Taxes are how we function as a society

I wanted a less inflammatory title than that of of Binyin Applebaum’s Op-Ed, though he’s not wrong, “The Rotten Core of the Republican Party.”  Great stuff here:

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the top House Republican, recently took to social media to warn that Democrats have hatched a dastardly plot. “Democrats,” he said, “want to track every penny you earn so they can then tax you and your family at the maximum possible amount.”

Well, yes. Democrats want Americans to pay the full amount they owe in taxes.

What doesn’t get enough attention is that many Republicans seem not to agree.

Resistance to taxation is the rotten core of the modern Republican Party. Republicans in recent decades have sharply reduced the federal income tax rates imposed on wealthy people and big companies, but their opposition to taxation goes beyond that. They are aiding and abetting tax evasion.

Republicans have hacked away at funding for the Internal Revenue Service over the past decade, enfeebling the agency. When the rich and powerful open loopholes in the tax code, Republicans reliably fight to keep the loopholes open. Indeed, they valorize Americans who find ways to pay less, a normalization of antisocial behavior that may be even more damaging than the efforts at bureaucratic sabotage…

Improving tax collection has another important benefit. Democracy — and capitalism — rests on a lacework of mutual obligation. People fulfill their own responsibilities because they are confident others will, too. Collecting taxes, especially from the rich and powerful, is an affirmation of that faith.

The Republican Party was reborn in the 1970s under the banner of resistance to taxation, led by anti-tax men like Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan. It remains the party’s fixation, the one major area of policy on which congressional Republicans were able to agree during the Trump administration.

By way of ideological justification, Republicans like to talk about liberty, by which they mean a narrow and negative kind of freedom from civic duty and mutual obligation…

Opposition to progressive income taxation also draws strength from an imagined democratic ideal in which the people who vote for taxation, pay the taxes and get the benefits are all one and the same.

History tells a different story. From the outset, taxation in the United States was designed as an antidote to inequality. The government initially chose to raise revenue through tariffs collected from wealthy merchants. The introduction of a federal income tax in the early 20th century was a different means to the same end. In a historical analysis published last year, a pair of German political scientists, Laura Seelkopf and Hanna Lierse, showed that progressive taxation is a hallmark of democratic governance.

Political philosophers have long fretted that democracy allows the poor to plunder the rich. The opposite has proved more nearly true. Progressive taxation is not a threat to the wealthy. It is a small price to pay for prosperity.

Cutting taxes to starve social programs is, by itself, a threat to the sustainability of the American experiment in multicultural democracy. In enabling resistance to lawful taxation, Republicans are engaged in an even more direct assault.

Having failed to constrain government spending through the democratic process, they are seeking to undermine government.

Mr. McCarthy is right to frame a fairly technical change in tax rules as an issue that goes to the heart of American democracy. Democracies impose higher taxes than other forms of government because democracies are communities of common purpose. We create and maintain our society through our contributions.

Or we don’t. And things fall apart.

I mean, it’s one thing to want lower taxes.  It’s another entirely– and sadly where the Republican Party is– to aid, abet, and even celebrate (i.e., Trump) tax evasion.  This is how society works.  

Dave Chappelle, the N word, and context

I was thinking about the Dave Chappelle schedule again this weekend and one thing that really struck me when watching it was Chappelle’s almost constant use of the n word.  Obviously the meaning and implications are very different when a black man like Chappelle uses the word, but it was interesting to realize that, in all the discussions about his Trans commentary, there’s been nary a peep about his language on race.  It seems we’re all perfectly fine listening to a black man use this “unspeakable” racial slur continually throughout his comedy act. 

Here’s the the thing, though.  It seems as if we’ve been told the word is so horrible that it should never be uttered.  Somehow, even just discussing in an entirely intellectual and abstract way if the word should ever be used is enough to get you removed from Slate.  There cannot be a moment of good faith belief that Mike Pesca meant any offense or harbored any racial animus… and yet it cost him his job.  And, presumably, because it is just so horrible to hear this word even uttered, irrespective of context.  (I do appreciate how McWhorter regularly argues that this type of supposedly anti-racist view seems to think very little of the discernment of black people).  And, yet, here’s Chappelle in a moment where he’s getting tons of media coverage for transgressing the woke consensus and nary a peep in the media about his use of the word.  It’s almost like, I don’t know… the context matters.  And, the context is that Chappelle is using the word not as a slur and not with racial animus.  Now, that context is different when a white person uses the word, but it should seem that the key point is not as a slur and not indicating any racial animus.  Now, I’m not advocating we go around saying the word in this way instead of “the n word” as has been adopted.  But when you consider that, until not long ago at all, it was considered quite okay to do so— when it was clear there was no racial animus involved— it strikes me as little more than performative wokeism to completely ignore Chappelle and argue that Mike Pesca or Donald McNeil should be out of their jobs.  And yet, here we are.

Gender and views on gender (and Donald Trump)

Really interesting Gallup report recently on views on gender (by gender).  This chartstrikes me as pretty amazing.

Basically, both women and men– but especially women– have come to recognize that women’s treatment in society needs to be better.  And, that’s obviously what’s going on because it’s pretty hard to argue that the treatment of women has actually gotten worse in the last five years.  Gallup gives most of the credit to the MeToo movement:

Over the past two decades, Americans’ satisfaction with the treatment of women in society has ranged from the current 53% low to a 72% high in 2002 and 2003. The sharpest decline in satisfaction — 10 percentage points, from 63% to 53% — occurred in 2018 in the wake of the #MeToo social movement in the U.S. that raised awareness about harassment and violence against women. Since then, satisfaction has remained steady at that level.

Women’s satisfaction dropped 15 points spanning the emergence of #MeToo, while men’s fell five points. The latest reading among women, 44%, is the lowest on record, although it is not statistically different from the 46% readings in 2018 and 2020. At the same time, men’s satisfaction with the treatment of women has remained flat at 61% to 62% since 2018.

Looking at that chart, though, there’s no measurement in 2017.  I can’t help but wonder how much of this is actually attributable to Trump’s presidency.  Alas, pretty hard to know as MeToo started in 2017, coinciding with Trump’s presidency.  But, the social scientist in me wants to find more data and try and tease this out.  Maybe, we at least can appreciate that Donald Trump helped shine light on gender inequality in society.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Shark attacks (great whites!) are way up at Cape Cod.  And it’s, kind of, a good thing as its a sign of a restored ecosystem (the sharks are following the seals, which have nicely recovered thanks to federal protection).  Pretty fascinating story.

2) Geoffrey Skelley analyzes Biden’s approval:

Recent polling suggests that Hispanic approval of Biden’s handling of the pandemic and the economy has fallen sharply. The latest poll from The Economist/YouGov found just 45 percent of Hispanics approved of Biden’s handling of the pandemic, compared with 65 percent in early June. And Politico/Morning Consult’s new survey found Hispanic approval of Biden’s handling of the economy has dropped to 42 percent, compared with 60 percent back in June. Hispanics are also frustrated with how Biden has dealt with immigration — long one of Biden’s weakest issues in the public’s eyes — and although it isn’t the most important issue for Hispanic voters, it is often a highly salient one. Earlier this month, Quinnipiac University found that only 23 percent of Hispanic Americans approved of Biden’s work on immigration, down from 49 percent in late May. Even if that might be on the low end for Biden, the new Politico/Morning Consult survey also found him performing more poorly on the issue among Hispanic voters, as just 40 percent approved, compared with 51 percent in June.

Biden has lost ground among almost every single demographic group over the past few months, but independents and Hispanics stick out as two key groups where Biden’s standing has especially faltered. For Democrats looking ahead to the 2022 midterms, Biden’s overall approval rating is concerning enough, but if Biden is struggling to win independents and Hispanics, that could snuff out any hope Democrats have of holding either chamber of Congress. After all, independents backed Democrats in the 2018 midterms and Biden last November, and even though Republicans made gains with Hispanics in places like Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, Hispanics still largely backed Biden and helped him win in key swing states, like Arizona. But if Republicans can capitalize on Biden’s weakness among these groups, that could be their ticket back to controlling Congress next year.

3) Michele Goldberg on Angela Merkel and refugees:

The climax of Kati Marton’s captivating new biography of Angela Merkel, “The Chancellor,” comes in 2015, when the German leader refused to close her country’s borders to a tide of refugees fleeing civil war and state collapse in the Middle East and Africa.

“If Europe fails on the question of refugees, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for,” Merkel said, calling on the other members of the European Union to take in more people as well. “I don’t want to get into a competition in Europe of who can treat these people the worst.” For the usually stolid and cautious chancellor, it was a great political leap, a sudden act of moral heroism that would define her legacy.

