an Emily Oster interview about a book on philosophy and parenting:

But even on smaller issues, I question my kids a lot. In our house, you’re not “entitled to your opinion,” as Americans like to say. You have to defend them. I ask the boys questions, then I question their answers, so they have to think critically about their own ideas. I want to get them in the habit of backing up their opinions with evidence and arguments. But more than that, I want them to know that you shouldn’t have an opinion unless you can back it up — and if the evidence and arguments aren’t on your side, you should change your mind.

You must be super-frustrated with the people who feel in their bones that COVID isn’t real, or that ivermectin cures it, all evidence aside. And you’re doing this huge public service by helping parents find the relevant evidence and think through its significance. I want my kids to have that orientation toward the world. And questioning them — and making them make arguments — is a key part of that. The only downside is that they’ll do it back to you. (But of course, that’s upside too — just exhausting sometimes.)

2) Jeff Maurer on student debt:

One thing I’ve learned is that you can find a research paper to support just about anything. I googled “immigrants commit more crime” and found this paper supporting that thesis from the Center for Immigration Studies, even though it’s pretty well established that the opposite is true. I searched “Bush tax cuts increased revenue” and had to scroll past dozens of studies saying “no they didn’t”, but I eventually found this paper from the Hoover Institute that takes the affirmative position. I did manage to find the outer bounds of this theory — searches for “women find model train enthusiasts sexy” and “crystal meth is a great source of fiber” came up empty — but for most topics under the sun, you can find some crank spouting nonsense due to funding from some presumably-even-larger crank.

Most progressives who want to forgive most or all student loans argue that doing so would benefit the poor and middle class more than the wealthy. And of course they argue that; it would be weird for progressives to support a deeply regressive policy. At least, it would be weird if you don’t think that a sizable chunk of the progressive movement is a borderline cult that lost radio contact with reality some time in the mid-2010s. Though I think I’ve been very clear that I do think that.

To my reading, the evidence is overwhelming that student debt forgiveness with no means testing and no cap on how much is forgiven would mostly benefit the well-off. But some researchers and advocates are parsing data in ways that say otherwise; I consider what they’re doing to be the social science equivalent of standing on your head, squinting, and looking at data reflected in seven mirrors in an attempt to see what you want to see. The effect is an intellectual smoke screen that tries to convince people that something false is true…

The fact that many progressives support a highly regressive policy would be confusing if we didn’t know how we got here. But we do know how we got here: Bernie Sanders ran for president in 2016 promising free college for all. He won the support of many young people and did surprisingly well. Bernie either sparked or capitalized on a trend in progressive circles to rally around pithy, absolutist slogans — “Medicare for all”, “abolish ICE”, “defund the police” — of which “cancel student debt” was one. By 2020, both Sanders and Elizabeth Warren had made debt cancellation a centerpiece of their presidential campaigns. Also, at some point progressives convinced themselves that this is a race issue, because of course they did.

This puts progressives in the awkward position of advocating a policy that mostly benefits highly educated, upwardly mobile, and, yes, mostly white2 people. It is also possible that somebody — or even literally everybody — noticed that progressives tend to be highly educated, upwardly mobile, and, yes, mostly white. Must be a coincidence!

Given this context, of course progressives are desperate to muddle the debate. Their staunch resistance to any caps3 or means testing — which would be inelegant but would help target relief to the poor and middle class — makes it completely obvious that the real end game is to hand a big pile of cash to the type of person who votes for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. That’s a pretty bad look, so it makes sense that their main tactic is to basically throw a smoke bomb on the ground and hope that people get confused. This tactic will probably succeed in giving progressives the psychological cover they need to convince themselves that they’re a champion for the poor while they carry water for the rich, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us need to be fooled.

2) Great stuff from Derek Thompson on Florida, Disney and the parties today:

To review, today’s culture-war death spiral is being accelerated by reactive polarization on both sides. Republicans, freaked out by what they see as cultural disempowerment, are yanking politics right; Democrats, freaked out by what they see as political disempowerment, are pulling institutions left.

I know that by typing the words both sides in the previous paragraph, I have summoned the ancient curse of a thousand tweeted screenshots by media watchers. So let me state something as clearly as possible. As a liberal Millennial, I don’t think liberal Millennials urging companies to take political stands is remotely as bad as Republican activists urging politicians to, say, ban math books on the grounds that cartoons of gay parents amount to sexualized “grooming.” Personally, I find the former defensible and the latter detestable. But as a political observer, I ought to note plainly that both of these things are extraordinary appeals to power, that these appeals to power are effective, and that liberals’ effectiveness moving companies left and conservatives’ effectiveness moving state politics right are two forces turning in a gyre of unyielding grievance. The possibility that the right is polarizing harder and for worse reasons than the left doesn’t change the fact that both sides are polarizing.

***

The political scientist Ronald Inglehart famously wrote that as societies get richer, voters care less about economic (material) issues and more about social and cultural (post-material) issues. With rising material well-being, we climb Maslow’s hierarchy to the top of the pyramid, get woozy with altitude sickness, and start ranting at each other about language. This is how we get Florida setting its economic and tax policy by first looking at which companies are saying the right words.

Who is allowed to say what? In the post-material future coming into focus, this is the only political question that matters. It is certainly the question that matters in the Disney-DeSantis showdown. “I am the most free-market person on the right … I think more freedoms for businesses are good,” the conservative personality Ben Shapiro said recently on his popular podcast, about the Florida fracas. “However,” he said to Disney, “if you decide to just become a woke corporation that does the bidding of your Democratic taskmasters, don’t be surprised if you get clocked by a legislative two-by-four. Eff around and find out.”

What a refreshingly blunt statement: Freedom of speech is good, but my political enemy’s speech is punishable by law. This is right-wing economic policy for a post-material age: Conservative companies are allowed to talk, and leftist employees are invited to listen.

Years ago, Republicans were critical of college-campus Democrats for their embrace of “safe spaces.” But maybe the right wasn’t contemptuous of safe spaces, just envious.Why merely a safe room, or a safe campus? Mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bit bigger, darling. Why not an ideologically safety-proofed corporation? Or state? Why not fire the entire federal bureaucracy, as Ohio’s Senate candidate J. D. Vance proposed, and make the government a safe space for right-wing populism?

You might think I’ve strayed from the crux of the Disney-DeSantis mess. But I think we’re at the heart of it. The specific events of this political crisis are less important than the moral of the story. Who is allowed to say what? Disney effed around and found out for itself: Post-materialism rules everything around us.

3) A thoughtful conservative take on Socio-emotional learning:

While the aims of SEL may be commonsensical and bipartisan in the abstract, the community of educational advocates, funders, researchers, and leaders who shape the practical reality of SEL share notions of “commonsensical” and “bipartisan” that are out of whack with those of most Americans who don’t live in the Acela corridor or on the Pacific Coast. 

It can be tough for those outside of education to appreciate just how casually woke the complex of education advocates, funders, scholars, and trainers are. (Interestingly, teachers themselves are generally much more moderate than these influentials.) Ninety-nine percent of the education reformers funded by the Gates Foundation support Democratic causes and candidates. At the nation’s top 20 schools of education, half the faculty study “diversity.” Just the other day, the doyens at the National Council of Teachers of English urged English teachers “to decenter book reading and essay writing” (wait, what?) and instead work to “identify and disrupt the inequalities of contemporary life, including structural racism, sexism, consumerism, and economic injustice.”

The result is that advocates and trainers have, almost by default, infused their cultural assumptions and biases into SEL. AEI’s Max Eden has pointed out that, in the past few years, CASEL has actively redefined core concepts to keep pace with woke dogma. CASEL’s notion of “self-awareness” now encompasses “identity” (as defined in terms of “intersectionality”). “Self-management” now incorporates “resistance” and “transformative/justice-oriented” citizenship. In its “Roadmap to ReOpening,” CASEL stipulates that “self-awareness” now entails “examining our implicit biases” and “self-management” requires “practicing anti-racism.” As Eden notes, none of this is “morally or politically neutral.”

Asking teachers to cultivate character is one thing; telling fourth-grade teachers that they all need to embrace “trauma-informed teaching” is another. Serious research on cortisone levels and student anxiety gets scrambled together with research-free calls for affinity spaces. There’s serious research, but it also gets misapplied by foundations, education professors, and teacher trainers to justify all manner of free-floating silliness.

4) Nice explanation of the dog breed and behavior research:

After conducting owner surveys for 18,385 dogs and sequencing the genomes of 2,155 dogs, a group of researchers reported a variety of findings in the journal Science on Thursday, including that for predicting some dog behaviors, breed is essentially useless, and for most, not very good. For instance, one of the clearest findings in the massive, multifaceted study is that breed has no discernible effect on a dog’s reactions to something it finds new or strange.

This behavior is related to what the nonscientist might call aggression and would seem to cast doubt on breed stereotypes of aggressive dogs, like pit bulls. One thing pit bulls did score high on was human sociability, no surprise to anyone who has seen internet videos of lap-loving pit bulls. Labrador retriever ancestry, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have any significant correlation with human sociability.

This is not to say that there are no differences among breeds, or that breed can’t predict some things. If you adopt a Border collie, said Elinor Karlsson of the Broad Institute and the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, an expert in dog genomics and an author of the report, the probability that it will be easier to train and interested in toys “is going to be higher than if you adopt a Great Pyrenees.”

But for any given dog you just don’t know — on average, breed accounts for only about 9 percent of the variations in any given dog’s behavior. And no behaviors were restricted to any one breed, even howling, though the study found that behavior was more strongly associated with breeds like Siberian huskies than with other dogs.

 
And yet, in what might seem paradoxical at first, the researchers also found that behavior patterns are strongly inherited. The behaviors they studied had a 25 percent heritability, a complex measure which indicates the influence of genes, but depends on the group of animals studied. But with enough dogs, heritability is a good measure of what’s inherited. In comparing whole genomes, they found several genes that clearly influence behavior, including one for how friendly dogs are.
 
What the study means is that dog behaviors are strongly inherited, but that the genes that shape whether your dog is friendly, aggressive or aloof date from long before the 19th century when most modern breeds, like those recognized by the American Kennel Club, were created. Breeding since then has been primarily for physical characteristics.

5) Nature! “An Anaconda’s Play Date With Dolphins Took a Strange Turn: Why were Bolivian river dolphins swimming around with a large predatory snake in their mouths? “There are so many questions,” one researcher said.”

Bolivian river dolphins were spotted toying with a Beni anaconda in August 2021.

Bolivian river dolphins were spotted toying with a Beni anaconda in August 2021.Credit…Omar M. Entiauspe Neto, Steffen Reichle, Alejandro dos Rios

6) Nature again! “Deadly Venom From Spiders and Snakes May Cure What Ails You: Efforts to tease apart the vast swarm of proteins in venom — a field called venomics — have burgeoned in recent years, leading to important drug discoveries.”

TUCSON, Ariz. — In a small room in a building at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the invertebrate keeper, Emma Califf, lifts up a rock in a plastic box. “This is one of our desert hairies,” she said, exposing a three-inch-long scorpion, its tail arced over its back. “The largest scorpion in North America.”

This captive hairy, along with a swarm of inch-long bark scorpions in another box, and two dozen rattlesnakes of varying species and sub- species across the hall, are kept here for the coin of the realm: their venom.

Efforts to tease apart the vast swarm of proteins in venom — a field called venomics — have burgeoned in recent years, and the growing catalog of compounds has led to a number of drug discoveries. As the components of these natural toxins continue to be assayed by evolving technologies, the number of promising molecules is also growing.

“A century ago we thought venom had three or four components, and now we know just one type of venom can have thousands,” said Leslie V. Boyer, a professor emeritus of pathology at the University of Arizona. “Things are accelerating because a small number of very good laboratories have been pumping out information that everyone else can now use to make discoveries.”

It is a striking case of modern-day scientific alchemy: The most highly evolved of natural poisons on the planet are creating a number of effective medicines with the potential for many more.

7) Jesse Wegman on the minoritarian Supreme Court:

This didn’t happen by accident: Republicans have spent the past several years twisting the court into an aggressive right-wing supermajority for precisely this purpose. Remember that one of Donald Trump’s major selling points in the 2016 campaign was his vow that if elected, he would ensure Roe was overturned “automatically.” It hasn’t been automatic, but if the holding in the draft opinion stands, it will mark an astonishing moment in our history: the elimination of an existing constitutional right, one that millions of American women (not to mention the men who impregnated them) have relied on for nearly half a century…

The second takeaway from Monday’s leak: Listen to them. Republicans have been saying for decades that they planned to overturn Roe v. Wade the first chance they got. Now that they finally have the chance, they appear to be running with it.

Keep in mind that five of the six justices in the right-wing majority were appointed by presidents who took office after losing the popular vote. This doesn’t mean they are less legitimate than the other four justices. But it might counsel at least a modicum of moderation and humility when approaching hot-button social and political issues that divide the country, as Justice Alito acknowledges is the case with abortion.

Instead the justices are grabbing everything off the shelves while they can. In the process, they are running roughshod over decades of Supreme Court standards regarding the conditions for overturning longstanding precedent. For example, has the world changed significantly since the original ruling? An overwhelming majority of Americans still support a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy in at least some circumstances, so no. What has changed? Nothing except the makeup of the court’s majority itself, the most nakedly partisan crop of justices in memory.

8) Great stuff from Jill Lepore on Alito’s use of history:

About as wholly speculative as the question of who leaked this decision is the history offered to support it. Alito’s opinion rests almost exclusively on a bizarre and impoverished historical analysis. “The Constitution makes no express reference to a right to obtain an abortion, and therefore those who claim that it protects such a right must show that the right is somehow implicit in the constitutional text,” he argues, making this observation repeatedly. Roe, he writes, was “remarkably loose in its treatment of the constitutional text” and suffers from one error above all: “it held that the abortion right, which is not mentioned in the Constitution, is part of a right to privacy, which is also not mentioned.”

Women are indeed missing from the Constitution. That’s a problem to remedy, not a precedent to honor.

Alito cites a number of eighteenth-century texts; he does not cite anything written by a woman, and not because there’s nothing available. “The laws respecting woman,” Mary Wollstonecraft wrote in “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” in 1791, “make an absurd unit of a man and his wife, and then, by the easy transition of only considering him as responsible, she is reduced to a mere cypher.” She is but a part of him. She herself does not exist but is instead, as Wollstonecraft wrote, a “non-entity.”

If a right isn’t mentioned explicitly in the Constitution, Alito argues, following a mode of reasoning known as the history test, then it can only become a right if it can be shown to be “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” As I have argued, the history test disadvantages people who were not enfranchised at the time the Constitution was written, or who have been poorly enfranchised since then. Especially important is the question of who was enfranchised at the time of the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, in 1868, the nation’s second founding, since many arguments defending abortion rights (and many other rights, too) turn on the equal-protection and due-process clauses of that amendment. Here, too, Alito is baffled to discover so little about abortion and women. Referring to the advocates for Jackson Women’s Health Organization and to amicus briefs like one signed by the American Historical Association, Alito writes, “Not only are respondents and their amici unable to show that a constitutional right to abortion was established when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, but they have found no support for the existence of an abortion right that predates the latter part of the 20th century—no state constitutional provision, no statute, no judicial decision, no learned treatise.”

He might have consulted the records of the U.S. Senate from the debate over the Fourteenth Amendment, when Jacob Howard, a Republican senator from Michigan, got into an argument with Reverdy Johnson, a Democrat from Maryland. Howard quoted James Madison, who had written that “those who are to be bound by laws, ought to have a voice in making them.” This got Johnson terribly worried, because the Fourteenth Amendment uses the word “person.” He wanted to know: Did Howard mean to suggest that women could be construed as persons, too?

mr. johnson: Females as well as males?

mr. howard: Mr. Madison does not say anything about females.

mr. johnson: “Persons.”

mr. howard: I believe Mr. Madison was old enough and wise enough to take it for granted that there was such a thing as the law of nature which has a certain influence even in political affairs, and that by that law women and children are not regarded as the equals of men.

Alito, shocked—shocked—to discover so little in the law books of the eighteen-sixties guaranteeing a right to abortion, has missed the point: hardly anything in the law books of the eighteen-sixties guaranteed women anything. Because, usually, they still weren’t persons. Nor, for that matter, were fetuses.

8) Olga Khazan on intellectual humility and Covid (with a nice shout-out to the Scout Mindset):

Many of us have updated our beliefs about COVID at some point in the past two years, even if we haven’t said so publicly. Perhaps you started out worried that the coronavirus was easily transmitted via surfaces, then you discarded that fear upon further evidence. Maybe you are a major infectious-disease specialist who at first thought that young, healthy people didn’t need boosters, then decided they should get them after all. Maybe you committed the ultimate noble flip-flop: You overcame your skepticism of vaccines and opted to get vaccinated.

 

Confessing that we’ve changed our opinion is hard, and not only because we don’t like feeling stupid, or looking stupid, or being exiled from certain circles of Twitter. “If I admit I’m wrong, then I have a harder time relying on my own judgment every time I make a decision or have an opinion,” says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and the author, most recently, of Think Again“I’m admitting that my convictions about the world are often incorrect, and that that makes the world a little bit scarier to live in.”

People get especially rigid in frightening and unpredictable situations. The pandemic has made many of us “seize and freeze in order to restore that sense of control,” Grant told me. The restaurants that are still using QR codes rather than paper menus—ostensibly for COVID reasons—are perhaps practicing a little terror management alongside their cost cutting…

One thing that allows people like Smith to talk so openly about changing their mind is a loose attachment to their opinions. “Don’t let your ideas become part of your identity,” said Grant, the organizational psychologist…

According to Grant, the best way to keep an open mind in an unclear situation is to do just this: Think like a scientist. (The other, lesser ways to think are like a “preacher, prosecutor, and politician,” which are what they sound like.) The writer Julia Galef calls this “the scout mindset,” as opposed to the “soldier mindset.” The scout and scientist mindsets are approximately the same thing: “The motivation to see things as they are, not as you wish they were,” she writes in her eponymous book.

Thinking like a scientist, or a scout, means “recognizing that every single one of your opinions is a hypothesis waiting to be tested. And every decision you make is an experiment where you forgot to have a control group,” Grant said. The best way to hold opinions or make predictions is to determine what you think given the state of the evidence—and then decide what it would take for you to change your mind. Not only are you committing to staying open-minded; you’re committing to the possibility that you might be wrong.

9) Jeff Maurer on abortion:

What about scrapping the filibuster and passing something with 50 votes? That won’t happen soon for Democrats; Manchin and Sinema would have to change their position on the filibuster, and Manchin and Casey would have to change their position on abortion (unless Democrats can pick up Murkowski and Collins, which they probably can’t). Chuck Schumer has announced that the Senate will hold a roll call vote on abortion so that “every American will get to see on which side every senator stands.” Surely, this will be the moment that the progressive left will come to understand: You can’t pass legislation if you don’t have enough votes. It’s not about “standing up” or “fighting” — it’s about votes. This will definitely stop extremely stupid people on Twitter from winging about how they’re never voting for a Democrat again because Democrats can’t get anything done, which, of course, is a major factor keeping Democrats from getting anything done. And I hope the sarcasm in the last few sentences is apparent, because I really don’t know how to lay it on any thicker.

Republicans can’t pass an abortion ban with Biden in the White House, so their focus will be on 2024. If you think that Republicans will keep the filibuster because they’ve spent the past few years singing its praises, then I find your faith in their integrity downright adorable. You’re like Bart Simpson with Krusty the Clown — you just never stop believing! That being said, Republicans didn’t scrap the filibuster when they had a narrow majority in 2016, reportedly because a few in the GOP caucus wanted to keep it. They’ll probably need a majority in the mid-50s to get rid of it, but if they do well in 2024, that will be an option.

About half of the country will probably live in places where abortion is illegal for at least the next few years. This is a somewhat strange outcome in a country where various polling methods continually find solid majorities supporting legal abortion. The wild card in my calculations remains the chaos theory component: Will the politics of abortion change now that abortion opponents can write their beliefs into law? Will large numbers of Republicans suddenly decide that — um, on second thought, an outright ban seems extreme, so maybe just banning abortion in some cases would be better? We’ll see. Americans haven’t voted for politicians who possess the power to make major changes to abortion laws for 50 years. With that being true, there’s only so much that the numbers can tell us about what will happen next.

10) Interesting stuff here! “Evolution Didn’t Wire Us for Eight Hours of Sleep: Chimps sleep nine hours a night. Cotton-top tamarins sleep about 13. What happened to humans?”

Research has shown that people in nonindustrial societies—the closest thing to the kind of setting our species evolved in—average less than seven hours a night, says David Samson, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. That’s a surprising number when you consider our closest animal relatives. Humans sleep less than any ape, monkey, or lemur that scientists have studied. Chimps sleep about nine and a half hours out of every 24. Cotton-top tamarins sleep about 13. Three-striped night monkeys are technically nocturnal, though, really, they’re hardly ever awake—they sleep for 17 hours a day.

Samson calls this discrepancy the human sleep paradox. “How is this possible, that we’re sleeping the least out of any primate?” he says. Sleep is known to be important for our memory, immune function, and other aspects of health. A predictive model of primate sleep based on factors such as body mass, brain size, and diet concluded that humans ought to sleep about nine and a half hours out of every 24, not seven. “Something weird is going on,” Samson says.

