Photo of the day

Haven’t done a photo of the day in a while.  Love this Atlantic gallery.  And I’m a sucker for a good silhouette.A trainer walks with a horse in shallow surf.

A view of a trackwork session at Lady Bay beach in Warrnambool, Australia, on May 3, 2022. 

Vince Caligiuri / Getty

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) 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.  

Photo of the day

So many great photos in this Atlantic photos of the week gallery.  But it’s been a long time since I’ve done a surfing photo and I really like this one.A person surfs on a wave, splashing water behind them.

Rio Waida of Indonesia rides a wave during the men’s final pro-junior-surfing competition at Kuta Beach on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali on March 9, 2022. 

Sonny Tumbelaka / AFP / Getty

Photo of the day

Why do lions climb trees? It depends!  But I really loved the photos accompanying the NYT article answering this question:

Lions in an acacia tree in Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania.

Credit…Daniel Rosengren

Most lions also have little need to climb trees. They are social and live in prides and can generally defend their meals from other predators. Solitary leopards must stash their kills somewhere safe and would, according to one study, lose more than one-third of their kills to hyenas if they were unable to hoist their captured prey up a tree.

So why do lions in some areas climb trees, if they’re not built to climb and rarely need to do so? It has less to do with natural abilities and more to do with learned behaviors and unique local conditions…

Lions may also climb trees to escape the heat and survey the landscape for prey, says Joshua Mabonga, carnivore research coordinator with the Uganda program at the Wildlife Conservation Society. But in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, there may be another reason: Lions there live in smaller prides than those in many other lion habitats and share the park with large herds of buffaloes and elephants. When faced with a stampede of buffaloes who may endanger them, lions escape up into the branches. “The safest place for lions is in the trees,” Mr. Mabonga said.

Or, as Dr. Packer put it, “Lions climb trees to escape pests, whether they’re as big as an elephant or as small as a stable fly.”

For lions to be able to make such an escape, they need the right sort of tree. Lions often climb African sycamore fig trees or umbrella acacia thorn trees, which have horizontal branches not too far above the ground.

Photo of the day

So crazy the way the snowboard jumping competitions all have nuclear cooling towers in the background:

Olympics: Freestyle Skiing-Big Air Qualifications
Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Photo of the day

Going back to the NYT’s 2021 year in photos:

Churchill, Manitoba, Oct. 29. One of the several hundred polar bears that congregate around Churchill each year, waiting for sea ice to form in order to hunt. As the ice forms later in the year and melts earlier because of climate change, the bears’ hunting season has dwindled.

Damon Winter/The New York Times

Photo of the day

This recent twitter post on what Venus actually looks like to the naked eye blew me away.

 

Photo of the day

These photos are so cool– polar bears at an abandoned meteorological station in Russia. You should definitely check out the whole gallery.

Dmitry Kokh

Photo of the day

And back to the NYT’s 2021 year in photos again.

Tan-Awan, Philippines, Sept. 30.A fisherman fed whale sharks in Tan-Awan, a small town in Cebu. Hand-feeding keeps the gentle giants around for the benefit of tourists, a practice denounced by conservationists.

Hannah Reyes Morales for The New York Times

Photo of the day

Also from NYT’s photos of 2021.  Wildfires are devastating but damn do they make for dramatic photos.

Magaras, Russia, July 8. Volunteers battled a forest fire in Siberia. The region is usually known for its bone-chilling cold, but recent summer temperatures have reached as high as 100 degrees.

Nanna Heitmann for The New York Times

Quick hits (part II)

1) Next time I get a cold, or heck, Covid, I think I’m going to have to try this neti pot thing.  The evidence is not particularly strong, but, definitely suggestive and the cost is very, very small:

