Who supports same-sex marriage?

Pretty much everybody :-).  71% overall and majorities of pretty much every sub-group (though Republicans are 49%)  That said, I found the demographic breakdowns, not all that surprising, but pretty interesting nonetheless.  From the latest Gallup report.  

I actually find the very small gender gap somewhat surprising, given the large gender gap in partisanship.  Also, wow, that age drop-off at 50! (of which I am on the wrong side of now).  

Quick hits (part II)

1) The gender norms in Mauritania are just bizarre.  In most ways, still a deeply patriarchal culture.  Except women can seemingly get divorced all the time with almost no stigma.  So weird.  Worth a gift link

Divorce in many cultures is seen as shameful and carries a deep stigma. But in Mauritania, it is not just normal, but even seen as a reason to celebrate and spread the word that the woman is available once more for marriage. For centuries, women have been coming together to eat, sing and dance at each others’ divorce parties. Now, the custom is being updated for the selfie generation, with inscribed cakes and social media montages, as well as the traditional food and music.

In this almost 100 percent Muslim country, divorce is frequent; many people have been through five to 10 marriages, and some as many as 20.

Some scholars say the country has the highest divorce rate in the world, though there is little reliable data from Mauritania, partly because divorce agreements there are often verbal, not documented…

Many women find that divorce affords them freedoms they never dreamed of before or during marriage, especially a first marriage. Mauritanians’ openness to divorce — which seems so modern — coexists with very traditional practices around first marriages. It is common for parents to choose the groom themselves and marry daughters off when they are still young — more than a third of girls are married by the time they are 18 — allowing the women little choice in their partners.

2) Yes, please, “How to Make Flying Less Terrible: Tech has changed the airline industry. It can also help fix it.”

This is all compelling evidence that it’s time for an overhaul of our aviation system. Today’s airline industry is the smallest and most concentrated since 1914, with just four airlines—American, Delta, United, and Southwest—controlling 80 percent of the market. But a comprehensive overhaul that would ensure that airlines provide better and more consistent customer service, across their networks and throughout the year, will take time, resources, and political will that would be hard to rally. Luckily, there are more incremental steps that can still make a difference, especially when it comes to protecting consumer rights. Biden’s proposed rules are one example, as is a customer service dashboard recently launched by the Department of Transportation. Ensuring that airline networks, staffing plans, and technology are ready for different types of disruptions through occasional stress tests (as is commonly done for banks) should be the next step.

The need for reform will likely become even more apparent in the coming months, because things are only about to get more frustrating. Flight delays and cancellations always increase during the peak summer travel months—June through August are consistently the months with the worst on-time performance. But this summer, airlines are also battling with staff and tech issues, and weather disruptions could make things worse…

But this summer, consumers will also have a new tool to navigate travel chaos. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Transportation released its Airline Customer Service Dashboard in hopes of enhancing transparency and ensuring compliance with refunds related to delays and cancellations. As of now, the dashboard is nothing revolutionary, per se—just some charts with green checks and red marks that indicate airlines’ service commitments or lack thereof. But this dashboard is part of a larger aviation consumer protection initiative, and is used to signal to consumers which airlines are invested in improving their on-time performance. If an airline is willing to incur significant costs when delays and cancellations occur, it follows that it will do what it can to avoid those delays and cancellations.

It’s still early to know what the dashboard’s impact might be, but consumer rights education and regulation do have a good basis in research. When Hinnerk Gnutzmann and Piotr Spiewanowski studied European regulations that require airlines to provide assistance and cash compensation in the case of delays, they found that regulated fights experienced significantly shorter delays. Similarly, research shows that if we increase the amount of competition in the marketplace, consumers might receive better service. For example, when my former colleague Mike Mazzeo analyzed U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics in 2000, he found that both the prevalence and duration of flight delays are significantly greater on routes where only one airline provides direct services. Additional competition is correlated with better on-time performance.

3) This is fantastic.  I think I’m pretty good at this, but far from perfect, “How to discipline kids effectively”

  • When we think of discipline, we often think of punishment, and it sounds cold and scary. But discipline is actually a larger system for teaching kids acceptable behavior through warmth, structure, and appropriate consequences.

  • Warmth means showing our kids we care, structure means setting clear rules and expectations, and consequences are the ways we respond to kids’ behaviors.

  • Operant Conditioning is a psychology theory that explains how we can use consequences to increase “okay” behaviors and decrease “not okay” behaviors…

4) Just came across this for research I’m doing.  It makes me wonder how much they really care, though. “Vast majority of Republicans support abortion exceptions for rape, incest and mother’s health”

Nine in 10 Americans think a pregnant woman should be able to legally have an abortion if her health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy. An even larger majority of Republicans support that exception, with 86% agreeing that abortion should be legal in that circumstance, joining 95% of Democrats and 93% of independents.

This level of bipartisan support holds up even among respondents who live in states that have enacted restrictions on abortion. Aggregating the states where abortion is legal, 88 % of Americans think abortion should be legal in the case of rape or incest. Among the states where abortion is banned, restricted or legislation is pending, a similar 85 percent said abortion should be legal in the case of rape or incest.

Likewise, 92 % of those who live in states where abortion remains legal and 90 % of those who live in states restricting the procedure say abortion should be legal if the mother’s health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy.

5) I’m glad that the officer who shot this boy was Black, because there’s so much wrong with policing that transcend race, which we need to focus on.  For example, poorly qualified officers who are way too trigger happy, “An 11-Year-Old Boy Called 911. Police Then Shot Him.”

A family has demanded that a Mississippi police officer be fired after shooting an 11-year-old boy who was trying to follow the officer’s orders after calling 911 for help, a lawyer for the boy’s family said.

The officer shot the boy, Aderrien Murry, in the chest, resulting in numerous injuries, including a collapsed lung, lacerated liver and fractured ribs, on May 20, said Carlos Moore, a lawyer representing the Murry family.

After spending several days in the hospital and intensive care, Aderrien is home and “doing as well as he can be after being shot in the chest,” Mr. Moore said.

“Little Mr. Murry came within an inch of losing his life in the wee hours of Saturday morning because of the actions of a cop,” Mr. Moore said at a news conference this week. “He was an unarmed, young Black man who was simply following his mother’s directions.”

Aderrien’s mother, Nakala Murry, said her ex-boyfriend, the father to one of her other children, knocked on her window around 4 a.m. last Saturday and asked to be let in the home.

Once inside, he became “irate,” so Ms. Murry said she went to Aderrien’s bedroom and instructed him to call his grandmother and 911.

Officers from the Indianola Police Department responded and tried to kick down the front door before Ms. Murry let them in, she said. The officers asked if anyone was armed, and then yelled for everyone in the house to come out with their hands up.

When Aderrien rounded a corner to follow their commands, he was shot, Ms. Murry said. Mr. Moore identified the officer who fired as Greg Capers.

6) How can epidemiological studies possibly show that ice cream is good for you?  Interesting stuff:

Back in 2018, a Harvard doctoral student named Andres Ardisson Korat was presenting his research on the relationship between dairy foods and chronic disease to his thesis committee. One of his studies had led him to an unusual conclusion: Among diabetics, eating half a cup of ice cream a day was associated with a lower risk of heart problems. Needless to say, the idea that a dessert loaded with saturated fat and sugar might actually be good for you raised some eyebrows at the nation’s most influential department of nutrition.

Earlier, the department chair, Frank Hu, had instructed Ardisson Korat to do some further digging: Could his research have been led astray by an artifact of chance, or a hidden source of bias, or a computational error? As Ardisson Korat spelled out on the day of his defense, his debunking efforts had been largely futile. The ice-cream signal was robust.

It was robust, and kind of hilarious. “I do sort of remember the vibe being like, Hahaha, this ice-cream thing won’t go away; that’s pretty funny,” recalled my tipster, who’d attended the presentation. This was obviously not what a budding nutrition expert or his super-credentialed committee members were hoping to discover. “He and his committee had done, like, every type of analysis—they had thrown every possible test at this finding to try to make it go away. And there was nothing they could do to make it go away.”

Spurious effects pop up all the time in science, especially in fields like nutritional epidemiology, where the health concerns and dietary habits of hundreds of thousands of people are tracked over years and years. Still, the abject silliness of “healthy ice cream” intrigued me. As a public-health historian, I’ve studied how teams of researchers process data, mingle them with theory, and then package the results as “what the science says.” I wanted to know what happens when consensus makers are confronted with a finding that seems to contradict everything they’ve ever said before. (Harvard’s Nutrition Source website calls ice cream an “indulgent” dairy food that is considered an “every-so-often” treat.)

“There are few plausible biological explanations for these results,” Ardisson Korat wrote in the brief discussion of his “unexpected” finding in his thesis. Something else grabbed my attention, though: The dissertation explained that he’d hardly been the first to observe the shimmer of a health halo around ice cream. Several prior studies, he suggested, had come across a similar effect. Eager to learn more, I reached out to Ardisson Korat for an interview—I emailed him four times—but never heard back. When I contacted Tufts University, where he now works as a scientist, a press aide told me he was “not available for this.” Inevitably, my curiosity took on a different shade: Why wouldn’t a young scientist want to talk with me about his research? Just how much deeper could this bizarre ice-cream thing go?

“I still to this day don’t have an answer for it,” Mark A. Pereira, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, told me, speaking of the association he’d stumbled upon more than 20 years earlier. “We analyzed the hell out of the data.”

7) As a notoriously fast eater, I quite enjoyed this.  I’m among the fastest eaters I know.  My sophmore college roommate was among the slowest.  After a while, we just stopped eating together because it was too annoying.  Anyway, “Eating Fast Is Bad for You—Right? The widespread advice to go slow is neither definitive nor universal.” 

But the widespread mantra of go slower probably isn’t as definitive or universal as it at first seems. Fast eaters like me aren’t necessarily doomed to metabolic misfortune; many of us can probably safely and happily keep hoovering our meals. Most studies examining eating speed rely on population-level observations taken at single points in time, rather than extended clinical trials that track people assigned to eat fast or slow; they can speak to associations between pace and certain aspects of health, but not to cause and effect. And not all of them actually agree on whether protracted eating boosts satisfaction or leads people to eat less. Even among experts, “there is no consensus about the benefits of eating slow,” says Tany E. Garcidueñas-Fimbres, a nutrition researcher at Universitat Rovira i Virgili, in Spain, who has studied eating rates

The idea that eating too fast could raise certain health risks absolutely does make sense. The key, experts told me, is the potential mismatch between the rate at which we consume nutrients and the rate at which we perceive and process them. Our brain doesn’t register fullness until it’s received a series of cues from the digestive tract: chewing in the mouth, swallowing down the throat; distension in the stomach, transit into the small intestine. Flood the gastrointestinal tract with a ton of food at once, and those signals might struggle to keep pace—making it easier to wolf down more food than the gut is asking for. Fast eating may also inundate the blood with sugar, risking insulin resistance—a common precursor to diabetes, says Michio Shimabukuro, a metabolism researcher at Fukushima Medical University, in Japan.

The big asterisk here is that a lot of these ideas are still theoretical, says Janine Higgins, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, who’s studied eating pace. Research that merely demonstrates an association between fast eating and higher food intake cannot prove which observation led to the other, if there’s a causal link at all. Some other factor—stress, an underlying medical condition, even diet composition—could be driving both. “The good science is just completely lacking,” says Susan Roberts, a nutrition researcher at Tufts University.

8) I haven’t read the big Atlantic article on CNN’s Chris Licht yet, but this Dan Drezner take was nonetheless excellent:

The deeper story, however, is to divine what the big takeaway should be from Licht’s tenure to date. Because as much as Licht fucked up CNN’s morning show and Trump’s town hall, it is worth remembering that the network was not exactly in a great place before he came on board. There was the CNN+ fiasco, there was Zucker’s inappropriate work relationship, and there was prime time anchor Christopher Cuomo pretending that ethics were not a big deal across a wide variety of behaviors. Just as Twitter was not in great shape when Elon Musk bought it, CNN was not in the pink of health when Licht came on board.

However, like Musk, it appears that Licht inherited an unwell patient and then prescribed leeches as a remedy. To me, at least, this paragraph gets at the core of CNN’s problem:

Licht was no fascist. But he was trying to steal viewers from Fox News—and from MSNBC, for that matter. To succeed, Licht said, CNN would need to produce more than just great journalism. Reporting the news in an aggressive, nonpartisan manner would be central to the network’s attempt to win back audiences. But television is, at its essence, entertainment. Viewers would always turn on CNN in times of crisis, Licht told me. What he needed to find out was how many would turn on CNN for fun.

And here’s the problem for Licht and CNN: no one under the age of 75 will turn on CNN — or any cable news network for that mater — for fun. Younger generations will rely on social media to capture the lurid highlights of any cable news segment. Short of a real-time breaking news story, watching CNN is not on anyone’s to-do list. Licht’s ham-handed effort to cater to Fox News viewers has alienated the MSNBC demographic. And his attempt to woo those Fox watchers is bound to fail because those viewers do not want to watch the news, they want to hear reassuring conservative platitudes.

9) Really interesting insight from Ethan Mollick on another consequence of AI: “Setting time on fire and the temptation of The Button: We used to consider writing an indication of time and effort spent on a task. That isn’t true anymore.”

A lot of work is time consuming by design. Take, for example, the letter of recommendation. Professors are asked to write letters for students all the time, and a good letter takes a long time to write. You have to understand the student and the reason for the letter, decide how to phrase the letter to align with the job requirements and the student’s strengths, and more. The fact that it is time consuming is somewhat the point. The fact that a professor takes the time to write a good letter is a sign that they support the student’s application. We are setting our time on fire to signal to others that this letter is worth reading.

Or we can push The Button…

This is a good letter of recommendation, responding point-by-point to the details of the job, and suggesting a real knowledge of “Sally” (who is entirely fake). You will also notice that it makes stuff up, but in a way that is pretty plausible. It would be easy to make the letter more correct, either by providing more material in the prompt or by interacting with the AI: Incorporate the following real examples: ____. Replace the story about her extracurriculars with praise for how she did on this assignment: _____. And so on. Someone experienced with ChatGPT and Sally could make this letter factually correct in a few minutes, rather than spending ten times as much time writing a letter from scratch.

And the terrible, horrible thing about it is THIS IS A GOOD LETTER. It is better than most letters of recommendation that I receive. This means that not only is the quality of the letter no longer a signal of the professor’s interest, but also that you may actually be hurting people by not writing a letter of recommendation by AI, especially if you are not a particularly strong writer. So people now have to consider that the goal of the letter (getting a student a job) is in contrast with the morally-correct method of accomplishing the goal (the professor spending a lot of time writing the letter). I am still doing all my letters the old-fashioned way, but I wonder whether that will ultimately do my student’s a disservice.

Now consider all the other tasks where the final written output is important because it is a signal of the time spent on the task, and the thoughtfulness that went into it. Performance reviews. Strategic memos. College essays. Grant applications. Speeches. Comments on papers. And so much more.

10) This is fantastic, “Undergraduate excuses, used in other contexts:

Owing to the death of my grandfather—whom I loved dearly—I will not be able to land the plane. Thank you for your understanding.”

“Because I am literally stuck in traffic at this very moment, I will not be able to perform your heart surgery this morning. Would it be possible to get an extension? Let me know.”

“I went to the wrong building, and I totally just did someone else’s taxes. So sorry—my bad!”

“Owing to the death of my boyfriend’s grandfather—whom I loved dearly—I will not be able to finish filling your cavity. Thank you so much for your compassion.”

“Given my anxiety about public speaking, I am hoping that you’ll be open to me proclaiming the ‘Hear ye, hear ye’ via e-mail. If that’s an issue for you, then perhaps I could prerecord something and you could show the video in the town square? You could just set up a projector and a screen and a P.A. system? Should be fairly straightforward.”

11) David Wallace-Wells with some real doom and gloom about the health of our oceans. This was tough to read, “The Ocean Is Looking More Menacing”

There are a lot of unsettling signals coming from the world’s oceans right now.

Even for those of us who watch things like temperature anomalies and extreme weather events as likely portents of the climate to come, the off-the-charts rise of global sea surface temperature this spring has been eye-popping. As is much of the language recently used to describe it: “record breaking,” “huge,” “alarming,” “unprecedented,” “uncharted,” “an extreme event at a global scale.” Perhaps most simply: “trouble.”..

But some news from ocean science may prove more surprising still — perhaps genuinely paradigm-shifting. In a paper published in March, researchers suggested that under a high-emissions scenario, rapid melting of Antarctic ice could slow deepwater formation in the Southern Ocean by more than 40 percent by 2050, disrupting the “conveyor belt” that regulates and stabilizes not just the temperature of the oceans but much of the world’s weather systems. And after 2050? This key part of the circulation of the Southern Ocean “looks headed towards collapse this century,” study coordinator Matthew England told Yale Environment 360. “And once collapsed, it would most likely stay collapsed until Antarctic melting stopped. At current projections that could be centuries away.”


Then, last week, some of the same researchers confirmed that the process was already unfolding — in fact, that the Southern Ocean overturning circulation had already slowed by as much as 30 percent since the 1990s. “The model projections of rapid change in the deep ocean circulation in response to melting of Antarctic ice might, if anything, have been conservative,” said Steve Rintoul, a co-author on the new paper and one of the researchers who’d published the previous paper back in March. “Changes have already happened in the ocean that were not projected to happen until a few decades from now.”