By the end of the year, a million refugees had come. Many observers predicted disaster. According to Marton, Henry Kissinger, ever callous, told Merkel, “To shelter one refugee is a humanitarian act, but to allow one million strangers in is to endanger German civilization.” Marton quotes my colleague Ross Douthat writing that anyone who believes that Germany can “peacefully absorb a migration of that size and scale of cultural difference” is a “fool.” She describes former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s fear that the refugees would be Merkel’s “political undoing.”

For a while, it seemed like some of this pessimism was warranted. Douthat’s column was inspired by a hideous outburst of violence in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, in which a mob of largely Middle Eastern and North African men sexually assaulted scores of women. The refugee influx fueled the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, known as the AfD, which in 2017 won 94 seats to become the largest opposition party in Parliament. Some blamed Merkel’s policy for spooking Brits into supporting Brexit. As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump seized on it. Though Merkel retained the chancellorship after the 2017 elections, her party, the Christian Democratic Union, lost 65 seats.

But six years later, the catastrophes predicted by Merkel’s critics haven’t come to pass.  [Funny how that never happens]

In the recent German election, refugees were barely an issue, and the AfD lost ground. “The sense is that there has been comparatively little Islamic extremism or extremist crime resulting from this immigration, and that on the whole, the largest number of these immigrants have been successfully integrated into the German work force and into German society overall,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller, an expert on Germany and trans-Atlantic relations at the Brookings Institution.

“With the passage of time,” Marton told me, Merkel “turned out to have chosen the absolutely right course for not only Germany but for the world.”

4) I’m pretty persuaded the biggest problem with our ports is a huge influx of imported goods.  And this Cato report may well blame unions too much, but a pretty interesting look at long-standing, systematic policy explanations for the mess we’re in now. 

The Long‐​Term Problems at U.S. Ports
At the same time, however, many of the problems at U.S. ports today result from intentional decisions made years ago—decisions that have caused our port system to badly lag much of the world. According to the 2020 World Bank/​IHS Markit “Container Port Performance Index,” for example, not one U.S. port ranked in the top 50 global ports in terms of getting a ship in and out of a port (see flowchart below), using either a “statistical approach” measuring efficiency and finances or an “administrative approach” reflecting expert knowledge and judgment. The highest ranked U.S. port (statistically) was Philadelphia at 83, with Virginia close behind at 85 and NY/NJ at 89. Oakland came in at 332, while LA/LB ranked a dismal 328 and 333, respectively. (Things are even a little worse using the “administrative approach.”)…

Summing It All Up
On the surface, the pandemic is the main cause of the “shipping crisis” and the related pain to the U.S. economy. And given the wild swings in global supply and demand—and players’ inability to snap their fingers and add new ships, warehouses, trains, or maybe even workers—these pressures will continue for the next several months, if not a little longer. But dig a little deeper, and we see that much of the current mess in the United States was decades in the making, reflecting systemic labor and trade policies that decrease the efficiency and flexibility that U.S. ports — and the economy reliant on them—enjoy in the best of times and desperately need in the worst. Sure, these same policies undoubtedly enrich a handful of U.S. workers and companies, but the shipping crisis has revealed some of their much bigger, usually‐​unseen harms—and the necessity of reform.

Broader lessons abound.

5) Science! “Scientists just broke the record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in a lab”

Scientists just broke the record for the coldest temperature ever measured in a lab: They achieved the bone-chilling temperature of 38 trillionths of a degree above -273.15 Celsius by dropping magnetized gas 393 feet (120 meters) down a tower. 

The team of German researchers was investigating the quantum properties of a so-called fifth state of matter: Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), a derivative of gas that exists only under ultra-cold conditions. While in the BEC phase, matter itself begins to behave like one large atom, making it an especially appealing subject for quantum physicists who are interested in the mechanics of subatomic particles…

Near absolute zero, some weird things start to happen. For example, light becomes a liquid that can literally be poured into a container, according to research published in 2017 in the journal Nature Physics. Supercooled helium stops experiencing friction at very low temperatures, according to a study published in 2017 in the journalNature Communications. And inNASA’s Cold Atom Lab, researchers have even witnessed  atoms existing in two places at once.

In this record-breaking experiment, scientists trapped a cloud of around 100,000 gaseous rubidium atoms in a magnetic field inside a vacuum chamber. Then, they cooled the chamber way down, to around 2 billionths of a degree Celsius above absolute zero, which would have been a world record in itself, according to NewAtlas

But this wasn’t quite frigid enough for the researchers, who wanted to push the limits of physics; to get even colder, they needed to mimic deep-space conditions. So the team took their setup to the European Space Agency’s Bremen drop tower, a microgravity research center at the University of Bremen in Germany. By dropping the vacuum chamber into a free fall while switching the magnetic field on and off rapidly, allowing the BEC to float uninhibited by gravity, they slowed the rubidium atoms’ molecular motion to almost nothing. The resulting BEC stayed at 38 picokelvins – 38 trillionths of a Kelvin – for about 2 seconds, setting “an absolute minus record”, the team reported Aug. 30 in the journal Physical Review Letters. The previous record of 36 millionths of a Kelvin, was achieved by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado with specialized lasers.

6) David Epstein takes a recent reversal on aspirin to revisit the medical statistic we should be more familiar with, Number Needed to Treat:

A whopping 29 million Americans — that’s the entire population of Texas — take aspirin every single day in order to prevent heart disease. Last week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued draft guidelines saying that most of those people should probably stop, because the potential harms outweigh the benefits.

That’s a big friggin’ deal. Medical recommendations change all the time, as knowledge is updated. But I think this case is a particularly teachable moment, highlighting the importance of comparing costs and benefits on the same scale. And there’s an important concept in medicine that can help with that — namely: NNT.

NNT is an abbreviation for “number needed to treat.” In other words: How many patients must be treated with the drug in order for a single patient to get the desired benefit?

When you read about drugs in the news — or even in most medical journals — you will almost never be explicitly given the NNT (which I will explain in more detail below). Instead, you’ll get relative risk reduction, a metric that a Michigan State med school dean once told me “is just another way of lying.” Why would he say that?

Relative Risk Reduction

Here’s a fictional example:

You read that a new drug reduces your chance of dying from Ryantastic syndrome by 40 percent. Here’s what that means in practice: if 10 in 100,000 people normally die from Ryantastic syndrome, and everyone takes the new drug, only 6 in 100,000 people will die from Ryantastic syndrome. Now let’s think about it from an NNT perspective.

For 100,000 patients who took the new drug, four deaths by Ryantastic syndrome were avoided, or one per 25,000 patients who took the drug. So the NNT is 25,000; that is, 25,000 patients must take the drug in order for one death-by-Ryantastic to be avoided. Ideally, you also want to know the NNH, or “number needed to harm.”

Let’s say that 1 in 1,000 patients who take the new drug suffer a particular grievous side effect. In that case, the NNH is 1,000, while the NNT is 25,000. Suddenly, the decision seems a lot more complicated than if you’re just told the drug will lower your chance of dying from Ryantastic syndrome by 40 percent.

Now let’s move to the real world: aspirin. Nearly five years ago, the NNT and NNH of aspirin caught my eye, so I included them in an article about medical evidence:

For elderly women who take it daily for a year to prevent a first heart attack, aspirin has an estimated NNT of 872 and an NNH of 436. That means if 1,000 elderly women take aspirin daily for a decade, 11 of them will avoid a heart attack; meanwhile, twice that many will suffer a major gastrointestinal bleeding event that would not have occurred if they hadn’t been taking aspirin.

And so why did the recent task force make the new recommendation? According to the New York times:

The U.S. task force wants to strongly discourage anyone 60 and older from starting a low-dose aspirin regimen, citing concerns about the age-related heightened risk for life-threatening bleeding.

They looked at the same kind of data that I did and saw that the tradeoff between the NNT and the NNH didn’t look so good. As a doctor I once interviewed on this topic told me: when a massive group of people who don’t have symptoms take a drug, the chances of harm will often outweigh the chances of help. That certainly is not to say that this is always the case, but as the old medical adage goes: it’s hard to make asymptomatic patients better.

Once I started looking at NNT and NNH data instead of relative risk, one of my main takeaways was that most drugs don’t do anything significantly good or bad for most people who take them. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile, it’s just a different — and, I think, important — perspective. Here’s a graphic illustration of what I mean, from my 2017 ProPublica article:

WYSIATI: “What You See Is All There Is”

The larger point I really want to hammer home is that a statistic like relative risk reduction — which is far and away the most common one you’re getting — is not the statistic that you need in order to make an informed decision.