Research by Samson and others in primates and nonindustrial human populations has revealed the various ways that human sleep is unusual. We spend fewer hours asleep than our nearest relatives, and more of our night in the phase of sleep known as rapid eye movement, or REM. The reasons for our strange sleep habits are still up for debate but can likely be found in the story of how we became human…

Humans, then, seem to have evolved to need less sleep than our primate relatives. Samson showed in a 2018 analysis that we did this by lopping off non-REM time. REM is the sleep phase most associated with vivid dreaming. That means we may spend a larger proportion of our night dreaming than primates do. We’re also flexible about when we get those hours of shut-eye.

To tie together the story of how human sleep evolved, Samson laid out what he calls his social-sleep hypothesis in the 2021 Annual Review of Anthropology. He thinks the evolution of human sleep is a story about safety—specifically, safety in numbers. Brief, flexibly timed REM-dense sleep likely evolved because of the threat of predation when humans began sleeping on the ground, Samson says. And he thinks that another key to sleeping safely on land was snoozing in a group.

“We should think of early human camps and bands as like a snail’s shell,” he says. Groups of humans may have shared simple shelters. A fire might have kept people warm and bugs away. Some group members could sleep while others kept watch.

“Within the safety of this social shell, you could come back and catch a nap at any time,” Samson imagines. (He and Yetish differ, however, on the prevalence of naps in today’s nonindustrial groups. Samson reports frequent napping among the Hadza and a population in Madagascar. Yetish says that, based on his own experiences in the field, napping is infrequent.)

11) Brownstein on the counter-majoritarian Supreme Court:

The supreme court has set itself on a collision course with the forces of change in an inexorably diversifying America.

The six Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices have been nominated and confirmed by GOP presidents and senators representing the voters least exposed, and often most hostile, to the demographic and cultural changes remaking 21st-century American life. Now the GOP Court majority is moving at an accelerating pace to impose that coalition’s preferences on issues such as abortion, voting rights, and affirmative action.

On all of these fronts, and others, the Republican justices are siding with what America has been—a mostly white, Christian, and heavily rural nation—over the urbanized, racially and religiously diverse country America is becoming.

The Court seems to be pulling the United States back into a prior era without regard for changing notions and understandings of equity, equality, and fairness,” Sarah Warbelow, the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, told me. “It is about almost trying to maintain a 1940s, 1950s view of what the United States is and what its obligations are to its citizens.”

In this backward-facing crusade, the majority may be risking the kind of political explosion that rocked the Court at two pivotal earlier moments in American history, the 1850s and 1930s. In each of those decades, a Supreme Court that also was nominated and confirmed primarily by a political coalition reflecting an earlier majority similarly positioned itself as a bulwark against the preferences of the emerging America. In the 1850s, the Court tried to block the new Republican Party’s agenda to stop the spread of slavery just as the Abraham Lincoln–era GOP was establishing itself as the dominant political force in the free states; in the 1930s, the Court sought to derail newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s agenda to manage the economy, regulate business, and expand the social safety net just as his New Deal electoral coalition was beginning decades of electoral dominance.

Though the legal battles of the 1850s, the 1930s, and today turn on different policies and personalities across three different centuries, they ultimately raise the same question: How long will rising generations allow what Roosevelt called the “dead hand” of a Court rooted in an earlier time to block their priorities? …

Immigration tells a similar story. The share of Americans born abroad has been steadily rising toward its highest level since the Melting Pot era at the turn of the 20th century. But Trump in 2020 won only two of the 20 states with the highest percentage of foreign-born residents, according to census figures, and Republicans hold only four of their 40 Senate seats. The GOP tilts toward the places least affected by immigration: Trump won 17 of the 20 states with the lowest share of foreign-born residents, and those same states elected 33 of the 50 GOP senators. Combined, those 20 low-immigration states account for only a little more than one-fifth of the nation’s total population.

The same contrast extends to measures of economic change. Republicans dominate the states with the fewest college graduates but struggle in those with the most, as well as in the states where the highest share of the workforce is employed in science, engineering, and computer occupations, all defining industries of the new knowledge economy. The 22 states with the biggest share of such workers have elected just six Republican senators, while fully 31 of the GOP’s Senate caucus represent the 20 states with the smallest share of such employment, according to census figures. Republicans are much stronger in states that rely on the powerhouse industries of the 20th century: agriculture, energy extraction, and manufacturing.

Centered in these places least affected by all the transitions remaking 21st-century America, what I’ve called the Republican “coalition of restoration” has developed a much more critical view of social and demographic change than the rest of society. In PRRI polling, for instance, although two-thirds of Republicans say abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances, 70 percent of all other Americans say it should remain legal in all or most cases. While a 55 percent majority of Republicans say small-business owners should be permitted to deny service to same-sex couples on religious grounds, almost three-fourths of everyone else disagrees. And while about three-fourths of Republicans say discrimination against white people is now as big a problem as bias against Black people, more than two-thirds of everyone else rejects that idea.

Yet on these fronts and others, the GOP-appointed Court majority appears ready to tilt the law sharply toward the coalition of restoration’s preferences. Warbelow, of the Human Rights Campaign, said that by declaring its intention to reconsider earlier rulings on abortion, affirmative action, and perhaps other fronts such as public prayer, the GOP majority is inverting the Court’s usual motivation for revisiting precedent. Historically when the Court has done so, she said, “it has been to rectify past wrongs in a way that creates greater rights for all Americans. But the cases that the Court is now considering … are not about expanding rights; they are about restricting rights [and] perpetuating a very narrow view of who should be able to operate fully within the world.”

12) Adam Serwer, “Alito’s Plan to Repeal the 20th Century”

That is the significance of the draft Supreme Court opinion leaked to Politico, which shows that the right-wing majority on the Court intends to discard Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, landmark precedents guaranteeing the constitutional right to abortion. The justices can change their minds before judgments are issued, but their opinions are drafted after they’ve taken an initial vote on the cases themselves. The draft likely reflects the direction of the final decision, even if the scope of that decision changes.

The draft, written by Justice Samuel Alito, is sweeping and radical. There is no need to dwell too long on its legal logic; there are no magic words that the authors of prior opinions might have used in their own decisions that could have preserved the right to an abortion in the face of a decisive right-wing majority on the Court. The opinion itself reads like a fancy press release from a particularly loyal member of the GOP Senate caucus. Alito’s writing reflects the current tone of right-wing discourse: grandiose and contemptuous, disingenuous and self-contradictory, with the necessary undertone of self-pity as justification. Alito, like the five other conservative justices, was placed on the Court by the conservative legal movement for the purpose of someday handing down this decision. These justices are doing what they were put there to do.

Alito claims to be sweeping away one of the great unjust Supreme Court precedents, such as Dred Scott v. Sanford, which held that Black people had no rights white men were bound to respect, or Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld racial segregation. But in truth, Alito is employing the logic of Plessy, allowing the states to violate the individual rights of their residents in any way their legislatures deem “reasonable,” as the opinion in Plessy put it. Homer Plessy’s argument was that the segregation law violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights, and that those rights should not be subject to a popularity contest in every state in the union; what Alito describes as a “restrictive regime” of constitutional protection for abortion rights is the kind of safe harbor Plessy himself sought…

The implications of this ruling are therefore tremendous. Notwithstanding the reality that being a woman does not mean being pro-abortion-rights, all over the world the right to decide when and whether to give birth is tied to the political, social, and economic rights of women as individuals. That right is likely to be severely curtailed or to vanish entirely in at least 26 states if this decision takes effect. If the draft becomes the Court’s decision, however, it would have implications for more than just abortion. In the U.S., the rights of many marginalized groups are tied to the legal precedents established in the fight for abortion rights. This opinion, if adopted, provides a path to nullifying those rights one by one.

“The majority can believe that it’s only eviscerating a right to abortion in this draft,” Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told me, “but the means by which it does so would open the door to similar attacks on other unenumerated rights, both directly, by attacking the underpinnings of those doctrines, and indirectly, by setting a precedent for such an attack.”

13) Leonhardt on American K-12 Education:

Today, I’m going to focus on a positive and mostly overlooked trend in American education. For years, you’ve probably been hearing that our schools are in crisis. And K-12 education in the U.S. certainly has problems. But it has also been improving for much of the past few decades, according to several crucial metrics.

Starting in the late 1990s, the math skills of students in elementary and middle schools began to improve. A few years later, reading skills started improving, too….

[Sorry, NYT graphs don’t copy over well, but they’re good]

Racial gaps in reading skills also shrunk during this period.

As Thomas Kane, a Harvard professor of education and economics, says about the recent educational progress, “It may be the most important social policy success of the last half century that nobody seems to be aware of.” …

There appear to be two main causes.

First, many states began to emphasize school accountability starting in the 1990s. Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas and other states more rigorously measured student learning and pushed struggling schools to adopt approaches that were working elsewhere. The accountability movement went national in the 2000s, through laws signed by George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The timing of the test-score increases is consistent with this story, as researchers at the Brookings Institution have noted. As you can see in the charts above, the biggest gains came shortly after states began holding schools more accountable for student learning. In more recent years, the gains leveled off. This pattern suggests that schools made some important changes in response to accountability policies but then struggled to maintain the pace of improvement.

A second major cause of increased learning seems to have been school funding: It rose during the 1990s and early 2000s. States with especially sharp increases included Michigan, Nebraska, New York and Vermont, according to Kenneth Shores of the University of Delaware and Christopher Candelaria of Vanderbilt.

Typically, the funding increases were larger for low-income schools than for high-income schools. That may help explain why racial gaps in reading and math skills declined.

“Exposure to higher levels of public K-12 spending when you’re in school has a pretty large beneficial effect on the adult outcomes of kids,” Kirabo Jackson, an economist at Northwestern University, has said. “Those effects are much more pronounced for children from low-income families.”

Of course, there are caveats to the recent trends in educational progress. The racial gaps, while smaller, are still large. Reading scores did not rise as much as math scores (perhaps because reading is more heavily influenced by students’ lives outside of school, while math is mostly taught at school). High-school test scores did not rise as much as middle-school or elementary-school scores. And some forms of accountability backfired, leading schools to focus more on test-taking than on actual learning.

14) And Jessica Grose builds off this in her parenting newsletter:

Last month, Florida rejected dozens of math textbooks because, the state found, they “included references to critical race theory” or had “inclusions of Common Core” or “the unsolicited addition of social emotional learning.” The New York Times reporters Dana Goldstein and Stephanie Saul reviewed 21 of the rejected books and said that while “in most of the books, there was little that touched on race,” they did include aspects of S.E.L., which they described as “a practice with roots in psychological research that tries to help students develop mind-sets that can support academic success.”

S.E.L. is the latest front in the educational culture wars, and it’s painted as a kind of gateway drug to critical race theory by its opponents. Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank, told Goldstein and Saul that while S.E.L. seems uncontroversial, “in practice, S.E.L. serves as a delivery mechanism for radical pedagogies such as critical race theory and gender deconstructionism.”

As a parent, I read this and felt completely exhausted. Partly because I don’t care all that much about whether textbooks explicitly address social and emotional learning. Good teachers, those who care about all of the students in their classes, incorporate these concepts whether they’re spelled out in a textbook. My fourth grader constantly tells me that “practice makes progress,” instead of “practice makes perfect,” because her school is teaching her to keep working at something even if she isn’t great at it right off the bat.

What I care deeply about is whether my kids are learning the math they are supposed to be learning at their grade level. And I find that very little of the recent political battles over what schools are teaching actually focuses on how American students are doing compared with students in other parts of the world. While most of these culture war conversations are kick-started from the right, there are also unpopular ideas from the left that draw backlash, like recommending against accelerated math in middle school and making standardized college entrance exams optional — despite only 14 percent of Americans believing that standardized tests shouldn’t be a factor in college admissions decisions, according to Pew Research…

He said that while we still “stink” compared with similarly developed countries, “we have made huge, huge moves forward in improving the math education of our students.” Decades ago, teachers were trying to cram too many topics into every year of instruction, leading to curriculums that were a “mile wide and an inch deep,” Schmidt told me. In the 1990s, “except for the elite 20 percent, the seventh and eighth grade was still doing arithmetic, when the rest of the world, even the more developing countries, were covering the beginnings of algebra and geometry. We estimated our curriculum was two years behind much of the rest of the world.”

While our curriculum is now more aligned with the rest of the world’s, we haven’t necessarily seen the impact of it. When I asked Schmidt why, he said that it’s probably because of a number of factors, one being that our education system has very little control at the federal level, so it’s tough to know how well any set of standards is being applied more locally. You can see for yourself how well your state is doing on a website, The Nation’s Report Card, which shows how each state ranks on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is given in the fourth, eighth and 12th grades.

Educational inequality remains a huge problem for the United States, and for a 2015 study, Schmidt and his co-authors looked at PISA test data from more than 300,000 students in 62 countries. There were only 10 countries where the gap between rich and poor students was greater than in the United States. A surprising — to me — takeaway from the study, published on the Michigan State website:

As the United States continues lagging behind many other countries in math and science, domestic policy often focuses on “good schools” versus “failing schools.” But Schmidt said this approach might be too narrow. The study found that most of the variation in student performance occurs within — and not between — schools.

If we lived in a sane political environment, we would be talking about this finding. We could discuss how we could emulate countries that are “both relatively high performing and equitable,” according to Schmidt’s study, such as Poland, Finland and Estonia. We would be having conversations about states with higher-than-average test scores for all children and try to figure out what they’re doing right and replicate it. But we don’t. As he put it to me, the culture war right now “has nothing to do with whether these kids learn mathematics, and it’s irrelevant and a waste of time.”

15) Juliette Kayyem on Biden and Covid:

The implicit policy, in short, is: You do you.

The coronavirus is here to stay, and Americans vary quite a lot in how much they care about that fact. Biden appears to understand this dynamic far better than his public-health team does. Despite his vows to “follow the science,” he was far ahead of federal regulators in pushing for booster shots last fall—to the point that two top FDA vaccine experts resigned. Some scientists wanted to wait for more data about the benefits of boosters; others argued the U.S. government should concentrate on winning over Americans who had not yet been persuaded to get their first shot. But Biden plunged ahead, having apparently concluded that the benefits of offering more protection to Americans who are deeply concerned about their own chance of contracting the virus or passing it along to others outweighed any downside.

That instinct has not entirely prevailed. The FDA’s needlessly long delays in approving vaccines for children younger than 5 suggest that regulators are misjudging many parents’ mood. Meanwhile, many public-health experts continue to fume over what looks to them—accurately—as the Biden administration’s growing emphasis on accommodating individual preferences rather than promoting collective solutions to the coronavirus.

Yet the reliance on society-wide solutions, including mask mandates, social-distancing rules, and school and business closures, began when options were limited, the consequences of coronavirus infection were severe, and treatments were unavailable. The White House’s implicit policy today reflects the rightsizing of the COVID-19 crisis. The arrival of the coronavirus triggered an unprecedented federal effort to contain its spread and mitigate its effects, economic and otherwise. Now the COVID response is starting to look normal—that is, more consistent with federal responses to past calamities—even if life has not returned to the pre-pandemic status quo…

In my field, we define a crisis as a consequential disruption—such as a hurricane, an earthquake, or an oil spill—that comes as a surprise and requires immediate steps to protect the general public. In most disasters, the United States follows a simple template: Local authorities are the first to arrive; the state coordinates how people and resources are used; the federal government supports those efforts as needed. This reflects our constitutional design. The Tenth Amendment gives the powers not expressly delegated to the federal government—powers that include public safety and public health—to the states, which then delegate many of those to localities. The virus upended this pattern as it swept across the nation, creating our first 50-state disaster.

The kinds of crises that require federal assistance, even if in just one state, also tend to reveal longer-term vulnerabilities, such as economic precarity, racial and ethnic prejudice, and unequal access to health care. Some emergency measures may be helpful in addressing these ills. In my own experience, though, the federal government has always scaled down its disaster response before the underlying conditions are cured. There is a difference between a crisis and a persistent policy problem. Some may argue that the abandonment of broad mask mandates is premature, but “not now” is a hard time frame to maintain as the risk of death wanes for anyone who chooses to be vaccinated.

To treat the crisis phase of the pandemic as complete is not the same as declaring that the country’s battle against COVID is over or that many Americans’ unmet needs are irrelevant. It is to say that many of the persistent systemic problems revealed by the coronavirus can be addressed, if our elected representatives choose, without requiring a declared emergency as a pretext for action…

During the pandemic, a saying emerged: You may be done with the virus, but the virus isn’t done with you. This is a cute turn of phrase, but it sounds dated now. Because the coronavirus may never be done with you, whether you are done with it becomes mostly your call. Will you get a booster—or a second booster? When will you wear a mask? Should you attend a party? You know the risks. You do you.

16) Michelle Goldberg, “The Death of Roe Is Going to Tear America Apart”

Very soon, if the Supreme Court really discards Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision partly upholding it, we will have two wildly different abortion regimes in this country. About half the states are expected to mostly prohibit abortion; according to the Guttmacher Institute, in 11 states there won’t even be exemptions for rape and incest. A bill moving through the Louisiana Legislature would allow prosecutors to charge those having abortions with homicide.

Blue states, meanwhile, are casting themselves as abortion sanctuaries. Oregon lawmakers recently passed a bill to create a $15 million fund to help cover abortion costs, including for those traveling to the state for the procedure. Something similar is in the works in California. Abortion clinics in Illinois, bordered by several states where abortion is likely to be made illegal, are preparing for a huge influx of patients.

The right won’t be content to watch liberal states try to undermine abortion bans. As the draft of a forthcoming article in The Columbia Law Review puts it, “overturning Roe and Casey will create a novel world of complicated, interjurisdictional legal conflicts over abortion. Instead of creating stability and certainty, it will lead to profound confusion because advocates on all sides of the abortion controversy will not stop at state borders in their efforts to apply their policies as broadly as possible.”

Already, a Missouri lawmaker has introduced a measure that would let private citizens sue anyone who helps a Missouri resident get an out-of-state abortion. More such proposals will probably follow. Under a Texas law passed last year, people in other states sending abortion pills through the mail to Texas residents could be extradited to face felony charges, though the authorities in liberal states are unlikely to cooperate.

In anticipation of such legislation, Connecticut just passed a law meant to shield doctors and patients. Among other things, it ensures that no one can be extradited to another state for performing or obtaining an abortion that’s legal in Connecticut, and ensures that people sued under a law like the one proposed in Missouri could countersue to recover their costs.

Experts don’t know how these kinds of interstate battles are going to play out because there’s so little precedent for them. If you’re searching for close parallels, said Ziegler, “you’re looking at fugitive slave cases, because there are not many times in history when states are trying to tell other states what to do in this way.” The point is not that abortion bans are comparable to slavery in a moral sense, but that they create potentially irreconcilable legal frameworks.

17) And this is a cool, fun, interactive website about a study on randomness.  Worth your time.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Fun list of 50 best romantic comedies.  Definitely the right call that “When Harry met Sally” takes the top spot.

2) The human brain. Damn, “She Was Missing a Chunk of Her Brain. It Didn’t Matter”

EG, who has requested to go by her initials to protect her privacy, is missing her left temporal lobe, a part of the brain thought to be involved in language processing. EG, however, wasn’t quite the right fit for what the scientists were studying, so they referred her to Evelina Fedorenko, a cognitive neuroscientist, also at MIT, who studies language. It was the beginning of a fruitful relationship. The first paper based on EG’s brain was recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia, and Fedorenko’s team expects to publish several more.

For EG, who is in her fifties and grew up in Connecticut, missing a large chunk of her brain has had surprisingly little effect on her life. She has a graduate degree, has enjoyed an impressive career, and speaks Russian—a second language–so well that she has dreamed in it. She first learned her brain was atypical in the autumn of 1987, at George Washington University Hospital, when she had it scanned for an unrelated reason. The cause was likely a stroke that happened when she was a baby; today, there is only cerebro-spinal fluid in that brain area. For the first decade after she found out, EG didn’t tell anyone other than her parents and her two closest friends. “It creeped me out,” she says. Since then, she has told more people, but it’s still a very small circle this is aware of her unique brain anatomy.

Over the years, she says, doctors have repeatedly told EG that her brain doesn’t make sense. One doctor told her she should have seizures, or that she shouldn’t have a good vocabulary—and “he was annoyed that I did,” she says. (As part of the study at MIT, EG tested in the 98th percentile for vocabulary.) The experiences were frustrating; they “pissed me off,” as EG puts it. “They made so many pronouncements and conclusions without any investigation whatsoever,” she says…

Remarkably, EG’s sister is missing her right temporal lobe and is largely unaffected by it, suggesting there’s likely some genetic component to the early childhood strokes that can explain the missing brain regions, Fedorenko says. Next up, the team wants to use both EG and her sister—who has also volunteered to be studied—to try to understand how social and emotional processing takes place predominantly in the right hemisphere. In fact, the whole family is getting involved. A third sibling and EG’s father have also had their brains scanned, although it turns out they each have two intact temporal lobes—or a “boring brain,” as EG dubs it. A fourth sibling will be scanned in the near future. For a long time, it had never occurred to EG that anybody would want to study her, so she is just glad that the neuroscience field has been able to learn something from her brain. “And I hope that it will also take some stigma away from atypical brains,” she says.