The oceans have lately produced a number of other curiosities to chew over, as well: record low levels of Antarctic sea ice, with the “mind boggling fast reduction” scientists have called “gobsmacking” also potentially signaling a “regime shift” in the oceans; some perplexing trends in the El Niño-La Niña cycle, suggesting that warming may be making La Niñas more frequent and thereby scrambling some expectations for future extreme weather; and questions about the role large icebergs may be playing in the warming patterns of the world’s water.

12) I think the “everyone should learn to code” advice has been completely undone by AI. Farhad Manjoo:

Though I did find it fascinating to learn to think the way computers do, there seemed to be something fundamentally backward about programming a computer that I just couldn’t get over: Wasn’t it odd that the machines needed us humans to learn their maddeningly precise secret languages to get the most out of them? If they’re so smart, shouldn’t they try to understand what we’re saying, rather than us learning how to talk to them?

Now that may finally be happening. In a kind of poetic irony, software engineering is looking like one of the fields that could be most thoroughly altered by the rise of artificial intelligence. Over the next few years, A.I. could transform computer programming from a rarefied, highly compensated occupation into a widely accessible skill that people can easily pick up and use as part of their jobs across a wide variety of fields. This won’t necessarily be terrible for computer programmers — the world will still need people with advanced coding skills — but it will be great for the rest of us. Computers that we can all “program,” computers that don’t require specialized training to adjust and improve their functionality and that don’t speak in code: That future is rapidly becoming the present.


A.I. tools based on large language models — like OpenAI Codex, from the company that brought you ChatGPT, or AlphaCode, from Google’s DeepMind division — have already begun to change the way many professional coders do their jobs. At the moment, these tools work mainly as assistants — they can find bugs, write explanations for snippets of poorly documented code and offer suggestions for code to perform routine tasks (not unlike how Gmail offers ideas for email replies — “Sounds good”; “Got it”).

But A.I. coders are quickly getting smart enough to rival human coders. Last year, DeepMind reported in the journal Science that when AlphaCode’s programs were evaluated against answers submitted by human participants in coding competitions, its performance “approximately corresponds to a novice programmer with a few months to a year of training.”

“Programming will be obsolete,” Matt Welsh, a former engineer at Google and Apple, predicted recently. Welsh now runs an A.I. start-up, but his prediction, while perhaps self-serving, doesn’t sound implausible:

I believe the conventional idea of “writing a program” is headed for extinction, and indeed, for all but very specialized applications, most software, as we know it, will be replaced by A.I. systems that are trained rather than programmed. In situations where one needs a “simple” program … those programs will, themselves, be generated by an A.I. rather than coded by hand.

13) I love this finding and it totally reflects my experience, “Minimal Social Interactions with Strangers Predict Greater Subjective Well-Being”

Past empirical work has repeatedly revealed that positive social interactions including expressing gratitude and socializing are associated with greater happiness. However, this work predominantly focused on prolonged interactions with close relationship partners. Only a few studies demonstrated hedonic benefits of forming social connections with strangers. The present research investigated whether minimal social interactions with strangers—just taking a moment to greet, thank, and express good wishes to strangers—contribute to happiness of individuals who initiate these interactions. Study 1 (N = 856) provided correlational evidence that commuters who reported engaging in minimal positive social interactions with shuttle drivers experienced greater subjective well-being (life satisfaction and positive affect). Moreover, hedonic benefits of positive social interactions went beyond relatively more neutral social interactions, Big-Five personality factors, and age, speaking to the robustness of the effect. Study 2 (N = 265) provided experimental evidence that commuters who greeted, thanked, or expressed good wishes to shuttle drivers experienced greater momentary positive affect than those who did not speak with drivers. These findings add to the burgeoning literature on hedonic benefits of interacting with strangers by showing that even very minimal social interactions with strangers contribute to subjective well-being in everyday life.

The night I saw this tweet I had spent a few hours scanning tickets at a soccer tournament.  The scanners were awful and frustrating, but I loved having nice little 5-10 second interactions with lots of nice folks.

14) I really, really hate the, “be nice to trans teens or else they will all kill themselves” theme that underlies so much of the political messaging on this from the left.  Thus, I really liked this, “Don’t Try to Stop Me or I’ll Kill Myself” from a frustrated parent (all emphases in original)

At the initial meeting the gender therapist sized us up as doubtful and talked a good game: she claimed to be very careful and open minded and wouldn’t jump to conclusions; she wanted to extensively explore all the relevant issues.  Still, it struck me as odd that she already seemed to be testing our receptivity to the idea of going along with hormones and surgery.  Towards the end of the meeting she hit us with the hammer.  Maybe we had not shown sufficient faith in the wisdom of the affirmative approach.  She leaned over, pinched her face into an expression of deep concern, lowered her voice and dramatically uttered, “One thing we do know is that these kids attempt suicide at incredibly high rates.”  The implied message was as clear as it was shocking:  Listen to us experts.  If you don’t accept your daughter as a boy and allow her to proceed with medical interventions, there’s a good chance she will kill herself.

Every parent with a gender-confused child has heard some version of this threat from multiple sources.  It’s part of what Everybody Knows because Experts Say So.  It’s also a big part of how the radical Affirmation Only approach has steamrolled over all resistance to become the de facto policy of nearly every relevant major institution in North America. 

The basic argument for Affirmation Only is roughly this: 

  • Untreated gender dysphoria leads to an extreme suicide risk.  
  • Medical transition (in conjunction with social acceptance) is the only effective treatment for gender dysphoria.  
  • Therefore: The benefits of offering medical transition on demand outweigh the expected likelihood of medical risks (like damaged health or regret). 

Both premises of this argument are false but the first one has been particularly effective in persuading people who should know better to look the other way, to forgo due diligence, and to accept surprising new policies on only the skimpiest evidence.   Questioning the actual evidence that is supposed to justify Affirmation Only policies is rarely met by good faith discussion of the nature and strength of that evidence.  Instead the person raising such questions is much more likely to be accused of being motivated by bigotry and of perpetuating immoral beliefs directly responsible for many suicides (and even murders), deaths that would not occur if society would only universally affirm gender identity and offer medical transition on demand.

This is the suicide myth I want to examine.  The vague but ubiquitous presumption that the risk of suicide by trans-identified people, especially youth, is so extreme that it justifies bypassing established standards of decision making whenever those standards pose a barrier to immediately gratifying the trans-person’s desire for medical intervention or social accommodation…

In the context of gender affirmation, the bailey is the expansive belief that extreme suicide risk justifies Affirmation Only policy across all of society, including medicine.  It posits that lack of social and medical accommodation causes persons with gender dysphoria to commit suicide at extremely high rates (i.e. these factors independently and significantly increase the real suicide rate).  Additionally, it implicitly holds that the aggregate harm of suicide that can be reduced by social and medical accommodation is greater than the aggregate harm (health damage and normal life opportunity lost) that may be increased by on-demand medical transition.   In contrast, the motte consists of much more modest claims such as people who self identify as transgender also self report suicidal ideation or unsuccessful attempts at higher than normal rates, and blame it on lack of acceptance.  The large gap between the bailey and the motte begs that we address these questions: How predictive of completed suicides are self-reports of suicidal ideation or attempts?  How reliably can we attribute suicidality of trans identified people just to lack of social acceptance and medical transition?

To be clear, gender-questioning teens should be treated with kindness and empathy and not used as political pawns. But that does not mean suicide scaremongering is supported by research, or, appropriate.

15) Really good stuff from Katherine Wu on the upcoming Covid vaccines and the science of monovalent vs bivalent:

The switch in strategy—from two variants to one, from original SARS-CoV-2 plus Omicron to XBB.1 alone—would be momentous but wise, experts told me, reflecting the world’s updated understanding of the virus’s evolution and the immune system’s quirks. “It just makes a lot of sense,” said Melanie Ott, the director of the Gladstone Institute of Virology, in San Francisco. XBB.1 is the main coronavirus group circulating today; neither the original variant nor BA.5, the two coronavirus flavors in the bivalent shot, is meaningfully around anymore. And an XBB.1-focused vaccine may give the global population a particularly good shot at broadening immunity.


At the same time, COVID vaccines are still in a sort of beta-testing stage. In the past three-plus years, the virus has spawned countless iterations, many of which have been extremely good at outsmarting us; we humans, meanwhile, are only on our third-ish attempt at designing a vaccine that can keep pace with the pathogen’s evolutionary sprints. And we’re very much still learning about the coronavirus’s capacity for flexibility and change, says Rafi Ahmed, an immunologist at Emory University. By now, it’s long been clear that vaccines are essential for preventing severe disease and death, and that some cadence of boosting is probably necessary to keep the shots’ effectiveness high. But when the virus alters its evolutionary tactics, our vaccination strategy must follow—and experts are still puzzling out how to account for those changes as they select the shots for each year.

In the spring and summer of 2022, the last time the U.S. was mulling on a new vaccine formula, Omicron was still relatively new, and the coronavirus’s evolution seemed very much in flux. The pathogen had spent more than two years erratically slingshotting out Greek-letter variants without an obvious succession plan. Instead of accumulating genetic changes within a single lineage—a more iterative form of evolution, roughly akin to what flu strains do—the coronavirus produced a bunch of distantly related variants that jockeyed for control. Delta was not a direct descendant of Alpha; Omicron was not a Delta offshoot; no one could say with any certainty what would arise next, or when. “We didn’t understand the trajectory,” says Kanta Subbarao, the head of the WHO advisory group convened to make recommendations on COVID vaccines.

And so the experts played it safe. Including an Omicron variant in the shot felt essential, because of how much the virus had changed. But going all in on Omicron seemed too risky—some experts worried that “the virus would flip back,” Subbarao told me, to a variant more similar to Alpha or Delta or something else. As a compromise, several countries, including the United States, went with a combination: half original, half Omicron, in an attempt to reinvigorate OG immunity while laying down new defenses against the circulating strains du jour.

16) Save the world, eat more beans! “Eat more beans. Please.: Beans are protein-rich, sustainable, and delicious. Why doesn’t the US eat more of them?”

17) This is an amazing story and you should read it.  Gift link. “A catatonic woman awakened after 20 years. Her story may change psychiatry.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) I quite like this Chait take on the debt ceiling:

Republicans obtained spending cuts only slightly deeper than what they likely would have won in a normal budget process absent the threat of default, but were able to avoid giving even a token offer to Democrats, preserving their core objective of demonstrating that the only thing Democrats would “win” was freeing the hostage.

The Washington press corps, like Wall Street, has trained its focus almost entirely on the short-term objective of avoiding default. By this measure — the short-term objectives that Democrats pursued — the deal is a triumph. And yet the principle Republicans were fighting to establish, and unambiguously won, has a long-term significance that has largely escaped attention. Hardly anybody has given a thought as to what happens next.

The argument over the legitimacy of debt-ceiling extortion may be settled now, but at the outset of the year, it was very much a contested thing. The two parties each pointed to dueling precedents. In 2011, the Republican Congress threatened default, and the Obama administration tried to steer this process into a negotiated grand bargain over fiscal policy. Only after it was too late did President Obama grasp that what he mistook for a negotiation was actually extortion, and he escaped catastrophe by handing Republicans spending cuts without any concessions…

Democrats believed they had solved the extortion problem: simply refusing to negotiate with hostage-takers would force them to release the hostage, since the alternative — default and an economic crisis — would impose harm on the Republican Party’s own economic elites.

But Republicans either ignored the 2013 precedent or chalked it up to their party’s own internal disorganization at the time. A more unified and effective hostage demand, they believed, would succeed. And in Biden they saw a more inviting target. Republicans always preferred negotiating with Biden to negotiating with Obama, and Biden’s statement the previous fall that it would be “irresponsible” to abolish the debt ceiling confirmed their impression of his pliability…

When you are holding a gun to the head of the global economy, and both sides understand the president has no option but to pay off the hostage-takers, there’s no natural limit to the size of the ransom. Arguably, Republicans were constrained this time by the desire of most of their caucus to posture against a deal rather than support it, but there’s hardly an iron law requiring such a dynamic.

2) Brian Beutler is definitely no fan of the deal:

Nobody can say how the politics of default would unfold, because we’ve never tested it, but in terms of ransom potential, these scenarios are unalike. One amounts to taking hostages with a gun to your own head, the other while wearing a suicide vest. Because the threats are different in kind, we can’t assume they’d yield identical concessions, and shouldn’t imbue the resulting “deal” to free the hostages with legitimacy. 

As I wrote last month (apologies for quoting myself):

There’s no win here; just the cutting of losses…. even if those losses seem tolerable when the deal sees the light of day, there’s no credible way to argue that the debt limit was merely incidental. The idea that the GOP’s default threat had no effect on the outcome misconstrues the very nature of corruption. It’s a perverse repurposing of the right-wing defense of Clarence Thomas, where his allies say was always going to rule the way he has. The bribes meant nothing! Liberals are rightly unsatisfied with that justification, and we should similarly reject any suggestion that the GOP’s default threats were meaningless. Extortion is the coercive counterpart of bribery; an agreement struck under that kind of duress is no less suspect than a Supreme Court vote cast under the influence of Harlan Crow’s filthy lucre.  

The ransoms Biden paid might be small, but if we declare them foregone and meaningless, we’re not being honest with ourselves. We’re myth-making as a plea for intra-coalition peace, and to absolve him for agreeing to negotiate…

But he did negotiate, and he did concede, and in so doing he violated a principle and promise that Democratic voters should have been able to count on their leaders to uphold. The promise was to never again cough up policy concessions under threat of default—no negotiating with terrorists. The principle is that one set of rules—including the obligation to share power in divided government—must bind both parties. 

Kevin McCarthy gets a lot of flack for being in over his head and, well…a somewhat limited person. But he called an incredibly consequential bluff, and the significance of that isn’t lost on him or anyone else in his party. McCarthy rallied House Republicans, after Biden relented, with a video montage of the many times Biden insisted he never would. Yes, he did this to placate his bloodthirsty members, but he wasn’t bullshitting them, and that’s partly why it worked. 

They know they can come back for more, perhaps as soon as two years from now, and they know that Biden probably won’t even gesture at refusing to negotiate if he’s still president then. Any refusal after what just happened would lack credibility. 

Biden’s defenders can take solace in the fact that he didn’t concede a great deal, that his concessions staved off near-term calamity, and might even give him a brief sugar high, as headlines commemorate yet another bipartisan deal. But those headlines won’t outlast the longer-term indignity of accepting a dual standard that’s incompatible with democratic government. The silver linings here were purchased by mortgaging the future. 

3) Good stuff in a free post from Yglesias, “”Misinformation” isn’t just on the right”

The moral of all these stories is that people are prone to bias-confirmation and groupthink, and the mass public tends not to pay much attention to policy issues, even ones they find interesting enough to march in the streets about.

This is a kind of tragic aspect of the human condition and not a specific failure of your political enemies.

I think back sometimes at my own misinformation on the Michael Brown point. A big part of the reason I didn’t know the truth about this is it didn’t matter to me, practically speaking. During the five years or so between the Ferguson protests and Lopez’s articles about the tweet, I didn’t write anything for which the DOJ inquiry into the shooting was relevant. I was actually so disengaged from this topic that when I started work on this 2019 article making the case for increased police funding, I was a little surprised to learn how controversial the thesis was. After all, I was making the case for the merits of federal police funding initiatives that were pushed by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and opposed by Donald Trump. The progressive conventional wisdom had moved on from that Clinton/Obama consensus without me realizing it, but I hadn’t moved on even though I also didn’t realize Wilson had been exonerated — it wasn’t actually policy-relevant, so I hadn’t been paying attention.

And the average citizen has much less reason than I do to pay attention to news developments.

This is why people mostly don’t do it and thus why people are pretty misinformed. Ideally, actual U.S. Senators and their communications teams would take a second to say “wait, are we sure this is true?”, just as in my police funding piece I didn’t type from pure memory — I actually looked into the research and got my facts in order before writing.

But all kinds of political elites act impulsively or irresponsibly at times. Or they share things like that NPR article, which was perfectly accurate but also played directly into a widespread misconception. These problems, unfortunately, are not unique to any one faction or party — they are part of life.

4) Interesting, “Where the ‘Wood-Wide Web’ Narrative Went Wrong: A compelling story about how forest fungal networks communicate has garnered much public interest. Is any of it true?”

The three of us have studied forest fungi for our whole careers, and even we were surprised by some of the more extraordinary claims surfacing in the media about the wood-wide web. Thinking we had missed something, we thoroughly reviewed 26 field studies, including several of our own, that looked at the role fungal networks play in resource transfer in forests. What we found shows how easily confirmation bias, unchecked claims, and credulous news reporting can, over time, distort research findings beyond recognition. It should serve as a cautionary tale for scientists and journalists alike. 

First, let’s be clear: Fungi do grow inside and on tree roots, forming a symbiosis called a mycorrhiza, or fungus-root. Mycorrhizae are essential for the normal growth of trees. Among other things, the fungi can take up from the soil, and transfer to the tree, nutrients that roots could not otherwise access. In return, fungi receive from the roots sugars they need to grow.

As fungal filaments spread out through forest soil, they will often, at least temporarily, physically connect the roots of two neighboring trees. The resulting system of interconnected tree roots is called a common mycorrhizal network, or CMN…

Other widely reported claims — that trees use CMNs to signal danger, to recognize offspring, or to share nutrients with other trees — are based on similarly thin or misinterpreted evidence.How did such a weakly sourced narrative take such a strong grip on the public imagination?