7) Michele Goldberg again, “When a Miscarriage Is Manslaughter”

Brittney Poolaw, then 19 years old, showed up at the Comanche County Memorial Hospital in Oklahoma last year after suffering a miscarriage at home. She had been about 17 weeks pregnant. According to an affidavit from a police detective who interviewed her, she admitted to hospital staff that she had recently used both methamphetamine and marijuana.

A medical examiner cited her drug use as one of several “conditions contributing” to the miscarriage, a list which also included congenital abnormality and placental abruption. Poolaw was arrested on a charge of manslaughter in the first degree, and because she couldn’t afford a $20,000 bond, jailed for a year and a half awaiting trial.

The trial finally took place this month and lasted one day. According to a local television station, an expert witness for the prosecution testified that methamphetamine use may not have been directly responsible for the death of Poolaw’s fetus. Nevertheless, after deliberating for less than three hours, a jury found her guilty, and she was sentenced to four years in prison.

From the detective’s affidavit, it seems possible Poolaw’s entire ordeal might have been avoided had she had access to decent reproductive health care. Poolaw, the detective wrote, “stated when she found out she was pregnant she didn’t know if she wanted the baby or not. She said she wasn’t familiar with how or where to get an abortion.”

Poolaw’s case is an injustice, but it is also a warning. This is what happens when the law treats embryos and fetuses as people with rights that supersede the rights of those who carry them. And it offers a glimpse of the sort of prosecutions that could become common in a world in which Roe v. Wade is overturned, one we could be living in as soon as next year.

Abortion opponents often insist they have no intention of imprisoning women who end their pregnancies. When, as a presidential candidate, Donald Trump said that there should be “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions, he was widely denounced by mainstream anti-abortion activists: Peggy Nance, head of Concerned Women for America, called him “the caricature that the left tries to paint us to be.”

But for years now, the anti-abortion movement has been working to change state laws to define embryos and fetuses as “people” or “children.” This has resulted in women being punished for things they do, or don’t do, while pregnant. Often, these prosecutions target women who take drugs; ProPublica reported on a case in Alabama in which a woman was charged with “chemical endangerment of a child” because she twice took half a Valium when she was pregnant.

8) This “Do you know how to tip? Test your knowledge about tipping while traveling in America ” actually really annoyed me (even though I did really well) because it just took all this tipping as a given, instead of pointing out just how absurd it is on so many levels.  

9) Here’s the thing about this story, “A woman won a million-euro Spanish literary prize. It turned out that ‘she’ was actually three men.”

The work of one woman was, it turned out, the equivalent of the labors of three men.

That was at least the case for Spain’s top writer of crime thrillers, a professor and mother who wrote under the pseudonym Carmen Mola, supposedly to maintain her anonymity.

But on Friday night, at a ceremony to award the 1 million euro (about $1,160,000) Planeta literary prize to Mola for her historical thriller “The Beast,” three men ascended the podium and claimed the award instead.

Mola’s gripping, often-gory novels starring strong female protagonists have been likened to the work of Elena Ferrante, a pseudonym for a widely popular Italian writer.

Mola is best known for a trilogy starring a “peculiar and solitary” female police inspector “who loves grappa, karaoke, classic cars and sex in SUVs,” according to publisher Penguin Random House. That trilogy has been translated into 11 languages and is being adapted for television.

Good art speaks to the human condition and that knows no bounds of race, gender, geography, etc.  So, of course three men can write stories with strong and fully-realized female protagonists.  And women can write amazing male characters.  And white people can write rich, complex black people and vice versa.  So enough with the race and gender essentialism. 

10) I love online shopping.  I hate the massive waste this creates with returns.  Good stuff from Amanda Mull:

We can dispatch now with a common myth of modern shopping: The stuff you return probably isn’t restocked and sent back out to another hopeful owner. Many retailers don’t allow any opened product to be resold as new. Brick-and-mortar stores have sometimes skirted that policy; products that are returned directly to the place where they were sold can be deemed close enough to new and sold again. But even if mailed-in products come back in pristine, unused condition—say, because you ordered two sizes of the same bra and the first one you tried on fit fine—the odds that things returned to a sorting facility will simply be transferred to that business’s inventory aren’t great, and in some cases, they’re virtually zero. Getting an item back into a company’s new-product sales stream, which is sometimes in a whole different state, can be logistically prohibitive. Some things, such as beauty products, underwear, and bathing suits, are destroyed for sanitary reasons, even if they appear to be unopened or unused…

Perfectly good stuff gets thrown away in these facilities all the time, simply because the financial math of doing anything else doesn’t work out; they’re too inexpensive to be worth the effort, or too much time has passed since they were sold. Fast fashion—the extremely low-cost, quick-churn styles you can buy from brands such as Forever 21 and Fashion Nova—tends to tick both boxes, and the industry generates some of the highest return rates in all of consumer sales. Imagine a dress that sold for $25 and was sent back without its plastic packaging at the end of the typical 30-day return window. Add up the labor to pick, pack, and dispatch the item; the freight both coming and going; the labor to receive and sort the now-returned item; the cardboard and plastic for packaging; and the sorting facility’s overhead, and the seller has already lost money. By one estimate, an online return typically costs a retailer $10 to $20 before the cost of shipping. And in the space of a month, the people who might have paid full price for the dress have moved on to newer items on the seller’s website. At that point, one way or another, the dress has got to go…

Now is usually when people start wondering why more returns aren’t just donated. Don’t lots of people in the U.S. need winter coats and smartphones and other crucial tools of everyday life that they can’t afford? Wouldn’t providing those things be good PR for retailers? Wouldn’t it be a tax write-off, at the very least? Donation would be the morally sound move. But companies have little incentive to act morally, and many avoid large-scale domestic donations because of what is politely termed “brand dilution”: If paying customers catch you giving things to poor people for free, the logic goes, they’ll feel like the things you sell are no longer valuable.

Some of the largest retailers, such as Amazon and Target, have begun to quietly acknowledge that it doesn’t even make sense for them to eat the cost of reverse logistics to get back many of the things they sell. They’ll refund you for your itchy leggings or wonky throw pillows and suggest that you give them away, which feels like an act of generosity but, more likely, is really just farming out the task of product disposal.

 

Quick hits (Part I)

1) Using a nuclear weapon to stop an asteroid from hitting earth could actually be a thing!

One day, astronomers may spot an asteroid months away from a cataclysmic rendezvous with Earth. Our only chance of survival at such a late stage would be to try to use a nuclear explosive to obliterate it.

But would it work?

Unlike some melodramatic Hollywood blockbusters of the 1990s, real-life scientists are largely unconcerned by any planet-sterilizing behemoths. The orbits of almost every asteroid two-thirds of a mile across or larger have been precisely mapped out. “We know they’re not going to be a threat anytime soon,” said Megan Bruck Syal, a planetary defense researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Instead, their focus is on relatively small asteroids, those about the size of football stadiums, notable for their abundance as well as their ability to evade asteroid-hunting observatories. “Those are the ones that we tend to worry more about because they could come out of nowhere,” Dr. Bruck Syal said.

Such a diminutive asteroid may not sound like much of a danger compared to the 6.2-mile colossus that slammed into Earth 66 million years ago with apocalyptic results. But a meteor that exploded over Siberia back in 1908 was only about 200 feet across — and the blast’s shock wave leveled 800 square miles of forest. “That’s the size of the whole Washington D.C. metro area,” said Dr. Bruck Syal.

Using high-fidelity simulations, scientists reported in a study published earlier this month that a stealthy asteroid as long as 330 feet could be annihilated by a one-megaton nuclear device, with 99.9 percent of its mass being blasted out of Earth’s way, if the asteroid is attacked at least two months before impact.

Ideally, asteroids targeting our blue marble would be identified decades ahead of time. If so, the hope is that an uncrewed spacecraft could slam into them with sufficient momentum to nudge them out of Earth’s way. This strategy, known as deflection, is getting its first test next year with NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) space mission.

But an asteroid even several years away from Earth may not be suitable for deflection. At that stage, it may be too late to sufficiently alter its trajectory with a nudge. And if any deflection attempt proves overzealous, the asteroid may break up into smaller but still portly pieces that could hit Earth in multiple spots.

Using a nuclear blast to obliterate an interplanetary interloper “will always be the last resort,” said Patrick Michel, an asteroid expert at the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur who was not involved in the study. But if we are short on time, it may be our only hope.

2) Good to see the NBA doing away with some of the most ridiculous fouls.  Hopefully, they follow through on this properly.  Lots of great videos at 538.