There are no antivirals to treat viral upper respiratory tract infection (URTI). Since numerous viruses cause URTI, antiviral therapy is impractical. As we have evidence of chloride-ion dependent innate antiviral response in epithelial cells, we conducted a pilot, non-blinded, randomised controlled trial of hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargling (HSNIG) vs standard care on healthy adults within 48 hours of URTI onset to assess recruitment (primary outcome). Acceptability, symptom duration and viral shedding were secondary outcomes. Participants maintained a symptom diary until well for two days or a maximum of 14 days and collected 5 sequential mid-turbinate swabs to measure viral shedding. The intervention arm prepared hypertonic saline and performed HSNIG. We recruited 68 participants (2.6 participants/week; November 2014-March 2015). A participant declined after randomisation. Another was on antibiotics and hence removed (Intervention:32, Control:34). Follow up data was available from 61 (Intervention:30, Control:31). 87% found HSNIG acceptable, 93% thought HSNIG made a difference to their symptoms. In the intervention arm, duration of illness was lower by 1.9 days (p = 0.01), over-the-counter medications (OTCM) use by 36% (p = 0.004), transmission within household contacts by 35% (p = 0.006) and viral shedding by ≥0.5 log10/day (p = 0.04). We hence need a larger trial to confirm our findings.

Also, I get that hypertonic saline nasal irrigation is basically a neti pot (or bulb syringe), but, I’d love to know the protocol for gargling and couldn’t find it anywhere in the article.  No wait, I dug and found it.

2) Okay, now more digging.  Definitely going to do saline irrigation if anyone in my family gets Covid.  Need better evidence than this, but, a super low-cost intervention that might well have a real impact.

3) This is cool, “3,000 Years Ago, Britain Got Half Its Genes From … France? An extensive study of ancient DNA suggests that a wave of newcomers — and perhaps the first Celtic languages — crossed the English Channel three millenniums ago.”

Three years ago in the journal Nature, a vast international research team led in part by Harvard geneticist David Reich shined a torchlight on one of prehistoric Britain’s murkier mysteries.

By analyzing the degraded DNA from the remains of 400 ancient Europeans, the researchers showed that 4,500 years ago nomadic pastoralists from the steppes on the eastern edge of Europe surged into Central Europe and in some areas their progeny replaced around 75 percent of the genetic ancestry of the existing populations.

Descendants of the nomads then moved west into Britain, where they mixed with the Neolithic inhabitants so thoroughly that within a few hundred years the newcomers accounted for more than 90 percent of the island’s gene pool. In effect, the research suggested, Britain was almost completely repopulated by immigrants.

In a paper published Wednesday in Nature, Dr. Reich again targeted the genomic history of Britain, the country from which geneticists have mined more ancient samples than any other. The study, which has 223 co-authors, documents a subsequent and previously unknown major migration into Britain from 1,300 B.C. to 800 B.C.

According to the findings, from 1,000 B.C. to 875 B.C. the ancestry of early European farmers increased in southern Britain but not in northern Britain (now Scotland). Dr. Reich proposed that this resulted from an influx of foreigners who arrived at this time and over previous centuries, and who — no doubt to the disbelief of 21st-century British nativists — were genetically most similar to ancient inhabitants of France.

These newcomers accounted for as much as half the genetic makeup of the populace in southern Britain during the Iron Age, which began around 750 B.C. and lasted until the coming of the Romans in A.D. 43. DNA evidence from that period led Dr. Reich to believe that migration to Britain from continental Europe was negligible.

4) Unexpected and totally out of the normal range of my reading is why I so love Noah Smith’s posts like this, “How are the post-Soviet economies doing?”

Putting it all together: The post-Soviet economic story

Looking at these graphs, and knowing what I know about the economic histories of these countries, I think I can put them mostly into four buckets instead of six:

1. Western-oriented industrializing success stories: These include most of the former Warsaw Pact countries and the three Baltics. They suffered from the fall of the USSR, but they got their industrialization back on track, joined the EU, largely maintained political stability and peace, and are now catching up with the developed countries (as basic economic theory would predict).

2. Central Asian resource economies: These have muddled along much as resource-based economies tend to do.

3. Russia and Belarus: Russia is its own strange hybrid of still-dysfunctional but often high-tech manufacturing economy and Central Asian resource economy, while Belarus is basically a satellite state of Russia whose fortunes rise and fall with Russia’s.

4. Frozen-conflict countries: Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova all suffer from breakaway regions and/or military conflicts, either with each other or with Russia. This has prevented them from joining the EU (which is often Putin’s reason for supporting the breakaway regions and prosecuting the wars), which in turn has prevented them from getting on the fast track to industrialization like their luckier Baltic and Warsaw Pact counterparts. It also tends to cause political instability, as the people of these countries fight over how to best prosecute their conflicts.