5) I’ve got some skepticism about “healthy” donuts, but the UK’s new food rules certainly make sense to me:

Wait … healthy doughnuts? Surely not. Everyone knows that doughnuts are deeply unhealthy. That’s the whole point. Take away the sugary glaze and oily smoosh of dough and what are you left with? Nothing. You’ll have to prize our sugared rings from our caramel-coated fingers. Some things are too sacred to give up.

Or maybe we don’t have to. A shake-up of food rules in the United Kingdom has sparked a new kind of doughy disruption: the quest for healthy confectionery. Or, if not healthy exactly, then at least much healthier than the fried goods currently on offer. The winds of change are blowing, and they smell a lot like delicious steam-baked dough.

Leading the charge is British doughnut brand Urban Legend. “I picked doughnuts because their health credentials are genuinely quite dreadful,” says founder Anthony Fletcher. In the UK, most prepackaged food is labeled according to a “traffic light” system where products are rated for their fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt content per 100 grams. If the nutrients are over a certain threshold—for fat it’s 17.5 grams, for sugar it’s 22.5 grams—then the product gets a red traffic light label for that category. Deep-fried and sugar-coated, doughnuts have labels that are a sea of red and orange.

These blazing traffic lights were the beacon that led Fletcher to his current venture. In previous roles he’d helped reinvent fruit juice and sparked a craze for healthier snacking, but by 2020 he finally felt ready to tackle the one frontier that health food fads had barely touched: the baked goods aisle. “Having spent 20 years trying to sell healthy food to consumers, it’s really hard to get people to change,” he says. The UK bakery market is worth £4.4 billion ($5.5 billion)—more than its markets for potato chips, breakfast cereal, or sliced meats—and almost all of it is unremittingly unhealthy. “If you want to make the largest change to public health, then you’ve got to take the junk out of junk food,” Fletcher says. He thought that a healthier doughnut might be a way to nudge people toward diets that were lower in fat and sugar without asking them to give anything up. A have-your-doughnut-and-eat-it approach to nutrition, if you will.

It just so happens—and Fletcher maintains that this timing was a coincidence—that as he was mulling over the prospect of a low-fat, low-sugar doughnut, the UK government was limbering up to introduce legislation to restrict how and where unhealthy foods are sold.

The new rules, which came into force in October 2022, ban the sale of certain foods high in fat, sugar, and salt near supermarket entrances, on the ends of aisles, or near checkouts. An ocean of prime supermarket real estate awaited anyone who could make a doughnut that avoided certain thresholds for fat, sugar, and salt. With a stroke of a legislator’s pen, the stage for the new doughnut wars was set.

6) It’s getting really hard to hire police these days.  This suggests to me that, in part, we really need to rethink policing in ways that change who the job is appealing to (way more female officers would help, for one thing). 

7) I’m not entirely sure how much I buy this, but it’s a topic worth some thinking about, “Anatomy of a Murder: How the Democratic Party Crashed in Florida

8) Was Adnan Syed (of Serial podcast fame) actually wrongly exonerated?  There’s a pretty good case for that. 

9) Back in the day when I really wanted to run fast, I would listen to the Rocky theme.  Science: “Put Some Music on: The Effects of pre-Task Music Tempo on Arousal, Affective State, Perceived Exertion, and Anaerobic Performance”

Research on the ergogenic effects of music on athletic performance usually includes multiple antecedents simultaneously. Consequently, this study set out to isolate a single antecedent using a highly controlled experiment. More specifically, the aim of the study was to investigate the effect of pre-task, slow- and fast-tempo music on arousal, affective state, perceived exertion, and anaerobic rowing performance by isolating music tempo as the sole intrinsic musical factor. Forty young adults (male = 23, female = 17) participated in three trials where they all were exposed to no-music, slow-tempo, and fast-tempo music conditions in a randomized order. The music was exclusively composed for this study and equally novel for all participants. It was based on the same electronic track with a techno-orientation rendered to both 110 (slow-tempo) and 140 (fast-tempo) BPM. Following music exposure, the participants were momentarily asked to report levels of felt arousal and affective state before being instructed to perform a 30-s maximal rowing test on an ergometer. Upon completion of each rowing test, subjects were then asked to report their perceived exertion. Both fast- and slow-tempo pre-task music exposure led to increased arousal and positive affective state when compared to no music. Fast-tempo music led to a significantly higher mean power output than slow-tempo music. No significant differences were found for peak watt output or rating of perceived exertion when comparing all conditions. These findings suggest that exposure to pre-task music may offer positive psychological benefits prior to commencing anaerobic sporting tasks. Results also suggest that fast-tempo music may have an ergogenic effect on anaerobic performance.

10) I thought this was pretty interesting as given Amazon’s abominable search engine, I had some real success using BingGPT to help me shop. “I Asked AI Chatbots to Help Me Shop. They All Failed”

11) The whole pipeline and permitting thing is complicated politics.  And this lays it out nicely, “The Real Climate Defeat in the Debt Ceiling Deal: It’s not the pipeline. It’s the power lines.”

Yet despite the chatter, the pipeline was not, in fact, the most important climate concession exacted in negotiations. The deal also made a number of changes to federal permitting law, especially the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. These changes have been described as relatively small, common-sense reforms to the federal process — and in some cases they are. But they also represented critical leverage that Democrats just lost.

Democrats might have secured many other objectives in the debt-ceiling talks, including minimal cuts to some federal programs and a potential expansion of food stamps. But the deal’s permitting reforms are an uneven trade in which Democrats gave up much more than they gained and made virtually no progress on one of their biggest goals: making it easier to build long-distance power lines. When Congress revisits permitting reform in the next few months — as Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has promised – Democrats will find that they have little room to bargain.

12) Drum is not wrong, “The debt ceiling fiasco is Joe Manchin’s fault”

The real story is that the Senate was split 50-50 and Democrats were missing a vote even for reconciliation. I’m sure you can guess whose vote it was:

The administration has determined that if it were to go the reconciliation route on the debt limit, it would face likely opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

….Already, Manchin has expressed reluctance to act on the debt limit with only Democratic votes, though he’s declined to rule it out completely. “I don’t think it should go to reconciliation,” he said Tuesday. “My goodness, it’s something we’ve always worked together on.”

According to Politico at the time, “That’s left White House officials to all but abandon efforts for a lame-duck move they once hoped might head off a potentially disastrous showdown with the House GOP majority next year.”

In short, we are now facing a debt ceiling crisis thanks to Joe Manchin. That’s it.

13) Love this take on “Succession“– among other things the funniest show, period, on TV the past few years:

The other angle of Succession is that it’s a comedy, and not just because Tom occasionally says things like “king of edible leaves, his majesty the spinach.” More often than not, Succession is structurally a sitcom with episodes bounded by themes and character arcs rather than closed procedural plotting. It’s why, despite its perpetual busyness, Succession has also been a show about nothing actually happening. The Roy siblings spend three seasons caught in stasis: the fictional one created by their father’s weaponized ambivalence, and the stasis of Succession’s class commentary, which shelters them from repercussions as a way to demonstrate their untouchable bubble of wealth. Succession fell into a circling, repeating pattern of playing with its own genre, threatening to pile up into something like a plot while remaining a dark comedy of wealthy goons, forever fired up by incompetent ambition, reaching for the gold ring, failing, and then continuing around the carousel to try again. (In the worst of all possible worlds, Succession could’ve been Seinfeld, moseying along as a beautiful, consequence-free sitcom about bad people living their lives, only for the finale to wallop everyone with the abrupt, unearned return of all the people they’ve harmed.)

14) Some good stuff from twitter…


15) I did a couple volunteer shifts at The Soccer Tournament the past couple days. Fun!  I love the feature where every game ends with a goal. 




Why are conservatives happier than liberals?

You might have seen some of the recent data (and I think I shared some here) about liberal teens having notably worse mental health than conservative teens.  In a fantastic article, Musa al-Gharbi looks comprehensively at the research on political ideology and mental/emotional well-being, “How to Understand the Well-Being Gap between Liberals and Conservatives.”  So full of interesting insights and it’s not at all just speculations but based on so much research.  It carefully looks at a number of hypotheses and the best evidence for and against them.  It’s really worth your time to read.  Here are a few parts I found particularly interesting:

In any case, although some combination of genetic/biological influences and an elective affinity between mental or emotional unwellness and left-wing political views may go a long way to explaining the general gaps in well-being between liberals and conservatives, they can do little to explain the huge and unilateral spike in depression among liberals in 2012, nor the divergent patterns between liberals and conservatives thereafter. Explaining these phenomena would require us to explore the extent to which ideology may influence mental illness (rather than vice-versa), and to account for how the influence of that ideology might’ve changed after 2011. It’s to these points we now turn…

Although liberals tend to be less emotionally stable than conservatives, they are also far more likely to prize emotionality and to dwell on their emotions and the emotions of others. They tend to react much more severely to unfortunate events—from public tragedies to political defeats to global catastrophes and beyond. Not only are their initial responses significantly more dramatic, but liberals are also adversely affected for longer periods of time.

Moreover, compared to conservatives, liberals are much more likely to find meaning in their lives through political causes or activism. They tend to follow politics much more closely and participate more in political action. However, following politics closely, and regular engagement on politics, has been shown to adversely affect people’s mental and physiological well-being (herehereherehere).

Politics may also undermine liberals’ social relationships (which are, themselves, important for mental health). Surveys consistently find that liberals have more politically homogenous communities and social networks. They are also far more willing to avoid, break off or curb relationships over political differences. White liberal women are especially likely to strike this posture (herehereherehere). They also happen to report especially high levels of anxiety, depression, and other disorders compared to other Americans. This may not be a coincidence: a willingness to “cancel” one’s family and friends over political or ideological differences is unlikely to enhance one’s happiness or well-being…

The main difference across ideological lines is that liberals are much more likely to seek out diagnoses even when they have moderate-to-low symptoms of poor mental health, whereas others do not.

The moral culture of many left-spaces may play an important role in driving these patterns. Sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning have argued that in many liberal, affluent, highly-educated spaces one increasingly gains moral status through association with formerly stigmatized identities—for instance by identifying as a racial, ethnic, or religious minority, a sexual minority, or as a person with a mental or physical disability. Unwellness can even be a monetizable asset contemporary left-spaces. As one social media influencer recently put it, “There absolutely is a concerted effort to really capitalize on mental illness and particularly on young women’s mental illness. It’s a very marketable commodity right now.”

Consequently, perverse incentive structures in certain liberal spaces may push many to seek out diagnoses even when they are not experiencing severe symptoms. Others who are not part of that moral culture would feel less pressure or eagerness to get themselves classified as “disabled.” This may help explain the partisan gap in reported mental illness.

Another consideration: highly-educated and relatively affluent white liberals are the Americans most likely to identify as “feminists,” “antiracists,” or “allies” or to hold far left views on “cultural” issues (herehereherehereherehere). However, according to many of the belief systems in question, affluent whites are the source of virtually all the world’s problems. That is, these ideologies villainize the very people who are most likely to embrace them.

Reflective of this mentality, white liberals view all other racial and ethnic subgroups more warmly than their own. There is no other combination of ideology and race or ethnicity that produces a similar pattern. This tension—being part of a group that one hates—creates strong dissociative pressures on many white liberals. This may help explain the racialized differences among liberals with respect to mental health.

Liberals, especially white liberals, are also much more anxious about interactions across difference. The perceptions, judgements, and behaviors of liberals change dramatically based on the demographic characteristics of the people they are engaging with or referring to, while conservatives are generally more consistent down the line (herehereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehere). As a result of these tendencies, liberals (and white liberals in particular) may be more likely to second-guess their behaviors and motives, dwell on awkward past interactions, and worry about how others perceive them. This type of rumination, in turn, is associated with heightened anxiety and depression…

Cognitive behavioral therapy encourages people to avoid global labeling and black-and-white or zero-sum thinking. It pushes people to abstain from hyperbole and catastrophizing or filtering out the good while highlighting the bad. CBT encourages people to resist emotional reasoning, jumping to conclusions, mind-reading, and uncharitable motive attribution. It tells adherents not to make strong assumptions about what others should do or feel, or how the world should be. Instead, patients are encouraged to meet the world as it is, and to engage the actual over the ideal. CBT instructs people to look for solutions to problems rather than focusing inordinately on who to blame (and punish). It tells patients to focus on controlling what they can in the present rather than ruminating on misfortunes of the past or worrying about futures that may or may not come to pass. It encourages people to see themselves as resilient and capable rather than weak, vulnerable, helpless or “damaged.” It is easy to see how popular strains of liberal thinking basically invert this guidance, likely to the detriment of adherents.

I find that last passage particularly compelling.  And this sort-of anti-CBT that has taken hold of the left is something that a number of interesting thinkers have taken hold of– I think because there’s really something there.  But, as you can see, there’s a lot going on here and really worth thinking about. 


Quick hits (part II)

1) I’ll feel much better about a debt ceiling deal after we actually have a successful vote in the House, but, for now, I quite like Yglesias‘ 17 takeaways:

  1. If you ignore everything about the circumstances of how this came together, it’s really not a bad deal.

  2. In particular, the big GOP win here is that they forced Biden to agree to flat nominal discretionary spending for one year and then a one percent nominal increase the year after that, which is a significant cut in inflation-adjusted, per capita, or GDP terms. But that’s something Republicans could (and would) have gotten through the normal appropriations process anyway.

    1. The way appropriations work is that if a new bill isn’t signed by the end of the fiscal year, the government shuts down. But Congress often avoids shutdowns during disputes by passing what’s called a continuing resolution, which just says all appropriations can continue at the previous level for X weeks.

    2. Even if Biden didn’t “agree” to a two-year spending cap, House Republicans would have kept passing CRs which — by definition — are flat in nominal terms. Biden then would have had to either sign them (in which case funding is flat) or else refused to sign them, instigating a government shutdown that would have made him look ridiculous.

    3. None of this is to say that the discretionary spending cuts aren’t a genuine policy and ideological win for the GOP; it’s just to point out that these are wins they could have achieved through other means.

  3. Going back to the 2011 debt ceiling fight or even what Republicans were saying last fall, the point of debt ceiling hostage-taking was supposed to be to win spending concessions that can’t be won through the normal appropriations process — i.e., changes to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

  4. If you want to understand how Biden ended up with his back to the wall in this deal, you have to remember that this was the original conservative aspiration. Biden’s plan was to bait Republicans into proposing cuts to these programs and then hammer them over the head with it. But they backed down on substance, which gave them the political high ground. A lot of progressives believe the GOP never does this, but it’s actually pretty common.

2) The book reviews in the Astral Codex Ten book review competition are so damn long.  But, often quite fascinating.  I really loved this one given the obvious public policy dimensions:

If Lying For Money‘s most important idea can be described in a single line, it’s that fraud is an equilibrium phenomenon – or, as Davies likes to put it, “It is highly unlikely that the optimal level of fraud is zero.” …

The more protections you put in place to prevent counterfeit people from falling victim to counterfeit drug scams, the more expensive it becomes to obtain drugs through the approved channels. If it becomes too expensive, people will choose to eschew it entirely, and opt for cheaper markets where they will find lower prices (and fewer fraud protections).  The implied conclusion here seems to be that the optimal level of counterfeit drugs entering the system is not zero: at a certain point, the marginal cost of counterfeit prevention is so high that the resulting higher prices are enough to drive customers out of the official channels, and into the waiting arms of unlicensed internet pharmacies with fewer protections.

High and Low Trust Societies

In discussing different equilibrium points for trust, Davies brings up what he calls the “Canadian Paradox,” which is an observation that a low-trust society will have less commercial fraud than a high-trust society (an example of one such high-trust society being Canada, which in 1985 was home of the Vancouver Stock Exchange, dubbed by Forbes Magazine’s Joe Queenan as the “Scam Capital of the World.”)

Why is commercial fraud so much more common in high-trust societies? Davies puts it succinctly: “Where there is trust, there is opportunity for fraud.”

In a low-trust society where everyone is suspicious of each other, it’s much harder to get away with writing a bad check, because everyone is closely scrutinizing every transaction, and/or unwilling to deal with people who aren’t already part of their ingroup of close associates. (In a society of kin-based trust networks, the threat of social fallout would presumably prevent you from defrauding your cousin or brother-in-law.)

Thus, Davies argues, when people are easily able to commit flagrant acts of fraud, this is actually a sign of a healthy high-trust society: it suggests the existence of default trust (which the fraudster then acted to exploit).  If you live in a society where anyone can walk into a business meeting wearing a suit and be assumed to be reasonably trustworthy, it will be possible for a charismatic conman to pull one over on you, but the environment will also be much more hospitable to honest brokers as well.  (Not only does this make a society more prosperous, it’s also just more generally pleasant when you don’t have to constantly be suspicious of your neighbors or counterparties.)

It can be tempting to hear stories of fraud victims who fell for obvious scams and presume naivety or stupidity on their part, but consider what it means when someone falls for an “obvious scam”: what does it say about their priors that they were approached by a stranger offering them favorable terms and, by default, assumed that they must be dealing with an honest broker?  (Probably, it suggests that they live in a society where they’ve transacted with many actors who weren’t scammers. The scammer was able to catch them off guard because people who promise things, even strangers, usually deliver the goods!)  In fact, scammers often attempt to fool their victims by mimicking the legitimate actors in the ecosystem they inhabit.

Suppose you are a venture capitalist and you’re approached by a Stanford dropout who says they’re starting a company.  They don’t, technically speaking, have something that could be considered a “product” yet, but they do have a really cool idea for something that they claim might one day become a multi-billion dollar company, even though the thing that they’re suggesting has never been done before.  They need $500,000 to get things off the ground (and they will probably come back to you later to ask for more money).   Do you write them a check?