3) This is a pretty amazing story, “In a First, Surgeons Attached a Pig Kidney to a Human, and It Worked: A kidney grown in a genetically altered pig functions normally, scientists reported. The procedure may open the door to a renewable source of desperately needed organs.”

Surgeons in New York have successfully attached a kidney grown in a genetically altered pig to a human patient and found that the organ worked normally, a scientific breakthrough that one day may yield a vast new supply of organs for severely ill patients.

Researchers have long sought to grow organs in pigs that are suitable for transplantation into humans. Technologies like cloning and genetic engineering have brought that vision closer to reality in recent years, but testing these experimental organs in humans has presented daunting ethical questions.

So surgeons at N.Y.U. Langone Health took an astonishing step: With the family’s consent, they attached the pig’s kidney to a brain-dead patient who was sustained on a ventilator, and then followed the body’s response while taking measures of the kidney’s function. It is the first operation of its kind.

The researchers tracked the results for just 54 hours, and many questions remained to be answered about the long-term consequences of such an operation. The procedure will not be available to patients any time soon, as there are significant medical and regulatory hurdles to overcome.

Still, experts in the field hailed the surgery as a milestone.

“This is a huge breakthrough,” said Dr. Dorry Segev, a professor of transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who was not involved in the research. “It’s a big, big deal.”

A steady supply of organs from pigs — which could eventually include hearts, lungs and livers — would offer a lifeline to the more than 100,000 Americans currently on transplant waiting lists, including the 90,240 who need a kidney. Twelve people on the waiting lists die each day.

An even larger number of Americans with kidney failure — more than a half million — depend on grueling dialysis treatments to survive. In large part because of the scarcity of human organs, the vast majority of dialysis patients do not qualify for transplants, which are reserved for those most likely to thrive after the procedure.

4) Spencer Bokat-Lindell, “Why Is Raising a Child in the United States So Hard?”

If you’re active on social media there’s a decent chance you came across this chart this month from a Times article about how much less the U.S. government spends on young children’s care than other rich countries.

The infrastructure and family plan that President Biden proposed and that’s now being negotiated in Congress is an attempt to shrink the gap through four key policies: a federal paid family and medical leave program, an extension of the child tax credit (in the form of a monthly payment) that debuted this year, subsidized day care, and universal pre-K.

5) This has taken longer than it should of, but very encouraging for the millions and millions of Americans who suffer from hearing loss:

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration started the process — after a long wait — to create a new category of government-approved hearing aids that Americans will be able to buy without a prescription. Congress authorized over-the-counter hearing aids in 2017.

These over-the-counter hearing aids have the potential to prove that the best efforts of government and technology companies can improve Americans’ lives.

You can buy reading glasses at Walgreens without a prescription. Perhaps by this time next year, you’ll be able to do the same with an officially labeled hearing aid at a cost of a few hundred dollars.

Medical professionals, patient advocates and tech executives that I’ve spoken with are excited about the potential of over-the-counter hearing aids. They imagine the government’s blessing will spark new inventions from companies like Bose, Best Buy and Apple. And they believe that this could be the start of a golden age for hearing help.

“I’m crying reading this,” Nicholas Reed, the director of audiology at the Johns Hopkins Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, said he wrote to his contacts on Tuesday after hearing the news.

When I wrote about this topic in April, I was surprised at the pernicious and widespread effects of hearing loss. Roughly 38 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss, and only a minority of people who could benefit from hearing aids use them.

Prescription hearing aids work well for many Americans, if they have access to medical care and can afford to pay an average of about $5,000. (Hearing aids are not typically covered by traditional Medicare. Coverage by private health insurance plans and Medicaid is spotty.) Some people also feel embarrassed about losing their hearing or are put off by tests and fittings for hearing aids.

Untreated hearing loss can be serious. Struggling to understand what we hear stresses the brain and is associated with cognitive decline, dementia and social isolation.

Research by Dr. Reed and other academics found that some nonprescription hearing devices on the market for $350 or less — they can’t legally be called hearing aids at the moment — were almost as good as prescription hearing aids for people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss. But hearing helpers in this category can be excellent or garbage, and it has been difficult to tell the difference.

The best listening devices might win approval as official over-the-counter hearing aids under the new F.D.A. rules. Experts say that more companies are waiting in the wings to offer new hearing products.

Bose announced in May a hearing device for $850, and the company told me that it wants to sell the product as an over-the-counter hearing aid when the F.D.A. finalizes its rules. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Apple is studying ways to make its AirPods, which are wireless headphones, into a device to enhance hearing.

More gadgets don’t necessarily mean that more people will be helped by them. But the new market opportunity that the government created may open the door to ideas we can’t yet imagine, wholesale changes in public awareness of hearing loss and choices for treating it.

6) Sean Wilentz, “Why I Oppose Removing a Statue of Thomas Jefferson”

Efforts to repudiate Jefferson are, by now, familiar enough. The reassessment of historical figures traditionally celebrated for their contributions to American equality is nothing new, as in Lerone Bennett Jr.’s much-criticized but widely-read vilification of Abraham Lincoln as a white supremacist. Jefferson has become a particularly fraught case, due in large part to his slaveholding and his ugly remarks about Africans inhis bookNotes on the State of Virginia. Additionally, historians have affirmed longstanding speculations that he had sexual relations and conceived several children with one of his young slaves, Sally Hemings, who also happened to be, almost certainly, his late wife’s half-sister.

The most authoritative interpreter of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship, Annette Gordon-Reed, has described it as a fundamentally absurd and unequal but ultimately respectful long-term bond. Contrary to Gordon-Reed’s historical evidence, however, Jefferson gained a reputation as a rapist, a systematic abuser of black women, and a sadistic slave owner. Blend enough sensational falsehood into his biography and it’s easy enough to invent a Thomas Jefferson who was a perfect monster, unfit for celebration of any kind, let alone in New York’s City Hall.

One need not accept portrayals of Jefferson as a moral monster to see that he had flaws from which any fair-minded twenty first century observer recoils. But study him awhile and he appears to have been a man of contradictions. Notes on the State of Virginia indeed contains hair-raising comments about black people, closer than not to the common view among his fellow white Virginians. It also contains an indictment of racial slavery as an offense to heaven—an uncommon view in Virginia, especially among slaveholders. (“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just,” Jefferson wrote, a remark that impressed his antislavery Massachusetts friend John Adams as “worth diamonds.”) 

There is the early Jefferson who took firm antislavery stances, to the point of heading a committee of the Confederation Congress in 1784 that sought to ban the introduction of slavery into any American territory. About two decades later, as president, he completed the abolition of U.S. participation in the Atlantic slave trade. Then there is also the later Jefferson, who backed off from any public expressions of antislavery opinion, to the point, in 1820, of supporting the introduction of slavery into Missouri Territory over the intense objection of antislavery northerners.

Above all, there is Jefferson’s greatest contribution to America, indeed, to humankind, in the Declaration of Independence’s simple assertion that all men are created equal. The declaration’s universalist claim was a deeply radical statement then, and remains radical today. It expressed an idea that swept beyond Jefferson’s own time to inspire future abolitionists, women’s rights advocates, and every variety of champion for human rights. Although there were radical egalitarians before Jefferson, there had never been anything quite like the declaration, which became the basis of a democratic political order that rejected monarchs, hereditary aristocrats, and theocrats. Furthermore, had Jefferson prevailed over the objections of delegates from the Lower South, the declaration would have included a denunciation of slavery and the slave trade as violations of human nature’s “most sacred rights of life and liberty.”

Even when Jefferson lived, there were some who claimed that he didn’t really mean what he wrote in the declaration, that he really meant to say that only white men were created equal. Yet never, either in public or in private, did Jefferson seek to amend or modify the wording of his greatest contribution. His failure to do so made him and his declaration deeply suspicious to later generations of pro-slavery advocates and their allies, who denounced the declaration as a pack of “self-evident lies,” a farrago of “glittering generalities”—that is, as a standing rebuke to their barbaric cause. 

Indeed, it was Jefferson, more than any other American, who set the standard by which we find him so lacking, the universal standard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. invoked when he quoted Jefferson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln, meanwhile, warned that those who would forsake Jefferson were “the vanguard—the miners and sappers—of returning despotism.”

7) Damn this is stupid… “‘Cancel Culture’ Isn’t the Problem. ‘OK Culture’ Is.”  Ummm, no.  Enough with stupid false binaries!  The behavior of John Gruden and his enablers in the NFL (i.e., OK Culture) is deplorable.  But, a repudiation of Gruden is not Cancel Culture (trying to get Chapelle’s special removed from Netflix and declaring Netflix a pariah company, however, is) and it does no favors to conflate the two, just because Gruden has some troglodytic supporters who would like to.