With the benefit of seven more years of hindsight, we see that Milanovic’s verdict was prematurely pessimistic — freed from the shackles of communism, countries that aren’t dependent on natural resources have generally tended to converge with the West. But for a handful of unlucky countries, unresolved post-Soviet territorial conflicts and the malign influence of the fearsome Vladimir Putin have prevented them from achieving their economic potential.

The lesson, then, seems clear: The post-communist world won’t be an unambiguous success story until the frozen conflicts are resolved and Russian power becomes a more benign force in the region.

5) Definitely bad news on influenza this year, “The Flu Makes an Unwelcome Comeback as Omicron Surges”

The flu virus, which all but disappeared in early 2020, is once again circulating in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported about 2,500 cases from clinical tests nationwide for the week that ended Dec. 11. That number is typical for this time of year, but it also represents a level of cases that has not been seen since before the coronavirus pandemic.

It is a bad time for the flu to re-emerge, as the Omicron variant causes a surge in coronavirus cases and with travel expected to increase over the holidays.

“We have seen how surges in Covid-19 infections can overwhelm hospitals, and influenza infections could further stress health care systems,” said Sonja Olsen, an epidemiologist at the C.D.C. “If both viruses continue to circulate and increase in activity, the situation could get worse.”

The agency considers several factors when assessing influenza activity, including the number of overall patients who report respiratory illnesses, the number of long-term care facilities with at least one case of the flu, the share of flu tests that come back positive and the number of flu patients admitted to hospitals. In recent weeks, all of these indicators have gone up.

Since early September, the share of flu tests that have come back positive has risen to 3.5 percent from 0.05 percent. That positive rate is still below the prepandemic average, which may mean that there has been less flu in circulation in recent weeks than what was typical in recent years, Dr. Olsen said.

The average number of patients with the flu who are admitted to hospitals each day has also risen, to 243 from 43 in early September. For context, the average number of patients with confirmed cases of Covid being admitted to hospitals each day is about 8,200.

6) This is cool, if disgusting. “How Disgust Explains Everything: For psychologists who study it, disgust is one of the primal emotions that define — and explain — humanity.” And it’s a great big NYT magazine feature, so I made it a free gift link.

Once you are attuned to disgust, it is everywhere. On your morning commute, you may observe a tragic smear of roadkill on the highway or shudder at the sight of a rat browsing garbage on the subway tracks. At work, you glance with suspicion at the person who neglects to wash his filthy hands after a trip to the toilet. At home, you change your child’s diaper, unclog the shower drain, empty your cat’s litter box, pop a zit, throw out the fuzzy leftovers in the fridge. If you manage to complete a single day without experiencing any form of disgust, you are either a baby or in a coma.

Disgust shapes our behavior, our technology, our relationships. It is the reason we wear deodorant, use the bathroom in private and wield forks instead of eating with our bare hands. I floss my teeth as an adult because a dentist once told me as a teenager that “Brushing your teeth without flossing is like taking a shower without removing your shoes.” (Do they teach that line in dentistry school, or did he come up with it on his own? Either way, 14 words accomplished what a decade of parental nagging hadn’t.) Unpeel most etiquette guidelines, and you’ll find a web of disgust-avoidance techniques. Rules governing the emotion have existed in every culture at every time in history. And although the “input” of disgust — that is, what exactly is considered disgusting — varies from place to place, its “output” is narrow, with a characteristic facial expression (called the “gape face”) that includes a lowered jaw and often an extended tongue; sometimes it’s a wrinkled nose and a retraction of the upper lip (Jerry does it about once per episode of “Seinfeld”). The gape face is often accompanied by nausea and a desire to run away or otherwise gain distance from the offensive thing, as well as the urge to clean oneself.

The more you read about the history of the emotion, the more convinced you might be that disgust is the energy powering a whole host of seemingly unrelated phenomena, from our never-ending culture wars to the existence of kosher laws to 4chan to mermaids. Disgust is a bodily experience that creeps into every corner of our social lives, a piece of evolutionary hardware designed to protect our stomachs that expanded into a system for protecting our souls.

7) This really is disturbing.

And, for the record, the updated edition of this is the 3M N95 Aura and it’s easily the best mask I’ve yet used.  Amazon is currently two weeks back-ordered so I just ordered another 10-pack from my local Home Depot which has them in stock.  Also, N95’s can safely be used for hours and hours and hours.