If you rely on a heuristic that says “a person matching this profile is probably a scammer and/or deluded and I won’t invest money in their company,” well done, you just avoided being a seed investor in Theranos.  (It probably also allowed you to avoid investing in lots of other startups that failed for non-criminal reasons.)  But that heuristic would also probably prevent you from investing in a bunch of companies that did go on to become billion-dollar successes.

Even a heuristic like “don’t invest in companies that fake product demos” won’t allow you to avoid the “false negatives,” as Davies points out, as many companies that present fake demos go on to create functional products and be worth billions of dollars, so if you consider that disqualifying criteria, you would have had to say no to Microsoft in 1983, when they faked a “live” product demo for an interface manager that didn’t actually exist yet.  (Given that Microsoft’s split-adjusted share price has risen by approximately 325,000% since its IPO in 1986, investing in Microsoft is one of the more profitable things you could have done in the 80’s.)

In a low-trust society where people were more reluctant to invest in Stanford dropouts with big ideas, someone like Elizabeth Holmes would have a very hard time getting off the ground, but so would many more legitimate success stories.  In Theranos’s case, the devil is in the details that go along with promising to deliver a product that does things that are physically impossible. Fraudsters tend to rely on the fact that “the details” in which the devil resides are not always easy or convenient to check on.

3) This is really interesting.  The AI has almost surely evolved to the point where it only makes this mistake .01% of the time or less, but, the implications of that are so significant that they’ve just disabled it, “Google’s Photo App Still Can’t Find Gorillas. And Neither Can Apple’s.”

When Google released its stand-alone Photos app in May 2015, people were wowed by what it could do: analyze images to label the people, places and things in them, an astounding consumer offering at the time. But a couple of months after the release, a software developer, Jacky Alciné, discovered that Google had labeled photos of him and a friend, who are both Black, as “gorillas,” a term that is particularly offensive because it echoes centuries of racist tropes.

In the ensuing controversy, Google prevented its software from categorizing anything in Photos as gorillas, and it vowed to fix the problem. Eight years later, with significant advances in artificial intelligence, we tested whether Google had resolved the issue, and we looked at comparable tools from its competitors: Apple, Amazon and Microsoft…

Google’s and Apple’s tools were clearly the most sophisticated when it came to image analysis.

Yet Google, whose Android software underpins most of the world’s smartphones, has made the decision to turn off the ability to visually search for primates for fear of making an offensive mistake and labeling a person as an animal. And Apple, with technology that performed similarly to Google’s in our test, appeared to disable the ability to look for monkeys and apes as well.

4) It really is crazy and shameful that hockey does not insist on having more protective helmets.  The technology is certainly out there.  

5) A truly awful case of Supreme Court judicial activism just as egregious as you’ll see, “A new Supreme Court opinion is terrible news if you care about clean water”

The Clean Water Act is not the most precisely drafted law, and its text offers few hints as to what the “waters of the United States” might be. But it does include one pretty clear indication of how the law treats wetlands. One provision of the Clean Water Act applies the law to “wetlands adjacent” to waterways covered by the act.

As Justice Kagan writes in her opinion, “in ordinary language, one thing is adjacent to another not only when it is touching, but also when it is nearby. So, for example, one house is adjacent to another even when a stretch of grass and a picket fence separate the two.”

But Alito’s opinion does not apply the act to all wetlands that are “adjacent” to nearby waterways. Under Alito’s approach, only wetlands that have a “continuous surface connection to bodies that are ‘waters of the United States’ in their own right, so that there is no clear demarcation between ‘waters’ and wetlands” are subject to the law’s restrictions on pollution.

This somewhat fast and loose approach to statutory text is a common feature in Alito’s opinions. In Brnovich v. DNC (2021), for example, Alito’s majority opinion imposed a number of extratextual limits on the Voting Rights Act — such as a strong presumption that voting restrictions that were commonplace in 1982 are lawful — that appear nowhere in the Voting Rights Act’s text.

But, regardless of whether the Sackett opinion can be squared with the actual language of the Clean Water Act, it is a binding opinion by the Supreme Court of the United States, and its narrow reading of that act could drastically limit the nation’s ability to fight water pollution.

6) Fascinating twitter thread I came across:

Also, from the article:

Everyone, no matter their complexion, can get a sunburn, experts said. The pigmentation in someone’s skin can provide some protection from the sun but “it’s not a lot,” McMichael said. A darker skin tone will give someone anatural protection of “somewhere between” SPF 3 and 7.

Seriously, only up to 7 from having a dark skin? What to do I know, but that just seems completely at odds with what I thought was the experience of dark-skinned people. 

7) Notable, “College is remade as tech majors surge and humanities dwindle”

Two trends in higher education nationwide are colliding at the University of Maryland: booming enrollment in computer science and plummeting student demand for the humanities.

Premvanti Patel experienced both firsthand. The 23-year-old senior from Sierra Vista, Ariz., triple-majored in computer science, linguistics and Persian studies. Some classes in her first major bulged with hundreds of students, while those in other fields were much smaller. In computer science, Patel said, she often felt “more like an ID number than a student.”

Across the country, spring graduation season highlights the swiftly tilting academic landscape. Cap-and-gown roll calls for computer science and other technology-centered disciplines are becoming ever lengthier, and for the humanities, ever shorter.
The number of students nationwide seeking four-year degrees in computer and information sciences and related fields shot up 34 percent from 2017 to 2022, to about 573,000, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The English-major head count fell 23 percent in that time, to about 113,000. History fell 12 percent, to about 77,000.

8) How America’s screwed up health care system is connected to the need for OTC birth control pills:

The question of whether the F.D.A. will approve birth control for over-the-counter sale presents a microcosm of the structural perversity of U.S. health care. Moving to over-the-counter oral contraception — which should come without age restriction and without cost to those who want it — is an obviously needed change to improve population-level health and protect the right to bodily self-determination. (Even the A.M.A. endorses the change and has joined patient advocates in calling for full insurance coverage of over-the-counter birth control and no age restrictions on access.) So, too, is ensuring cost-free access to medication abortion without unnecessary mediation by physicians and protecting legal rights to gender-affirming care.

But alongside reconsidering physicians’ current prescribing power and whether it in fact best serves public health‌, we need to stop taking for granted that physicians should be the primary people upon whom we rely for our health. Essential preventive care — such as vaccinations, referrals for screening exams like colonoscopies and mammograms, diabetes education, basic mental health assessments and support, and nutrition and exercise counseling — can all be more effectively provided by community health workers with basic training.

9) Firearms training classes are awful:

The classes I attended trained students to believe that their lives are in constant danger. They prepared us to shoot without hesitation and avoid legal consequences. They instilled the kind of fear that has a corrosive effect on all interactions — and beyond that, on the fabric of our democracy.

I took 42 classes and conducted interviews with 52 instructors and 118 students, in traditionally red states like Texas as well as blue states like Massachusetts, in urban areas like Newark as well as rural Southern Illinois. (The instructors knew I was there to conduct research; in keeping with my university’s academic protocols, I had permission to take notes in class and to record interviews but not to publish anyone’s names.) Most of all, I immersed myself in firearms schools in Texas, where I live, that cater to people who wish to learn how to use guns for self-defense. Some instructors in these schools told me they have been involved in drafting public safety protocols or running active shooter drills for public school teachers. Some of these instructors’ students have gone on to open training programs of their own.

While American gun culture has diversified in recent years, the overwhelming majority of firearms instructors — in Texas it’s 75 percent — are white men. Many have a background in the military or law enforcement. Nationwide, more than 125,000 of them have taken a certification course offered by the National Rifle Association. Many states require instructors to complete additional training…

But teaching people how to avoid shooting someone by accident is a small part of what these classes are about. The primary lessons are about if and when to shoot someone on purpose. And this is where the trouble begins.

Instructors repeatedly told me that a big part of their job was to make people feel vulnerable, to make them aware of dangers they were not conscious of before to understand that bad things can happen at any time. One instructor told me he encourages students to carry their gun at all times. If students say they plan to leave it in the car, he responds, “So what you’re telling me is the only time you are ever going to get attacked is if you are in your car?”


The instructors describe a world teeming with violent and deranged individuals. And not just any individuals. The scenarios cluster around the public spaces of racially diverse cities. “More often than not,” an instructor who had been a high-ranking police officer said, the place you’re likely to be attacked is “in an urban part of society.” Another instructor, also a former police officer, tells students to keep their gas tanks filled at least halfway to avoid situations in which “it’s the middle of the night and you need to get gas in downtown Houston.”

10) AI photoshopping.  Lots of cool visuals– gift link. 

11) This is fantastic from deBoer.  Trust me and read it, “Psychotic Disorders Do Not Respect Autonomy, Independence, Agency, or Freedom” [emphases in original]

I have a friend who’s a front-line social worker, someone who tries very hard to provide the kind of voluntary mental health services that nobody has any issues with. It’s hard, dispiriting, low-paying work, and it’s the kind of role that’s increasingly disrespected by the activist class – you see, to be a government social worker is still “carceral,” whatever the ever-loving fuck that means, and anyway there’s nothing wrong with the mentally ill, they’re fine and have no problems and it’s stigmatizing to suggest that they need help. My friend was telling me about a homeless man who had a ghastly wound on his arm that was clearly gangrenous. Her colleague told her that if they didn’t get him into care immediately he would lose the limb. This information was relayed to him. And he refused care. Sitting there with an arm that was literally rotting off of his body, at incredible risk of spreading infection and death, he shrugged off the possibility of getting help. And do you want to know why? Was it because he was rationally exercising his personal freedom, expressing his individual choice, luxuriating in his adult autonomy? No, it was because he was very very sick, and the illness he was suffering from prevented him from understanding reality.

And this is where fantasies of totally and permanently non-coercive mental healthcare collapse, will always collapse, must collapse: there is no such thing as autonomy or freedom or personal choice under the grips of a mental illness that hijacks the mind. You think involuntary treatment obstructs freedom? Schizophrenia obstructs freedom. You think involuntary treatment tramples on autonomy? Bipolar disorder tramples on autonomy. You think involuntary treatment denies personal choice? Schizoaffective disorder denies personal choice. It’s nonsensical to speak about preserving the freedom of a psychotic person! A psychotic person cannot be free because psychosis obliterates true freedom through the imposition of delusion and hallucination. If you drug me and make me sign a contract, no one sees that as an expression of my personal freedom because my action was not the expression of my authentic and undistorted will. If you deceive someone in an effort to get their money, you can be arrested for fraud even though the person whose money you took explicitly said you could have it. Because that person wasn’t actually expressing autonomous behavior thanks to the deception! To be psychotic is also to be deceived. To be severely mentally ill is to be held hostage by internal forces that are not you. This destroys every argument about personal freedom and choice, permanently and totally. Opponents of involuntary commitment never talk about this point or even attempt to rebut it because they know they can’t. They just get mad about it.

12) Good stuff from excellent political scientist and excellent human, David Karol, “How Does Party Position Change Happen? The Case of LGBT Rights in the U.S.” (ungated here)

A partisan divide over LGBT rights has emerged in the U.S. Yet unlike other issues on which the parties have traded places or polarized, most of the change on gay rights has occurred within one party, the Democrats. How did this unusual change occur? LGBT rights was originally a fringe cause, rejected by most politicians in both parties. As gay rights activists slowly became more prominent in the Democratic Party, many politicians adapted, abandoning earlier positions informed by their personal backgrounds and state or district constituencies. Meanwhile, incorporating the religious right led most Republicans to maintain the anti-LGBT rights stand that was once common to both parties, even as public opinion shifted. The result was a partisan divide in this issue area that had consequences for policy. The role of adaptation by incumbents in producing it—contrary to some prominent models—is evident in both Congressional co-sponsorship and roll-call data. The growing party divide is also evident in platforms. These findings contribute to a broader understanding of how party position change occurs.

13) Yeah, kind of an inside baseball/twitter post, but gets at so much dysfunction out there.  Excellent stuff from Jesse Singal: “On Alex Goldman Calling For Matt Yglesias To Be Bullied Off Twitter”

Why should Matt Yglesias be bullied off Twitter? No one really knows. The point is he’s some sort of weaselly centrist bothsides-ing asshole. I also heard he’s a transphobe! I mean, everyone says he is. There’s no need for fact-checking when It Is Widely Known.

Alex Goldman gets in a lot of online fights. Surely he knows how unpleasant it is to have a lot of people yelling at you. And surely he knows how negatively it can impact your mental health. After all, he has spoken and written movingly about his own mental health struggles. In fact, if you scroll down his timeline you’ll see that the tweet below his call for Matt Yglesias to be bullied is about his own incapacitating depression.


Goldman also wrote about it rather movingly on his Substack recently, referring to depression as “a razorclawed little goblin standing on my chest as [I] lay immobile underneath it. It glowers oppressively over me, and makes movement in any direction impossible.” It’s a horrible, memorable image. Any decent person would feel bad for Alex Goldman.

But how does Goldman know that Matt Yglesias isn’t also going through some stuff? He really can’t know, is the answer. So I guess my argument is that you can’t really call for pain to be inflicted on others while also trying to call attention to, and generate sympathy for, your own pain. And what Goldman is doing here is unfortunately characteristic of a broad swath of the online lefty world, which is just a miserable, deranged, angry place. (It goes without saying that a lot of online harassment is worse than a bunch of people calling you an asshole, and in this instance no one is, like, doxxing Yglesias or making credible threats on his life, but we can acknowledge these gradations without losing sight of the bigger picture here!)

I think Twitter in particular has gotten worse because over time, the better-functioning, less sadistic and damaged people have left (I am not including myself — my departure is temporary). Whether or not my theory is correct, you see this a lot: you see people rapidly vacillate between trying to express their pain, or trying to defend their friends against pain being inflicted on them, and seeking to firehouse as much pain as humanly possible at their own enemies.

One way this often goes down is through weaponized accusations of “online harassment” or feeling “unsafe.” I’ve written about this before, this dynamic in which I can say and do whatever I want, but as soon as you criticize me (or my friends), even if it’s done in a milquetoast manner, I’ll scream bloody murder. Matt Yglesias is a Bad Guy, so no amount of “go fuck yourself” or “eat shit” is enough, and the Good Guys certainly won’t rise to his defense (because if you do, you’re defending a Bad Guy, and then, by the Transitive Properties Of Good Versus Bad Guys, you can become a Bad Guy yourself!). An example I shouldn’t bring back up, but that is irresistible: back in 2020 Matt Yglesias signed the Harper’s letter, which his colleague disagreed with, so that act made her feel “less safe” at work. Does it make Matt Yglesias feel “less safe” when people are sending him abusive garbage on social media? You won’t hear a peep of protest from the “anti-harassment” set.

I think at the end of the day there’s a (lower stakes and more online) version of “the cruelty is the point” at work here, whatever you think of that theory. There are certain people who, as a result of trauma or personality disorders or boredom or resentment or some combination of these and other factors, have a strong will to hurt others. They can’t just go torment some random weak, hapless person, because in bien-pensant lefty circles such bullying is in theory verboten. In theory. But if you can find someone who is a bad person (because everyone says they are), then all bets are off: You can bully them and call them a piece of shit and seek to inflict so much harassment on them they flee a social media platform. That’s just social justice, baby! That’s the kind of fearless activism favored by organizations that are “abolitionist, anti-capitalist & anti-imperialist collective[s] amplifying the voice of the people through direct action, public ed + community space.”

14) YouGov with all the cool charts you could want on dog ownership. 

15) Cool AI advances used to fight cancer?  Awesome. “A one-two punch against pancreatic cancer: A.I for predicting high-risk and a promising vaccine in a clinical trial”

16) Today marks 29(!!!) years of marriage for me. 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Michael Tomasky on DeSantis:

He’s declared himself the field marshal of a cultural civil war. A decade or so ago, this too would have scared me. But in today’s United States, my bet is that most people don’t want to live in an intolerant society that basically outlaws abortion and bans books and allows nearly anybody to carry a permit-less firearm and gives the state the right to take children away from their parents in the name of “freedom.” I think that’s a loser—provided Joe Biden and the Democrats directly and aggressively challenge this twisted idea of freedom, should DeSantis emerge the GOP nominee, and advance an alternative definition of their own.

Why has DeSantis chosen this course? I offer to you the following five explanations:

1. He lives deep inside an echo chamber where everyone he ever talks to is terminally online and fully in agreement that “wokery” will spell the end of civilization.

2. He thinks that it polls well (it actually doesn’t, for the most part, but pollsters can cook numbers however they want).

3. His wife, Casey, urges him in this direction. She is said to hold an unusual amount of power in the relationship and has spent the past few years cosplaying as a first lady.

4. He’s of the mind that all of this has worked for him so far. (Although his approval numbers aren’t great—he’s just above the waterline in a recent YouGov/Economist poll, but a hefty 26 percent had a very unfavorable view of him, six points higher than the very favorable number.) 

5. He genuinely believes all this.

Don’t discount that last one. All politicians do certain things to please the base. But the zeal with which DeSantis has taken on these fights suggests a man obsessed. Molly Ball, in her insightful profile of DeSantis in last week’s Time, quotes an adviser: “He has a providential belief that he will talk sincerely about. He believes he is exactly where God planned him to be at all times.” That’s not a guy who spends countless hours watching focus groups.