8) Totally worth it’s own post, bur for now, I tried not to spend all evening obsessively playing with the data here, “Is College Worth It? A Comprehensive Return on Investment Analysis”

Key Findings

Executive Summary

9) God this is so tiresome! “Mayim Bialik Wants the ‘Jeopardy!’ Job. Is She ‘Neutral’ Enough? Alex Trebek projected impartiality. Bialik has questioned vaccines, endorsed a disputed brain supplement and weighed in on hot-button issues.”  Mayim Bialik is undoubtedly a flawed person (unlike her detractors, apparently).  She’s very good at hosting Jeopardy and whatever her flaws, she’s clearly not an awful person.  Being good at it and not awful really should be enough.    

10) This is cool, “Fake news game confers psychological resistance against online misinformation”

The spread of online misinformation poses serious challenges to societies worldwide. In a novel attempt to address this issue, we designed a psychological intervention in the form of an online browser game. In the game, players take on the role of a fake news producer and learn to master six documented techniques commonly used in the production of misinformation: polarisation, invoking emotions, spreading conspiracy theories, trolling people online, deflecting blame, and impersonating fake accounts. The game draws on an inoculation metaphor, where preemptively exposing, warning, and familiarising people with the strategies used in the production of fake news helps confer cognitive immunity when exposed to real misinformation. We conducted a large-scale evaluation of the game with N = 15,000 participants in a pre-post gameplay design. We provide initial evidence that people’s ability to spot and resist misinformation improves after gameplay, irrespective of education, age, political ideology, and cognitive style.

11) Drum, “Voting legislation never had the slightest chance of passing”

The Democrats’ latest voting rights bill failed again last night and activists think President Biden isn’t pushing it hard enough:

So far, the Biden administration’s response to the GOP assault on voting rights hasn’t matched the president’s urgent rhetoric. This isn’t to say the president has done nothing, or that the attention he’s devoted to other matters—infrastructure, the climate crisis, the pandemic—is unwarranted. But has the administration acted like this is the existential threat to democracy that they say it is? “He’s made clear that he supports voting reform, but that is simply not enough,” Johnson told Politico“We need him to bring this over the finish line.”

This is nuts. What do they expect Biden to do? Wave a magic wand?

There is not, and never has been, the slightest chance of passing this legislation. It doesn’t have the 60 votes to pass under regular order and it doesn’t have the 50 votes it would take to end the filibuster and pass it with Democratic votes alone. Like it or not, this is the simple reality.

It is—or should be—obvious that the urgency of a problem has little or nothing to do with the chances of doing anything about it. Climate change is Exhibit A. The Black-white test gap among high school students is Exhibit B. National healthcare is Exhibit C. I could go on forever, but why bother?

The Republican Party’s decades-long war against Black people because they tend to vote for Democrats is shameful, vile, and disgusting. The lengths they’re now willing to go to in the wake of Donald Trump’s lunatic lies is almost beyond belief. Every single member of the Republican Party should be ashamed of themselves for supporting a party that does this.

But they aren’t, and the plain reality is that there’s nothing Joe Biden can do about it. He’s got the bully pulpit, but that’s all. This legislation will never pass and never had any chance of passing.

12) David Brock, “I Was Wrong About Donald Trump”

Like most Democrats, I initially underestimated Donald Trump. In 2015, I founded a super PAC dedicated to electing Hillary Clinton. Through all the ups and downs of the campaign, I didn’t once imagine that Americans would vote Mr. Trump in.

He was an obvious pig (see the “Access Hollywood” tape), a fraud (multiple failed businesses and bankruptcies) and a cheat (stiffing mom-and-pop vendors). Not to mention the blatant racism and misogyny. About the outcome, I was spectacularly wrong.

Once he was in office, I misread Mr. Trump again. Having worked inside the conservative movement for many years, I found his policies familiar: same judges, same tax policy, same deregulation of big business, same pandering to the religious right, same denial of science. Of course, there were the loopy tweets, but still I regarded Mr. Trump as only a difference of degree from what I had seen from prior Republican presidents and candidates, not a difference of kind.

When a raft of books and articles appeared warning that the United States was headed toward autocracy, I dismissed them as hyperbolic. I just didn’t see it. Under Mr. Trump, the sky didn’t fall.

My view of him began to shift soon after the November election, when he falsely claimed the election was rigged and refused to concede. In doing so, Mr. Trump showed himself willing to undermine confidence in the democratic process, and in time he managed to convince nearly three-quarters of his supporters that the loser was actually the winner.

Then came the Capitol Hill insurrection, and, later, proof that Mr. Trump incited it, even hiring a lawyer, John Eastman, who wrote a detailed memo that can only be described as a road map for a coup. A recent Senate investigation documented frantic efforts by Mr. Trump to bully government officials to overturn the election. And yet I worry that many Americans are still blind, as I once was, to the authoritarian impulses that now grip Mr. Trump’s party. Democrats need to step up to thwart them.

Are Democrats up for such a tough (and expensive) fight? Many liberal voters have taken a step back from politics, convinced that Mr. Trump is no longer a threat. According to research conducted for our super PAC, almost half of women in battleground states are now paying less attention to the political news.

But in reality, the last election settled very little. Mr. Trump not only appears to be preparing for a presidential campaign in 2024; he is whipping up his supporters before the 2022 midterms. And if Democrats ignore the threat he and his allies pose to democracy, their candidates will suffer next fall, imperiling any chance of meaningful reform in Congress.

Going forward, we can expect bogus claims of voter fraud, and equally bogus challenges to legitimate vote counts, to become a permanent feature of Republican political strategy. Every election Republicans lose will be contested with lies, every Democratic win delegitimized. This is poison in a democracy.

13) Harry Enten,”Why neither party has a sustainable political majority”

Let me tell you a little story. Nine years ago, Barack Obama won a second term in office, and there was talk of an emerging Democratic majority in presidential elections. Then came Donald Trump, the least liked major party nominee of all time, who won the 2016 election — albeit without winning the popular vote. 

Now, there is talk of Democrats potentially being locked out of a Senate majority for a time to come because of trends in the electorate. 
I am skeptical of this — at least over the long term. History tells us that parties adjust messaging and tend to find the best pathway to a majority, leaving this to be a 50/50 country on average.  
Political scientist David Hopkins articulates the idea of this nation being a 50/50 one well. He notes that since the 1980 elections, Democrats and Republicans have won control of the House, Senate and presidency about the same number of times. They have controlled all three for about the same time, including for the Democrats at this point. 

14) My latest discovery from Pandora.  I love this song (especially the guitar part).  

15) Linsey Marr with an excellent thread on ventilation.

16) Great thread on value of different boosters to J&J.  I’m getting my heterologous Moderna boost next week

 

Can’t we “follow the process” and still get kids vaccinated sooner?

It seems kind of crazy to me that we just absolutely know that the FDA will soon approve the vaccine for kids 5-11 and then the following week the CDC will make it official and we’ll be able to start vaccinating our elementary-age kids about two weeks from now.  But we know this is going to happen (seriously– I’d bet tens of thousands of dollars on this; all the data/information we need to know that this is going to happen is already out there) and yet we’re just waiting a couple for for “the process.”

I mean we are literally already doing everything to have the doses and logistics in place once it’s approved.

 Well, of course we need a process and it needs to be a damn good one before we start injecting out kids with potentially harmful substances (and, yes, of course vaccines can cause harm if we don’t go through proper testing and evaluation).  But, we’ve basically already done all this process and we’re just sitting here waiting without it seemingly serving any benefit.  It may be that not a single additional kid dies because we wait another couple weeks, and yes, some kids will get sick. But, it does seem to me there’s a strong likelihood that some kids will get infected and spread it to some adults that gets Covid and die because we waited another couple weeks when we have all the information we need to get this done now.  

The FDA panel just met yesterday to approve Moderna boosters and heterologous boosters (mRNA booster, here I come). Why not meet again today.  Why wait a week.  Why is ACIP not meeting till 8 days after the FDA.  We’ve got a pandemic here!  We’re trying to save lives.  

To be clear, of course the FDA, and CDC need to do their full review.  But I’ve yet to see a compelling explanation for why it could not happen on a faster time schedule.  Let’s get the kids vaccinated already!