3) I’m a huge fan of reading aloud.  Alas, my kids are mostly done with it, but it’s definitely one of the joys of parenthood:

A miraculous alchemy occurs when one person reads to another, transforming the simple stuff of a book into powerful fuel for the heart, brain, and imagination. In The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of DistractionMeghan Cox Gurdon discusses the scientific benefits – and joys – of reading aloud. This month, we were lucky enough to talk to Meghan about the importance of reading aloud, something that is a big part of our #ShareAStorycampaign, which encourages parents, carers, siblings and friends to read to one another for at least 10 minutes a day…

You carried out a lot of scientific and behavioural research. How did you research your books? And what was the most fascinating bit of information about reading aloud that you came across?
People who work at the cliff-face of clinical research tend to be wonderfully generous with their time and expertise. They want the world to know about their work, and are happy to share their findings with writers like me. I learned so many arresting things: That the language circuits in a new baby’s brain spring to life at the sound of a mother’s voice; that a child’s receptive vocabulary (what he understands) may be as many as 3 years ahead of his expressive vocabulary (what he can say); that a child’s ability to pay calm attention at 4 predicts whether he will graduate from university by the age of 25…

Reading aloud is not just for children and your book encourages readers to share stories with adults and the elderly. What are some of the benefits of reading aloud to older readers?
For older people, as for young ones, there’s a brain-kindling aspect, to start: Exciting research at the University of Liverpool, for instance, suggests that reading poetry aloud can help Alzheimer’s sufferers by stimulating their neural pathways. There’s a social aspect: It is a way for people to connect when age or illness makes conversation awkward or impossible, offering a balm for the heart and consolation for lonely.

4) New word for the vocabulary– snarge. “‘Snarge’ Happens, and Studying It Makes Your Flight Safer: When a bird collides with an airplane, determining its species can help prevent future collisions. To do that, scientists need snarge.”

5) As you know, I hate tipping.  Just charge me an appropriate price for a service and don’t expect me to pay your employees!  Now, where employee income is largely dependent upon wages (like restaurant servers who literally get lower wages because of expected tips), of course I’m a good tipper.  But, I hate the tipping creep where all sorts of services just ask you to pay them extra money when there’s no reason to.  NYT: “To Tip, or Not to Tip? Automated payment and the spread of tipping to every corner of the food-service business have helped workers weather the pandemic. But some consumers feel overwhelmed.”

6) I suspect I will be talking about Tucker Carlson and testicle tanning as one of the ultimate signs of the decline of the American right, years from now. Dana Milbank, “Why Tucker Carlson wants men to aim lasers at their private parts”

McGovern recommends that you “expose yourself to red-light therapy and the Joovv” — a brand of red light — “that we were using in the documentary.”

“It’s testicle tanning,” McGovern agrees, “but it’s also full-body red-light therapy.”

Carlson, the most-watched Fox News host, sums it up: “So, obviously, half the viewers are now like, ‘What? Testicle tanning — that’s crazy.’ But my view is, okay, testosterone levels have crashed and nobody says anything about it. That’s crazy.”

No, this is what’s crazy. To the extent declining testosterone levels are a problem, the correct solution would be to address a major cause: rising obesity. Instead of shining a red light on your private parts, dear Fox News viewer, turn off Tucker Carlson, get off the couch and go exercise.

But Carlson isn’t primarily hawking a genital-lighting device; he’s really touching all the erogenous zones of the Trumpian right.

There’s perceived loss of national pride: Carlson sees testosterone collapsing in “American men” (it’s a worldwide phenomenon). There’s paranoia about the government: “The NIH doesn’t seem interested in this at all,” Carlson says, impersonating some presumed official from the National Institutes of Health saying “it’s not a big deal” (the topic is widely studied). There’s paranoia about the media: McGovern claims the benefit of red-light therapy “isn’t being picked up on or covered” and says “there’s a lot of people out there that don’t trust the mainstream information.”

There’s the usual racist fearmongering: After the trailer shows several fit White bodies, the first Black body to appear is obese (as President John F. Kennedy intones that “there is nothing, I think, more unfortunate than to have soft, chubby, fat-looking children”), and an image from a street riot is used to convey “weak” America. There’s obsession with gender and sexuality: A shirtless man throws a javelin that turns into a flaming rocket; a man squeezes a cow’s udder; and other men, several also shirtless, exercise, fire a gun, wrestle, flip a tractor tire, swing an ax, swallow raw eggs and, of course, stand naked in front of red lights.

There’s the Trump right’s celebration of masculinity as aggression rather than chivalry or gentlemanliness, a notion promoted lately by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka. In the trailer, words appear on the screen over President Biden stumbling on Air Force One’s stairs and Democratic senators kneeling in tribute to George Floyd: “Good times made weak men; weak men made hard times.”

Above all, there’s the unwavering faith in junk science — or, as Carlson’s “expert” calls it, “bromeopathy” (apparently a form of homeopathy in which you get advice from friends). Red-light treatment is used for various skin conditions, and it’s not impossible a man can boost his testosterone by plunking down four figures to aim such a device at his nether regions. But, as Marc Goldstein, a Weill Cornell Medicine male fertility expert told the publication Inverse, the claim lacks “convincing scientific evidence or properly done studies.”

7) I really like this, “Let Your Kids Be Bad at Things: When parenting becomes about perfectionism, you’re missing the point.”

8) Yes, we should totally let our kids be more independent at younger ages here in America.  But I got bored of the Japanese television show that’s kicking off all these essays in about five minutes.

9) Cathy Young is a heterodox thinker I’ve discovered through twitter.  I really like this, “The Messy Politics of Teaching Gender”

The controversy over Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which severely curbs the ability of public schools to teach about sexual orientation or gender identity, has brought the spotlight on the extent to which the culture wars over public schools now have to do with transgender identities and the recent dramatic shifts in liberal and progressive views on the subject. Unfortunately, this controversy replicates an all-too-familiar pattern: Conservatives respond to a real problem—in this case, progressive overreach in proselytizing simplistic and strongly disputed beliefs on a contentious issue to often-young schoolchildren—in ham-fisted ways, resulting in accusations of both bigotry and speech suppression; liberals circle the wagons and deny that there is any real problem, attributing the conservative moves solely to intolerance and reactionary backlash against social progress; over-the-top accusations proliferate on both sides; and the chances of productive conversation dwindle from slim to none.

Make no mistake: Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, which was signed by Republican culture warrior and likely presidential aspirant Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 28 and takes effect on July 1, is bad law. True, it does not prohibit anyone from saying the word “gay” in or out of public schools, and the groups paying for those “Say Gay” billboards in Florida could definitely find a better use for their money. On the face of it, the text of the bill may even seem reasonable: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” But it’s not clear whether, for instance, the prohibition on sexual orientation “instruction” in K-3 would cover such things as a parent volunteer during a class activity mentioning a same-sex spouse, or the use of any book or cartoon with a gay character.

The “age-appropriate[ness]” in later grades could also be a thorny issue—especially since, like some other recent social-issues legislation, the bill empowers ordinary citizens to serve as enforcers by suing. Given how stupid the culture wars have gotten, that’s worrisome.

It is also true that the anecdote DeSantis used as a justification for the bill—a supposed incident in which schoolteachers encouraged a 13-year-old student to explore a transgender identity without the parents’ knowledge or consent—turns out to have been substantially misreported: It seems that in reality, school staff was fully cooperative with the parents. (One of the bill’s provisions requires such cooperation, except in cases of a credible risk of abuse, when the child is making potentially life-altering decisions.)

But that doesn’t mean concerns about gender-identity extremism in educational settings are all made up.

Right now, for instance, these concerns are being aired in my own “blue” state of New Jersey as  health and sex education standards passed into law statewide in 2020 and now being implemented by local school boards have drawn objections not only from Republicans and conservatives but from some Democrats and moderates. For the moment, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, has announced that the guidelines are being reviewed by the Department of Education and stressed that parents will always have the right to opt their children out of the lessons.

What’s so controversial? While some of the objections have focused on elementary-school materials that include overly explicit descriptions of sexual anatomy, proposed lesson plans dealing with gender identity issues have been a particular lightning rod. Thus, a cartoon video on “Puberty and Transgender Youth” suggested by one local school board as potential viewing material for fifth graders casually discusses the use of puberty blockers and shows a character experiencing anxiety because of by bodily changes (and apparently using a chest binder to hide developing breasts) and getting an injection of puberty blockers.

Meanwhile, a sample lesson plan recommended by that same school board for first graders instructs teachers to ask children how they know what gender they are, then explain the concept of gender identity as “that feeling of knowing your gender,” and elaborates:

You might feel like you are a boy, you might feel like you are a girl. You might feel like you’re a boy even if you have body parts that some people might tell you are “girl” parts. You might feel like you’re a girl even if you have body parts that some people might tell you are “boy” parts. And you might not feel like you’re a boy or a girl, but you’re a little bit of both. No matter how you feel, you’re perfectly normal!

A second-grade lesson from the same curriculum more specifically identifies “male genitals” and “female genitals,” but also offers this disclaimer: “There are some body parts that mostly just girls have and some parts that mostly just boys have. Being a boy or a girl doesn’t have to mean you have those parts, but for most people this is how their bodies are.” (While the Washington Post has pointed out that these lessons plans are not mandatory but are simply offered as potential resources, they are still among the approved material for the curriculum.)…

Are parents reactionary if they think the claim that sex at birth is established by the doctor “making a guess” is not only terrible science, but a highly confusing message for children whose sense of themselves and the world is still developing and for whom the boundaries between fantasy and reality may be still unstable? (Like many other children, I went through an “I’m a boy” phase when I was 7, not long after other phases in which I was a dog, the goddess Artemis, a prehistoric cave child, and a variety of fairly-tale characters of different sexes and species.) Or if they think that the schools should not be in the business of endorsing puberty-blocking drugs whose long-term effects are still poorly understood?

Other parents who are not GOP activists from Florida but suburban liberals from places like Stamford, Connecticut have pushed back against reading materials like The Pants Project, a book about a transgender boy assigned in grades 3 to 5. The objections have been not only to overly sexualized material—the main character, Liv, muses at one point, “Last week, Chelsea loudly told Jade that she’d seen a bulge in my underwear (I wish!)”—but to “gender stereotypes”: the book, one mother complained, seemed to imply that all girls are girly and that wearing pants, as Liv hankers to do, is a boy thing…

A full analysis of today’s gender identity debates is certainly beyond the scope of this article. However, it is worth noting that extremism in the transgender rights movement is being increasingly challenged across the political spectrum. Jonathan Rauch has recently written a thoughtful essay on the subject for the American Purpose, arguing that the movement needs to reject ultra-radicalism the way the gay rights movement did to win its civil rights victories. The Los Angeles Times last week reported on clinical psychologist Erica Anderson, who is herself transgender and has worked with numerous transgender patients; Anderson has broken ranks with the trans advocacy community by arguing that too many teenagers are being rushed into transitioning and that being transgender or “genderqueer” has, in some cases, become a trendy thing among progressive young people. Science journalist Jesse Singal, who is no one’s idea of a conservative or a right-winger, has been writing for several years about the bad science and bad ideas of radical trans advocacy.

There has been extreme and genuinely bigoted rhetoric about transgender people, both from the right and from radical feminists—but there has also been a disingenuous and deeply counterproductive campaign to equate all dissent from transgender-movement orthodoxy with bigotry and hate. It is entirely possible to believe that transgender identities are valid and worthy of social respect and that gender transition is in many cases the best solution to gender dysphoria, and yet also to believe that transgender advocacy in its current form raises many difficult issues that are far from settled—including hard questions related to gender transition for minors.

Unfortunately, our toxic political scene is the worst possible arena to address these complicated issues. Right now, the right is screaming “groomer” at anyone who believes sexuality and gender identity should be even mentioned in a school setting, while the left is screaming “murderer of trans kids” at anyone who thinks we should be careful about letting a 16-year-old get a mastectomy to fit a male or nonbinary gender identity. The moderate voices are essential—but too often they are getting drowned out. Today, responsible liberals and centrists are well aware of the bigotry and extremism of the anti-trans right; but they should pay more attention to the intolerance and extremism of the militant trans-advocacy left.

10) It’s good that the Supreme Court ruled that, yes, the military can require soldiers to be vaccinated for Covid.  But, plenty disturbing that somehow Gorsuch, Thomas, and Alito think themselves above this chain of command.

11) Really enjoyed this from Derek Thompson, “A Stanford Psychologist Says He’s Cracked the Code of One-Hit Wonders: What separates Blind Melon from Shania Twain?”

For decades, psychologists have puzzled over the ingredients of creative popularity by studying music, because the medium offers literally millions of data points. Is the thing that separates one-hit wonders from consistent hitmakers luck, or talent, or some complex combination of factors? I did my best to summarize their work in my book, Hit Makers. This month, the Stanford psychologist Justin Berg published a new paper on the topic and argued that the secret to creative success just happens to hinge on the difference between “No Rain” and Shania Twain.

Berg compiled a data set of more than 3 million songs released from 1959 to 2010 and pulled out the biggest hits. He used an algorithm developed by the company EchoNest to measure the songs’ sonic features, including key, tempo, and danceability. This allowed him to quantify how similar a given hit is to the contemporary popular-music landscape (which he calls “novelty”), and the musical diversity of an artist’s body of work (“variety”).

“Novelty is a double-edged sword,” Berg told me. “Being very different from the mainstream is really, really bad for your likelihood of initially making a hit when you’re not well known. But once you have a hit, novelty suddenly becomes a huge asset that is likely to sustain your success.” Mass audiences are drawn to what’s familiar, but they become loyal to what’s consistently distinct.

Blind Melon’s “No Rain” rated extremely low on novelty in Berg’s research. Dreamy, guitar-driven soft rock wasn’t exactly innovative in 1992. According to Berg, this was the sort of song that was very likely to become a one-hit wonder: It rose to fame because of a quirky music video, not because the song itself stood out for its uniqueness. After that hit, the band struggled to distinguish their sound from everything else that was going on in music.

By contrast, Twain’s breakout hit rated high on novelty in Berg’s research. She was pioneering a new pop-country crossover genre that was bold for her time but would later inspire a generation of artists, like Taylor Swift. “Twain is a great fit for the model, because her blending of pop and country was so original before she had her breakout,” Berg told me. After her second album, he said, her novelty, which had previously been an artistic risk, helped her retain listeners. She could experiment within the kingdom of country-pop without much competition from other artists, and this allowed her to dominate the charts for the next decade.

Berg’s research also found that musical variety (as opposed to novelty) was useful for artists before they broke out. But down the line, variety wasn’t very useful, possibly because audience expectations are set by initial hits. “After the first hit, the research showed that it was good for artists to focus on what I call relatedness, or similarity of music,” he said. Nobody wants Bruce Springsteen to make a rap album.

This second finding about the benefits of early variety is similar to a model of creativity known as explore-exploit. The Northwestern University economist Dashun Wang has found that artists and scientists tend to have “hot streaks,” or tight clusters of highly successful work. When he looked closer at what preceded these hot streaks, he found a similar pattern. First, artists and scientists would “explore,” or experiment with a bunch of different ideas, styles, jobs, or topics, before they really got in the zone. Then they would “exploit,” or productively focus on one particular area.

Berg’s and Wang’s research suggests three rules of thumb that may come in handy for creative work.

First, extremely new ideas are unlikely to initially find a large audience. But if they break through, artists and entrepreneurs may find that uniqueness is an asset, the same way that Twain’s country-pop hybrid style switched from a burden to a benefit after her first hit. Second, early-career exploration can pay dividends in the long run. This is as true of the broader labor force as it is in music. A 2014 study of young workers found that people who switch jobs more frequently early in their career tend to have higher incomes in their prime working years. Third, the difference between one-hit wonders and hitmakers isn’t just novelty; it’s also focus, or what Berg called “relatedness.” Hot streaks require creative people to mine deeply when they find something that works for them.

But where does Chumbawamba fit into this?!

12) Why would Jay Wright retire from college basketball?  This sounds good:

I joked often this winter that when I talk to college basketball coaches these days, the conversations feel less like interviews and more like therapy sessions. That doesn’t seem so funny now that the sport is losing one of its leading men just when it needs him most. Put simply, the job is exhausting — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The travel is a killer. The parents wear you out. The press is always on your ass. The fans shout obscenities from the bleachers and hurl insults on social media. Your wife gets harassed at the grocery store, your kids get teased at school, and your very livelihood is dependent on the whims of 19- and 20-year-old kids who are under enormous pressure to succeed, and quickly. If things don’t go their way, they’re on to another school or off the pros. And you’re out of a job.

Coaching is a great job but a lousy profession. It pays well if you make it big, but it also chews you up and spits you out, because there’s always fresh meat on the way.

13) NYT on the subway shooter, “Why No One Died When a Gunman Opened Fire on the Subway: Luck and poor marksmanship appear to have saved the victims of the subway attack.”

Also, he was using a handgun, not an assault rifle.  I guarantee you some of these people would be dead if had been using an AR-15.

14) This is good, “THE UNSEEN SCARS OF THOSE WHO KILL VIA REMOTE CONTROL”

In the Air Force, drone pilots did not pick the targets. That was the job of someone pilots called “the customer.” The customer might be a conventional ground force commander, the C.I.A. or a classified Special Operations strike cell. It did not matter. The customer got what the customer wanted.

And sometimes what the customer wanted did not seem right. There were missile strikes so hasty that they hit women and children, attacks built on such flimsy intelligence that they made targets of ordinary villagers, and classified rules of engagement that allowed the customer to knowingly kill up to 20 civilians when taking out an enemy. Crews had to watch it all in color and high definition.

15) Damn, the full-on censorious book-banning of conservatives is just completely nuts.  (And, yet, that does not excuse the censoriousness of campus leftists, just because it’s worse), “Censorship battles’ new frontier: Your public library: Conservatives are teaming with politicians to remove books and gut library boards”

Wallace’s list was the opening salvo in a censorship battle that is unlikely to end well for proponents of free speech in this county of 21,000 nestled in rolling hills of mesquite trees and cactus northwest of Austin.

Leaders have taken works as seemingly innocuous as the popular children’s picture book “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak off the shelves, closed library board meetings to the public and named Wallace the vice chair of a new library board stacked with conservative appointees — some of whom did not even have library cards.

With these actions, Llano joins a growing number of communities across America where conservatives have mounted challenges to books and other content related to race, sex, gender and other subjects they deem inappropriate. A movement that started in schools has rapidly expanded to public libraries, accounting for 37 percent of book challenges last year, according to the American Library Association. Conservative activists in several states, including Texas, Montana and Louisiana have joined forces with like-minded officials to dissolve libraries’ governing bodies, rewrite or delete censorship protections, and remove books outside of official challenge procedures…

Leila Green Little, a parent and board member of the Llano County Library System Foundation, said her anti-censorship group obtained dozens of emails from country officials that reveal the outsize influence a small but vocal group of conservative Christian and tea party activists wielded over the county commissioners to reshape the library system to their own ideals.

In one of the emails, which were obtained through a public records request and shared with The Washington Post, Cunningham seemed to question whether public libraries were even necessary.

“The board also needs to recognize that the county is not mandated by law to provide a public library,” Cunningham wrote to Wallace in January.

16) From a few years ago, but anybody who knows rich people knows this to be so true, “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? Turns Out It’s Just Chance.: The most successful people are not the most talented, just the luckiest, a new computer model of wealth creation confirms. Taking that into account can maximize return on many kinds of investment.”

17) This is also true, “Enough About Climate Change. Air Pollution Is Killing Us Now.”

In the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, doctors noticed a surprising silver lining: Americans were having fewer heart attacks.

One likely reason, according to an analysis published last month by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, is that people were inhaling less air pollution.

Millions of workers were staying home instead of driving to work. Americans were suddenly burning a lot less gas. And across the country, the researchers found that regions with larger drops in pollution also had larger drops in heart attacks.

The menace of air pollution doesn’t command public attention as it did in the 1960s, when thick smog yellowed urban skies. But evidence has piled up in recent years that the real progress the United States has made in reducing air pollution isn’t nearly good enough. Air pollution is a lot deadlier than we previously understood — and, in particular, studies like the analysis of heart attacks during the pandemic show that the concentrations of air pollution currently permitted by federal policy are still far too high.

In an assessment of recent research, the World Health Organization concluded last year that air pollution is “the single largest environmental threat to human health and well-being.”

The low quality of the air that we breathe should be regarded as a crisis. It also presents an opportunity. The existential threat of climate change has come to dominate debates about environmental regulation. Proposals to curb emissions, once presented as public health measures, are now billed as efforts to limit global warming.

The solution to both threats is the same: We need to stop burning fossil fuels, preferably yesterday. But there is cause to wonder whether a greater focus on the immediate dangers posed by air pollution, rather than the more distant specter of global warming, might help to muster the necessary support for changes that are going to be expensive and disruptive.