Whatever his motivation, the question we care about most is whether this brand of moral-panic politics can get a hard right-winger into the White House in 2022. Never say never in a country that elected Donald Trump president, but I don’t think America wants that. It’s not simply that large majorities support more liberal abortion rights than DeSantis’s draconian six-week law or oppose permit-less concealed carry (on transgender issues, the polling is more ambiguous, but I seriously doubt your average person thinks the state ought to be able to steal a transgender child away from their parents, which is now the law in Florida). It’s also that DeSantis is in people’s faces incessantly, making them choose sides.

2) Chait on standardized tests:

3) I actually finally took a look at the whole Catalist take on the 2022 elections.  It’s really good:


The 2022 election defied conventional wisdom and historical trends. In a typical midterm election year with one-party control of the presidency, House and Senate, the incumbent party would expect major losses. Instead, Democrats re-elected every incumbent senator and expanded their Senate majority by a seat, won the overwhelming majority of heavily contested gubernatorial elections, gained control of 4 state legislative chambers, and only narrowly lost the U.S. House.

Democrats won in the majority of heavily contested races, with electorates in these contests looking more like the 2020 and 2018 electorates than a typical midterm. Unlike recent midterms, which were wave elections with across-the-board, national swings, there was less of a national trend in the 2022 midterm. In this analysis we will present national results based on the U.S. House vote, where Republicans outperformed Democrats, as well as analysis from states that had highly contested races, according to the non-partisan Cook Political Report, where Democrats outperformed Republicans. Unlike other recent midterm years, our analysis shows a stark contrast between the electorate in areas with one or more highly contested House, Senate or gubernatorial races versus those with less contested races. 

Gen Z and Millennial voters had exceptional levels of turnout, with young voters in heavily contested states exceeding their 2018 turnout by 6% among those who were eligible in both elections.1 Further, 65% of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 supported Democrats, cementing their role as a key part of a winning coalition for the party. While young voters were historically evenly split between the parties, they are increasingly voting for Democrats. Many young voters who showed up in 2018 and 2020 to elect Democrats continued to do the same in 2022. 

Extreme “MAGA” Republicans underperformed. Across heavily contested Senate, Gubernatorial, and Congressional races, voters penalized “MAGA” Republicans. Candidates who were outspoken election deniers did 1 to 4 points worse than other Republicans, contributing to their losses in important close races. Of course, election denial is one of many extreme positions associated with “MAGA” Republicans, so this analysis likely reflects relatively extreme stances on other issues, including abortion rights, as well as Republicans such as Kari Lake (Arizona gubernatorial) and Doug Mastriano (Pennsylvania gubernatorial) who ran relatively insular campaigns. 

Women voters pushed Democrats over the top in heavily contested races, where abortion rights were often their top issue. After Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court overturned abortion rights, a disproportionate number of women voters registered to vote in states with highly contested elections. At the same time, polls showed Democratic women and men indicating they were more engaged in the election. While relative turnout by gender remained largely stable, Democratic performance improved over 2020 among women in highly contested races, going from 55% to 57% support. The biggest improvement was among white non-college women (+4% support).

Democrats largely retained their winning 2020 coalition in heavily contested races, with some exceptions. Turnout and support among voters by race, education, gender, and other demographic factors remained relatively stable in heavily contested races. Such stability does not usually occur between presidential and midterm years, demonstrating how the Democratic coalition blunted a Republican “red wave.” One notable shift includes Black voters. While they continued to play an outsized role in contributing to Democratic victories, Black turnout largely fell in contested races. Meanwhile, Democratic support among Black voters rose in Southern states with heavily contested elections, but fell in less contested states.

4) I hate the NHL offside reviews that find somebody was offsides by 1 inch a good 30 seconds before the goal was scored. It’s just so stupid.  But Jack Han with a really good explanation on how getting rid of offsides completely would probably ruin the sport. 

5) Some interesting social science:

What explains the contents of political belief systems? A widespread view is that they derive from abstract values, like equality, tolerance, and authority. Here, we challenge this view, arguing instead that belief systems derive from political alliance structures that vary across nations and time periods. When partisans mobilize support for their political allies, they generate patchwork narratives that appeal to ad-hoc, and often incompatible, moral principles. In the first part of the paper, we explain how people choose their allies, and how they support their allies using propagandistic tactics. In the second part, we show how these choices and tactics give rise to political alliance structures, with their strange bedfellows, and the idiosyncratic contents of belief systems. If Alliance Theory is correct, then we need a radically different approach to political psychology—one in which belief systems arise not from deep-seated moral values, but from ever-shifting alliances and rivalries.

6) I am quite convinced that climate protesters who pull stunts like this are only setting the cause back, “Trevi Fountain water turns black in Rome climate protest”

7) Great stuff from Ryan Burge, “Given the Rise of the Nones, Why Aren’t Democrats Winning Most Elections? Why Secularization Does Not Lead to Perpetual Liberal Government”

There are still more White Christians than nones in the United States. White Christians used to be fairly mixed politically. In the 1970s, a majority of them were Democrats and about a third were Republicans. In the 1980s, the average White church was evenly mixed, about 45% from both parties.

Today? An entirely different story. Now, just a third of White Christians align with the Democratic Party, while a majority now say that they are Republicans. It’s almost been a complete reversal from the early 1970s.

The Democrats have gained a ton of new voters from the rise of the nones. They have also lost a ton of voters with the defection of millions of White Christians. (Whether this is a function of vote switching or generational replacement is a debate for a different time.)…

But here’s another part of the puzzle, too. In the 2022, 6% of folks were atheists, 6% were agnostics, and another 23% were nothing in particular. That means that two-thirds of nones are not atheist/agnostic. And that’s a problem when it comes to election day.

To put this in context, in 2020 there were nearly as many nothing in particulars who said that they voted for Trump as there were atheists who said that they voted for Biden.

While atheists are the most politically active group in the United States in terms of things like donating money and working for a campaign, the nothing in particulars are on another planet entirely…

They were half as likely to donate money to a candidate compared to atheists. They were half as likely to put up a political sign. They were less than half as likely to contact a public official.

This all points to the same conclusion: they don’t vote in high numbers. So, while there may be a whole bunch of nothing in particulars, that may not translate to electoral victories because:

  1. They aren’t overwhelmingly Democrats.

  2. Many of them probably don’t vote.

8) I love when people take an appropriately expansive approach to cost/benefit analysis.  And the costs of mass shootings are just so much bigger than we typically discuss. Katelyn Jetelina:

Impact on survivors

As you can imagine, survivors suffer from mental health problems following mass shootings. This is particularly the case among children with direct exposure (heard gunshots, saw bodies, saw the gunman) or risk factors (pre-event traumatic exposure). Scientific literature shows school shootings result in:
  • Increases in prescription antidepressants up to two years

  • High levels of PTSD; after a 1988 elementary school shooting, the prevalence of PTSD among child survivors reached 91% 14 months after the mass shooting

  • Declines in overall health and well-being

  • Engagement in more risky behaviors

These traumatic experiences can bleed into children’s education and employment years later. After school shootings, children experience:

  • Increased absenteeism and grade repetition

  • Lower rates of high school graduation, college enrollment, and college completion

  • Lower employment and earnings at ages 24-26

  • Decreased test scores in math and English that persist for up to three years post-shooting…

  • Impact on survivors’ parents


    Then there are the parents of the survivors. Those who get a call or text message that there was a mass shooting without knowing whether their child is okay. They are tasked with helping their child cope with this trauma. Parents of survivors report:

    • Reduced general well-being; in fact, we see the effect on parents regardless of whether their child was in the tragedy

    • Increased levels of PTSD—nightmares, flashbacks, severe anxiety; in one study, one in two parents of elementary school survivors reported PTSD

    • Increase in other psychological diagnoses for years to come, as seen among parents and siblings in Norway after a mass shooting…

Bottom line

There are tremendous costs to mass shootings, even for those not directly involved. These tragic events, like in Uvalde, set off a cascade of collective traumas that result in physical, mental, and emotional impairment for thousands; far more extensive and for far longer than critics portray. If you’re feeling it like me, you’re not alone.

9) What’s using all the water from the Colorado river?  It not nuts.  55% goes to livestock feed.  Eat less meat!

10) Tom Nichols on the Republican primaries:

The United States desperately needs a normal presidential election, the kind of election that is not shadowed by gloom and violence and weirdos in freaky costumes pushing conspiracy theories. Americans surely remember a time when two candidates (sometimes with an independent crashing the gates) had debates, argued about national policy, and made the case for having the vision and talent and experience to serve as the chief executive of a superpower. Sure, those elections were full of nasty smears and dirty tricks, but they were always recognizable as part of a grand tradition stretching all the way back to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams—rivals and patriots who traded ugly blows—of contenders fighting hard to secure the public’s blessing to hold power for four years…

Such an election, however, requires two functional political parties. The Republicans are in the grip of a cult of personality, so there’s little hope for a normal GOP primary and almost none for a traditional presidential election. Meanwhile, Republican candidates refuse to take a direct run at Donald Trump and speak the truth—loudly—to his voters; instead, they talk about all of the good that Trump has done but then plead with voters to understand that Trump is unelectable. (Hutchinson, who is unequivocal in his view of Trump, has been an honorable exception here and has called for Trump to drop out.)…

These Republicans are likely waiting for a miracle, an act of God that takes Trump out of contention. And by “act of God,” of course, they mean “an act of Fani Willis or Jack Smith.” This is a vain hope: Without a compelling argument from within the Republican Party that Fani Willis and Jack Smith or for that matter, Alvin Bragg, are right to indict Trump—as Bragg has done and Willis and Smith could do soon—and that the former president is a menace to the country, Trump will simply brush away his legal troubles and hope he can sprint to the White House before he’s arrested.

No one is going to displace Trump by running gently. A candidate who takes Trump on, with moral force and directness, might well lose the nomination, but he or she could at least inject some sanity into the Republican-primary process and set the stage for the eventual recovery—a healing that will take years—of the GOP or some reformed successor as a center-right party. DeSantis would rather be elected as Trump’s Mini-Me. (It might work.) Hutchinson has tried to speak up, but too quietly. Haley, like so many other former Trump officials, is too compromised by service to Trump to be credible as his nemesis. Tim Scott is perfectly positioned to make the case, but he won’t.

A Republican who thinks Trump can be beaten in a primary by gargling warm words such as electability is a Republican in denial. Trump is already creating a reality-distortion field around the primary, as he will again in the general election. Is it possible that the GOP base would respond to some fire and brimstone about Trump, instead of from him? We cannot know, because it hasn’t been tried—yet.

11) You know I only pay tangential attention to urban housing issues (mostly because a lot of people I follow are really into it), but this was quite interesting: “How DC densified”

12) I don’t think I’ve ever read anything John Stuart Mill has written, but insofar as I’m familiar with the guy, always considered myself a fan. Definitely more so after reading this nice Richard Reeves essay on Mill and his latest detractors:

Mill’s view on tradition and custom, then, is that they are very likely to contain the wisdom of the ages, of the accumulated weight of human experience and, yes, of experiments in living. That’s why it would be absurd to ignore them, and why they have a presumptive claim to our deference. But Mill also insists that we should not follow tradition and custom blindly. We should “use and interpret experience.” Mill believes that customs and traditions not only can change over time, but that they should. The alternative, which is Deneen’s only defensible position, is that somebody somewhere should decide, at some point in time, that our traditions and customs be cast in stone. 

Deneen is wrong about Mill, and thus wrong about liberalism, and therefore wrong about everything.

Even though the post-liberals are unwilling to engage with the real Mill, as opposed to their ersatz version, it is a testament to his lasting value that he is still the primary target. Mill spent his life thinking about and working for a society that could balance the value of continuity with the necessity for innovation and progress. Again, nobody said it was easy, a lesson we seem to be learning all over again. But if we need inspiration, we’ll always have Mill. 

13) I’ve long been skeptical of High School debate (the more I learn about it, the worse it seems to look). But damn is this ridiculous, “At High School Debates, Debate Is No Longer Allowed: At national tournaments, judges are making their stances clear: students who argue ‘capitalism can reduce poverty’ or ‘Israel has a right to defend itself’ will lose—no questions asked.”  Lest you think this is just anti-woke propaganda, you need only read the debate judge’s own statements on their judging philosophy:

First, some background. Imagine a high school sophomore on the debate team. She’s been given her topic about a month in advance, but she won’t know who her judge is until hours before her debate round. During that time squeeze—perhaps she’ll pace the halls as I did at the 2012 national tournament in Indianapolis—she’ll scroll on her phone to look up her judge’s name on Tabroom, a public database maintained by the NSDA. That’s where judges post “paradigms,” which explain what they look for during a debate. If a judge prefers competitors not “spread”—speak a mile a minute—debaters will moderate their pace. If a judge emphasizes “impacts”—the reasons why an argument matters—debaters adjust accordingly. 

But let’s say when the high school sophomore clicks Tabroom she sees that her judge is Lila Lavender, the 2019 national debate champion, whose paradigm reads, “Before anything else, including being a debate judge, I am a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist. . . . I cannot check the revolutionary proletarian science at the door when I’m judging. . . . I will no longer evaluate and thus never vote for rightest capitalist-imperialist positions/arguments. . . . Examples of arguments of this nature are as follows: fascism good, capitalism good, imperialist war good, neoliberalism good, defenses of US or otherwise bourgeois nationalism, Zionism or normalizing Israel, colonialism good, US white fascist policing good, etc.” 

How does that sophomore feel as she walks into her debate round? How will knowing that information about the judge change the way she makes her case?

Traditionally, high school students would have encountered a judge like former West Point debater Henry Smith, whose paradigm asks students to “focus on clarity over speed” and reminds them that “every argument should explain exactly how [they] win the debate.” 

In the past few years, however, judges with paradigms tainted by politics and ideology are becoming common. Debate judge Shubham Gupta’s paradigm reads, “If you are discussing immigrants in a round and describe the person as ‘illegal,’ I will immediately stop the round, give you the loss with low speaks”—low speaker points—“give you a stern lecture, and then talk to your coach. . . . I will not have you making the debate space unsafe.” 

Debate Judge Kriti Sharma concurs: under her list of “Things That Will Cause You To Automatically Lose,” number three is “Referring to immigrants as ‘illegal.’ ”

Should a high school student automatically lose and be publicly humiliated for using a term that’s not only ubiquitous in media and politics, but accurate?

14) This is great. Gift link. “See why AI like ChatGPT has gotten so good, so fast”

15) This is a truly amazing scientific advance.  I think it portends great things for the future. “Brain Implants Allow Paralyzed Man to Walk Using His Thoughts”

16) So good from Jeff Maurer: “When Politics is Just Virtue Signaling”

The politics of performance is never the politics of progress. It can’t be, because progress isn’t the goal — the goal is to enhance one’s status. It’s a politics of ostentatious culture war nonsense that’s content to fight the same battles indefinitely because the purpose isn’t to win; the purpose is just to show which side you’re on.

There’s no denying that virtue signaling has become a big part of progressive politics. Sometimes, it feels like it’s the whole ballgame; La Sombrita was one of those times. I find virtue signaling obnoxious whether it’s left, right, or center, but it strikes me as obnoxious and antithetical when it comes from the left. I think conservatism is compatible with virtue-signaling wankery: After all, when you’re unable to stand athwart history yelling “stop!”, dragging the national dialogue into some stupid fight about woke M&Ms will work almost as well. But I think progressives should be more purposeful. We’re trying to build the future, not conserve the past, so we need to convince people that we have a clear vision and good ideas. Unfortunately, we often devolve into unhinged virtue signaling, like this truly bananas floor speech from a state Senator in Nebraska (the speech flies off the rails and crashes into an orphanage around 1:30).

This type of cultish lunacy squanders trust that’s difficult to win back. To most people, progress means things like better functioning services and a higher standard of living. When they see their public officials engaging in a pattern of activist-babble virtue signaling — while real needs go unmet — they suspect that those officials can’t deliver results. And they’re probably right, because the only “result” the official is seeking is “popularity among their peers”.

(and yes, watch the video, it’s insane!!)

17) So wrong… “Indiana board fines doctor for discussing rape victim’s abortion”

Indiana’s medical licensing board decided late Thursday to discipline a doctor who made headlines last year for performing an abortion for a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim, saying she violated state and federal privacy laws by discussing the case with a reporter. The board gave Caitlin Bernard, an OB/GYN and an assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine, a letter of reprimand and ordered her to pay a $3,000 fine for violating ethical standards.

The board cleared Bernard on two other counts, determining that she did not improperly report child abuse and that she is fit to practice medicine.

For nearly a year, Indiana’s Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) pursued punishment for Bernard, who carried out the abortion in June 2022, less than a week after Roe v. Wade was struck down, enacting trigger laws…

Bernard broke patient privacy laws by telling an Indianapolis Star reporter about the patient’s care, the board decided Thursday night after a roughly 14-hour hearing that ended shortly after 11:30 p.m. Bernard’s lawyers argued that she properly reported the incident to an Indiana University Health social worker and did not run afoul of privacy laws when she discussed the patient’s case in a general and “deidentified” manner that is typical for doctors…

Mahler, who used to work for the federal Office of Civil Rights, said Bernard violated HIPAA when she told a colleague general details of the case at a rally, and when she did the same to a reporter, disclosing information that Mahler said could have conceivably identified the 10-year-old.


But the HIPAA expert called by Bernard’s attorneys disagreed.

“The information that she shared was age, gender and state,” said Paige Joyner, who has done hundreds of HIPAA risk assessments and also used to work in the Office of Civil Rights. “That’s not protected health information. There was nothing that was individually identifiable.”