Chapelle– what we need is context and charity

So, I finally decided I’d watch Chapelle for myself tonight and make up my own mind on things (and take a break from my one-a-day Ted Lasso binge).  I’m so glad I did.  Mostly, because I was entertained as hell.  I’ve always said that something that actually makes you laugh out loud when you are alone is really funny.   And I did… a bunch.  I’ve honestly never had much more than a vague awareness that Chapelle was a super-popular comedian and I almost never watch stand-up comedy, so I was not expecting all that much.  But, I mostly loved it.  As Yglesias points out, Chapelle is, in large part, an equal-opportunity offender and he had pretty offensive things to say about women, white people, black people, poor people, Jewish people, Asian people.  But, and this is actually his point– somehow only the trans stuff draws this crazy, disproportionate flack.  Honestly, a lot of time I was laughing of the “omg I cannot believe he actually said that!” type of laughter.  Some people just choose to focus on the offense, but, the offense is telling us something about ourselves and our society.  It is eminently clear that Chapelle is not trying to be malicious.  But, sometimes, I forget, for the cancel crowd, “intent doesn’t matter!” (Just tell that to our legal system)  

Hence, the title of my post.  In full context, Chapelle is actually deeply humane and really wants us to all just relate to others as people all sharing in the human condition.  I came away quite convinced he has no animus at all towards trans people.  He does, however, have great animus towards trans activists who want to take cancel people and take their livelihoods away for saying anything they consider transphobic.  From my perspective, if you choose to ignore the full context and choose to be uncharitable, Chapelle says awful things about a lot of people, including trans people.  But if all you choose to hear is him is intentionally mis-gendering a transwoman in a joke without the full context or voicing support for TERF’s, you are missing the point– and for many of the Chapelle wannabe cancelers, intentionally so.  

Anyway, in one my rare substantial disagreements with Drum, he didn’t find the special funny at all.  But, we are, as usual, very much in agreement on some key take-aways from the whole controversy:

But now Netflix is in trouble with the trans community, which is hardly a surprise. In the same way that all labor unions are aggressive but police unions are really aggressive, the trans community is probably the most ruthless identity group out there. You really don’t want to mess with them if you have a choice.

I’ve always wondered how well this works for them. On the one hand, a reputation for combativeness is an obvious asset. On the other hand, it can also put off people who would otherwise be allies. For example, I’ve never been comfortable with the ease with which they insist that even light criticism means you’re teaming up with people who want to murder them. Likewise, in the workplace they’ve mastered the art of claiming to “feel unsafe” because that’s a code phrase that gets HR involved and can cause real trouble for people. Emily VanDerWerff pulled this crap on Matt Yglesias a while back and I haven’t read a word she’s written since. It was a vile and baseless attack.

Beyond that, there’s the trans community’s problematic relationship with scientific and medical evidence about transitioning, especially among children and teens. Their attacks on working scientists who happen to produce inconvenient results are legendary…

Looping back to Chappelle… he’s a wildly famous and popular comedian, and my take is that he crossed no boundaries that make him unfit for public consumption. Netflix was right to air his show because that’s the business they’re in. The critics are wrong to launch a nuclear war against Netflix over this.

Meanwhile, Yglesias gets really into the practical political implications of all this.  Not quite on my earlier points, but I’m not doing two posts on this.  It’s a free post so you can also read the whole thing, if you choose:

All things considered, it’s a useful case study in the value of checking things out for yourself rather than just reading takes. I don’t know that a person outraged about Chappelle’s jokes about trans people would feel better about them knowing that the special also oozes contempt for working-class white people and tars all police officers as trigger-happy racists, but it does create a somewhat different context. Most of this stuff, to be clear, is also kinda funny. There’s a really witless and homophobic joke about Mike Pence being gay that’s the kind of thing I like to think I outgrew in eleventh grade but that made me chuckle — Chappelle is a very good performer. But again, the fact that one of the most straightforwardly homophobic things in the special is just using “Mike Pence is gay” as a diss on Mike Pence is a sign that this is something other than right-wing politics.

Similarly, I actually think the toughest political hit in the whole special is two brief jokes about “space Jews” that haven’t gotten much attention outside of the Jewish press. The joke is basically that Israel is equivalent to a freed slave who turns around and enslaves other people (to make Zionists everywhere mad), but he then also attributes this to “Jews” (to make Israel-critical Jewish people mad). This is one that I, personally, was kind of upset about. Though, again, to be clear — I laughed at the joke. Chappelle is good at his job…

Well, obviously a lot of people — especially transgender people — do care, and they want this routine labeled harmful and taken down off Netflix. And to be clear, I am not asking anyone to enjoy him or praise him or watch his specials. These people at the Economist hailing him as a great hero for daring to piss off trans activists are being ridiculous.

But I’ll say roughly the same thing I said in “Joe Rogan and the Doomed Politics of Shunning” — I don’t think trying to arm-twist people into shunning everyone who expresses a widely-held viewpoint that trans activists disagree with is going to accomplish anything useful. Unlike a standup routine, this is political action, and it deserves to be judged based on whether or not it makes sense as political action. And the answer is that it does not; it serves to narrow the progressive coalition and make everything — including tangible progress on trans rights — harder…

My point here is that there are probably a lot of Dave Chappelles out there voting for Democratic Party candidates, and you need to think about the implications of that before you decide something is worth throwing people out of the coalition…

Indeed, I think it’s noteworthy that the one time Chappelle actually addresses a specific piece of trans-related legislation — the North Carolina bathroom bill — he says it’s bad and takes the pro-trans view. He also says a bunch of other stuff that is genuinely hurtful and against activist preferences. But on the concrete policy topic, he says the bill is bad.

Trans rights are a mixed bag in public opinion

Just because an idea is unpopular doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with people fighting for unpopular causes.

But I do think that in politics you need to know the difference between when you’re fighting for an unpopular cause and when you’re trying to spike the football with a popular one. The progressive internet often makes it seem as if trans activist claims are commonly held views being resisted by only a small number of extreme conservatives.

In truth, it’s very much a mixed bag…

Politics requires some chill

If you want to consider “The Closer” a wise political text, you need to incorporate the shots at cops, at women, at Israel, at low-income white people, at #MeToo, and a million other things.

Here from another Chappelle special is a bit about how Ohio is full of poor white people and all poor white people love heroin…

You can enjoy these jokes as jokes or you can not enjoy them. But that’s what they are — edgy jokes, not a serious analysis of social problems (at the time this special came out, the NIH was reporting a 45% increase in opioid overdose deaths among Black people in Ohio).

But what you don’t want to do, as a political movement, is run around looking for reasons to exile people from your political coalition. A non-trivial number of rank-and-file Democrats have a range of views on LGBT issues that put them at odds with the bulk of progressives. It is very important that those people keep voting for Democrats, or else Donald Trump is president again and progress on things like military service becomes impossible. If you put out the message that some of these statements are such profound line crossing (unlike jokes about Space Jews or heroin-addled poor white people) that they are worth yanking episodes from the Netflix library, that is what you are saying.

On some level, every activist wants to say that their pet issue is the most important issue in the world. But depending on what you’re talking about, having more people see it that way can be counterproductive. If you seriously tell every Black person with conservative views on gender roles to take a hike, you’re going to lose.

Police unions must go

To be fair, I thought this long before Covid and long before George Floyd (basically, ever since I learned about the issues when I started teaching Criminal Justice Policy in the 00’s), but, damn, if the response to Covid vaccine mandates just doesn’t put the spotlight on what profoundly anti-social, reactionary institutions these unions are.  NYT:

In many cities across the country, there is friction between governments and law enforcement unions over requirements that officers get vaccinated against the coronavirus or prove their vaccination status, leading to contentious public clashes.

Even though the shots have proven to be largely effective in preventing severe disease and death, many police officers and their unions have pushed back, threatening resignations and lawsuits.

John Catanzara, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, has urged police officers there to ignore requirements by the mayor, Lori Lightfoot, that city employees report their vaccination status. Employees who are not vaccinated will be subject to twice-weekly testing, but vaccinations are not mandatory.

In Baltimore, a police union leader told officers not to disclose their vaccination status to city officials amid negotiations over a mandate scheduled to take effect there next week, The Baltimore Sun and other local news outlets reported.

City leaders in San Jose, Calif., decided just as a vaccine mandate was taking effect at the end of last month to allow unvaccinated officers to remain employed through the end of the year, with incremental discipline and testing requirements.

Officials in Ann Arbor, Mich., reiterated their commitment this week to a vaccine mandate for city employees, despite pushback from the police union there.

And in Seattle, a police union has expressed fears that the city’s shortage of officers will worsen because of vaccine mandates, The Associated Press reported.

More than 460 American law enforcement officers have died from Covid infections, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, making the coronavirus by far the most common cause of duty-related deaths in 2020 and 2021. More than four times as many officers have died from Covid-19 as from gunfire in that period.

Some elected officials say police officers have a higher responsibility to get vaccinated because they regularly interact with the public and could unknowingly spread the virus.