18) Great thread from Noah Smith on climate optimism.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) deBoer on pragmatism (and the lack of it from the far left)

I come from a tradition with radical demands but which also recognizes that we can’t actually get most of those demands yet, that we need to do a lot of organizing and persuading to get there. But so many leftist Democrats now insist that

  1. Their agenda is already popular with Americans

  2. You only need to juice turnout, not to change minds, evidence be damned

  3. If the Democrats only embrace a left-wing agenda, they’ll sweep to power

None of this is persuasive to me, but it’s become holy writ on social media. And here’s an example of where the left being shut out of power becomes a vicious circle. Centrists are correct that left Democrats are often deeply averse to compromise and bargaining, but this is in part because they’ve never had the power with which to make a compromise. What would they bargain with? Shut out of power for so long, leftist Democrats have no practice with having the juice to force a compromise and are so convinced of the fundamental corruption and fecklessness of the overall party that they recoil at the idea of making one. Meanwhile, I’m constantly told that message discipline – not abandoning any of your principles, but highlighting the ones that are most popular – is not only undesirable but actively impossible.

For example. I’m a “let them all in” guy when it comes to immigration. Those are my values, and I do think that someday we’ll have a vastly more open and humane immigration system. But someday is not today. Liberal views on immigration are deeply unpopular in this country right now. If Democrats run hard on mass immigration increases, they will lose more elections and the Republicans will be empowered to make the immigration situation even worse. I don’t have any sort of simplistic schema for when you have to compromise and when you have to fight; it’s complicated. But so many further-left Democrats I encounter presume that there’s never any time when compromise is necessary and who view strategic calls for moderation as inherently bad faith, as the province of the wicked. It’s a terribly unhelpful way to do electoral politics in our stupid system.

2) Love this from Frank Bruni:

Enough about “parental rights.” I want to talk about nonparental rights.

I want to talk about the fact that a public school, identified that way for a reason, doesn’t exist as some bespoke service attending to the material wants and political whims of only those Americans with children in the science lab and on the soccer field. It’s an investment, funded by all taxpayers, in the cultivation of citizens who better appreciate our democracy and can participate in it more knowledgeably and productively.

Each of us has skin in the game. And each of us, even those of us without children, has the right to weigh in on how the game is played.

But you wouldn’t know that from the education conflagrations of the moment — from the howls of protest from parents about what their children are or aren’t exposed to, what their children are and aren’t taught.

You wouldn’t know it from the arguments for Florida’s recently enacted ban on talk of gay and trans people with young schoolchildren. That measure, nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” initiative by its opponents, was called the Parental Rights in Education bill by its promoters — as if it were restoring and safeguarding some fundamental prerogative that should never have been challenged, as if parents’ sensitivities and sensibilities hold extra-special sway.

They matter, definitely. But one parent’s sensitivities and sensibilities don’t reliably align with another’s. Or with mine. Or with yours.

And raising the banner of “parental rights,” which is being hoisted high and waved with intensifying passion these days, doesn’t resolve that conflict. Nor does it change the fact that the schools in question exist for all of us, to reflect and inculcate democratic values and ecumenical virtues that have nothing to do with any one parent’s ideology, religion or lack thereof.

If the prevailing sensitivities and sensibilities of most parents at a given moment were the final word, formal racial segregation of educational institutions would have lasted longer than it did. There’d still be prayer in some public schools, and I don’t mean nondenominational.

I’m not equating those issues with current fights over L.G.B.T.Q. content in curriculums. Nor am I pushing specifically for that content, whose prevalence and emphasis remain murky to me, as they do, I’d wager, to most of the Americans who have vociferously entered the fray.

I’m sympathetic to the perspective that there’s a time, place and tone for such discussions. Too much too soon can be a clumsy, politically reckless provocation. So can vaguely worded, spitefully conceived, intentionally divisive laws, like the one in Florida, that encourage parents specifically to file lawsuits if they catch the scent of something they find unsavory in their children’s classrooms.

Parents do and should have authority over much of their children’s lives. No quarrel from me there. I’m in genuine awe of the responsibilities that parents take on, and I feel enormous gratitude toward those who approach those responsibilities with the utmost seriousness.

But public education is precisely that, and it’s both inappropriate and dangerous to treat the parents who have children in public schools as the only interested parties or as stakeholders whose desires are categorically more important than everybody else’s. The spreading cry of “parental rights” suggests as much. And the wrongness of that transcends any partisan affiliation.

3) OMG this book banning on the right these days.  Apparently, the picture book “Everywhere babies” is getting banned because some of the parents are same-sex couples.  God forbid kids get the idea that actually happens in the real world. 

4) Pet rental is a thing? Sort of. What the hell? Of course, it all starts with buying a pet from a pet store which, lets be honest, no responsible pet owner does (I’m not talking about pet stores that facilitate adoptions). 

5) Now Florida is trying to do away with tenure for its universities to stop all the liberal indoctrination.  Glad we have state legislators like this on the case ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

He also said it would increase transparency with a provision that would require course syllabuses to be posted online, preventing attempts by professors to “smuggle in ideology and politics.” Sprowls said it would prevent students from signing up for a class on “socialism and communism” when they thought they were signing up for “Western democracy” and classes about “what it means to be an actual American.”

“That’s what this bill is about,” Sprowls said. “Are (students) going to walk into a university system that’s more about indoctrination than it is about getting getting jobs someday and learning skills and the subject matter necessary to get a job? Or is it about some sort of radical political agenda that a particular professor that’s been told they get a lifetime job is going to tell them they have to believe to get an A in their class?”

6) And, as long as we’re on Florida, Chait is on the case when it comes to DeSantis:

7) This is a terrific and, dare I say, heartening interview on the limited and corrupt Russian military:

Could the Russian military say, in its defense, that the military-modernization project was done with a different kind of war in mind than the one in Ukraine? Or do you see the failure being broader than that?

 

8) John Cassidy on McCarthy and McConnell:

It’s eminently clear where Republican candidates are learning the techniques of prostration: from their own leaders. And this abject situation isn’t likely to change. If the events of January 6, 2021, weren’t sufficient to embolden the likes of McCarthy and McConnell for more than a few days, could anything effect such a transformation? Probably not. To be sure, there are some individual elected Republicans, such as Cheney and Mitt Romney, who are still willing to criticize and challenge Trump, but none of them are in positions of authority within the Party.

Taken as a whole, the G.O.P. is still in the same position it has been in for the past five and a half years: beholden to a narcissistic demagogue who has no respect for democracy or the law. In fact, the situation is even worse than it used to be, because the demagogue is now explicitly demanding that Republican candidates sign on to his Big Lie about 2020—a modern version of the “stab-in-the-back” conspiracy theory that helped undermine the Weimar Republic. In one sense, it’s fun to read yet another story confirming the utter spinelessness and cravenness of McConnell, McCarthy, et al. Ultimately, though, the joke is on us.

9) Fascinating deBoer piece about the explosion of claims of multiple personality disorder among teenagers on TikTok and what it says about current pathologies in our culture [emphases in original]

You might very well ask how it could possibly be the case that a notoriously controversial and historically extremely rare disorder would suddenly bloom into epidemic proportions among teenagers with smartphones and a burning need to differentiate themselves. How could that happen? The standard line on these things is that expanding public consciousness about such illnesses reduces stigma and empowers more people to get diagnosed with conditions they already had. But with dissociative identity disorder, I can only ask… really? One of the rarest mental illnesses in the medical literature has had thousands of people walking around undiagnosed, despite the fact that it’s perhaps the single hardest psychiatric condition to hide? It’s one thing to say that there’s tons of, say, autistic people walking around who are undiagnosed because of stigma around the diagnosis. It’s another to say that thousands of people’s conditions have gone unnoticed when they experience the world as a number of distinct and incompatible personalities which they switch between in jarring and disorienting moments.

None of this is healthy. None of it will result in better treatment or results for those who have legitimate psychiatric disorders. Ideas core to the toxic mental health ideology that kids are absorbing on TikTok include

  • That intense childhood trauma is universal or near-universal, despite the fact that it simply isn’t, and thank god

  • That trauma is somehow ennobling, a maker of meaning, a creator of identity, a way to be unique and special, rather than something terrible we should do everything we can to prevent

  • Correspondingly, that to be mentally healthy is undesirable, when it’s a condition we should aspire to secure for everyone

  • That mental illness is an identity, the most important and central element of someone’s self, rather than an unfortunate detail, and that the right way to have a mental illness is to revel in it, celebrate it, fixate on it completely, act as though there’s nothing else interesting or meaningful about you than your mental illness

  • That any critical thinking or questioning of their rhetoric about mental illness is inherently a matter of “stigma” and thus illegitimate, and that the job of doctors and therapists is always to affirm their self-diagnoses, not to act as independent and dispassionate agents

  • That anything they feel is valid, that their emotions are a perfect guide to their reality, and that anything that contradicts their intuitions or their desires is by definition the hand of oppression.

And the core point here is that the people who are being hurt by this are these kids themselves. Sucking up scarce mental health resources with fictitious conditions is irresponsible, yes, and pretending to be sick for clout is untoward. But setting that aside, self-diagnosis is dangerous. Playacting a serious mental illness is harmful to your actual mental health. Fixating on the most broken part of yourself is contrary to best medical practices and to living a fulfilled life. Defining yourself by dysfunction is a great way to stay dysfunctional. And everything about mental illness that seems cool and deep and intense when you’re 18 becomes sad and pathetic and self-destructive and ugly by the time you’re 40. Take it from me. These kids are hurting themselves. I don’t want to ridicule them. I’m not even angry at them. I’m angry at their adult enablers. That includes the vast edifice of woowoo self-help bullshit Instagram self-actualization yoga winemom feel-good consumerist tell-me-I’m-special psychiatric medicine, and a media that loves the prurient thrills of multiple personalities and never saw a vulnerability that it couldn’t exploit.

10) Loved this piece.  I’m glad hockey has evolved to become a sport with much more emphasis on skill.  I would not be the fan I am if it were otherwise, “‘It’s almost like the game has been reinvented’: Players, coaches and GMs on the NHL’s scoring boom”

This is a new age in the NHL, a far cry from the dead puck era that saw a sharp decline in goal scoring from the 1980s. In 1980-81, teams averaged 4.01 goals per game. In the decade, there was never a year below 3.67 goals per game.

By 2003-04, goals per game fell to 2.57 — the lowest in a half-century.

This season, teams are averaging 3.09 goals per game, the highest average since 1995-96, when it was 3.14 per game. The league-wide save percentage of .907 is the lowest since 2006-07 (.905). The average penalty kill is 79 percent, which is frankly unbelievable. The average power play is 21 percent. As Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft notes, “It wasn’t that long ago when if you had a 19, 20 percent power play, you were in the top five in the National Hockey League.”

The Florida Panthers are averaging 4.17 goals per game, the highest by a team since the Pittsburgh Penguins averaged 4.41 per game in 1995-96. Eighteen teams (56 percent of the league) are averaging more than three goals per game. And it’s not just the teams with offensive superstars like the Panthers, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Blues have shot up to fourth in the NHL in goals per game, at 3.74, thanks to recently scoring four or more goals in 12 consecutive games (62 goals, 5.17 per game). Heck, the Wild, for years considered one of the most committed defensive teams in the NHL with a foundation established by original coach Jacques Lemaire, have six 20-goal scorers, three 30-goal scorers and rank fifth in the NHL with 3.66 goals per game.

“Look how teams are made up now: four lines that can contribute offensively,” says 37-year-old future Hall of Fame goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who debuted for the Penguins in 2003. “When I started, your third line was grinding, your fourth line was fighting. Now, look at our third line. We have two 20-goal scorers on there. Imagine having to defend (Jordan) Greenway, (Joel) Eriksson Ek and (Marcus) Foligno. Is there a bigger line in the league? Imagine having to defend them. They’re our checking line, but they check by playing in the offensive zone.”

There are 39 point-per-game players this season in the NHL (minimum 60 games) with another four hovering at 0.99. When the Blues scored seven second-period goals Sunday in Nashville and won 8-3, it was the 30th time since March 1 that an NHL team scored at least seven goals in a game. In 2015-16, 29 teams scored that many in a game in the entire season.

Last Saturday and Sunday, 153 goals were scored across the league — the highest-scoring weekend in NHL history.

You see the impact of the scoring increase in every facet of the game. 

11) Florida wants to ban K-12 textbooks for “social-emotional learning”  That’s nuts!  But, alas, everything is “critical race theory” now. 

Administrators in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District were already looking for ways to support students’ mental well-being before the pandemic, driven in part by a string of student deaths, including some suicides. Then covid-19 and remote schooling inflicted fresh emotional damage.

So, this past fall, the district implementeda social-emotional learning (SEL) program — a curriculum geared at helping students manage emotions, develop positive relationships and make good decisions. Schools have worked to develop these skills for decades, and in recent years, formal programming has proliferated coast to coast. In Anoka-Hennepin, elementary schools focused on themes such as respect, empathy, gratitude, kindness, honesty, courage, cooperation, perseverance and responsibility each month. Students learned how to ask for help and spot someone having a bad day.

The complaints began immediately, often from parents already upset about remote schooling and mask mandates. Minnesota’s Child Protection League, a group active on conservative issues, said social-emotional learning is a vehicle for critical race theory, an effort to divide students from their parents, emotional manipulation and “the latest child-indoctrination scheme.”

 

12) And Dana Goldstein in the NYT, “A Look Inside the Textbooks That Florida Rejected”

But many of the textbooks included social-emotional learning content, a practice with roots in psychological research that tries to help students develop mind-sets that can support academic success.

The image below, from marketing materials provided by the company Big Ideas Learning — whose elementary textbooks Florida rejected — features one common way teachers are trained to think about social-emotional learning.

 
Image
The diagram names core skills students should develop, and gives an example of how to conquer fear and build self-confidence.
Credit…Big Ideas Learning
 
The diagram names core skills students should develop, and gives an example of how to conquer fear and build self-confidence.

The circular diagram names the five core skills students should develop: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness and relationship building. This framework was developed by CASEL, an education nonprofit.

Until recently, the idea of building social-emotional skills was a fairly uncontroversial one in American education. Research suggests that students with these skills earn higher test scores.

13) To be fair, Drum is right and stuff like this should not be in math books:

The Florida Department of Education finally released a few examples of “unacceptable” math problems today. Here is one of them:

So the lesson here is that conservatives are racist, as proven by a test that’s of dubious reliability.

Nice work, textbook people. This is insane. I can’t imagine there’s a conservative governor anywhere in the country who wouldn’t be offended by this. If this math book included a similar bar graph showing crime rates by race, do you think that liberal governors might be equally offended?

Also, the IAT is not a valid measure of racial prejudice!

14) Interesting story here, “How a Crime-Fighting Institution Took a Partisan Turn: Crime Stoppers of Houston built its reputation on a successful tip line. Then it decided to take on Democratic judges.”  And, the NYT takes so much heat, but they have revealing, deeply-reported stories like this every single day that would otherwise not see the light of day. It really is an amazing journalistic institution.  

15) Leonhardt (with an assist from Michael Osterholm) on mask mandates:

As Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist, puts it, a mask mandate with as many exceptions as the airline mandate is like a submarine that closes three of its five doors.

On the other hand, research shows that, when used correctly, masks can be a valuable tool for reducing the spread of Covid. How, then, should the country be thinking about masks during the current stage of the pandemic? Today’s newsletter tries to answer that question.

Broad and lenient

The trouble with the transportation mask mandate was that it was both too broad and too lenient.

Its breadth required people to muzzle their faces for long periods of time, and most people don’t enjoy doing so. (If you doubt that, check out the gleeful responses of airline passengers and school children when told they didn’t have to wear masks anymore.)

A central lesson of public health is that people have a limited capacity to change their routine. They’re not machines. For that reason, the best responses to health crises depend on triage, with political leaders prioritizing the most valuable steps that people can take. Whenever politicians impose rules that are obviously ineffective, they undermine the credibility of the effective steps.

The transportation mandate had so many exceptions that many Americans understandably questioned its worth. Travelers took off their masks to eat and drink. Some flight attendants removed their masks to make announcements. Some passengers wore their masks on their chins. The mandate also did not require N95 and KN95 masks, which are more effective against the virus than cloth masks or standard medical masks.

 

These problems — the open doors on the mask-mandate submarine — help explain a pandemic conundrum: Rigorous laboratory tests show that masks reduce Covid transmission, but supporting real-world evidence tends to be much weaker.

The most glaring example in the U.S. is that liberal communities, where masks are a cherished symbol of solidarity, have experienced nearly as much Covid spread as conservative communities, where masks are a hated symbol of oppression. Another example is school mask mandates, which don’t seem to have had much effect. A third example is Hong Kong, where mask wearing is very popular (although often not with N95 or KN95 masks, Osterholm notes); Hong Kong has just endured a horrific Covid wave, among the world’s worst since the pandemic began.

Osterholm, who spent 15 years as Minnesota’s state epidemiologist and has advised both Democratic and Republican administrations in Washington, argues that much of the U.S. public health community has exaggerated the value of broad mask mandates. KN95 and N95 masks reduce the virus’s spread, he believes, but mandates like the one on airlines do little good.

“Public health advice has been way off the mark, all along, about mask protection,” he told me. “We have given the public a sense of a level of protection that is just not warranted.”

Osterholm added: “Let’s just be honest.”

Narrow and strict

A more effective approach to mask mandates would probably be both narrower and stricter. It would close the big, obvious loopholes in any remaining mandates — but also limit the number of mandates.

The reality is that masks are less valuable today than they were a year or two ago. Covid vaccines are universally available in the U.S. for adults and teenagers, and the virus is overwhelmingly mild in children. Treatments for vulnerable people are increasingly available.

And consider this: About half of Americans have recently had the Omicron variant of Covid. They currently have little reason to wear a mask, for anybody’s sake.

Together, vaccines and treatments mean that the risks of severe Covid for boosted people — including the vulnerable — seem to be similar to the risks of severe influenza. The U.S., of course, does not mandate mask wearing every winter to reduce flu cases. No country does.

Another relevant factor is that one-way masking reduces Covid transmission. People who want to wear a mask because of an underlying health condition, a fear of long Covid or any other reason can do so. When they do, they deserve respect.

“One-way masking works,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University, said. When he is treating tuberculosis patients, they are typically maskless, and he wears an N95 mask to protect himself.

Still, if Covid illness begins surging again at some point, there may be situations in which mandates make sense. To be effective, any mandates probably need to be strict, realistic and enforced. Imagine, for example, that a subway system mandated KN95 or N95 masks inside train cars — but not on platforms, which tend to be airy.

Or imagine that the C.D.C. required high-quality masks in the airport and aboard a plane on the runway — but not in flight when people will inevitably eat and when a plane’s air-filtration system is on. “When I travel, I’m always more worried about in-airport exposures than I am the plane,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a Brown University epidemiologist, said.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has spent much of the past two years with the worst of all worlds on masks. People have been required to wear them for hours on end, causing frustration and exhaustion and exacerbating political polarization. Yet the rules have included enough exceptions to let Covid spread anyway. The burden of the mandates has been relatively high, while the benefits have been relatively low. It’s the opposite of what a successful public health campaign typically does.

16) The Dead Eyes interview with Tom Hanks was about the perfect podcast episode.  And the 29 before it were well worth the trip. 

Quick hits (part II)

Happy Easter!

1) I watched about 5 minutes of “Old Enough” on Netflix before I got bored. But it’s a great starting off point for Jessica Grose’s latest parenting newsletter:

An aggressively adorable reality show that’s been on for decades in Japan recently hit Netflix. It’s called “Old Enough!” and it depicts Japanese little ones, some as young as 2, taking their first solo journeys (the show’s original title is translated as “My First Errand”). ..

In addition to being utterly charmed by how cute the show is, my response was: This wouldn’t fly in the United States. If there were an American version, parents who allowed their children to appear would probably be framed as irresponsible, or the kids would be shown to need parental support at every turn.

It’s not just Japan. In much of the rest of the world, kids are allowed to do more solo at earlier ages. Dan Kois, who wrote a book about traveling the world with his 9- and 11-year-olds, said, “Our experience in most of the places we lived in the course of that year, children, especially middle-grade children, were given enormous amounts of freedom that were totally incomprehensible” to the average American. In the Netherlands, for instance, Kois said that kids rode their bikes to school by themselves.

Though I knew American parents were more protective than some parents in other countries, I was surprised at the extent of the protectiveness. According to a 2012 analysis of a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the mean age at which American adults believed a child could be left at home alone was 13, bathe alone was 7 and a half, bike alone was around 10.

American norms seem also to have become more protective over time…

Experts peg the 1980s and 1990s as when American parenting started becoming more conservative in this way. Lenore Skenazy, the founder of Free-Range Kids and the president of Let Grow, an organization that advocates children having more freedom, said that a shift began, understandably, when child abductions were getting a lot of national media coverage. Etan Patz and Adam Walsh became household names, and rather than thinking of these cases as horrific anomalies, parents began to think of child kidnapping as something more common than it is.

Skenazy said that poorly defined child neglect laws also play a role. Many parents have told me they want to give their kids more freedom, but worry that if they let their 9-year-old go to the park alone, for example, they might wind up getting a call from child protective services. (Skenazy notes that this kind of thing really happens.) Others might make the argument that there’s not much downside to being extra cautious, but research suggests something more complicated — a 2021 paper in the Journal of Family Psychology found that too much parental involvement may lead to worse self-regulation among kindergartners. In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson argues that part of the reason American teenagers are so anxious is that their bubble-wrapped childhoods can leave them without a sense of competence.