18) This is terrific, “What Gen Z teens like me are getting wrong about mental health”

I grew up with a mom who’s a therapist, which meant that feelings moved through the air in our home like oxygen. It’s not that we talked about feelings all the time, or that I’d say something about my day and she’d ask, “How do you feel about that?”

Instead, it was more that no matter what I felt — sad, worried, mad, confused, lonely, whatever — it was never something to fix or make disappear. The world didn’t stop when I was unhappy or uncomfortable. It was never a big deal. I’d just have to feel whatever I felt — good or bad — and that, my mom believed, was the key to emotional health.

But this isn’t what I saw in many of my friends’ families. Ironically, it was homes with no therapists in them where feelings were constantly monitored. If friends were upset that a teacher gave them a bad grade, or they were left out of a social event, their parents would spring into action. First, they’d try to fix it — by talking to the teacher, or calling another parent — and if that didn’t work, they’d try to cheer up their kids by letting them have extra screen time or distracting them with a trip to the mall or allowing them to take off for what schools started calling a mental health day…

Ever since the surgeon general sounded the alarm on youth mental health in 2021, parents and educators have been trying to figure out how to help teens in my generation who are struggling amid rising rates of depression and anxiety. That’s an understandable goal. What worries me, though, is the possibility that many in my generation are confusing mental health issues with normal discomfort, to the point that the term “mental health” is becoming so diluted that it’s starting to lose meaning.

Social media play a large role in this, promoting pseudo-technical and pathologizing language — often leading to cancellation — as the antidote to emotional discomfort. Someone disagrees with you? They’re “gaslighting” you! Someone has the “wrong” point of view or perspective? They’re “toxic”! Someone declines to do what you ask? They have “no boundaries”! Instead of talking through these situations or trying to understand another perspective better, we run away to the supposed comfort of not having to deal with them. Click — they’re blocked…

All of the warnings are well-intentioned and supposedly in service of our mental health. And of course, many people my age face mental health stressors that go far beyond the disappointments and conflicts of daily life. Anxiety and depression are serious concerns that need to be addressed, and treatment should be encouraged and accessible.

But I wonder if, more broadly, we’re normalizing an almost hyper-vigilant avoidance of anything uncomfortable. By insisting that the mere mention of something difficult is bad for our mental health, are we protecting ourselves from emotional damage — or damaging ourselves emotionally? Are we really that emotionally fragile, or are we teaching ourselves to become more fragile than we actually are?

Wrapping up with a little twitter

19) Great thread on conservatism in America vs. the UK:

20) Amazing finding.  Get your Shingles vaccine!

21) Show up and try.



DeSantis for Slovaks

I was asked about DeSantis for Slovakian Pravda.  Here you go:

1. How do you assess the chances of Ron DeSantis winning the GOP primaries and winning general elections?

Though DeSantis is not looking so great right now, I still think he has a very reasonable chance of capturing the Republican nomination.  Yes, lots of candidates have flamed out in the past.  But, also, lots of candidates looked strong, went through a stage where they were written off, and then came back to win the nomination (both Biden and John McCain).  So, given DeSantis‘ clear strengths as a major Republican national figure, popular governor of a key state, and zealous culture warrior, he absolutely has a pretty good chance at capturing the nomination.  The oft-remarked upon problem for DeSantis is that he is trying to be “Trumpism without Trump.”  But, it would seem that, even with all the personal and political baggage Trump brings, Republican voters seemingly prefer Trumpism with Trump himself.  Again, this can change, but DeSantis absolutely has to find a new path to winning over Trump voters because what he’s doing is not working in that regard.  Running in the “Trumpism” lane with the disadvantage of not being Trump, does not seem to be an effective strategy.  
2. And the related question. How would you describe De Santis as a politician? He is not Trump and he is heavily involved in the culture wars. Do you think he will continue to use it in the campaign? Does he have any other topic he can rely on? E. g. he has zero foreign policy credentials.
There’s a tried-and-true strategy for governors– “look at all the great things I have done in my state, especially economically.”  This is absolutely available to DeSantis, but he just seems so completely committed to being a culture war figure.  I think he’s starting to get at that with “Make America Florida” but what he is known for in Florida is not at all an economic or good governance record, but culture war fights over schools, universities, Disney, etc.  I do think DeSantis is a good politician (he would not be where he is, otherwise), but I think, to a degree, he has become too obsessively focused on culture war fights in a way which will almost surely be a significant hindrance in a general election campaign. 

I enjoyed hearing John Dickerson making a similar point about DeSantis ignoring this obvious strategy on this week’s Political Gabfest.

As for the other stuff, I was tempted to reply to the email, “just read Nate Cohn’s latest– I totally agree with that”  So, here’s some of that:

But as he finally announces a presidential bid, expected later today, it is worth mulling his path back to contention. Despite it all, Ron DeSantis could still be the next Republican nominee.

That might seem hard to imagine, but fortunes can change astonishingly quickly in presidential primaries. There are still more than six months until the Iowa caucuses, and there will be plenty of opportunities for him to right his ship.

In the end, the factors that made Mr. DeSantis formidable at the beginning of the year could prove to be more significant than the stumbles and miscues that have recently hobbled him. The damage is not yet irreparable.

Of course, the fact that he could mount a comeback doesn’t mean he will come back. His campaign’s decision to announce his bid on Twitter tonight forfeits a rare opportunity to be televised live on multiple networks in favor of a feature, Twitter Spaces, that I don’t even know how to use as a frequent Twitter user. And even if his campaign is ultimately run differently than it has been so far, it’s not clear that even a perfectly run Republican campaign would defeat Donald J. Trump — at least if the former president survives his various legal challenges politically unscathed.

But if you’re tempted to write off Mr. DeSantis, you might want to think again. The history of primary elections is littered with candidates who are written off, only to surge into contention. Unknown candidates like Herman Cain briefly become front-runners. Early front-runners like Joe Biden and John McCain are written off, then come back to win. Even Barack Obama spent six months struggling and trailing an “inevitable” Hillary Clinton by double digits.

Perhaps one day we’ll say something similar about Mr. DeSantis’s candidacy. As with the candidates who ultimately surged back to victory, the strengths that made Mr. DeSantis seem so promising after the midterms are still there today. He still has unusually broad appeal throughout the Republican Party. His favorability ratings remain strong — stronger than Mr. Trump’s — even though his standing against Mr. Trump has deteriorated in head-to-head polling. He is still defined by issues — like the fight against “woke” and coronavirus restrictions — that also have broad appeal throughout his party. If this was enough to be a strong contender in January, there’s reason it might be again.

While it’s easy to see Mr. DeSantis’s decline over the last few months as a sign of profound weakness, the volatility of the polling can also be interpreted to mean there’s a large group of voters open to both candidates. They might be prone to lurch one way or the other, depending on the way the political winds are blowing.

Mr. DeSantis’s strategy so far this year may have also increased the likelihood of big swings. As I wrote last week, there are two theories for defeating the former president — Trumpism without Trump, and a reinvigorated conservative alternative to Trump. Of the two, the proto-DeSantis campaign can more easily be interpreted as a version of Trumpism without Trump. If his campaign has done anything, it’s to narrow any disagreement with Mr. Trump — even to a fault. Mr. DeSantis hasn’t really made either an explicit or implicit case against the former president. Perhaps worse, he hasn’t punched back after being attacked.

This combination of choices has helped set up an unusually rapid decline in Mr. DeSantis’s support. After all, the only thing that unifies a hypothetical Trumpism without Trump coalition is opposition to Mr. Trump and the prospect of beating him. If you’re not attacking him and you’re losing to him, then you’re not saying or doing the only two things that can hold your supporters together.

Short version: Don’t write off DeSantis just yet.  But, so far he’s sure not going about this like somebody who has what it takes to win.

The victims of the debt ceiling

Good stuff from EJ Dionne (he shared his own gift link)

The moment negotiations over the debt ceiling with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy started, it was obvious President Biden would have to give in to Republican demands for some spending cuts. The question now is how big they’ll be and how long they’ll last.

Here’s what must not happen: Our country’s least advantaged citizens should not be forced to pay the largest price to prevent an economic catastrophe. Making the poor poorer should never happen; it certainly shouldn’t happen on a Democratic president’s watch.
That issue is at the heart of this needless and destructive battle. House Republicans decided to hold the economy hostage to slash assistance for low-income Americans while protecting tax cuts for the wealthy.

That’s a factual statement, not a partisan complaint.

McCarthy (R-Calif.) is not only refusing to put any of the Trump-era tax cuts for the best-off and corporations on the table; he also wants to make them permanent, adding $3.5 trillion to the deficit over a decade. So much for “deficit reduction” as the central purpose of this exercise.

Meanwhile, the GOP’s desire to concentrate cuts on what is blandly called “domestic discretionary spending” would force the heaviest reductions on programs that help the least well-off, such as Head Start and assistance for food, child care and housing. Republicans mercifully say they want to protect veterans’ programs, but that only forces deeper reductions elsewhere.

A revealing example: The House appropriations bill for agriculture released last week guts the 2021 pandemic-era increase to benefits for fruits and vegetables under the Women, Infants and Children program, which the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reported affect “nearly 1.5 million pregnant, postpartum, or breastfeeding participants and roughly 3.5 million children aged 1 through 4.”

Fewer fruits and vegetables for pregnant women? From a party that says it is “pro-life”? The title of Adam Serwer’s book comes to mind: “The Cruelty Is the Point.”

Meanwhile, as long as I’m the topic, Chait pillories some emblematic “both sides” coverage: “Hostage-Takers Not to Blame for Killing Hostage, Reports New York Times The Platonic ideal of “both sides” reporting”

“Both sides” has become an abused cliché of progressive media criticism. The term has come to serve as an all-purpose dismissal of any reporting unfavorable to Democrats or the left and the expression of an implicit and false belief that the mainstream media tilts rightward. It is a phrase I generally associate with Twitter addicts who believe that Maggie Haberman is complicit with fascism because her article did not explicitly state “this is bad” while reporting that 37 eyewitnesses saw President Donald Trump running through the halls of the West Wing stark naked and muttering Adolf Hitler quotes in the original German. And yet every cliché corresponds to some actual version of it somewhere in the universe. That item, the purest distillation of the “both sides” trope, can be found in Carl Hulse’s analysis in the New York Times of the debt ceiling.

The main premise of Hulse’s article is that the public will blame Democrats and Republicans equally in the event of a debt default. (Whether it is actually possible for both parties to lose in a two-party system, Hulse does not contemplate.) And as a description of public opinion, that is perfectly true. People believe all sorts of ridiculous things. But it becomes clear that Hulse is not merely describing public opinion but actually endorsing it as correct

It is true that both parties have used the debt ceiling as “leverage,” if you define leverage as “posturing about the deficit” or “a vehicle to move bipartisan legislation.” But Democrats have never made demands or threats attached to the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling is always raised without drama under Republican presidencies or when Democrats control Congress. Debt-ceiling hostage crises only occur under one specific combination: a Republican-controlled House and Democratic presidency.

Everybody in Washington, D.C., including Hulse, understands this fact on some level. The debt ceiling has been lifted 42 times since the start of the Reagan era. There was little to no drama surrounding those episodes. During the vast majority of those times, Hulse was not writing articles wondering whether the debt ceiling would be breached, because nobody was threatening default to force the opposing party to give them concessions.

The only time there is genuine uncertainty as to whether the debt limit will be breached is when Republicans in Congress use it to extort a Democratic president. Hulse understands perfectly well that the risk of a default has never occurred during a Republican presidency or a Democrat-controlled House. But rather than incorporate this reality into his analysis, he returns to the form of alternating quotes from the parties pointing fingers at each other, ultimately winding toward his conclusion…

And as good a distillation of what’s so bad with so much political journalism as you’ll see in this paragraph:

Hulse’s story is a classic of the old Washington reporting school. It reifies the conventional wisdom, transmogrifying the opinions of the business lobby and official Washington into undeniable truths. It treats the existence of disagreement between the parties as metaphysical proof that reality must lie in between. It takes a studiously uninterested perspective on policy substance — the story quotes Democrats calling Republican demands unreasonable — but it makes no effort to evaluate this charge. Indeed, the article does not even bother to inform readers what the Republican demands are. The audience is left to assume that whatever it is Republicans want, Democrats should meet halfway or thereabouts.

The old school of Washington reportage may be in decline, but it is not gone altogether. Even as highly opinionated left-leaning reporting overtakes other forms of news and analysis, coverage of Capitol Hill remains dominated by the genre.

I think this story is best understood as Hulse absorbing the beliefs of the Washington Establishment and turning them into an opinion story masquerading as news. 

In my monthly talk at a retirement community I spent a lot of time on the debt ceiling.  I got a little bit of pushback that I was being unfairly partisan and weren’t “both sides” at fault.  When it comes to our relative debt and spending/revenue levels, sure, I’ll accept some “both sides.”  But when it comes to “threatening to destroy the economy if you don’t get your way” there truly is only one side at fault here.


Latest take on NC Governor’s race

A new candidate entered the Republican field for the NC Governor’s race (prediction: he won’t win) which occasioned the Center Square to write a nice piece with my take as well as a number of other NC political scientists.  Unsurprisingly to you, I am happy for an occasion to make the case that current Lieutenant Governor, Mark Robinson, is a really bad candidate:

Steven Greene, a political science professor at N.C. State University, echoed similar thoughts.

He added in an email to The Center Square, “In running for the Republican nomination for governor, Mark Walker is claiming that Mark Robinson is unelectable and will bring down the entire North Carolina GOP ticket with him. ‘Unelectable’ is a little strong, but I think Mark Walker is basically right.

“I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – Robinson is an awful general election candidate for North Carolina. But we’ve seen time and again around the country Republican primary voters nominating awful general election candidates so long as they seem to best channel the ‘all culture war all the time’ and fealty to Donald Trump that seems to characterize what the majority of Republican primary voters want.”

I appreciated that Chris Cooper also gave an apporpriately negative assessment of Robinson:

“Mark Walker will enter this race as the second candidate – the primary alternative choice to Mark Robinson,” Chris Cooper, a political science and public affairs professor at Western Carolina University, wrote in an email to The Center Square. “For Walker to do well, Robinson must falter. But, given Mark Robinson’s history of making inflammatory and offensive comments, the potential to falter is always there.

Of course, the way I see it, the Republican base has no problem with Robinson’s inflammatory and offensive comments.  Could Robinson lose the nomination?  Sure.  But if there were a predictit market for this (there’s not), I would happily put some money on Robinson for the primary.  And there’s nothing better for NC Democrats to hold onto the governor’s mansion in 2024. 

Political generations

I was going to put this in quick hits this weekend, but it’s so good I realized I just needed to give it it’s own post, even though I don’t have much to add.  Great summary from Eric Levitz on a Catalist analysis of the 2022 elections:

The 2022 results were not kind to such wishful thinking. As Catalist’s analysis of voter-file data reveals, millennial and Gen-Z voters collectively comprised 26 percent of the 2022 electorate, up from 23 percent in 2018. This was partly a function of aging. More zoomers were eligible to vote last year than in 2018. But turnout among eligible voters was also a factor. Nationally, millennials and zoomers turned out at a rate comparable to their historically high 2018 mark, and in highly contested races, the two generations actually voted at a higher rate than they had in such races in 2018.

Graphic: Catalist

This is a big long-term problem for the Republican Party. With each passing election cycle, zoomers and millennials will become more likely to vote. As this chart from Catalist illustrates, generations tend to grow more and more electorally influential until they reach their mid-70s and then start aging out of the electorate owing to illness or death. Boomers have already passed their political peak. Millennials will be building toward theirs for a long time to come.

Graphic: Catalist

It is not surprising that millennials have retained their exceptionally strong Democratic lean even as they’ve exited their youth. Although cohorts do tend to grow a bit more conservative when (or if) they have children and buy a home, most voters’ political affiliations are cemented in adolescence and early adulthood, when myriad other aspects of their identities are forged. Millennials spent their formative years watching George W. Bush preside over catastrophic wars and an economic disaster while his party embraced soon-to-be-discredited social crusades (such as opposition to gay marriage). And millennials were also raised by parents who were markedly more socially liberal than the boomers’ forebears. It is therefore unsurprising that the generation has proven durably hostile to a Republican Party that refuses to abandon the cultural commitments of America’s white Evangelical minority.

The durability of birth cohorts’ political leanings means that generational churn by itself can remake our politics. There are many reasons why Barack Obama’s first midterm was a political disaster for the Democratic Party while Biden’s was a relative success. But one is that boomers constituted 69 percent of the electorate in 2010 but only 48 percent of it in 2022.

To this point, Republicans have managed to weather the rise of millennials and zoomers just fine. This is largely because America’s older generations have all shaded to the right since 2012. As a result, the political divide between millennials and zoomers on the one hand, and their elders on the other, has never been more stark:

Graphic: @williamjordann/Twitter

Further, the GOP’s historically high support from non-college-educated white voters — combined with the overrepresentation of those voters in the Senate and Electoral College battlegrounds — has enabled the party to win power in excess of its popular support.

Both of these factors are likely to attenuate the GOP’s millennial problem in the near term. For one thing, Generation X is a right-leaning cohort that came of age during the Reagan recovery and is about to enter its prime voting years.

But Gen X is also a small generation. And the boomers are growing smaller with each passing year. If Republicans do not reconcile themselves to a more modern set of cultural values (and/or less plutocratic set of economic policies), generational churn will eventually make it very difficult for them to compete in national elections.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Is semaglutide the ultimate wonder drug?