Of course, this is the least of it when it comes to police unions.  Peter Suderman made a nice case against the unions in Reason about a year ago and it is, of course, as relevant as ever:

In 2018, as a gunman murdered 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Sgt. Brian Miller, a deputy with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, hid behind his police cruiser, waiting 10 minutes to radio for help. For his failure to act, Miller was fired. The official cause was “neglect of duty.”

In May 2020, however, Miller was reinstated and given full back pay. His 2017 salary was more than $138,000. Miller had challenged his firing, and he had done so with the full backing of his union.

Miller’s reinstatement is notable in that it relates to a high-profile case. But the essential story—an officer performs poorly, with fatal results, and the union comes to his defense—is all too common. That is what police unions do: defend the narrow interests of police as employees, often at the expense of public safety. They start from the premise that police are essentially unfireable and that taxpayers should foot the bill for their dangerous, and even deadly, negligence. And although unions are not the only pathology that affects American policing, they are a key internal influence on police culture, a locus of resistance to improvements designed to reduce police violence. To stop police abuse and remove bad cops from duty, police unions as we know them must go.

In case after case, police unions have defended deadly misdeeds committed by law enforcement. In 2014, for example, New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo put Eric Garner in a chokehold for selling loose cigarettes. As a result of Pantaleo’s chokehold, Garner died, gasping the words, “I can’t breathe.” [emphases mine]

The incident, caught on video, helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement. A grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo, but five years after Garner’s death, he was fired from the force following a police administrative judge’s ruling that the chokehold was, indeed, a violation of department policy.

Pantaleo had violated his police department’s policy in a way that resulted in the death of a man who was committing the most minor of offenses. Yet when Pantaleo was finally fired, Patrick Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, Pantaleo’s union, criticized the city for giving in to “anti-police extremists” and warned that such decisions threatened the ability of city police to carry out their duties. “We are urging all New York City police officers to proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed ‘reckless’ just for doing their job,” Lynch said.

In essence, the police union’s position was: Officers of the law should not be punished for using prohibited techniques in ways that result in the deaths of nonviolent offenders, because to do so would unduly inhibit police work. A deadly violation of department policy is just police “doing their job.”

Too often, when police wantonly use deadly force, their unions slow or prevent justice…

These are anecdotes, but other evidence bears the point out. The Police Union Contract Project, which collects and compares police union contracts across the country, notes that the agreements are generally designed to make it difficult to hold police accountable, in part by giving them privileges that are not afforded to the broader public. For example, the contracts often prevent officers from being questioned quickly after incidents and often give them access to information not available to private citizens. Cities are often required to shoulder the financial burdens of officer misconduct, and disciplinary measures are often restricted. Forthcoming research out of the University of Victoria’s economics department finds that the introduction of collective bargaining does not correlate with a reduction in total crime, but it does eventually correlate with higher numbers of killings by police, especially of minorities.

In other words, the research finds roughly what one would expect given a public sector workforce with unions set up to protect police officer compensation while limiting discipline and oversight. Police get paid more, yet the public is no safer—and it’s at greater risk of violence by police.

Presumably, there may be some reform that dramatically limits the malignant influence of police unions that allows them to continue existing.  But, honestly, the evidence is pretty damn that, in their present form, police unions really do need to go.  

White educational polarization

Yes, I should have a post about Ezra Klein, “Shorism”, and popularism.  But for now, you get a related post with some nice data analysis from Alan Abramowitz on the issue of Democrats and working class white voters, “Can Democrats Win Back the White Working Class?”  It’s pretty much an anti-popularist take, without ever mentioning it.

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE

— One of the defining features of American politics is the realignment of white, college-educated voters toward Democrats and that of white voters without a degree toward Republicans.

— There are competing views on how or whether Democrats can perform better among white non-college voters.

— Appealing to the economic interests of white non-college voters may not be enough for Democrats to win back their support…

There appear to be two major explanations for the political realignment of the white working class, and they have different implications for Democrats’ chances of a political comeback with this group. One school of thought, perhaps best represented by progressive scholar Ruy Teixeira, blames Democratic decline largely on the party’s prioritization of cultural and racial justice issues over traditional bread-and-butter economic issues. According to this theory, Democrats have failed to address economic problems such as the decline of manufacturing jobs and unfair trade competition that have led to growing economic insecurity among white working class voters. At the same time, many of these voters have been turned off by the Democrats’ increasingly liberal positions on issues such as gay rights, affirmative action, and immigration.

A second school of thought, represented by scholars such as Michael Tesler of the University of California, Irvine and John Sides of Vanderbilt University, argues that economic discontent has little to do with the flight of white working class voters from the Democrats. In their view, the main factor behind the shifting party allegiance of these voters is the success of Republican leaders like Donald Trump in appealing to the racial resentments and grievances of non-college white voters.

These two schools of thought have different implications for the ability of Democratic candidates to win back support from white working class voters. If economic discontent is the main driver of the shift to the GOP, Democrats could potentially win a larger share of the white working class vote by emphasizing concrete actions and policies to address these concerns while perhaps playing down liberal positions on cultural and racial issues. On the other hand, if racial resentment and grievances are the main drivers of white working class flight from the Democrats, paying more attention to the economic concerns of these voters might not be very effective. Moreover, downplaying or abandoning liberal positions on cultural and racial issues would potentially risk alienating voting blocs that make up key components of the party’s current electoral coalition including Blacks, Latinos, and college-educated whites.

In this article, I use evidence from the 2020 American National Election Study to examine the effects of various political attitudes on the candidate preferences of college and non-college white voters in the 2020 presidential election. In line with the arguments of racial resentment theorists, I find that economic insecurity had very little impact on white voter decision-making in 2020. However, I find that the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters goes beyond racial resentment alone. Instead, I find that support for Donald Trump among white working class voters reflected conservative views across a wide range of policy issues including social welfare issues, cultural issues, racial justice issues, gun control, immigration, and climate change. In other words, the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters is fundamentally ideological. This fact makes it very unlikely that Democrats will be able to win back large numbers of white working class voters by appealing to their economic self-interest…

Explaining the class divide on ideology

One important question raised by these findings is why non-college whites now hold much more conservative views across the board than white college graduates. In order to address this question, I conducted a regression analysis of conservative ideology among white voters. As predictors, in addition to education, I included two variables that I expected to have strong effects on ideology: party identification and racial resentment. I also included a variety of control variables including family income, sex, evangelical identification, and economic insecurity. The results are displayed in Table 4.

Table 4: Regression analysis of conservatism among white voters in 2020

 

Source: 2020 American National Election Study

 

The results in Table 4 show that the regression equation explains over 80% of the variation in conservative ideology. Racial resentment and party identification are by far the strongest predictors of conservative ideology. Evangelical identification has a significant impact as well, but its effect is not nearly as strong as the effects of racial resentment and party ID. Family income has almost no effect on ideology and economic insecurity has a negative effect, which means that greater insecurity is associated with less conservative policy preferences.

These findings indicate that while ideology was by far the most important predictor of candidate preference among white voters in 2020, ideology was itself largely explained by feelings of racial resentment. Conservative policy preferences among white working class voters on a wide range of issues were closely connected to their racial attitudes and specifically to their belief that white people have been losing ground in American society because of unfair advantages enjoyed by Blacks and other nonwhite groups.

Conclusions

The deep political divide between college and non-college white voters in recent elections reflects a deep ideological divide between these two groups. Non-college white voters are now far more conservative than college educated white voters on a wide range of issues including cultural issues but also social welfare issues, immigration, racial justice, gun control, and climate change. This class divide appears to have little or nothing to do with economic self-interest and everything to do with the diverging racial attitudes of these two groups.

These findings indicate that efforts by Democratic leaders to win back the support of white working class voters who have been voting for Republican candidates in recent years by appealing to their economic interests or shifting to the right on issues like immigration and gay rights are unlikely to bear much fruit. Moreover, tacking to the right to win votes from a shrinking population of white working class voters might turn off large numbers of college educated white voters with liberal views on these issues.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Maybe there’s something to this whole “punching up/down” stuff, but, wow, just way-overused and I love this Freddie deBoer take:

There is no such thing as punching up or punching down. The entire notion is an absurd pretense. For it to make any sense at all, human beings would have to exist on some unitary plane of power and oppression, our relative places easily interpreted for the purpose of figuring out who we can punch. That’s obviously untrue, and thus the whole concept is childish and unworkable, an utterly immature take on a world that is breathtaking in its complexities and which defies any attempt to enforce moral simplicity. Power is distributed between different people in myriad and often conflicting ways; when two people interact, their various privileges and poverties are playing out along many axes at once.