America is vast, and parents know their kids and their specific neighborhoods best — I’m not about to send my 5-year-old to the bodega by herself quite yet. But I hope watching “Old Enough!” will make more American parents consider the possibility that our cultural norms need a reset, or at least a rethink.

2) To me great art/literature is great because it speaks to the human condition.  Of course, there are culturally unique and specific aspects of the human condition, but what’s awesome is that a book written hundreds or thousands of years ago can still speak to people today or that a novel about being a child soldier in Africa can have a profound impact on a middle-class American.  It’s speaking to our shared humanity that makes great art.  Thus, I really enjoyed this portion of a conversation between Yascha Mounk and Classics professor, Roosevelt Montás:

Then there is this other aspect of it that is very dangerous. You alluded to this condescending notion that people who are from certain cultures, or certain racial or ethnic minorities, somehow don’t have the human apparatus to connect to big fundamental questions that some other student or individual does. My wife is an American white woman, and this culturally responsive approach to teaching easily falls into something like the idea that Dante is appropriate for her, but not for me. You know, “Give Roosevelt Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Junot Diaz, and give Leigh Plato and Aristotle.” There is a reductionist and narrowness and ultimately a condescension to that attitude that pervades education. I think we have done more damage than good by incorporating that type of thinking into our curriculum. I, as a high school student, found Plato to be very affirming. I found that Plato affirmed the deepest aspects of my identity. By Plato I mean Socrates, really—at least the figure that Plato gives us of Socrates. That had nothing to do with my ethnicity and with my language and with my culture; it had something to do more fundamentally with my sense of self, with the possibilities of living in a society. This happens over and over again—I see students are able to connect with, say, Dante, not because Dante is Italian and because it’s rooted in medieval Catholic theology; there’s something else in Dante, a point of connection that makes Dante no closer to an Italian American than to a Dominican American. 

Mounk: One of the things that I find weird about this, as you’re saying, is that the logical implication of “Only Spanish or Latino literature will appeal to somebody from the Dominican Republic,” is that only English people are truly going to get Shakespeare, which is deeply offensive. Though, when it comes to somebody like Socrates, it’s also the weird metaphysics that’s going on. Socrates lived so long ago, in a society that was so different from either the New York of 1985 or the Dominican Republic of 1985. Which of those two societies was closer to Socrates? I have no way to begin to answer that question. So there’s an odd idea, when you think about transhistorical white identity, where suddenly, the kid with roots that are not at all in Greece, living in a highly technologically, economically complex and diverse society in the 21st century, somehow is supposed to be just like Socrates. It’s just such a weird way of thinking about what it is to be human and how our contemporary identities map onto the past. 

Montás: And the sad thing is that it involves a certain kind of reductionism and essentialism that was invented, historically, as a tool of oppression. This notion of whiteness and blackness and this cultural essentialism develops in the service of racial supremacism, exploitation, enslavement, and absolute dehumanization of the other. Today, the logic is adopted so easily into a discourse that poses itself as progressive, anti-racist, and social justice-oriented. I don’t really question the intentions of people who advance this, but I do think that they are making a fundamental mistake and reproducing the categories that are the exact same tools that produce the oppression that they’re fighting.

3) Sometimes you talk to a journalist for half an hour and they use one boring, anodyne quote.  Other times, they make it worth your while.  Love how the quotes here very much capture how I actually speak about politics, “North Carolina primary bids watched by nation”

Steven Greene, a professor of political science at North Carolina State University, told Courthouse News that Budd probably didn’t lose any headway by not participating in the debate. 

He is financially formidable and is likely “Trumpy” enough to maintain a substantial Republican following, Greene said. 

The professor describes McCrory as more of an “old-guard, pre-Trump, reagan-era conservative,” while describing Budd as more of an “own-the-libs Republican.” 

“He has a potent national brand,” Greene said of Cawthorn, adding,” He’s aligned with Trump and in many ways, he represents what the Republican Party is all about right now.”

The young representative was recently reprimanded by GOP leadership for making public claims unflattering to the party, including tales of “orgy” invites.

That doesn’t matter either, Greene said. 

“Republican primary voters will be willing to overlook problematic statements,” he said, including Cawthorn’s recent statements siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukrainian leadership in the ongoing invasion.

He says Republican primary voters in the state are energized by Trump-esque rhetoric like that of Cawthorn’s. 

Plus, he said, “any Republican candidate with a pulse” is likely to win the majorly conservative 11th District over the Democratic challengers hoping to keep Cawthorn from gaining reelection in November. 

4) Lots of interesting facts/charts checking out here from Pew, “10 facts about today’s college graduates”

A line graph showing that since 2000, the share of Americans with a bachelor's degree has increased across all races and ethnicities

A chart showing that among household heads with at least a bachelor's degree, those with a college-educated parent are typically wealthier and have greater incomes

5) Edsall, ‘Trump Poses a Test Democracy Is Failing.”  This is all just so damn depressing the number of people who so readily choose power, owning-the-libs, negative partisanship, tax cuts or whatever over, you know… democracy.

Ordinary citizens play a critical role in maintaining democracy. They refuse to re-elect — at least in theory — politicians who abuse their power, break the rules and reject the outcome of elections they lose. How is it, then, that Donald Trump, who has defied these basic presumptions, stands a reasonable chance of winning a second term in 2024?

Milan W. Svolik, a political scientist at Yale, anticipated this question in his 2019 paper “Polarization versus Democracy”: “Voters in democracies have at their disposal an essential instrument of democratic self-defense: elections. They can stop politicians with authoritarian ambitions by simply voting them out of office.”

What might account for their failure to do so?

In sharply polarized electorates, even voters who value democracy will be willing to sacrifice fair democratic competition for the sake of electing politicians who champion their interests. When punishing a leader’s authoritarian tendencies requires voting for a platform, party, or person that his supporters detest, many will find this too high a price to pay.

In other words, exacerbated partisan competition “presents aspiring authoritarians with a structural opportunity: They can undermine democracy and get away with it.”

Svolik and Matthew H. Graham, a postdoctoral researcher at George Washington University, expand on Svolik’s argument and its applicability to the United States. Supporters of democracy, they contend in their 2020 paper “Democracy in America? Partisanship, Polarization, and the Robustness of Support for Democracy in the United States,” can no longer rely on voters to serve as a roadblock against authoritarianism:

We find the U.S. public’s viability as a democratic check to be strikingly limited: only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices, and their tendency to do so is decreasing in several measures of polarization, including the strength of partisanship, policy extremism, and candidate platform divergence.

Graham and Svolik cite survey data demonstrating that “Americans have a solid understanding of what democracy is and what it is not” and can “correctly distinguish real-world undemocratic practices from those that are consistent with democratic principles.”…

Despite this awareness, Graham and Svolik continue,

only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices when doing so goes against their partisan identification or favorite policies. We proposed that this is the consequence of two mechanisms: first, voters are willing to trade off democratic principles for partisan ends and second, voters employ a partisan ‘double standard’ when punishing candidates who violate democratic principles. These tendencies were exacerbated by several types of polarization, including intense partisanship, extreme policy preferences, and divergence in candidate platforms.

The authors have calculated that “only 3.5 percent of voters realistically punish violations of democratic principles in one of the world’s oldest democracies.”

6) The latest Jonathan Haidt everybody is talking about America as a modern-day Babel being ruined by social media (I haven’t actually read it yet, I’ll get around to it in my hardcopy Atlantic).

Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three. To see how, we must understand how social media changed over time—and especially in the several years following 2009.

7) I hate the LA Times paywall that gives you not a single article and diminishes their ability to have a national influence.  But, at least the journalist made a nice twitter thread here:

8) This is kind of cool. “Why Rome?”

Rome rose from obscurity to become a vast, prosperous and durable empire. It first outgrew the other Latin cities mainly due to its location as a nexus and its proximity to the wealthy Etruscans (75% confidence). If this is not the case, Rome does not get hegemony over Latium (70% confidence).

Roman culture then spread primarily through conquest (95% confidence). A key reason that this worked was the Romans’ unusually expansive and inclusive notion of citizenship, which increased its labour force, suppressed rebellious tendencies and gave conquered peoples a stake in the Roman venture (70% confidence). If this is not the case, the Romans don’t expand outside the Italian peninsula (60% confidence).

9) Chait, “Why Ketanji Brown Jackson Will Be the Last Democratic Justice for a Long Time The Court is getting more partisan and much harder to change.”

The important news from Jackson’s confirmation was not that Democrats managed to seat a justice; their possession of a Senate majority and the presidency made that a foregone conclusion. The news was that Democrats would not get another justice confirmed without controlling the Senate.

When McConnell announced in 2016 that he would not permit a hearing for any Supreme Court nominee put forward by Barack Obama, his stated rationale was that it would be improper for the Senate to confirm anybody during an election year. An army of conservative pundits came forward to vouchsafe this rationale. “Only once in U.S. history (in 1888) has the Senate acted before Election Day to confirm a justice who was nominated in the last year of a presidential term by a president of the opposing party,” insisted National Review’s Dan McLaughlin.

It was perfectly obvious at the time that McConnell had simply concocted an arbitrary time frame, but conservatives put up a great show in pretending the distinction between election-year nominees and justices nominated other times had real meaning. But McConnell is now dispensing with the pretext and openly refusing to commit to holding hearings for a Democratic Court nominee at all, election year or no. As far as I can tell, the number of conservatives who disagree with him is zero.

The old norms governing Supreme Court nominations generally meant that a well-qualified jurist from within that party’s mainstream would command overwhelming approval from senators in both parties. But that expectation relied on the shared belief that judges were ideologically unpredictable. (Because, indeed, they were.)

In the new world, confirming a Supreme Court justice is just like passing any other part of the president’s agenda: You either have a majority of the votes in Congress or you don’t get it. It will now become routine for Supreme Court seats to stay vacant for years until one party controls the presidency and the Senate.

In practical terms, this will make it nearly impossible for Democrats to take back the Court in the near future. 

10) I was at the Hurricanes 3-0 loss to the Red Wings and they just killed the Red Wings in every metric except, of course, the one that counts. Led me to a bit of dive into the various advanced metrics and I quite like this one that shows plain old scoring chances % as a better metric than high danger chances for percentage.

11) Noah Smith and Matt Yglesias with a fascinating and thoughtful debate on defense spending.

12) And a really interesting interview on the military threats in space:

What are those biggest threats?

Our primary potential adversaries are China and Russia, which have clearly already demonstrated multiple ways that they would hold our space capabilities at risk. We’ve seen this in 2007, when China tested an anti-satellite missile that blew up one of their own satellites. By the way, today we’re still tracking thousands of pieces of debris from that test. That represents a threat to safety and navigation in space. Not a good event. 

And then, most recently, Russia did the same thing on the 15th of November last year, blew up one of their satellites. And now we have hundreds more pieces of debris that we’re tracking because of that. In addition, they continue to develop other capabilities: satellite and navigation signal jamming capabilities; directed energy capabilities from the ground that could be used to dazzle, disrupt, or even damage satellites in low earth orbit, and so on. 

So why are China and Russia doing this? Because they see what space means to modern warfare, and how dependent our terrestrial forces are on space capabilities. And they want to hold them at risk, because they’re actually afraid of the capabilities that our space assets bring to bear.

13) Great guest essay on the nurse convicted of a crime for a medical mistake.

But some are more devastating. RaDonda Vaught, a former Tennessee nurse, is awaiting sentencing for one particularly catastrophic case that took place in 2017. She administered a paralyzing medication to a patient before a scan instead of the sedative she intended to give to quell anxiety. The patient stopped breathing and ultimately died.

Precisely where all the blame for this tragedy lies remains debated. Ms. Vaught’s attorney argued his client made an honest mistake and faulted the mechanized medication dispensing system at the hospital where she worked. The prosecution maintained, however, that she “overlooked many obvious signs that she’d withdrawn the wrong drug” and failed to monitor her patient after the injection.

Criminal prosecutions for medical errors are rare, but Ms. Vaught was convicted in criminal court of two felonies and now faces up to eight years in prison. This outcome has been met with outrage by doctors and nurses across the country. Many worry that her case creates a dangerous precedent, a chilling effect that will discourage health care workers from reporting errors or close calls. Some nurses are even leaving the profession and citing this case as the final straw after years of caring for patients with Covid-19.

14) I don’t get why we can’t just have Ukrainian refugees give their dogs rabies shots at the border, “Ukrainians Face New Hurdle at U.S. Border: No Dogs: Federal health guidelines limit the entry of pets from countries like Ukraine with a high incidence of rabies. For some refugees, the rule has been devastating.”

15) No game-changer, but still a cool technological development, “The F.D.A. authorizes the first Covid-19 breath test.”

16) There had been a lot of hope for Vitamin D and Covid. Evidence is pretty clear, though, there’s just nothing there.  

17) The case for prescribing Paxlovid to low-risk Covid patients.

18) How they managed to build monasteries like this on top of rock formations hundreds of years ago just astounds me.

19) Yeah, we’re not getting to zero Covid.  But science just keeps on making progress, “Sabizabulin Cuts COVID-19 Death; Trial Stopped Early Due to Efficacy”

Positive results were announced from a phase 3 trial evaluating sabizabulin in hospitalized COVID-19 patients at high risk for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Sabizabulin is an oral cytoskeleton disruptor that blocks microtubule trafficking. The investigational treatment is expected to provide both antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects, thereby treating both the SARS-CoV-2 infection and the cytokine storm and septic shock that lead to ARDS.

The double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT04842747) included approximately 210 patients hospitalized with moderate to severe COVID-19 (WHO Ordinal Scale for Clinical Improvement score of at least 4) who were at high risk for ARDS and death.

Patients were randomly assigned 2:1 to receive sabizabulin orally once daily for up to 21 days or placebo. Both treatment arms were allowed to receive standard of care, which included remdesivirdexamethasone, anti-interleukin 6 (IL6) receptor antibodies, and Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors. 

The primary endpoint was the proportion of patients who died by day 60. The key secondary endpoint was the proportion of patients who were alive without respiratory failure at day 15, day 22, and day 29.

An interim analysis showed that treatment with sabizabulin resulted in a clinically and statistically meaningful 55% relative reduction in deaths in the intent to treat population (P =.0029). The mortality rates for the sabizabulin and placebo groups were reported to be 20% and 45%, respectively. As for safety, sabizabulin was well tolerated with no clinically relevant safety concerns compared with placebo. According to the Company, secondary efficacy endpoints are still being analyzed.

20) Two things that are true.  Black Lives Matter is an important and worthy social movement. Black Lives Matter as an organization is basically scamming people. 

21) I’ve never actually been all that much of a fan of Louis C.K., but damn does a sub-headline like this annoy me, “Some comedians are questioning how the Recording Academy saw fit to bestow an award to someone who had admitted to sexual misconduct.”

Presumably because the voters thought he had the best comedy album.

Why aren’t the kids alright?

Great article from Derek Thompson on the climbing rates of depression among adolescents.  I’m going to be too lazy to pick the excerpts, because Thompson did a great job of that in his twitter thread that you should read if you don’t want to check out the article.  But, here’s the tweet with the key theories:

And Thompson’s conclusion:

The truth is I’m not satisfied by any of the above explanations, on their own. But I see no reason to keep them alone. They interact, amplify, and compound. And together they paint a powerful picture.

The world is overwhelming, and an inescapably negative news cycle creates an atmosphere of existential gloom, not just for teens but also for their moms and dads. The more overwhelming the world feels to parents, the more they may try to bubble-wrap their kids with accommodations. Over time, this protective parenting style deprives children of the emotional resilience they need to handle the world’s stresses. Childhood becomes more insular: Time spent with friends, driving, dating, and working summer jobs all decline. College pressures skyrocket. Outwardly, teens are growing up slower; but online, they’re growing up faster. The internet exposes teenagers not only to supportive friendships but also to bullying, threats, despairing conversations about mental health, and a slurry of unsolvable global problems—a carnival of negativity. Social media places in every teen’s pocket a quantified battle royal for scarce popularity that can displace hours of sleep and makes many teens, especially girls, feel worse about their body and life. Amplify these existing trends with a global pandemic and an unprecedented period of social isolation, and suddenly, the remarkable rise of teenage sadness doesn’t feel all that mysterious, does it?

I had a really good discussion about this with my own (incredibly mature and thoughtful when he’s not being whiny and irascible) 16-year old.  I think I would put him solidly primarily into camp #4.  He’s not an anxious person, he doesn’t really use social media, but he does follow the news pretty closely for a 16-year old.  And he worries about climate change. And the future of American democracy. And current and future pandemics. And declining standards of living for American young adults relative to their parents.  And, overall the ability of our world to effectively face these challenges.  And, fair to say he’s been given plenty of reasons for pessimism.  I don’t know if there really is more reason for generalized pessimism now than in earlier eras, but it sure seems that way.  And when there’s generalized pessimism about the future, it only makes sense that young people would feel that the most acutely.  

Seems to me there’s some potentially interesting social science to be done here.  Insofar as one could come up with a rough metric of societal optimism/pessimism (this strikes me as a hard, but not impossible, task), I bet we could find meaningful correlations with adolescent mental health.  I would not absolve social media entirely, but I do think it’s more of an accelerant of all this, than the problem in and of itself.  So, how’s this for a summary– save the world (or at least give us reason to think we can) to save our teens’ mental health?  

Quick hits (part I)

1) Really fascinating profile of Covid misinformation purveyor, Robert Malone, who has been falsely claiming he invented mRNA vaccine technology (yes, he did help in some key research, but that’s it). Anyway, a really interesting case of a sense of grievance metastasizing into something truly awful:

The coronavirus pandemic has “given rise to a class of influencers who build conspiracy theories and recruit as many people into them as possible,” said Emerson T. Brooking, a resident senior fellow for the Atlantic Council who studies digital platforms. “These influencers usually have a special claim to expertise and a veneer of credibility.”

In extended interviews at his home over two days, Dr. Malone said he was repeatedly not recognized for his contributions over the course of his career, his voice low and grave as he recounted perceived slights by the institutions he had worked for. His wife, Dr. Jill Glasspool Malone, paced the room and pulled up articles on her laptop that she said supported his complaints.

The example he points to more frequently is from his time at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego. While there, he performed experiments that showed how human cells could absorb an mRNA cocktail and produce proteins from it. Those experiments, he says, make him the inventor of mRNA vaccine technology.

“I was there,” Dr. Malone said. “I wrote all the invention.” …

The idea that he is the inventor of mRNA vaccines is “a totally false claim,” said Dr. Gyula Acsadi, a pediatrician in Connecticut who along with Dr. Malone and five others wrote a widely cited paper in 1990 showing that injecting RNA into muscle could produce proteins. (The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work by injecting RNA into arm muscles that produce copies of the “spike protein” found on the outside of the coronavirus. The human immune system identifies that protein, attacks it and then remembers how to defeat it.)

But Dr. Malone was not the lead author on the paper and, according to Dr. Acsadi, did not make a significant contribution to the research. While the paper stated that the technology could “provide alternative approaches to vaccine development,” Dr. Acsadi said none of the other authors would claim that they invented the vaccine.

“Some of his work was important,” said Dr. Alastair McAlpine, a pediatric infectious disease doctor based in Vancouver, British Columbia, “but that’s a long way away from claiming to have invented the technology that underpins the vaccines as we use them today.”

2) My favorite Finn (narrowly beating out Sebastian Aho) shared this on twitter, “Is Finland really the happiest country in the world? Finns weigh in.”

For the fifth year in a row, Finland has been named the happiest country in the world by the United Nations-sponsored World Happiness Report. And for the fifth year in a row, I’m surprised. I lived in Finland for a year as a student in the Rotary Youth Exchange program from 2001 to 2002. It was a life-changing experience. I made incredible Finnish friends. I drank too much vodka. I pet a reindeer in Lapland. I saunaed, ice swam and rolled in the snow naked until my pink body looked like a honey-baked ham. It was certainly one of the happiest years of my life. But my Finnish friends? Well, I’m not entirely sure they’ve ever been that happy.

The thing about the Finns, in my experience, is they’re one of the most reserved people on the planet. Blatant signs of glee are not in their playbook…

“Finns have a subdued happiness,” agrees Katja Pantzar, an expert on the topic and author of “Everyday Sisu: Tapping into Finnish Fortitude for a Happier, More Resilient Life.” Pantzar was born in Finland before her family moved to Australia and finally Vancouver, B.C., where she grew up. When an opportunity to work for Finnair’s in-flight magazine came up 20 years ago, she returned to her homeland and has never looked back. In fact, she’s so enthusiastic about the Finnish lifestyle — including its frequent trips to the sauna and its bike-friendly city planning — that she’s written two books on the topic. And she has a special insight into the Finnish psyche. “They might be totally satisfied, but they don’t have the same body language, like smiling,” she says. But don’t let Finns’ poker faces fool you. If the World Happiness Report is to be believed, Finns are masking a deep contentment built on an appreciation for a society that puts the public good first.