As semaglutide has skyrocketed in popularity, patients have been sharing curious effects that go beyond just appetite suppression. They have reported losing interest in a whole range of addictive and compulsive behaviors: drinking, smoking, shopping, biting nails, picking at skin. Not everyone on the drug experiences these positive effects, to be clear, but enough that addiction researchers are paying attention. And the spate of anecdotes might really be onto something. For years now, scientists have been testing whether drugs similar to semaglutide can curb the use of alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, and opioids in lab animals—to promising results.

Semaglutide and its chemical relatives seem to work, at least in animals, against an unusually broad array of addictive drugs, says Christian Hendershot, a psychiatrist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Treatments available today tend to be specific: methadone for opioids, bupropion for smoking. But semaglutide could one day be more widely useful, as this class of drug may alter the brain’s fundamental reward circuitry. The science is still far from settled, though researchers are keen to find out more. At UNC, in fact, Hendershot is now running clinical trials to see whether semaglutide can help people quit drinking alcohol and smoking. This drug that so powerfully suppresses the desire to eat could end up suppressing the desire for a whole lot more…

GLP-1 analogs appear to actually bind to receptors on neurons in several parts of the brain, says Scott Kanoski, a neurobiologist at the University of Southern California. When Kanoski and his colleagues blocked these receptors in rodents, the first-generation drugs exenatide and liraglutide became less effective at reducing food intake—as if this had eliminated a key mode of action. The impulse to eat is just one kind of impulse, though. That these drugs work on the level of the brain—as well as the gut—suggests that they can suppress the urge for other things too.

In particular, GLP-1 analogs affect dopamine pathways in the brain, a.k.a the reward circuitry. This pathway evolved to help us survive; simplistically, food and sex trigger a dopamine hit in the brain. We feel good, and we do it again. In people with addiction, this process in the brain shifts as a consequence or cause of their addiction, or perhaps even both. They have, for example, fewer dopamine receptors in part of the brain’s reward pathway, so the same reward may bring less pleasure.

2) Jonathan Weiler with a great post on abortion in NC:

The result is that North Carolina’s abortion restrictions did not go as far as the draconian bans other GOP-controlled states have imposed in the wake of the overturning of Roe last year, including Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and elsewhere. North Carolina’s ban begins at 12 weeks, rather than six or zero. It also includes exceptions for rape or incest (which many of the most draconian laws do not), as well as threats to the life of the mother and in the case of significant fetal abnormalities.

But its new restrictions are onerous. It sharply constrains where abortions can be performed, particularly after 12 weeks, in ways that are medically unnecessary, but will make access to care much more difficult.

 It now bars consultations by telehealth to initiate the state’s newly expanded 72-hour waiting period. The result is that women must meet with a health care provider in person before they can initiate that waiting period. Indeed, they must have three such consultations (or four, based on an ambiguity in the law) for medication abortions, another medically irrelevant requirement. Jessica Valenti, who tirelessly tracks the GOP’s war on abortion access at her Abortion Every Day Substack, has described the clear thrust of the new law as intended to ensure that “in the first weeks of a woman’s pregnancy…she will have to fight through as many humiliating and unnecessary steps as possible in order to maybe get the care Republicans say they’ve graciously ‘allowed.’” 

As has always been true, the brunt of these new restrictions will fall disproportionately on those of fewer means, women who can’t take time off from work, let alone travel multiple times from out of state to seek an abortion. Indeed, that’s a key goal of these new provisions, since North Carolina has become a critical haven for those living in more restrictive neighboring states who are trying to access abortion care…

In North Carolina and nationally, advocates of these new restrictions have suddenly become big fans of European social policy, or at least a particular take on it, which I’ll discuss further below. Arguments before the Supreme Court in the Dobbs case included amicus briefs on both sides from European legal and other experts about how US abortion laws stack up against those across the European continent…

In addition, the landscape in most of Europe for what counts as an allowable exception after the period of general permissibility is very different from what has emerged from America’s abortion restrictions. In France, for example, legislation last year increased the period of so-called abortion on demand from 12 to 14 weeks.  And what about after fourteen weeks? Exceptions exist in several cases, including those where the pregnancy was caused by rape, in the case of the endangerment of the life of the mother, or because of mental well being. That last is significant because, of course, it goes well beyond any allowable exception among the draconian American states and certainly will not be a feature of Graham’s proposed legislation. Mental health exceptions and other life circumstances, it’s important to emphasize, are typically potentially allowable in abortion laws throughout Europe, including in Germany, whose abortion laws are among the most restrictive (though, like much of Europe, they’ve been liberalizing and are likely to continue to do so).

3) This is pretty interesting (and, honestly, not all that surprising), “How Therapists Became Social Justice Warriors”

Therapists are supposed to listen without judgment, to help clients understand themselves and heal. But what if your therapist is judging you—and trying to change you—because of your politics?.. This is the reality facing a growing number of Americans who seek therapy only to find themselves in sessions with counselors who have been trained to view the world through the lens of social justice activism… The result is a new breed of therapists who see their role not as helping clients achieve their own goals, but as helping clients achieve the right goals—the ones that align with the therapist’s political views… “They are training people who will not be able to see half the population as human beings who need compassionate treatment,” said one therapist in training who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions… The shift in therapy training is part of a larger trend in American culture, where institutions that once prided themselves on neutrality and objectivity are increasingly embracing a partisan and ideological agenda… The consequences for mental health care are profound. Therapy, at its best, is a space where people can explore their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or censure. Therapy, at its worst, is a space where people are pressured to conform to a predetermined set of beliefs and behaviors—or risk losing their therapist’s approval.

4) This is terrific and depressing.  Gift link. “The short life of Baby Milo”

Deborah Dorbert wanted to terminate her pregnancy when she learned that her baby had Potter syndrome, a rare and lethal condition that prevents the development of kidneys and lungs… But her doctors in Florida refused to honor her request, citing the state’s new abortion law that bans abortion after 15 weeks with an exception for fatal fetal abnormalities… The law is vague and carries severe penalties for doctors who violate it, creating confusion and fear among medical practitioners… Deborah had to wait until 37 weeks to deliver her baby, who lived for only 99 minutes after birth… Her story illustrates the emotional and physical toll of the new abortion law on women who face heartbreaking decisions about their pregnancies… It also raises questions about the role of doctors in interpreting and applying the law, and the impact of politics on health care.

5) I think people can get a little too obsessed with the dress code for the oval office.  I also think people are way too into sneakers. That said, I do find the idea of “dress sneakers” in the Oval Office to be ridiculous.  Dress sneakers?

6) Good point “Where have all the Disney villains gone?”

When Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid is released on May 26, audiences will finally get to see Melissa McCarthy’s take on one of the most iconic villains of all time: Ursula. The sea-witch octopus, originally voiced by Pat Carroll and modeled after drag queen Divine, is the epitome of a classic Disney baddie: unabashedly evil and self-serving, with a campy anthem to boot. But with a new version of this character back on our screens, you might realize that it’s been quite some time since Disney has produced an antagonist as brazenly wicked as Ursula. That kind of unbridled villainy has become a relic of sorts in the animation studio’s latest original storytelling, which might have you wondering: Where are all the bad guys?

Once a staple of Disney’s animated features, particularly musicals, villains have slowly been phased out in favor of stories like Frozen II or Encanto that focus more on our hero’s inner conflict with themselves. Rather than face off against an evil archetype working toward their downfall, our current generation of heroes are fighting their own demons, acting as their own foils, and having to overcome their own mistakes.

The change marks one of the starkest shifts in the history of Disney fairytales, perhaps second only to the switch from 2D animation to CGI. For over half a century, the villain had loomed large in these stories, beginning with the Evil Queen in the first-ever animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Cinderella’s Stepmother, Captain Hook, and Maleficent soon followed during the Golden Age, and eventually, when the “Disney Renaissance” began in 1989, villains like Ursula, Jafar, and Scar continued the tradition.

It’s classic storytelling, with each playing a key role in driving the plot and furthering the character development of our hero. Whether it be locking them away in a tower, stealing their voice, or trying to kill them in a power grab, these characters set the ball in motion and serve as a tangible figure to defeat.

But as of late, those archetypes have gradually faded away. While The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Tangled (2010) gave us Dr. Facilier and Mother Gothel respectively, we haven’t seen a traditional villain since 2013. Even in that case — Hans from Frozen — the villain pales in comparison to the conflict that Elsa has with her own powers. That theme continued in the film’s sequel, where Elsa struggled to find where she and those powers belonged. Similarly, in 2016’s Moana, the title character sets out on an adventurous ocean quest of self-discovery. And most recently, in 2021’s Encanto, Mirabel’s main conflict is her desire for approval and purpose within her magical family as she fights to restore their fading powers.

7) A really nice look at the new mammogram recommendations:

The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has updated its guidelines on who should be screened for breast cancer with mammograms… The new guidelines recommend that women with average risk start getting mammograms every two years beginning at 40, instead of starting at 50… The change was motivated by an increase in breast cancer cases among women in their 40s and a higher mortality rate among Black women… But the benefits of more mammograms are not clear-cut. Mammograms can also lead to false positives, overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and anxiety… Some experts argue that mammograms do not significantly reduce breast cancer deaths and that other factors, such as access to care and quality of treatment, are more important… The new guidelines also do not address the role of other screening methods, such as breast MRI or ultrasound, which may be more effective for some women… Ultimately, the decision to get a mammogram should be based on individual preferences and risk factors, and informed by a discussion with a health care provider.

Of course, this being Vox, it does use the term “person with breasts” instead of women for a header

8) While all the attention has been on abortion, North Carolina Republicans also passed a universal education voucher law.  Chait had a pretty recent look at programs like this (they are, unsurprisingly, not great):

For those who have practical concerns about the performance of the public-school system, vouchers might have once been a plausible reform experiment. But now they are simply a tool for transferring resources to families who have already left the system.

If you object on principle to the design of the public-school system, then vouchers offer an attractive solution. If you merely have a practical objection to the performance of the school system and would like to improve educational outcomes, then vouchers are a bad idea.

9) Amazing 3D scans of the Titanic. Definitely check these out. 

10) Heartbreaking essay, “My Daughter’s Future Was Taken From Her, and From Us”

11) Jeff Maurer take the satirical approach to US immigration policy, “GUEST COLUMN: The United States Has the Best Immigration System in the World! An opinion from the Sinaloa cartel”

Let’s take a moment to revel in the system’s genius. The U.S. has a diverse population, vast natural resources, and persistently low unemployment — perfect conditions for a welcoming, orderly legal immigration system. Tragically, such a system would squeeze out small, family-run crime organizations like the Sinaloa cartel. Thank God America’s current immigration system — with its too-low admittance rates and copious loopholes — allows people like me to thrive! They say Congress is bad at creating jobs, but I say hooey — hooey and poppycock! I made seven figures last year.

Much of the credit needs to go to the American right. For decades, they’ve labored under the delusion that tighter border controls will stanch the flow of immigrants. They don’t seem to realize that unless those policies are paired with expanded legal pathways, the flow of immigrants will just go underground. Thank God they can’t figure that out! I’ve got a daughter at Dartmouth and a son doing his gap year; a sudden pragmatic turn by the GOP would really hurt my bottom line.

But the right doesn’t deserve all the credit: An honorable mention must go to people on the left who view any attempt to enforce immigration laws as racist and mean. These people don’t just make the politics of reform more difficult; they also entrench an off-the-books immigration system that leaves immigrants vulnerable to exploitation. Although…”exploitation” and “vulnerable” are loaded terms, aren’t they? Instead, let’s say that undocumented immigrants are “likely customers” for the “extra-legal migration services” of the type provided by Sinaloa’s team of highly-trained (and heavily armed) professionals!

12) Yes, most late-term abortions really are tragedies.  But some really are just women who waited too long to get an abortion and this doctor serves them no questions asked. 

These later abortions are the less common cases, and the hardest ones. They are the cases that even stalwart abortion-rights advocates generally prefer not to discuss. But as the pro-choice movement strives to shore up abortion rights after the fall of Roe, its members face strategic decisions about whether and how to defend this work.

Most Americans support abortion access, but they support it with limits—considerations about time and pain and fingernail development. Hern is reluctant to acknowledge any limit, any red line. He takes the woman’s-choice argument to its logical conclusion, in much the same way that, at this moment, anti-abortion activists are pressing their case to its extreme. Hern considers his religious adversaries to be zealots, and many of them are. But he is, in his own way, no less an absolutist.

13) Amazing NYT interactive on a building collapse in a Turkey earthquake.  Gift link. 

14) There’s a reason I don’t get my PSA levels tested:

Changing medical practice often takes a frustratingly long time. In the study, 40 percent of men with low-risk prostate cancer still had invasive treatment. And approaches vary enormously between urology practices.

The proportion of men under active surveillance “ranges from 0 percent to 100 percent, depending on which urologist you happen to see,” Dr. Cooperberg said. “Which is ridiculous.”


The latest results of a large British study, recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, provide additional support for surveillance. Researchers followed more than 1,600 men with localized prostate cancer who, from 1999 to 2009, received what they called active monitoring, a prostatectomy or radiation with hormone therapy.

Over an exceptionally long follow-up averaging 15 years, fewer than 3 percent of the men, whose average age at diagnosis was 62, had died of prostate cancer. The differences between the three treatment groups were not statistically significant.

Although the cancer in the surveillance group was more likely to metastasize, it didn’t lead to higher mortality. “The benefit of treatment in this population is just not apparent,” said Dr. Oliver Sartor, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic who specializes in prostate cancer and who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

15) I literally just do not believe this.  

In the past few weeks, a dramatic revelation in “Succession” reignited the debate over how long spoilers should be suppressed on social media — and whether having advance knowledge of a momentous plot development (in this case: Logan Roy dies) ruins our enjoyment of a story. Recently, my colleagues and I conducted research to address this very question.

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

In a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, my co-authors and I had people watch a suspenseful 30-minute TV episode directed by Alfred Hitchcock titled “Bang! You’re Dead.” Our purpose was to determine the extent to which knowing the outcome of a dramatic scenario would affect a viewer’s ability to be drawn in by it. We showed our participants this short episode, in which a young boy finds a loaded gun and mistakes it for a toy. The boy grabs it and walks around his small town pointing it and shooting at people yelling “Bang! You’re dead!” oblivious to the fact that there is a bullet in the chamber.

We told participants — a sample of undergraduate students — to raise their hand every time any character said the word “gun.” In the control group, participants knew nothing about how the story would end. As the suspense mounted midway through the show, they were so immersed in the events onscreen that they forgot all about their assignment.

In a different group, we told participants how the program would end. We predicted that knowing the ending would lower their engagement — and allow them to better remember to respond to the word “gun.”

We were wrong.

At the exact same point in the show participants neglected their assignment in a similar manner as those in the control group. In other words, they were just as immersed even though they knew the outcome. In follow-up questionnaires, they also reported the same levels of engagement and enjoyment as those who didn’t know the ending.

The truth is, we are just as likely to get caught up in a story even when we know what is coming — perhaps because more significant factors determine our enjoyment of narratives rather than simply waiting to learn or guess their resolution. Humans are hard-wired not just to absorb facts but also to lose themselves in stories and attune themselves to the characters and plots unfolding on the screen.

Sorry, there’s just no way the Sixth Sense or the Red Wedding  or that Succession episode are as good if you know what’s coming.  Sure, good drama can still be great with “spoilers” but there’s just nothing like having your jaw drop in shock and surprise at what you’ve just seen.

16) The relationship between long Covid and being bisexual is fascinating.

Figure 1. Share of COVID-19 Sufferers Who Had Long COVID by Age, Race, Sex


AI Quick Hits

1) I really enjoyed this recent post from AI guru Ethan Mollick, “On-boarding your AI Intern”

In previous posts, I have made the argument that, for a variety of reasons, it is better to think of AI as a person (even though it isn’t) than a piece of software. In fact, perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of our current AI moment is that several billion people just got free interns. They are weird, somewhat alien interns that work infinitely fast and sometimes lie to make you happy, but interns nonetheless.

So, how can you figure out how to best use your intern

? Just like any new worker, you are going to have to learn its strengths and weaknesses; you are going to have to learn to train and work with it; and you are going to have to get a sense of where it is useful and where it is just annoying. The stakes for this are quite high. People using AI have 30-80% higher productivity in some writing and coding tasks, and often feel happier having offloaded their most annoying work. That is a big incentive to learn to work with your intern.

What would an AI intern be great for?  Choosing the best excerpts of articles for quick hits. So, let’s see how it goes.  If you don’t like the excerpts, you know who to blame.

2) It’s crazy how Scientific American is far more interested in pushing an ideological agenda than interesting science these days.  The latest was sharing this fascinating article about White-throated sparrows as somehow relevant for human gender debates (it’s really interesting on its own):

The White-throated Sparrow is common and familiar, hopping on the ground under bird feeders all over the eastern states in winter. But this seemingly ordinary backyard bird has a secret identity—or, actually, four secret identities. And it’s these multiple personalites that place the White-throat at the center of mysteries scientists are still working out.

Watch a flock of White-throats in spring and you’ll notice they have two kinds of head patterns. Some wear snappy stripes of black and white across the top of the head. Others have more modest head stripes of dark brown and tan. That superficial difference might not seem like a big deal, but it reflects a remarkable divergence in the lifestyles of these individuals.