8) Drum with some good news:

Want some good news? I mean, genuinely good news? Check this out:

According to the Washington Post, fatal shootings of unarmed suspects plummeted in 2021. The total number dropped from 60 to 25, with big drops recorded for every racial and ethnic group.

Maybe the George Floyd protests had some effect after all.

9) This David Wallace-Wells interview on the latest Colorado not wildfire was fascinating, “The Return of the Urban Firestorm What happened in Colorado was something much scarier than a wildfire.”

On Thursday afternoon, in the space of a few hours just a day before the new year, 100-plus mile-per-hour winds carried the most destructive fire in Colorado history through the suburban sprawl of greater Denver, destroying much of the towns of Louisville and Superior and forcing tens of thousands to flee, including many who’d entered shopping malls from sunny skies just a few minutes before. As many as 1,000 homes were destroyed. Two people currently remain missing; if the death count stays at zero, Colorado governor Jared Polis said Friday, it would be “a New Year’s miracle.”

That may sound like hyperbole, but on Friday the governor echoed the language: “It wasn’t a wildfire in the forest, it was a suburban and urban fire. The Costco we all shop at, the Target we buy our kids’ clothes at — all damaged.” In fact, though the fire did not begin there, it quickly jumped to a strip of big-box stores and their parking lots — to most Americans perhaps the very picture of an inflammable Anthropocene.* But as Swain told me on Friday when we spoke by phone, “Fire finds a way.” The way, typically, is wind; during the Marshall Fire, it carried flames and embers at hurricane-force speed for eight straight hoursconsuming “football-field lengths of land in seconds.”

I wanted to start with what feels different about this fire. For a lot of Americans, the Camp Fire in Paradise, California in 2018 may be the most horrifying recent memory — 18,000 structures burned, 85 deaths. But while Paradise was a relatively dense community, it was in what’s called the “wildland-urban interface” — essentially, houses in the woods. What we saw Thursday was so different — subdivisions, tract homes, fire just tearing through suburban environments we’ve been taught to think of as safe in every way.
There are lots of people calling this a Colorado forest fire. It was absolutely not a forest fire, by any stretch of the imagination. It arguably started as a wildfire, mainly as a brush and grass fire, with some woodland near the point of origin. But it was a wildfire that became an urban conflagration pretty quickly — just a matter of hours into the event. And that sets it apart in a lot of ways from some of the Western mega fires we’ve been talking about in recent years, that burned hundred of thousands of acres, and sometimes burn hundreds or even thousands of homes, but they do so over a longer period of time.

And almost incidentally.
Whereas this was really burning through that urban environment.

The final footprint of this fire is probably gonna be about 6,000 acres, which is not small. It’s a large fire, but in the context of the kinds of fires we’ve been talking about in the wide open spaces of the west, 6,000 acres is tiny. That’s a blip on the radar, if it occurred in a remote area these days. But this did not occur in a remote area.

10) This is really good, “How Ted Koppel’s trip to ‘Mayberry’ turned into one of 2021’s most striking moments of TV: The veteran newsman and “CBS Sunday Morning” contributor explains how a seeming puff piece about “The Andy Griffith Show” turned into an unsettling snapshot of an angry America.”  At minimum, watch the video.

11) And Drum on the rapid testing failure:

I’ve been an on-and-off defender of the FDA and CDC during the COVID pandemic, but I don’t think there’s much question that the FDA blew it on COVID testing kits. In Europe, something like a hundred different kits have been approved for sale. In the US it’s more like a dozen. There’s no good reason for this.

Now, it’s also true that Abbott, the biggest manufacturer of test kits, took a look at COVID over the summer and thought it was fading away. So they shut down one of their factories and trashed millions of kits. Oops.

There’s one other factor at work as well. In Europe, healthcare is run by national governments. They ordered lots of kits at a low negotiated price, so manufacturers ramped up production to provide them. In the US, healthcare is run by no one in particular, so lots of kits weren’t ordered. And if they’re not ordered, they don’t get made.

The two lessons here are (a) something about FDA approval procedures, and (b) we should have national healthcare too.

For my money, the rapid testing failure is the Biden administration’s single biggest failure on Covid.

12) If you’ve got HBO, Station Eleven is a must-watch.  The novel was terrific and I love the way the show has added to the book in really interesting ways.

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