3) Though I’m a huge fan of classic rock, I’ve never been a particular fan of the guitar solo.  Yes, there’s some great ones, but, it too easily leads to self-indulgence.  That said, quite enjoyed this NYT audio-embedded essay, “Why We Can’t Quit the Guitar Solo”

4) This learning pit metaphor is great:

When Hunter, 6, started first grade last autumn, he struggled to match letter sounds with the shape of letters on paper. He found writing letters hard and writing words even harder. “It felt bad,” he said recently.

But Hunter also knows how to articulate what is happening when things get frustrating. “Your brain grows at the bottom,” he said. It’s a phrase that refers to the bottom of the learning pit, an imaginary place where students in Hunter’s class in Illinois have been taught to go when something they are learning gets difficult. Hunter also knows what he needs to get out of the pit — hard work, his friends, his teacher — and what it feels like when he climbs up and out on the other side (“excited”).

The learning pit as a metaphor is one of several common educational strategies that lean into the idea that struggle is something to be embraced. It was conceived in the early 2000s by James Nottingham when he was a teacher in a former mining town in Northern England. He saw that his students, many of whom were low income and lived in communities with high unemployment, avoided leaving their comfort zones. He wanted to encourage his students to get comfortable with being a little uncomfortable.

At a moment when students are reeling from two years of pandemic learning and isolation from their peers, the idea of intentionally making young people uncomfortable may seem misguided. But manyeducators and learning scientists say that now, as students look to rebuild academic confidence, is a crucial moment for teachers and parents to step back when learning gets hard and to be explicit that the challenge offers rewards.

 

“It becomes a way of articulating what might in the past have been humiliating and uncomfortable and discouraging,” Dr. Dweck said.

The idea that struggle is vital to learning is well-established, she added. John Hattie, the director of the Melbourne Educational Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, in Australia, spent 15 years studying the educational factors that most influence learning. In 2017, he published “10 Mindframes for Visible Learning,” which identified the factors that work best to accelerate learning. One is striving for challenge and not “just doing your best.”

Teachers in the United States and Britain have found that the learning-pit metaphor comes with conceptual handles that are easy to grasp. A student struggling with a math problem can say to the teacher, “I am in the pit with this” — an easier thing for a child to admit than “I don’t understand.” And a teacher can prepare students to “go into the pit,” as if on a spelunking adventure…

Mr. Nottingham, the founder and executive director of The Challenging Learning Group, an education company, said: “My purpose is, instead of giving them clarity, it’s creating confusion, or cognitive wobble. Like when you are learning to ride a bike and it wobbles — I am trying to create that mental wobble so they have to think about it more.”

Mr. Nottingham identified three mental states that students occupy when learning something new: relatively comfortable, relatively uncomfortable and panicked. Too many parents and educators intervene when learning gets uncomfortable, denying students a chance to stretch enough to deepen their learning, he said. It’s counterproductive,” he said, like trying to help a child learn to ride a bike by holding onto the back of the seat to navigate every bump, hole or obstacle…

Dr. Kapur recently co-wrote a meta-analysis analyzing 53 studies from the past 15 years that examined which teaching strategy was more effective: providing direct instruction on how to complete a problem before practicing it, or providing well-designed questions to provoke thinking on a concept before introducing knowledge about how to tackle it.

The first strategy is widely accepted; teachers have little time to spare, and it is easier to tell students what to do and then have them practice. The latter method seems wildly inefficient: Why let students waste time and develop wrong ideas when a teacher is there to show the “right” way? But Dr. Kapur found that students — in middle school, high school and college, from North America, Europe and Asia — performed better when they had to struggle first. Problem-solving practice before learning a concept was significantly more effective than the converse — learning the concept first and then practicing. “We are taking the science of human cognition and learning,” Dr. Kapur said, “and designing failure-based experiences to help kids learn better.”

5) Few things in nature more cool than a starling murmuration.  Great photo feature.

A murmuration at the De Houtwiel nature reserve.

6) I really think we’re going to be able to amazing diagnostics with AI some day not too far in the future:

Imagine a test as quick and easy as having your temperature taken or your blood pressure measured that could reliably identify an anxiety disorder or predict an impending depressive relapse.

Health care providers have many tools to gauge a patient’s physical condition, yet no reliable biomarkers — objective indicators of medical states observed from outside the patient — for assessing mental health.

But some artificial intelligence researchers now believe that the sound of your voice might be the key to understanding your mental state — and A.I. is perfectly suited to detect such changes, which are difficult, if not impossible, to perceive otherwise. The result is a set of apps and online tools designed to track your mental status, as well as programs that deliver real-time mental health assessments to telehealth and call-center providers.

Psychologists have long known that certain mental health issues can be detected by listening not only to what a person says but how they say it, said Maria Espinola, a psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

With depressed patients, Dr. Espinola said, “their speech is generally more monotone, flatter and softer. They also have a reduced pitch range and lower volume. They take more pauses. They stop more often.”

Patients with anxiety feel more tension in their bodies, which can also change the way their voice sounds, she said. “They tend to speak faster. They have more difficulty breathing.”

Today, these types of vocal features are being leveraged by machine learning researchers to predict depression and anxiety, as well as other mental illnesses like schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. The use of deep-learning algorithms can uncover additional patterns and characteristics, as captured in short voice recordings, that might not be evident even to trained experts.

“The technology that we’re using now can extract features that can be meaningful that even the human ear can’t pick up on,” said Kate Bentley, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

7) Enjoyed this (free) Yglesias post on the popularism debate

This style of thinking set the stage for a primary campaign that was dominated by activists asking candidates to endorse ideas like:

  • A national ban on hydraulic fracturing

  • A national ban on private health insurance

  • A repeal of the statute that makes it a felony to enter the United States without proper paperwork

  • A moratorium on deportations

  • A repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for abortion

But in no plausible universe would a fracking ban would get 60 votes in the Senate. And while activists were hoping to reform the filibuster, the concerns that filibuster reform might lead to an effort to pass a national fracking ban only made reform less likely. Getting the presidential nominee to campaign in favor of a ban on fracking was not going to lead to a ban on fracking. What it could lead to was the re-election of Donald Trump and/or worse down-ballot performance for congressional Democrats. And that would lead to worse climate policy, not better.

You could run down this whole list and reach the same conclusion.

I’m not sure how big of a difference it made that Joe Biden flip-flopped and endorsed Hyde Amendment repeal. But I was sure on the day he did it that repeal of the Hyde Amendment was legislatively impossible and that, by pushing the party to adopt an unpopular stance, the cause of abortion rights had become more imperiled rather than less. Much more imperiled? No. The number of lost votes attributable to any one unpopular stance is usually going to be small. But the sign of the effect is predictably negative.

And that is popularism. It is an almost childishly silly thing to argue about. But I believe that it is counterproductive to progressive causes to push candidates in tough races to take high-salience public stances in favor of unpopular progressive causes. Instead, you should encourage candidates to embrace popular progressive causes and allow them to make tactical retreats from fights where conservatives have public opinion on their side…

The mobilization myth

This mobilization idea is incorrect, as I have written several times.

Just mathematically speaking, you need to mobilize two non-voters to obtain the same value as convincing a single voter to switch parties, so to the extent that you face a choice between these two things, it is clearly better to focus on persuasion. But when making messaging choices, you actually don’t face a tradeoff because sporadic voters are more moderate than regular voters. The people who vote all the time are more engaged with the political system, more ideological in their thinking, and more extreme in their views. There may be a tradeoff in terms of resource allocation — which population should you target for mailers or online ads or whatever — but in terms of message, there is no tradeoff. You want to portray yourself as a moderate politician with popular stances on issues.

Indeed, as Hall & Thompson showed in a very nice paper a few years back, extreme candidates mobilize their opponents’ base and hurt themselves.

Of course certain specific issues that are clearly coded as left-wing are nonetheless very popular. Price control for prescription drugs is one that gets kicked around a lot, and though it doesn’t get as much attention in D.C., the capping of credit card interest rates has a similar quality. And many of Democrats’ most unpopular views (support of affirmative action in college admissions, for example) are not the subject of factional controversy.

But back to 2020: activists were not demanding that candidates take clearer positions in favor of prescription drug price controls or capping credit card interest rates. They were specifically asking candidates to come out — in public, in high-salience venues like debates — in favor of ideas that were both unpopular and wildly unrealistic in legislative terms. And I still don’t know why. My suspicion is that the whole popularism debate has become so poisoned in part because the groups themselves realize that this was an error and don’t like to admit it or be reminded of it. And to an extent, I sympathize. I have had the experience of being loudly and publicly wrong, and it is unpleasant to have to admit error, publicly or privately, and annoying to be reminded that you were wrong.

Nonetheless, they were wrong. And the people reinforcing the norm that it’s wrong to criticize left-wing activists are contributing to poor public comprehension of this topic, a topic that I will admit is of only limited contemporary relevance.

8) Pretty sure I reviewed this research at some point (honestly, some times it all blurs together).  Anyway, interesting

Despite evidence that infants affect families’ economic and social behaviors, little is known about how young children influence their parents’ political engagement. I show that U.S. women with an infant during an election year are 3.5 percentage points less likely to vote than women without children; men with an infant are 2.2 percentage points less likely to vote. Suggesting that this effect may be causal, I find no significant decreases in turnout the year before parents have an infant. Using a triple-difference approach, I then show that universal vote-by-mail systems mitigate the negative association between infants and mothers’ turnout.

9) Interesting idea… arranged friendship, “A Creative Solution to ‘the Friendship Desert of Modern Adulthood’ “I knew many old couples who had happy and loving arranged marriages. I thought, If it worked for them, why couldn’t it work for friendships?”

This week she talks with three women who are part of a group experimenting with “arranged friendship.” Inspired by the arranged marriages common in her home country of Iran, Ari Honarvar brought together a group of relative strangers who decided to commit upfront to be friends through thick and thin. In this interview, they discuss “the friendship desert of modern adulthood” and the oasis that this experiment created for them…

Julie Beck: How did you get the idea for approaching friendship this way?

Ari Honarvar: When I moved to California with my husband and my six-month-old, I really struggled meeting friends. All parents wanted to talk about was their kids. I wanted to have something else to talk about. I was like, Where’s my village?

I tried all these different community-building activities. I combined activism with hanging out with friends. I organized weekly potlucks. At one point I put an ad on Nextdoor and got our neighbors to go for a walk and get to know each other better. But I still didn’t have many intimate friends.

That’s how I came up with the idea of arranged friendships. I grew up in Iran, and I knew many old couples who had happy and loving arranged marriages. I thought, If it worked for them, why couldn’t it work for friendships?

10) Great stuff from Melinda Wenner Moyer.  Wish I had read some version of this 20 years ago, “Consequences Versus Punishments”

Logical consequences are like natural consequences in that they, too, directly stem the choice your kid made — but they’re similar to punishments in that they’re engineered by the parent to have an immediate effect. They are, ultimately, gentle constraints that require kids to recognize and take responsibility for their behavior. A parent using logical consequences might sound like this:

  • Since you’re not taking care of your library books, I’m going to have to take them away from you to prevent them from getting damaged.

  • You weren’t able to leave the play date when I asked you to, so we aren’t going to have time to go to the playground before dinner.

  • Because you started yelling for me before it was wake-up time, I’m too tired to make pancakes. We’ll have cereal instead.

Research is starting to suggest that logical consequences are at least, if not more, effective than mild punishments. One recent meta-analysis found, for instance, that logical and natural consequences were among the most effective ways to shape kids’ behavior, above and beyond disciplinary strategies like time-outs and ignoring bad behavior. In another recent study, kids who were surveyed said that logical consequences and mild punishments would probably be equally effective in shaping their behavior, but they said they would prefer the use of logical consequences.

There are a few reasons why logical consequences might have an edge over punishments. One is that they are less likely than punishments to make kids feel angry and ashamed and are more likely to encourage empathy. Research suggests that, perhaps because punishments sometimes feel unpredictable and unfair, they make kids feel upset and resentful, which then prevents them from being able to consider their parents’ perspective. In other words, kids who are punished turn their focus on themselves, rather than on the effects their choice had on others. I can’t believe Dad grounded me! It’s so unfair! They might not learn much from the punishment, other than to conclude that Dad is a jerk.

Logical consequences, on the other hand, help to focus kids on the effects their choice had on others, which promotes perspective-taking. In a 2019 study, researchers showed 9- to 12-year-olds a handful of cartoon vignettes, some of which showed parents employing logical consequences with kids and others which showed parents employing mild punishments. Then they asked the kids questions about how the scenarios might affect them if they were the child in the cartoon. The kids said they would feel less angry, and better be able to consider their parents’ perspective, if they experienced logical consequences rather than punishments. In a follow-up study, the researchers surveyed teens, who said the same thing.

This perspective-taking is crucial: If you’ve read my book, you know there’s lots of research showing that the ability to take another person’s perspective, what’s called theory of mind, is a crucial foundation for the development of compassionate and generous behavior. We want our kids to think of themselves as part of a larger whole, and for them to consider how their choices and actions might impact those around them.

Compared with punishments, logical consequences more clearly communicate why the behavior or choice was unacceptable, too, since the consequence is directly linked to the choice they made.

11) Such a terrific conversation between Yascha Mounk and Randall Kennedy on race.  Kennedy’s take on critical race theory is about the best I’ve read:

Kennedy: Well, first of all, when we use the term “critical race theory,” we need to be very careful about exactly what we are talking about. When I hear the term now I put quotation marks around it immediately, because when people (especially those attacking it from the right) make references to it now, they’re often making references to a boogeyman that they have created to advance their political aims. They have created something that is unattractive, completely doctrinaire, that they can mobilize against. That’s the boogeyman version of critical race theory. Now, there is another version of critical race theory that would be writings and speeches by a wide range of people, those with whom I’m most familiar being people in legal academia. And indeed, I think it’s right to say that it was within legal academia that this term really took off: the writings of people like Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Mari Matsuda, Charles Lawrence, Derek Bell, Gary Peller, others. 

What do I think about their work, that stems from the 1980s and has gone under the banner of critical race theory? I have various responses to it. Let me start off with my positive response. My positive response is that the people who call themselves critical race theorists are onto a very important point. The central point of critical race theory is that racism is deeply embedded in American life—indeed, virtually ubiquitous. That, it seems to me, is correct. I know plenty of people who do not call themselves critical race theorists, but who would embrace the proposition that racism has been and is to this day a central feature of American life, whether we’re talking about the most public aspects of American life (voting, office holding, jury service) to the most intimate spheres of American life (friendship, sex, adoption, marriage). Fine—I applaud that. I have no problem with that. Now, are there other features with which I do have problems? Yes. There are a variety of features of critical race theory with which I have problems. One that was pretty fundamental, had to do with the relationship between status and thought. 

One of the writings that was probably my introduction to this thing that is now known as critical race theory was an article by a guy named Richard Delgado—I think it was called “The Imperial Scholar.” Basically, the point of the article was that white legal academics, most of whom were liberals, had in his view colonized academia, including race relations law, such that they refer only to one another, they debated with one another, but they ignored and implicitly put down scholars of color. That was the claim. And in elaborating his point, he said, “this is bad,” (and, of course, if it were true, I would agree), but then he went on to say that not only is this bad insofar as it is excluding people on a non-meritocratic basis, but he went on to suggest that it’s also bad because, after all, minority scholars have more of a claim to attention than whites because of their status; minority scholars have more insight because they’re minorities. They have more insight into American racial problems, and so they should actually be given more credence because of their racial identity. No. I’m very much against that. Because if you go along with that, that means that racial identity now becomes an intellectual credential. It means that we can appropriately put boundary lines in the realm of culture. And I’m totally against all of that. You write about a subject and then I want to read what you have written, and if you have written something that is great and insightful, then fine. I don’t care if you’re white, I don’t care if you’re American. Maybe you’re from some other place. I don’t care! I don’t think that these identities constrict our ability to know things. Identity becoming a part of knowledge certification—to the extent that that was part of CRT, I disagreed and disagreed very strongly.

There was another aspect of critical race theory which prompted me to disagree, and it’s very relevant to discussions going on today. There were certain critical race theorists—notice that I said “certain,” because there are a lot of people who are critical race theorists, and they disagree among themselves (I’m not saying that there’s some sort of monolithic CRT, or that they all believe the same things)—who believe, for instance, that there has been no appreciable racial change in the United States of America. “What we have today is neo-slavery”—as far as I’m concerned, that idea is untenable. One person who was very important in developing this idea was a colleague and a friend of mine, Derek Bell—The Permanence of Racism. And he applauded the second reconstruction—the civil rights movement—but basically said, “Ultimately, white folks stayed on top.” Now, I guess it all depends on what counts for you as appreciable change. The fact that there was a black American who was the president of the United States for eight years? For me, that counts as appreciable change. Is it revolutionary? Does it mean that everything is changed? No. Does it mean that because Barack Obama became president of the United States that we don’t have a racial problem in the United States now? No. It didn’t mean any of those things. But did it mean that racial beliefs, racial habits, racial conduct had changed in my lifetime? Yes.

And finally, I disagreed with some critical race theorists who, in my view, are all too inattentive to the importance of protections for civil liberties. And of course, it’s ironic to say this now, since critical race theory is under attack by people who want to erase critical race theory. And I defend critical race theory, and defend it to the -nth degree. Why? Because I believe in freedom of thinking. I believe in freedom of teaching. I believe in freedom of listening. I want the critical race theory to be available to people, even though in certain dimensions, I disagree with it very strongly. But we need to defend intellectual pluralism. And I think some people in critical race theory have not been as attentive to the importance of the defense of intellectual pluralism as they ought to have been.

12) And a good excerpt from Yglesias on Katherine Page Harden, genetics, and policy implications:

I’ve been thinking on and off about this topic for a while.

One thing that’s odd about it is that Harden’s most controversial point is that published studies in the academic literature say that intelligence is a bit more than 60 percent heritable in genetic terms. But this is actually very close to the estimate given by the lay public. And I’ve certainly noticed that in casual conversation among parents, people generally expect children to be good at the same things their parents are good at — including, per this survey, perhaps overestimating the extent to which athleticism is heritable.

So in an interesting sense, the heritability of intelligence thesis really isn’t that controversial. But it is often ignored in academic social science where people will ask facts about inequality or social stratification without attempting to consider the obvious confounding influence of the fact that most children are close genetic relatives of the parents who raise them.

To draw out all the policy implications of these genetic insights would take way more space than I have here.

So I just want to note one particularly salient idea that I think has scared people off the whole subject, which is that Charles Murray infamously argued that because intelligence is heritable, all efforts to reduce racial inequality are at best doomed and at worst counterproductive. As I’ve previously written at length, this involves at least a half-dozen logical leaps and fallacies and is directly contradicted by evidence in favor of lots of specific equity-advancing initiatives. Given that the geneticists actual estimate of heritability here is not far off from what laypeople already believe, I don’t think there are substantial political benefits to stigmatizing discussion of the science and it would be better to directly stake the case for egalitarian policies on the basis of the evidence in their favor, which is quite real.

13) I find this fascinating, “Are some people resistant to COVID-19? Geneticists are on the hunt.
Thousands of people repeatedly exposed to the virus never got sick. Scientists hope their DNA may hold clues to new kinds of treatments.”

The COVID Human Genetic Effort started recruiting volunteers last year, with a focus on healthcare workers who were exposed to the virus but didn’t get infected, and healthy adults living in a household with a spouse or partner who got sick and experienced moderate or severe COVID-19 symptoms, like Kaoukaki. 

The scientists hypothesized that if these individuals were repeatedly exposed and still escaped infection, they were more likely to carry a mutation that confers resistance to the virus.

One promising target is the gene that codes for the human ACE2 receptor and those that regulate its expression on cell surfaces. The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 must bind to ACE2 to enter cells and infect them. A mutation that alters its structure and expression might block the virus from binding and prevent infection. 

So far, ACE2 seems to be our best bet, says Jean-Laurent Casanova, a geneticist at Rockefeller University who is part of the COVID Human Genetic Effort. Genetic variations that allow ACE2 to function normally but disrupt its interaction with the virus—”these would be good candidate genes,” he says.

It’s possible, though, that there are other biological factors aside from the ACE2 receptor that could explain why some people didn’t develop a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Some people may possess a robust immune system that produces antiviral proteins called type I interferons, which limit the virus from replicating in human cells. They’re the body’s first line of defense and appear even before antibodies form against the virus. 

Another hypothesis is that immune cells called memory T cells that may have formed during previously encountered coronaviruses, like those that cause the common cold, help limit SARS-CoV-2 infection in certain patients.

In 2020, prior to the vaccine rollout, one study found greater presence of memory T cells in healthcare workers who were exposed to the virus but who didn’t develop COVID-19.

The memory T-cells may have cleared the virus very quickly for a few people. But it’s no guarantee these people will be protected from future infections. “In fact, we know some have gone on to get infected with more infectious variants and/or perhaps with a higher dose of the virus,” says Mala Maini, a viral immunologist at the University College London and one of the study authors.

If their study does turn up clues to genetic resistance, Casanova hopes that information could be used to develop therapeutics against COVID-19, similar to the CCR5 inhibitors designed to treat HIV infections. But decisions to develop these therapies, Casanova says, will depend on the nature of the mutated genes discovered.