As Lowther discovered, mated pairs of White-throats almost always involved one bird of each color morph: Either a tan-striped male with a white-striped female, or a white-striped male with a tan-striped female. Intrigued, Lowther extended his research, joined by biologist J. Bruce Falls and others.

They found that the color differences were more than skin deep. The two morphs had different personalities, different behaviors, different hormones, and even different chromosomes.

3) On the 25th anniversary of Seinfeld:

But they also presented an irreverent version of adulthood that I had never seen on TV or in life: a playful yet sophisticated world where grown-ups joked and laughed together and didn’t take themselves too seriously, even when everyone around them was being very serious indeed.

For the somehow uninitiated, “Seinfeld,” created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, stars Seinfeld as a fictionalized version of himself and follows his shenanigans with his three closest friends: his childhood buddy, George Costanza (Jason Alexander); his former girlfriend turned pal, Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus); and his oddball neighbor, Kramer (Michael Richards). It is regarded as one of the greatest shows of all time.

It has consistently been framed as a comedy about four terrible people, with good reason. Jerry and his fellow misfits lied, cheated and stole. They were petty and shallow. They created a framework for “bad” sitcom characters that shows like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” would embrace with great relish and success.

But what if they were also onto something? What if their refusal to conform to the expectations of adulthood — marriage, children, career advancement — was not just a sign of immaturity, but also a form of resistance? What if their rejection of the conventional markers of success was not just a flaw, but also a strength?

3) Not going to have GPT summarize an abstract, though, “Individual Empowerment, Institutional Confidence, and Vaccination Rates in Cross-National Perspective, 1995 to 2018”

In the past decade, before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, rates of childhood vaccination against diseases such as measles, diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus declined worldwide. An extensive literature examines the correlates and motives of vaccine hesitancy—the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines—among individuals, but little macrosociological theory or research seeks to explain changes in country-level vaccine uptake in global and comparative perspective. Drawing on existing research on vaccine hesitancy and recent developments in world society theory, we link cross-national variation in vaccination rates to two global cultural processes: the dramatic empowerment of individuals and declining confidence in liberal institutions. Both processes, we argue, emerged endogenously in liberal world culture, instigated by the neoliberal turn of the 1980s and 1990s. Fixed- and random-effects panel regression analyses of data for 80 countries between 1995 and 2018 support our claim that individualism and lack of institutional confidence contributed to the global decline in vaccination rates. We also find that individualism is itself partly responsible for declining institutional confidence. Our framework of world-cultural change might be extended to help make sense of recent post-liberal challenges in other domains.

4) Good stuff from NYT, “The Greatest Wealth Transfer in History Is Here, With Familiar (Rich) Winners”

n 1989, total family wealth in the United States was about $38 trillion, adjusted for inflation. By 2022, that wealth had more than tripled, reaching $140 trillion. Of the $84 trillion projected to be passed down from older Americans to millennial and Gen X heirs through 2045, $16 trillion will be transferred within the next decade.

The pandemic has only accelerated this trend. The stock market has soared to record highs, while home prices have risen at their fastest pace in 15 years. These gains have disproportionately benefited older Americans who own more stocks and real estate than younger generations.

The result is a widening gap between the haves and have-nots that is likely to persist as wealth is handed down from one generation to the next. According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the wealthiest 10 percent of American families owned 77 percent of total family wealth in 2019, up from 71 percent in 1989. The bottom half of families owned just 2 percent of total wealth, down from 4 percent in 1989.

The concentration of wealth among a few families also raises concerns about the influence of money on politics and democracy. Some of the richest heirs in America, such as Charles Koch and George Soros, have used their fortunes to fund political causes and candidates that align with their views.

5) The kids and their subtitles these days!

Recent research is showing that the use of subtitles on TV has continued to grow, with people choosing to use them. Why is this? If the speech intelligibility of the content we mix is so bad, surely we cannot be doing our job properly. What is going wrong?

The BBC has been conducting research into this issue and has found that subtitle usage has increased from 7.5% in 2007 to 18% in 2016. However, this figure does not include online viewing, where subtitle usage is much higher. According to Netflix, more than 80% of its UK users watch with subtitles on.

The BBC research also found that the main reasons for using subtitles were not related to hearing impairment, but rather to factors such as background noise, accents, mumbling and fast speech. Some viewers also said they used subtitles to help them understand complex plots or unfamiliar vocabulary.

6) One more “Jury Duty” episode to go for me.  So good!

Jury Duty—a series starring mostly unknown performers, tucked away on a largely unknown streamer—is incredible reality television, a boundary-pushing hidden-camera program. Set inside a fake courtroom, the show follows Ronald, a guy who believes he’s participating in a documentary about jury duty but who is actually surrounded by actors roping him into progressively weirder scenarios.

Jury Duty has become a word-of-mouth hit, and Ronald a bona fide star. According to a JustWatch report, the show was the most popular streaming series the week of its finale in April, nabbing more viewers than Netflix’s Beef and The Diplomat. Ronald, meanwhile, just appeared in an ad with Ryan Reynolds.

Given the show’s triumphs, the producers have teased the possibility of a second season; they told Variety that the best aspects of their concept are “infinitely repeatable.” But as true as that may be—other hoax-driven series in the past, such as Spike’s The Joe Schmo Show, ran for multiple seasons—creating more Jury Duty would be a shame.

The magic of Jury Duty is that it doesn’t yet have a formula. It’s an experiment that worked because of its novelty and unpredictability. To repeat it would be to risk losing what made it so special in the first place.

7) Another abstract from some really interesting PS research, “Who Supports Political Violence?”

The last few years have witnessed an increase in democratic “backsliding” in the United States—a decline in the quality of democracy, typically accompanied by an influx of non-normative behavior, such as political violence. Despite the real consequences of support for violence, fairly little is known about such an extremist attitude outside studies of terrorism or aggression. Using a unique survey containing many psychological, political, and social characteristics, we find that perceived victimhood, authoritarianism, populism, and white identity are the most powerful predictors of support for violence, though military service, conspiratorial thinking, anxiety, and feelings of powerlessness are also related. These patterns suggest that subjective feelings about being unjustly victimized—irrespective of the truth of the matter—and the psychological baggage that accompanies such feelings lie at the heart of support for violence. We use these results to build a profile of characteristics that explain support for violence; the predictive validity of this profile is then tested by examining its relationship with support for the January 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot, with which it is strongly associated, even accounting for support for Donald Trump. Our findings have implications for the detection of extremist attitudes and our understanding of the non-partisan/ideological foundations of anti-social political behavior.

8) Noah Smith, “How technology has changed the world since I was young”

he world has changed a lot since I was young. Technology has changed it. And I’m not just talking about the internet and smartphones and social media. I’m talking about the deeper changes that have reshaped our society and our culture, our economy and our politics, our values and our beliefs.

The first big change is that technology has made us more connected than ever before. We can communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime, with a click of a button or a swipe of a screen. We can access a vast amount of information and entertainment, from news and podcasts to movies and games. We can share our thoughts and feelings, our opinions and experiences, our likes and dislikes, with millions of strangers online.

The second big change is that technology has made us more powerful than ever before. We can create and manipulate things that were once beyond our imagination, from artificial intelligence and biotechnology to nanotechnology and quantum computing. We can solve problems that were once unsolvable, from curing diseases and exploring space to fighting climate change and enhancing human capabilities. We can influence and shape the world around us, for better or for worse.

The third big change is that technology has made us more uncertain than ever before. We face new challenges and risks that we don’t fully understand or control, from cyberattacks and misinformation to ethical dilemmas and social unrest. We face new questions and choices that we don’t have clear answers or guidelines for, from privacy and security to identity and morality. We face new possibilities and scenarios that we don’t have adequate preparation or foresight for, from technological singularity and superintelligence to posthumanism and transhumanism.

9) Don’t know how I missed this from 2021, but it’s excellent, “Reducing gun violence: What do the experts think?”

Gun violence is a complex and multifaceted problem that requires a comprehensive and evidence-based approach. Unfortunately, the public debate on this issue is often polarized and simplistic, pitting gun rights against gun control, or law enforcement against community prevention. This binary framing obscures the diversity of perspectives and experiences among those who are most affected by gun violence, as well as the potential for common ground and collaboration among stakeholders.

To move beyond this impasse, we convened a group of experts from different disciplines and backgrounds to discuss what we know and don’t know about reducing gun violence, and what policies and programs are most promising and feasible. The group included researchers, practitioners, advocates, and policymakers who have worked on various aspects of gun violence prevention, such as public health, criminal justice, mental health, education, and civil rights.

The group agreed on several key points:

  • Gun violence is not a monolithic phenomenon, but rather a collection of different types of violence that vary by context, motive, means, and impact. Therefore, no single policy or program can address all forms of gun violence; instead, we need a portfolio of interventions that are tailored to specific populations and settings.
  • Gun violence is not only a criminal justice problem, but also a public health and social justice problem. Reducing gun violence requires addressing its root causes and risk factors, such as poverty, inequality, trauma, racism, and social isolation.

10) And a great post from Yglesias on policing:

The basic problem with policing in America is that it’s not very effective at preventing crime. The clearance rate for homicides is only about 60%, and for other violent crimes it’s much lower. That means that most criminals get away with their crimes, and most victims don’t get justice.

One reason for this low effectiveness is that police officers are not allocated to the places where they are most needed. In a new paper, Tanaya Devi and Roland Fryer show that there is a large spatial mismatch between where police officers are deployed and where crime occurs. They use data from 242 U.S. cities to measure the number of officers per square mile in each census block group, and compare it to the number of crimes per square mile in the same area.

They find that there is a negative correlation between police presence and crime: Areas with more crime have fewer officers per square mile, and vice versa. This correlation is especially strong for violent crimes like homicide, robbery, and aggravated assault. They estimate that reallocating officers to match the spatial distribution of crime could reduce homicides by 11% and violent crimes by 7%, without increasing the overall size of the police force.

Why do police departments allocate their officers so inefficiently? Devi and Fryer suggest several possible explanations, such as political pressure, union rules, historical inertia, or lack of data. They also point out some potential barriers to implementing a more efficient allocation, such as officer preferences, community resistance, or legal constraints.

11) Really great from NYT, “Does Therapy Really Work? Let’s Unpack That.”

The answer is complicated. The research shows that therapy does work for many people — but not for everyone. And it’s hard to say exactly what kind of therapy works best for whom, or under what circumstances. The effectiveness of therapy depends on many factors, such as the type and severity of the problem, the quality of the therapist-client relationship, the client’s motivation and expectations, and the therapist’s training and experience.

One way to measure the effectiveness of therapy is to use meta-analyses, which combine the results of many studies on the same topic. Meta-analyses can provide an overall estimate of how much therapy helps people improve their mental health, compared with not receiving any treatment or receiving a placebo.

According to a 2018 meta-analysis by Pim Cuijpers and colleagues, which included 421 studies with more than 36,000 participants, the average effect size of therapy was 0.69. This means that after receiving therapy, the average client was better off than 76 percent of people who did not receive therapy.

Another way to measure the effectiveness of therapy is to use benchmarks, which compare the outcomes of therapy with those of other treatments or natural recovery. Benchmarks can help answer the question: How much better off are people who receive therapy than people who receive other forms of help or no help at all?

According to a 2013 meta-analysis by Bruce Wampold and Zac Imel, which included 79 studies with more than 7,000 participants, the average effect size of therapy compared with benchmarks was 0.51. This means that after receiving therapy, the average client was better off than 69 percent of people who received other forms of help or no help at all.

12) Interesting stuff in the Lancet on how to think about obesity:

Oooof– summarized a different Lancet article!!  I’ll have to do it myself. 

In practical terms, this definition requires the health professional to answer the following question: Does this patient present with a health problem that is likely to improve with weight loss? If the answer is “yes”, then the patient has obesity. If not, then the patient may just have adiposity, which may well at some stage progress to overt obesity (hence the suggestion to refer to these individuals as having pre-obesity).
Such an approach to diagnosing obesity would of course require a clinical assessment of each patient by a qualified health practitioner. Only a comprehensive interview together with a physical exam as well as relevant laboratory and imaging tests would establish (or rule out) the diagnosis “obesity” in a given individual. While this clearly makes the diagnosis of obesity more cumbersome, it ensures that otherwise healthy individuals are no longer labeled as having obesity simply based on their size. Perhaps, more importantly, individuals presenting with health issues that are clearly linked to or likely to improve with weight loss, can be diagnosed with having obesity (and thus qualifying for obesity treatments), even when they fall below the conventional BMI cutoffs. While this introduces an element of clinical judgment into the diagnosis, this is not uncommon in medical practice, where clinical judgment is often called upon in determining the presence and severity of a medical issue and the best course of action.
Ultimately, the goal of making a proper diagnosis is to determine the right course of action for a given individual. In the case of someone presenting with a health problem closely linked to excess weight, for which we have strong evidence that weight-loss would improve it (e.g. hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnoea, etc.), we would see a “primary” indication for obesity treatment, i.e. successful reduction in body weight can essentially solve the problem (Fig. 1). However, we may also be confronted with a patient who presents with a health problem, not causally linked to obesity, but which is aggravated by or more difficult to manage due to the presence of excess weight (e.g. someone with excess weight who sustains an injury or contracts COVID). Such an individual could be considered to have a “secondary” indication for obesity treatment. While weight-loss will not solve the underlying problem, it may make management and recovery easier. Finally, we may consider individuals with excess weight, who present with a health problem that is neither related to nor likely to improve with weight loss. This person may be considered to have a “tertiary” indication for obesity treatment, which although perhaps leading to an overall improvement in health, would have no impact on the presenting complaint.

13) Ross Douthat’s case against legalizing marijuana didn’t strike me as particularly strong:

Of all the ways to win a culture war, the smoothest is to just make the other side seem hopelessly uncool. So it’s been with the march of marijuana legalization: There have been moral arguments about the excesses of the drug war and medical arguments about the potential benefits of pot, but the vibe of the whole debate has pitted the chill against the uptight, the cool against the square, the relaxed future against the Principal Skinners of the past.

All of this means that it will take a long time for conventional wisdom to acknowledge the truth that seems readily apparent to squares like me: Marijuana legalization as we’ve done it so far has been a policy failure, a potential social disaster, a clear and evident mistake.

The best version of the square’s case is an essay by Charles Fain Lehman of the Manhattan Institute explaining his evolution from youthful libertarian to grown-up prohibitionist. It will not convince readers who come in with stringently libertarian presuppositions — who believe on high principle that consenting adults should be able to purchase, sell and enjoy almost any substance short of fentanyl and that no second-order social consequence can justify infringing on this right. But Lehman explains in detail why the second-order effects of marijuana legalization have mostly vindicated the pessimists and skeptics.

First, on the criminal justice front, the expectation that legalizing pot would help reduce America’s prison population by clearing out nonviolent offenders was always overdrawn, since marijuana convictions made up a small share of the incarceration rate even at its height. But Lehman argues that there is also no good evidence so far that legalization reduces racially discriminatory patterns of policing and arrests.

I like this Dilan Esper response:

14) The WHO’s case against artificial sweeteners is even less compelling. Also, the WHO, of course, is the organization that was insisting on droplet transmission of Covid a whole damn year after everyone else knew it was airborne.

If you’re trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain, products sweetened with artificial sweeteners rather than with higher calorie table sugar may be an attractive option. Artificial sweeteners are many times sweeter than table sugar, so smaller amounts are needed to create the same level of sweetness.

But do artificial sweeteners actually help reduce calories and deliver on their promise to help you lose weight? A new report from the World Health Organization suggests that they don’t.

The report, published on Monday in The BMJ, is based on a systematic review of 56 studies that examined the effects of non-sugar sweeteners on health outcomes in both adults and children. The researchers found that there was no compelling evidence to indicate that artificial sweeteners help people lose weight over time. Nor did they find any clear evidence that they prevent obesity or other conditions such as diabetes, cancer and dental decay.

The researchers did find some evidence that artificial sweeteners may have a modest benefit for reducing body mass index and fasting blood glucose levels. But they said these findings were based on low-quality studies with a high risk of bias, and that more research is needed to confirm them.

The report also noted that there are many uncertainties about the potential harms of artificial sweeteners. Some studies have suggested that they may alter the gut microbiota and affect appetite and glucose regulation. Other studies have raised concerns about possible links between artificial sweeteners and cancer, cardiovascular disease and kidney damage.

15) Scott Alexander on the weirdness of the academic job market:

The academic job market is weird. It’s weird in a way that’s hard to explain to people who haven’t experienced it. It’s weird in a way that makes it hard for people who are in it to make rational decisions.

The weirdness starts with the fact that academic jobs are scarce and highly competitive. There are far more PhDs than there are tenure-track positions, and getting one of those positions requires not only years of training and research, but also luck, timing, networking, and strategic choices.

The weirdness continues with the fact that academic jobs are highly specialized and geographically dispersed. Unlike most other professions, where you can apply for jobs in your field in different cities or regions, academic jobs are tied to specific departments and disciplines. You can’t just decide to move to a new place and look for a job there; you have to wait for a job opening that matches your expertise and interests, and hope that it’s in a location that you like or can tolerate.

The weirdness culminates with the fact that academic jobs are highly uncertain and contingent. Even if you get a tenure-track position, you still have to go through a probationary period of several years, during which you have to prove yourself by publishing, teaching, and securing grants. If you fail to meet the expectations of your department or university, you can be denied tenure and lose your job. And even if you get tenure, you still have to deal with the pressures and challenges of academia, such as increasing workloads, shrinking budgets, changing student demographics, and shifting intellectual trends.1


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