14) Jeff Maurer on Florida’s don’t say gay law and bad faith from left and right

Despite Kilmeade’s rock-solid argument that the bill is “smart” because it comes from the Florida state legislature’s Republican caucus — that fabled haunt of philosopher kings! — I think this is an extremely bad law. Its backers are trying to invoke the specter of a hyper-woke kindergarten teacher illuminating the dark corners of alternative lifestyles — I picture an apple-cheeked Teach for America volunteer pointing to a poster that says “Bukkake Etiquette in a Gender-Fluid Octo-cule.” In reality, the law would prohibit all sorts of reasonable classroom interactions, or at least it might — embroil yourself in a soul-crushing lawsuit to find out! Kilmeade distills the bill’s warped thinking with this statement:

“If you’re talking about sex and sexuality to kindergartners, first graders, second graders, and third graders — think about that! — who’s got the other side of that issue? Please, define it well and say: You need your kindergartner talking about sex.”

This is simple: Sex and sexuality are two different things. Sex is out-of-bounds in early education. Sexuality — meaning sexual orientation or gender identity — is simply a thing that exists in the world. Forbidding any mention of it in the classroom would be like excluding talk of birds. The policy wonks at Fox & Friends and Rupert Murdoch’s Obvious Choice for President 2024 Ron DeSantis are conflating two things that happen to have the same root word. It’s like someone saying “I can’t believe you gave my kid either crystal meth or Crystal Pepsi!” Well, which was it? Those are two very different things: One is a toxic controlled substance, and the other…is crystal meth! (#ClassicJokeStructure)

There’s something very familiar about the tactics the right is using to sell this bill (and its doppelganger in Ohio). The combination of ill-defined rules and draconian punishments for those who violate those rules invokes similar fear-inducing strategies used by some on the left. The Twitter left may or may not have pioneered this suite of below-the-belt tactics — I’m not aware of any copyright claims in this area — but they’ve certainly used them. And now the revanchist right seems to be running the same play. Here’s how it works.

Step 1: Create extremely vague rules…

Step 2: Pair the vague rules with Draconian enforcement mechanisms.

Some on the left have developed a bad habit of waving away severe social and career penalties for minor infractions of perceived norms. The composer who got blackballed due to an innocuous Instagram post? No big deal. The utility worker who was fired for allegedly making a white power gesture (even though he’s not white)? He’ll get some other job. There’s a subset of Twitter that views the fact that JK Rowling and Al Franken aren’t pelted with rotten garbage everywhere they go as hard proof that punishments haven’t gotten out of hand…

Step 3: Use viral content — especially things taken out of context — to energize your supporters…

Step 4: Lob extremely serious charges at anyone who disagrees with you.

If you disagree with the activist left, you’re going to get called a bigot. It’s a fait accompli at this point; the left throws around charges of bigotry like a vendor slinging bags of peanuts at a ballgame. It’s an effective tactic because being called a racist, sexist, or homophobe is a very serious charge. Most people will bend over backwards to avoid it, even if it’s bullshit.

In the circles I run in, pedophilia is also a very serious charge. Which might be why some conservatives are firing it at their opponents; DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw recently accused the Florida bill’s opponents of either being pedophiles or pedophile-friendly (which I guess would make them pedophile-philes). She even (unintentionally?) borrowed the language of the social justice left by saying “silence is complicity”. So, to clarify our present-day linguistic markers: “silence is complicity” = Fox News conservative. “Silence is violence” = social justice left. “Silence is golden” = 8th grade class trip chaperones. “Silence is a sound” = Simon & Garfunkel.

Pushaw’s charge is another data point in what seems to be a trend of conservatives calling their opponents soft on pedophilia. Josh Hawley recently made the completely unfounded case that Ketanji Brown Jackson gives light sentences to pedophiles. In the Fox & Friends clip at the beginning of this article, Kilmeade asks “who’s got the other side of that issue?”, with the obvious intimation that only child molesters are on the other side. This seems to be the state of our political debate: Both sides sling the most serious charges they can think of at their opponents and hope that some of it will stick. I would normally write a hyperbole joke here, i.e. “What’s next? People accusing politicians of running a cannibalistic child sex ring?” except that literally already happened, so I don’t know where we go from here.

15) This is such a good article.  You’re getting the gift link, “The remarkable brain of a carpet cleaner who speaks 24 languages”

16) Nice story from the local news on my research, “New PSA shows Trump telling supporters to get vaccinated. And it’s working.”

Quick hits (part II)

1) I know a good number of you are going to find this one really interesting, “What the ‘Active Grandparent Hypothesis’ Can Tell Us About Aging Well: The need for healthy, active grandparents who can help with child-rearing may be encoded in our genes.”

Why is physical activity so good for us as we age? According to a novel new theory about exercise, evolution and aging, the answer lies, in part, in our ancestral need for grandparents.

The theory, called the “Active Grandparent Hypothesis” and detailed in a recent editorial in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that in the early days of our species, hunter-gatherers who lived past their childbearing years could pitch in and provide extra sustenance and succor to their grandchildren, helping those descendants survive. The theory also makes the case that it was physical activity that helped hunter-gatherers survive long enough to become grandparents — an idea that has potential relevance for us today, because it may explain why exercise is good for us in the first place.

Most of us probably think we already know why we should exercise. We have ample evidence that physical activity of almost any kind improves heart health, reduces the risks and severity of multiple diseases and in many ways just makes us feel better…

Early humans had to move around often to hunt for food, the thinking goes, and those who moved the most and found the most food were likeliest to survive. Over eons, this process led to the selection of genes that were optimized by plentiful physical activity. Physical activity likewise appears to jump-start various cell processes controlled by genes that help to promote health. In this way, evolution favored the most active tribespeople, who tended to live the longest and could then step in to help with the grandchildren, furthering active families’ survival.

In other words, exercise is good for us, they point out in their new paper, because long ago, the youngest and most vulnerable humans needed grandparents, and those grandparents needed to be vigorous and mobile to help keep the grandkids nourished.

Crucially, the new Active Grandparents paper also delves into what it is about physical activity that makes it still so necessary for healthy aging today. For one thing, moving around uses up energy that might otherwise be stored as fat, which, in excess, can contribute to diseases of modern living, such as Type 2 diabetes, Dr. Lieberman and his co-authors write.

Activity also sets off a cascade of effects that strengthen us. “Exercise is a kind of stress,” Dr. Lieberman told me. It slightly tears muscles and strains blood vessels and organs. In response, a large body of exercise science shows, our bodies initiate a variety of cellular mechanisms that fix the tears and strains and, in most cases, overbuild the affected parts. “It’s as if you spill coffee on the floor, clean it up, and your floor winds up cleaner than it was,” Dr. Lieberman said. This interior overreaction probably is especially important when we are older, he continued. Without exercise and the accompanying repairs, then, aging human bodies work less well. We wear down. We cannot care for the grandkids.

Fundamentally, Dr. Lieberman said, lack of exercise during aging explains why there is a difference between the human life span — how many years we live — and health span — how many of those years we remain in generally good health.

2) Good stuff here, “Teachers In America Were Already Facing Collapse. COVID Only Made It Worse” though I’m here for this anecdote:

“Five years ago, it was an issue in that it was kids just texting each other,” said M., an art teacher in Northern Virginia who requested going by her first initial to speak freely. Now, she says, she’s observed more passive content consumption in lieu of communication. “​​I was watching one student make their way through the entire third and fourth season of Bojack Horseman,” she said.

3) More of this, please, “Colorado Approves Law That Gives Kids ‘Reasonable Independence'”

Colorado has now become the fourth state to pass what was originally dubbed the Free-Range Parenting Law when Utah passed it in 2018.  Texas and Oklahoma followed suit last year.

But Colorado is the first blue state to pass the legislation. That’s great, because at Let Grow, the nonprofit that grew out of Free-Range Kids, we have always maintained that childhood independence is a bipartisan issue. Many Republicans appreciate our work to promote can-do kids and keep the government out of everyday family decisions, and many Democrats appreciate the same exact thing.

The new law narrows the definition of neglect, making it clear that a child is not neglected simply because a parent lets them engage in normal childhood activities, like playing outside without adult supervision or staying home alone for a bit.

4) This thread on why it’s so hard to supply Urkaine with weapons systems is so good.

5) Don’t fall for this, “A Sinister Way to Beat Multifactor Authentication Is on the Rise”

6) This was pretty interesting, “This Rap Song Helped Sentence a 17-Year-Old to Prison for Life”

Tommy Munsdwell Canady was in middle school when he wrote his first rap lyrics. He started out freestyling for friends and family, and after two of his cousins were fatally shot, he found solace in making music. “Before I knew it, my pain started influencing all my songs,” he told me in a letter. By his 15th birthday, Mr. Canady was recording and sharing his music online. His tracks had a homemade sound: a pulsing beat mixed with vocals, the words hard to make out through ambient static. That summer, in 2014, Mr. Canady released a song on SoundCloud, “I’m Out Here,” that would change his life.

In Racine, Wis., where Mr. Canady lived, the police had been searching for suspects in three recent shootings. One of the victims, Sémar McClain, 19, had been found dead in an alley with a bullet in his temple, his pocket turned out, a cross in one hand and a gold necklace with a pendant of Jesus’ face by his side. The crime scene investigation turned up no fingerprints, weapons or eyewitnesses. Then, in early August, Mr. McClain’s stepfather contacted the police about a song he’d heard on SoundCloud that he believed mentioned Mr. McClain’s name and referred to his murder.

On Aug. 6, 2014, about a week after Mr. Canady r­­eleased “I’m Out Here,” a SWAT team stormed his home with a “no knock” search warrant. Lennie Farrington, Mr. Canady’s great-grandmother and legal guardian, was up early washing her clothes in the kitchen sink when the police broke through her front door. Mr. Canady was asleep. “They rushed in my room with assault rifles telling me to put my hands up,” he recalled. “I was in the mind state of This is a big misunderstanding.” He was charged with first-degree intentional homicide and armed robbery.

Prosecutors offered Mr. Canady a plea deal, but he refused, insisting he was innocent. “Honestly, I’m not accepting that,” he told the judge. He decided to go to trial.

I have been reporting on the use of rap lyrics in criminal investigations and trials for more than two years, building a database of cases like Mr. Canady’s in partnership with the University of Georgia and Type Investigations. We have found that over the past three decades, rap — in the form of lyrics, music videos and album images — has been introduced as evidence by prosecutors in hundreds of cases, from homicide to drug possession to gang charges. Rap songs are sometimes used to argue that defendants are guilty even when there’s little other evidence linking them to the crime. What these cases reveal is a serious if lesser-known problem in the courts: how the rules of evidence contribute to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

7) Hell of a NYT interactive (using the gift link for this), “How Kyiv Has Withstood Russia’s Attacks”

8) This is cool, “The Farthest Star Sheds New Light on the Early Universe: A cosmic fluke helped Hubble spy Earendel, a giant star at the edge of the known universe that could tell us more about what happened after the Big Bang.”

Earendel’s discovery offers a glimpse into the first billion years after the Big Bang, when the universe was just 7 percent of its current age. At 12.9 billion light-years away, it smashes the previous record of 9 billion, which was also set by Hubble when it observed a giant blue star called Icarus in 2018.

Until now, the smallest objects seen at this distance have been clusters of stars inside early galaxies. “It’s quite crazy that we can see a star that far away,” says Guillaume Mahler, from the Center of Extragalactic Astronomy at Durham University in the United Kingdom, who was part of an international team that worked on the research. “No one would have hoped that we would have been able to see it.”

In fact, Earendel might be the farthest star we are ever able to see because spotting it was only possible thanks to what NASA astronomer Michelle Thaler calls “a coincidence of stellar proportions.” The star happened to be perfectly lined up with both Hubble and a kind of natural zoom lens offered by a huge galaxy cluster that sits between Earth and Earendel. Through a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, this cluster, called WHL0137-08, acted as a magnifying glass, warping the fabric of space and amplifying the light of distant objects behind it. “This cluster of galaxies is actually producing this wonderful lens, kind of a natural telescope—a telescope made of space itself,” Thaler says.

That amplified Earendel’s light by a factor of thousands and allowed Hubble to see farther than ever before. “It’s an incredible distance. And what’s special about it is, because the light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach us, we’re seeing the universe practically as a baby,” says Becky Smethurst, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the research. She and others liken the phenomenon of gravitational lensing to the bright patterns of light at the bottom of a swimming pool, which are created by ripples of water on the surface catching and concentrating the sunlight.

9) Jeffrey Sachs on a really interesting free speech case.  Also, Oberlin [eye roll]

10) Psychology Today, ‘Are Sex Differences in Mate Choice Really Universal?” Yes.

A few things stood out about the findings, reported in an article in Psychological Science. First, in every society Walter and colleagues examined, women placed more importance on financial prospects than did men (see the Figure). Second, men in most societies placed more emphasis on a woman’s physical attractiveness, but this was not universal. The sex difference was close to zero in a couple of the societies, and very slightly reversed in a couple of others. Third, the biggest difference, one that held in all societies studied, was that women were married to older men (and conversely men were married to younger women). This difference varied according to participants’ age, and was very small for people around 20 years old, but got substantially larger as people got older (in line with findings that Keefe and I collected from numerous societies three decades age, and which I discussed in the post “When statistics are seriously sexy).

In the new data set, Walter and colleagues did not replicate the finding that physical attractiveness was more desired in countries with higher levels of disease-carrying microbes and parasites. That might be because, since the time of the earlier studies, less developed countries have progressed greatly in health care, and vaccinations for formerly deadly diseases have become nearly universal (as discussed by Hans Rosling, see “10 biases that blind us to a world getting better“).
 

Walter and colleagues did not find much support for the idea that sex differences in mate preferences are related to a country’s level of gender inequality. They did find that the age gap between men and their wives was greater in countries with greater inequality. This correlation may or may not inform us about causation — age gaps are lower in countries where women are less likely to age rapidly, due to lower birth rates and better health care, and women in those countries are also better educated, which means that they marry slightly later, rather than in their teens. Nevertheless, the general tendency for women and men to differ more over the lifespan held true across societies.

11) Really interesting free Yglesias post on theories of history, Ukraine, etc.

Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man” and Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order” annoyed seemingly everyone when they came out in the early ‘90s. And yet, something about their core arguments was compelling enough that people still reference them both decades later.

I’ve been thinking about these books in the context of the war in Ukraine and the varied responses from countries around the world. The scale of the mobilization against Russia certainly has a “history is back” flavor. Fukuyama fans maintained throughout the Global War on Terror that his book never argued that historical events would stop occurring, but it did argue that a certain flavor of big picture ideological contestation was a thing of the past. And while the volume of sanctioning against Russia is certainly a big deal, it is meaningfully contested. Russia has a powerful ally in China, a durable relationship with India, and many countries around the world who just don’t think a showdown over Ukraine is worth the cost.

But many wealthy states do see Russian aggression against Ukraine as worth upending the global economy, and if you had to characterize these countries, I think the idea of “the West” — complete with the seemingly bizarre gerrymander that assigns Portugal to the same cultural group as Australia rather than Brazil — is useful. So score one for the Clash of Civilizations? Perhaps not.

The current resurgence of great power politics throws into relief the extent to which the civilizations thesis doesn’t hold up in detail. In particular, if you want to understand what’s going on in Ukraine, Fukuyama’s Neo-Hegelian view sheds much more light on the matter than framing the conflict as a war between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

12) Wow, this was such an interesting piece on the important role that Stuart Sutcliffe played in the early Beatles before his untimely death. 

13) And lots of interesting discussion about this online this week, “Mackenzie Fierceton was championed as a former foster youth who had overcome an abusive childhood and won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Then the University of Pennsylvania accused her of lying.”

14) Twitter is a weird place. This is now far and away my most engaged-with tweet ever.

Also, amusing to me the number of people defending this about how awful it is to pump gas, etc.

15) Speaking of insane, how did I not know about this movie?

16) Speaking of craziness, how did I not know about this, “Flamingo No. 492 Is Still on the Run 17 Years Later: A fisherman’s sighting in March confirmed that a flamingo that fled a Kansas zoo in 2005 has defied the odds to live a Pixar-worthy life in the wilds of Texas.”

17) Because people make meth out of pseudoephedrine they started selling OTC decongestants that don’t actually work.  I love this, “The Uselessness of Phenylephrine

All this means that even if pseudoephedrine were more freely available, it might not be as much of an illegal article of commerce as it was twenty years ago.

But be that as it may: the fact remains that its alleged replacement, phenylephrine, is of no real use and does not deserve its FDA listing. There’s no reason to think that it’s a safer compound than pseudoephedrine or one with fewer side effects – if you can get enough of it into your blood, you’ll probaby have a rather similar profile. The only reason it’s sold is to have some alternative to offer consumers, even if it’s a worthless one. There have been several attempts over the years to do something about this (here’s an earlier one from the authors of the current paper), but absolutely nothing has happened. Perhaps the agency does not wish to be put in the position of having nothing available than can be put out on the open shelves, and perhaps the pharmacies themselves prefer things as they are as well. It’s for sure that the companies producing phenylephrine-containing products like the current situation a lot better than the alternative. But for people who actually want to be able to breath for a while as we enter allergy season, wouldn’t it be better just to stop pretending and to stop wasting everyone’s time and money?

18) There’s people I disagree with and they make me think.  And then there’s people I just disagree with like Roxanne Gay. No, people should be able to take a joke. “Jada Pinkett Smith Shouldn’t Have to ‘Take a Joke.’ Neither Should You.”

19) Not surprising, “How you think about physical pain can make it worse: It’s not all in your head. But a promising new approach to treatment may offer relief to many sufferers of chronic pain.”

Chronic pain afflicts some 20 percent of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The devastating consequences of addiction to opioid painkillers—which in 2019 alone killed nearly 50,000 people in the United States—have motivated researchers to look for innovative treatments beyond new drugs. Research on alternative approaches is “absolutely exploding,” says Padma Gulur, director of the pain management strategy program at the Duke University Health System. “All of us are looking for non-opioid, and frankly non-pharmacological, options” to avoid unwanted side effects and addiction, she says.

One promising area of research is looking at the way “catastrophizing” about pain—thinking it will never get better, that it’s the worst ever, or that it will ruin your life—plays a central role in whether these predictions come true. This effect is very different from the dismissive “it’s all in your head” comments chronic-pain patients sometimes hear from doctors when they can’t pinpoint a physical cause, says Yoni Ashar, a psychologist at Weill Cornell Medical College and coauthor of the study in which Waldrip participated. Some contemporary researchers even dislike the term “catastrophizing” since it can imply the thinker is at fault.

“You can have very real, debilitating pain without any biomedical injury in your body because of changes in the pain processing pathways,” Ashar says. It turns out, he says, that “the main organ of pain is actually the brain.” And that’s why for some sufferers, treatments like pain reprocessing therapy seem to help.

My soccer coaching super power

Back when I was coaching my oldest son’s soccer team the biggest reason we won the vast majority of our games was that we had better players than the other teams. I’m no tactical genius nor especially good at teaching kids to get better at playing soccer. I like to think I’m pretty good at figuring out where to put kids on the field in the position they can best succeed and that I lack some of the glaring strategic flaws I’ve seen from some other coaches (don’t put your worst players on defense; don’t have you defense play so deep and unconnected from the rest of the team). But, mostly, I’ve had better players.

But, the thing is having better players is not just random chance. I love coaching soccer and just being around the kids and I’d like to think that makes for a pretty fun environment to play soccer. When the more talented players have the option of choosing to play “challenge” soccer or play for my team in Rec, staying with my rec team is not random. The reason the Blasters won so many games is that I had several players who would’ve been good players at the challenge-level, but did not like the environment when they played there and came back to the Blasters. Of course I lost players to challenge over the years who stayed challenge, but the positive, fun environment with my team let me keep more than my fair share of really talented players.

And, now, I’m really seeing the same dynamic play out with my daughter’s soccer team. I got the most delightful email from a parent this past week that included the following, “Also, I wanted to thank you for the cheerful and kind spirit/atmosphere you’ve created in this girls’ team. This is the first time ever [name] never says she doesn’t want to go to practice/games. She got accepted to NCFC challenge level, but did not want to leave this team.” My new best player was on a different team in our division last season and switched to us because her previous team was such a negative environment. Maybe she’ll move to challenge some day, but, for now, she loves being part of the team.

Anyway, yes, of course, there’s still a fair amount of luck involved with the random assignment of players in rec soccer. And sure, knowing how to teach players and deploy them effectively in games matters, but, I think my greatest strength as a coach has been to create a fun, positive environment and that has, wonderfully, also resulted in more winning (which, by the way, is fun).

Too easy access to guns just makes things suck

Text message from my son yesterday, “Code red not a drill!!!!!!” Thank God for my sanity that I actually saw the follow-up message, sent 8 minutes later, first, “They just said false alarm.”  Everybody’s worst nightmare and damn I hate to think of all the kids (and parents who saw their texts) for those 8 minutes.  It sucks.  And the reality of why is because we all know it is just way too easy for a kid to get a gun and start shooting at his school.

What actually happened?  From the school later that day:

To keep you informed, I wanted to let you know about an incident that occurred at school today.

While dealing with a routine discipline situation in the school office, a student became non-compliant and decided to leave the office and walk through campus. Out of an abundance of caution, administrators moved the school into a code red lockdown until we could determine that the student did not pose a threat.

There was no weapon or threat associated with this event. I apologize for any stress or inconvenience this may have caused. 

Did the school overreact? Maybe? But, the reality is school shootings are an all-too-regular thing and they were unsure as to whether this student was a threat.  And, even if they did overreact (again, I’m agnostic on that question), the whole reason for such a strong reaction is that this type of response only makes sense in a society overrun by guns where we just accept that the occasional mass shooting will be a downside of our too-lenient gun policies.  And that really sucks.  

[p.s. I meant to post it yesterday, but it stayed in the draft.  I learned that the student in question fled while being searched for weapons– so, yeah, that’s not overreacting] 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really interesting interview on Ukraine by Yasha Mounk with a Polish politician:

Sikorski: Ukraine has been attacked from three directions: from Belarus, trying to go for Kiev; from the east, at the city of Kharkiv and beyond; and in the south. Only one city in the south has been captured. And even where the Russians are present, they are really present only on the roads and where they have direct military bearing, because the Ukrainian population has turned out to be uniformly hostile. More than that for a number of days, the Russian offensive is not progressing. They are bogged down on the far outskirts of Kiev. They have not even taken the city of Mariupol or even Kharkiv, which is only 40 kilometers from Russia’s border. And Putin seems to have committed almost all his active professional army to this operation. He’s still bringing up some reinforcements from Chechnya, from Syria, and from some mercenaries. But it looks like he’s stuck. So the option is either to mobilize the population for total war or to negotiate. Negotiations seem to be progressing. And from what Russian officials are telling us, Russia has dramatically scaled down its level of ambition.

Instead of “de-Nazification”—which is absurd, given that Zelensky is a democratically-elected Jewish president of Ukraine—and “demilitarization”, which meant basically taking over Ukraine, they now say that they have nothing against Zelensky staying on. By demilitarization, they just mean a non-aligned status—which of course is also absurd, because Ukraine has been, and is, non-aligned. The fact that a measure of realism is coming into the Russian position would suggest that they realize that they’re not winning.

Mounk: So what would a settlement like that look like? Putin will need to justify a war domestically in some kind of way.

Sikorski: I wouldn’t worry about Putin’s credibility. He has destroyed all the remnants of an independent press. He can push any line he wishes. Whatever happens, he will explain it as his victory. 

I think Zelensky is preparing his country for changing the constitution and dropping the ambition to join NATO, which I think is a purely symbolic concession because NATO was not going to admit Ukraine anytime soon, anyway. The harder bits will be the territorial stuff. I don’t think it’s helpful of you and me to give advice on what’s reasonable, because it’s not our politics and it’s not our country. The third demand is for some cultural rights for Russian language broadcasting and Russian speakers in the southeast, which I understand Ukraine had already passed into legislation a long time ago. So that should be no problem.

Mounk: What would neutrality look like? Because it’s one thing to concede that Ukraine is not going to become a member of NATO. At the same time, Ukraine will obviously need some kind of realistic guarantee that Russia is not just going to restart the war at another point, or going to continue to lop off Ukrainian territory in the way it has over the last seven years. Is there some realistic set of arrangements that can guarantee those things?

Sikorski: Well, what guarantees of security are worth—both Russian and Western guarantees—Ukraine has just learned. 

The spokesman of the Kremlin says that they’ll be happy with Ukraine being like Austria or Sweden. Sweden has an army that can fight. Actually, it’s Swedish-made anti-tank missiles that are hitting Russian armor very effectively. I think that’s something that Ukraine could live with…

Sikorski: Look, Putin invaded Ukraine because he wants Ukraine as part of a new empire, but also because he wanted to prevent Ukraine from becoming a successful, Europeanizing democracy. This he has done for an understandable reason: he correctly fears that if Ukraine becomes successful and increasingly integrated with the West, the people of Russia will eventually want the same. So my prediction is that if Ukraine succeeds—I define that by defending its democracy and keeping the great majority of its territory, and getting rid of Russian troops from its soil—then I think eventually Putinism will fail, and we will have some kind of new opening in Russia.

2) Fascinating thread from Michael Lin on pediatric Covid vaccine dosing.  Really seems like we actually were on the right track and then Omicron messed it up.  But, since it did, sure wish they’d revise the dosing for 5-11.

3) Good post from Conor Friedersdorf on what those most concerned about Covid should be doing:

These budgeting and health-policy decisions are of infinitely greater consequence for pandemic response than the behavioral lapses and policy heresies that get individuals COVID-shamed on social media. It is time to unite mask enthusiasts and mask skeptics who agree on funding public health.

2. Better ventilation everywhere. COVID-19 spreads much better indoors than outdoors. So do other communicable diseases, such as influenza. Thus a strong case exists for making our indoor environments more like the outdoors. Better ventilation is highly likely to reduce mortality and sickness on a significant scale far into the future. Yet there’s more scolding of individuals for failing to mask up properly than pressuring the people in charge of buildings, or building codes, to adopt best practices. My colleague Sarah Zhang has written at length about this underrated intervention.

3. Operation Warp Speed for a universal coronavirus vaccine. Scientists are already testing a vaccine that could work across variants, but there’s no telling whether it will succeed. Insufficient effort and resources are being spent on accelerating the testing process, developing alternative candidates, and if all else fails, increasing the speed at which we can tweak existing vaccines and roll them out at scale if a new variant demands it.

4) They sure don’t like to hear it, but David Leonhardt is right, that yes, the “very liberal” are simply more worried about Covid than they should be.  The fact that 48% of “very liberal” see Covid as a “great risk” to children’s health and well-being is pretty telling. Likewise, “More than 60 percent of very liberal Americans believe that mask mandates should continue for the foreseeable future. Most moderates and conservatives see mandates as a temporary strategy that should end this year.”

5) Well this is fascinating, “The controversial quest to make a ‘contagious’ vaccine: A new technology aims to stop wildlife from spreading Ebola, rabies, and other viruses. It could prevent the next pandemic by stopping pathogens from jumping from animals to people.”

Imagine a cure that’s as contagious as the disease it fights—a vaccine that could replicate in a host’s body and spread to others nearby, quickly and easily protecting a whole population from microbial attacks. That’s the goal of several teams around the world who are reviving controversial research to develop self-spreading vaccines.

Their hope is to reduce infectious disease transmission among wild animals, thereby lowering the risk that harmful viruses and bacteria can jump from wildlife to humans as many experts believe happened with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 60 percent of all known infectious diseases and 75 percent of new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. Scientists cannot predict why, when, or how new zoonotic diseases will emerge. But when they do, these diseases are often deadly and costly to control. What’s more, many researchers predict that climate change, biodiversity loss, and population growth will accelerate their spread.

Vaccines are a key tool for preventing diseases from spreading, but wild animals are difficult to vaccinate because each one must be located, captured, vaccinated, and released. Self-spreading vaccines offer a solution.

Advances in genomic technology and virology, and a better understanding of disease transmission, have accelerated work that began in the 1980s to make genetically engineered viruses that spread from one animal to another, imparting immunity to disease rather than infection.

Researchers are currently developing self-spreading vaccines for Ebola, bovine tuberculosis, and Lassa fever, a viral disease spread by rats that causes upward of 300,000 infections annually in parts of West Africa. The approach could be expanded to target other zoonotic diseases, including rabies, West Nile virus, Lyme disease, and the plague.

Advocates for self-spreading vaccines say they could revolutionize public health by disrupting infectious disease spread among animals before a zoonotic spillover could occur—potentially preventing the next pandemic.

But others argue that the viruses used in these vaccines could themselves mutate, jump species, or set off a chain reaction with devastating effects across entire ecosystems.

6) As much as I would personally love permanent Daylight Savings Time, it’s actually quite right that the House take a longer, careful look at this.

The House is set to hit the snooze button on the Senate’s plan to permanently change the nation’s clocks.

“It could be weeks — or it could be months” before House Democratic leaders decide whether to tee up a vote on eliminating the biannual clock changes that have governed daily life in most states for decades, said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D.-N.J.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees time change policies. While the Sunshine Protection Act, which unanimously passed the Senate on Tuesday, would nationally shift clocks an hour later to maximize daylight, some doctors have argued that adopting permanent standard time would be a healthier option and better align with humans’ natural rhythms.

Pallone, who held a hearing last week on daylight saving time, said he shares the Senate’s goal to end the “spring forward” and “fall back” clock changes linked to more strokes, heart attacks and car accidents. But he wants to collect more information, asking for a long-delayed federal analysis on how time changes might affect productivity, traffic and energy costs, among other issues.

7) Medical mystery in the Post:

Brooke Stroud was flummoxed and upset. How, the Washington clinical psychologist wondered, had her teenage houseguest gotten sick so quickly with the unidentified illness that had struck Stroud’s family of five at the end of 2020?

Stroud, her husband Stephane Carnot, and their daughter Olivia, then 17, had consulted primary care doctors in a fruitless attempt to identify the cause of their headaches, dizziness, vomiting and exhaustion. The pattern of their flu-like illness was perplexing: One or more of them would start to feel better, but within hours their symptoms would always return.

Ultimately it was the suggestion made by an infectious-disease expert more than 1,000 miles away that proved to be spot on, leading to a diagnosis and recovery.

I’m no MD, but I read this and thought, “uummmm, Carbon Monoxide poisoning?”  Yep.  Also, this went on for far longer than needed because the homeowners thought they had a CO detector but did not.  Seriously?!

8) For a photography lover like me who is honestly amazed at what the computer in the Iphone can accomplish photography-wise with a very limited lens and image sensor, I found this fascinating, “Have iPhone cameras become too smart?”

For a large portion of the population, “smartphone” has become synonymous with “camera,” but the truth is that iPhones are no longer cameras in the traditional sense. Instead, they are devices at the vanguard of “computational photography,” a term that describes imagery formed from digital data and processing as much as from optical information. Each picture registered by the lens is altered to bring it closer to a pre-programmed ideal. Gregory Gentert, a friend who is a fine-art photographer in Brooklyn, told me, “I’ve tried to photograph on the iPhone when light gets bluish around the end of the day, but the iPhone will try to correct that sort of thing.” A dusky purple gets edited, and in the process erased, because the hue is evaluated as undesirable, as a flaw instead of a feature. The device “sees the things I’m trying to photograph as a problem to solve,” he added. The image processing also eliminates digital noise, smoothing it into a soft blur, which might be the reason behind the smudginess that McCabe sees in photos of her daughter’s gymnastics. The “fix” ends up creating a distortion more noticeable than whatever perceived mistake was in the original.

Earlier this month, Apple’s iPhone team agreed to provide me information, on background, about the camera’s latest upgrades. A staff member explained that, when a user takes a photograph with the newest iPhones, the camera creates as many as nine frames with different levels of exposure. Then a “Deep Fusion” feature, which has existed in some form since 2019, merges the clearest parts of all those frames together, pixel by pixel, forming a single composite image. This process is an extreme version of high-dynamic range, or H.D.R., a technique that previously required some software savvy. (As a college student, I’d struggle to replicate H.D.R. on my traditional camera’s photos by using Photoshop to overlay various frames and then cut out their desirable parts.) The iPhone camera also analyzes each image semantically, with the help of a graphics-processing unit, which picks out specific elements of a frame—faces, landscapes, skies—and exposes each one differently. On both the 12 Pro and 13 Pro, I’ve found that the image processing makes clouds and contrails stand out with more clarity than the human eye can perceive, creating skies that resemble the supersaturated horizons of an anime film or a video game. Andy Adams, a longtime photo blogger, told me, “H.D.R. is a technique that, like salt, should be applied very judiciously.” Now every photo we take on our iPhones has had the salt applied generously, whether it is needed or not.

9) And here’s a really deep dive into photography on the Iphone 13 Pro.  Some amazing images, too.

10) True, “Josh Hawley’s latest attack on Ketanji Brown Jackson is genuinely nauseating”

On Wednesday evening, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) leveled a false and astonishing charge against Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. Judge Jackson, Hawley untruthfully claimed, spent the last quarter decade advocating for — and later using her position as a judge to protect — child pornographers.

Hawley’s broad allegation is false. His most substantive claim against Jackson is that as a judge she frequently did not follow the federal sentencing guidelines when sentencing child pornography offenders. But, as Ohio State law professor and sentencing policy expert Douglas Berman writes, “the federal sentencing guidelines for” child pornography offenders “are widely recognized as dysfunctional and unduly severe.”

It’s also a stunningly inflammatory charge, reminiscent of conspiracy theories such as QAnon or Pizzagate, which posit that prominent liberals are part of a vast ring of pedophiles. Similarly incendiary claims have inspired violence in the past, such as when a man with an assault rifle opened fire in a DC pizza restaurant in 2016. The man was apparently motivated by his unfounded belief that Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chair John Podesta ran a child sexual abuse ring in the basement of this pizzeria…

An honest look at Jackson’s record reveals that, as a law student, she wrote a nuanced analysis of a difficult constitutional question that vexed many judges — and that several judges relied upon in their own opinions. It reveals that, like any sentencing policymaker, Jackson had to draw distinctions among offenders who had all committed grave crimes. And it reveals that, as a judge, her sentencing practices were in line with those of other judges.

ButHawley’s attack on Jackson is not honest.

11) Honestly,  yeah, time for this, “The End of the Endless Final Set: Grand Slams Adopt Same Tiebreaker: The French Open was the last major tennis tournament that allowed an “advantage final set” without a tiebreaker. Once the maker of many classic, marathon matches, the system is no more.”

12) I absolutely think we need to be kind and supportive of children struggling with gender identity issues. That said, this post contains a lot of truth, “Trans exceptionalism and ordinary children”

Trans activists, ‘affirmative’ medical providers, and parents tend to see kids who identify as transgender as exceptional. To these children, none of the normal rules and nothing we know about child development seems to apply. 

But children who identify as transgender are just that: children. They hurt, like other children. They’re trying to figure out themselves and the strange world they live in, like other children. 

They’ll change over time, like other children, in unpredictable ways, like other children. 

And they will grow up, like all children. They will surprise themselves and us.

Children who identify as trans only have one body and one life, like all children. They are—as Ian McEwan put it—“easily torn and not easily mended.”

Children who identify as trans don’t have endocrine conditions or birth defects. They’re not the vanguard of some transhuman future. Rather, they’re made of the same stuff that children have always been made of, with the same needs for care and attention. 

What’s changed are the ideas and expectations that we’ve raised children on and the way we’ve turned them loose in an online world whose terrain no one has mapped. Many of these children have grown up with extended experiences of online disembodiment. They may not be free to run around outside with their friends but they’re free to roam the darkest corners of the Internet. Who knows what strangers and strange ideas they encounter there. 

These children have grown up hearing a very new and confusing set of fairytales about gendered souls that can end up in the ‘wrong bodies.’ Adults who should know better (and on some level do know better) have made them impossible promises. 

Children who identify as trans aren’t sages. They aren’t sacred. They haven’t been endowed with wisdom beyond their years. It’s not fair to treat them as exceptions to the safeguards we place around children, so that when they grow up and change their minds and ask why we let them do this, we say: You wanted it. You asked for it. You were so sure. What else could we have done? 

We need to remember that we are working with children. That children have one childhood, one body, one life, and endless ideas, pressures, pains, and theories about how the world works that they test against the grownups in their lives. 

There’s a way in which everything that touches trans must be exceptional—the children, the stakes, the feelings, the possibility of knowing anything for sure—because if these kids aren’t exceptional, then we threw everything we knew out the window. We didn’t ‘help’ exceptional children but harmed ordinary ones, struggling with ordinary challenges of development, sexual orientation, identity, meaning, and direction.

13) Being a long-haul truck driver also struck me as a nightmarish job.  And now it’s worse than ever, “How Life as a Trucker Devolved Into a Dystopian Nightmare”

Today, long-haul truckers are some of the most closely monitored workers in the world. Cameras and sensors dot their trucks, watching the road, the brakes and even the driver’s eye movements. Once, when his truck’s cabin heater broke, Mr. Knope was forced to sleep in freezing temperatures for several days while traveling across northern Ohio and New York because an automated system made sure his engine was turned off at night. The company told him there was no way to override the system.

Just imagine finishing 10 hours at a desk job, only to return to your apartment to find the heat didn’t work. That’d be quite frustrating. Then imagine your apartment was your office and most nights dinner was a microwaveable burrito or a bag of fast food. And then imagine your desk job required you regularly press a little pedal, you couldn’t stand up, you had essentially no face-to-face contact with co-workers, and if a bathroom didn’t easily present itself you were forced to use a plastic jug — all while a computer or a person at a desk hundreds of miles away monitors your every move…

For decades, truckers have quit at alarming rates, leading to a chronic shortage. The turnover rate was at a staggering 91 percent in 2019, which means that for every 100 people who signed up to drive, 91 walked out the door. Plenty of people have the commercial driver’s licenses needed to operate trucks, said Michael Belzer, a Wayne State University economist who has studied the industry for 30 years. “None of them will work for these wages,” he added. Studies even show that their pay, when adjusted for inflation, has declined markedly since the 1970s.

14) Here’s what I don’t quite get.  How come nobody has passed a law that simply demands transparency in ticket pricing.  If you want to charge me $120 to see Bon Jovi in Raleigh, just tell me that.  Don’t tell me it’s $94 plus fees.  I mean we have a perfect model– airline tickets are full of “fees” but when you shop online, they actually show you the full price.  John Oliver takes on Ticketmaster and fees.

15) How have I never come across this before?  “Pixar’s 22 rules for storytelling.”

16) I appreciate SAM recommending the film “About Time” in comments last week.  I quite enjoyed it. I will say, I did find it unusual and surprising in just how little conflict/challenges to the hero there were. But, very charming.  

17) Like it or not, on all sorts of metrics, Asian-Americans out-perform other minorities.  And, many don’t like that so, instead, they play games of how to lie with statistics.  But deBoer is on the case:

There’s been a long-running conversation about the “myth of the model minority,” the idea that Asian Americans somehow represent a symbol of social success. There’s a lot of those complaints out there. Here’s a new piece by Hua Hsu in the New Yorker. Here’s a recent piece in the Times. Here’s NPR. Here’s WaPo. Here’s Time. Here’s National Geographic. Here’s CNBC. Here’s NBC News. Here’s Harvard Business Review. Here’s Forbes. There are multiple books on the subject. I could go on. There’s plenty to critique there, but a lot of this conversation seems to deliberately obscure the origins of the idea.

The model minority construct is the product of referring to large groups in a way we do every day without controversy. Asian Americans have frequently been represented in social science and politics as a “model minority” because on average they have far higher incomes than the national average, perform best on all manner of educational metrics, and commit crimes at dramatically lower levels. If people think of the average Asian American as someone who is law-abiding, did well in school, and earns an enviable salary, they’re not wrong, any more than it would be wrong to say that the average American man’s height is 5’9. Obviously, it’s stupid to assume that any individual Asian you meet has a high income, just like it’s stupid to assume any individual man will be 5’9. But this constant weird troubling of the very notion of demographic metrics isn’t constructive. Of course “the average Asian American” is a construct, as all averages are, and many Asian Americans are not like the average. But I find it tiring, this pretense that people don’t understand what a demographic average is in this context and none other. [emphases mine]

If the complaint is that these statistics are somehow factually incorrect, that’s interesting, but would require a lot of proof. If instead the argument is that we shouldn’t pay attention to such averages because they obscure the diversity of outcomes within each group, I think that’s a valid point of view, but I don’t think the people who complain about the model minority construct are remotely consistent in this. We use averages for social justice purposes all the time – we know Black people face a lot of social inequality thanks to the compilation of averages, to pick an important example. Of course we should never prejudge any individual based on their broad demographic categories. But we need to apply these rules consistently across different contexts, and we don’t.

If you want to discourage projecting averages onto individuals, you should do that with all kinds of people. A lot of these pieces like to stress that some Asian people are poor, some Asian people do badly in school, and some Asian people commit crimes, so therefore referring to averages is illegitimate. This piece, for example, seems premised on the idea that the notion of spread within a sampled population is groundbreaking and undermines the very concept of a median or mean. Other issues aside, it immediately forces me to point out that every other group also has internal diversity too. To pick an obvious group, white people! Many white people are poor. Many white people struggle in school. Many white people commit crimes or are the victims of crime. Many white people lack political or social power. And yet often the same exact people who complain about the myth of the model minority turn around and talk about white people as a unified bloc of wealth and privilege. There are some profoundly wealthy Black people in this country; should we therefore not refer to how low the average Black net worth is? If nothing else, there’s a profound lack of consistency in this regard.

If the idea is that we should pay a lot less attention to demographic identity because these groupings always distort who we are as individuals, I say, yeah! I’m on board. But that attitude usually offends the social justice set. The trouble is that the people who complain about the model minority thing tend to be very enthusiastic practitioners of political philosophies that stress group identity above all other things.

18) My daughter does not score a lot of goals.  And last time she did, it was in a game where I was out of town.  And, I also miss seeing a fair number of goals while trying to figure out substitution patterns.  So, I was so delighted to see Sarah just pop one right over the defense and the goalkeeper’s head, into the back of the net yesterday.  

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