Take a college class with an adjunct instructor. Social justice norms demand that the instructor holds the power in the relationship, that his is the hand of oppression. But in fact this profoundly misunderstands the contemporary university. Adjuncts are terribly-paid at-will labor who often lack the most basic workplace protections; students at most schools now are simply customers and are afforded the deference typically given to customers. Certainly most college students have the ability to provoke the kind of bureaucratic panic that can prompt a department to drop an adjunct. It’s just so much less risky to do so than to invite student protest and angry parents, regardless of what the argument is about. Instructors are still in charge of grading, of course, and enjoy at least nominal authority within the classroom itself. So they have their own form of power. We could attempt to develop some sort of facile points system to determine whether adjuncts or students are more powerful, and who is punching up at whom when once complains about the other. Or we could instead choose to act like adults and understand that there are many different kinds of power and many different valences to each kind and that trying to arrive at a punching up/punching down binary amounts to a childish refusal to acknowledge the moral world’s irreducible complexity…

Bong Joon-Ho’s brilliant Parasite is the kind of complex and multilayered work that defies any cheap categorization of this type. I would argue in fact that its great genius is its refusal to fit comfortably into the populist revolt-of-the-downtrodden narrative many commentators tried to force on it. But no work of art can be so delicate and singular that they will not try to make it lay down in this Procrustean bed, and so now I learn, chastened, that Parasite punches down. All of that brilliant commentary on class, the well-crafted performances, the symbolism – all worthless, in the face of the incisive analysis of punching up or punching down. There are only two choices. Shame. If only the Constitution didn’t mandate that art must operate on a facile binary designed to make smug liberals feel assured that their mockery is always righteous, that of their opponents always bigoted.

What if – what if – “punching up vs. punching down” is a totally artificial construct that bends to accommodate whatever the person invoking it wants to believe? There is one rule: people I like are punching up, people I don’t are punching down. There is no deeper meaning to be had here…

The more time goes on in this never-ending woke production of The Crucible, the more I come to believe that the animating spirit behind it all is moral simplicity. People desperately want to believe that the world is simple, that good and bad are easily sorted, and that they are always on the right side of that ledger. 

2) From a couple weeks ago, but, is it so wrong to talk bout “pregnant women” instead of “pregnant persons”?  And, oh, my has the ACLU just lost it.  Michele Goldberg:

Recently, on the anniversary of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, the American Civil Liberties Union set out to pay tribute to her pro-choice heroism, and ended up making the sort of self-parodic blunder the right salivates over.

One of R.B.G.’s iconic quotes came from her 1993 Senate confirmation hearings, when, instead of shying away from commenting on reproductive rights like most Supreme Court nominees, she made a forthright case for their indispensability to human flourishing.

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices,” Ginsburg said.

In a ham-handed attempt to make the quote conform to current progressive norms around gender neutrality, the A.C.L.U. rendered it this way in a tweet: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a [person’s] life, to [their] well-being and dignity … When the government controls that decision for [people], [they are] being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for [their] own choices.”…

What’s more difficult to discuss is how making Ginsburg’s words gender-neutral alters their meaning. That requires coming to terms with a contentious shift in how progressives think and talk about sex and reproduction. Changing Ginsburg’s words treats what was once a core feminist insight — that women are oppressed on the basis of their reproductive capacity — as an embarrassing anachronism. The question then becomes: Is it?…

Yet I think there’s a difference between acknowledging that there are men who have children or need abortions — and expecting the health care system to treat these men with respect — and speaking as if the burden of reproduction does not overwhelmingly fall on women. You can’t change the nature of reality through language alone. Trying to do so can seem, to employ a horribly overused word, like a form of gaslighting.

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote. You can interpret this to support the contemporary notion of sex and gender as largely matters of self-identification. Or you can interpret it as many older feminists have, as a statement about how the world molds you into a woman, of how certain biological experiences reveal your place in the social order, and how your identity develops in response to gender’s constraints.

Seen this way, a gender-neutral version of Ginsburg’s quote is unintelligible, because she was talking not about the right of all people to pursue their own reproductive destiny, but about how male control of women’s reproductive lives makes women part of a subordinate class. The erasure of gendered language can feel like an insult, because it takes away the terms generations of feminists used to articulate their predicament.

3) Great stuff from Zeynep: “The Unvaccinated May Not Be Who You Think”

Some key research on the unvaccinated comes from the Covid States Project, an academic consortium that managed to scrape together resources for regular polling. It categorizes them as “vaccine-willing” and “vaccine-resistant,” and finds the groups almost equal in numbers among the remaining unvaccinated. (David Lazer, one of the principal investigators of the Covid States Project, told me that the research was done before the mandates, and that the consortium has limited funding, so they can only poll so often).

Furthermore, their research finds that the unvaccinated, overall, don’t have much trust in institutions and authorities, and even those they trust, they trust less: 71 percent of the vaccinated trust hospitals and doctors “a lot,” for example, while only 39 percent of the unvaccinated do.

 
Relentless propaganda against public health measures no doubt contributes to erosion of trust. However, that mistrust may also be fueled by the sorry state of health insurance in this country and the deep inequities in health care — at a minimum, this could make people more vulnerable to misinformation. Research on the unvaccinated by KFF from this September showed the most powerful predictor of who remained unvaccinated was not age, politics, race, income or location, but the lack of health insurance.

The Covid States team shared with me more than a thousand comments from unvaccinated people who were surveyed. Scrolling through them, I noticed a lot more fear than certainty. There was the very, very rare “it’s a hoax” and “it’s a gene therapy” but most of it was a version of: I’m not sure it’s safe. Was it developed too fast? Do we know enough? There was also a lot of fear of side effects, worries about lack of Food and Drug Administration approval and about yet-undiscovered dangers.

Their surveys also show that only about 12 percent of the unvaccinated said they did not think they’d benefit from a vaccine: so, only about 4 percent of the national population.

4) I think at this point the only answer to Krysten Sinema is satire.  Alexandra Petri, “Finally Understand Kyrsten Sinema in 360 Easy Steps”

5) James Curry and Frances Lee on the difficulty of getting stuff done in Washington, even with unified government:

We find that parties with unified control in Washington since the Clinton years have struggled for two reasons.

The filibuster explains some of the majority parties’ struggles. Senate rules require most legislation to obtain 60 votes to advance to passage. As a result, minority parties have a chance to either veto or reshape most legislation. Still, even though it’s a constant source of discussion and debate in today’s Washington, we find the filibuster was the cause of only one-third of failed attempts by majority parties to enact their priorities during unified government since 1993.

The second reason is less well appreciated but accounts for the other two-thirds — a large majority — of failures. Both parties have been, and remain, internally divided on many issues. Parties are often able to hide their disagreements by simply not taking up legislation on issues that evoke significant fissures. But when those issues reflect their campaign promises, majority parties will often forge ahead even in the absence of internal consensus on a plan.

Whether Democratic or Republican, the party with unified control in Washington in recent years has failed on one or more of its highest-priority agenda items because of insufficient unity within its own ranks. In 2017, Republicans failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act because of the opposition of three Senate Republicans (Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mr. McCain). In 2009-10, Democrats failed to enact a cap-and-trade policy because of spats between coastal Democrats and those representing the interior of the country. In 2005, Republicans failed to reform Social Security despite President Bush making it his top domestic legislative priority because of a lack of consensus in the party about how to proceed. In Mr. Clinton’s first term, Democrats were never able to unify behind a single plan to enact comprehensive health care reform despite relatively large majorities in both chambers.

6) Public opinion is thermostatic. “A new problem for Democrats: Americans suddenly want smaller government after all”

7) This research dubs me an “international expert” so I might as well share it:

Opinion polarization is increasingly becoming an issue in today’s society, producing both unrest at the societal level, and conflict within small scale communications between people of opposite opinion. Often, opinion polarization is conceptualized as the direct opposite of agreement and consequently operationalized as an index of dispersion. However, in doing so, researchers fail to account for the bimodality that is characteristic of a polarized opinion distribution. A valid measurement of opinion polarization would enable us to predict when, and on what issues conflict may arise. The current study is aimed at developing and validating a new index of opinion polarization. The weights of this index were derived from utilizing the knowledge of 58 international experts on polarization through an expert survey. The resulting Opinion Polarization Index predicted expert polarization scores in opinion distributions better than common measures of polarization, such as the standard deviation, Van der Eijk’s polarization measure and Esteban and Ray’s polarization index. We reflect on the use of expert ratings for the development of measurements in this case, and more in general.

8) I like John McWhorter’s take that so much wokeness basically infantilized Black people:

Now: Let’s break down what the crux of objections to showing a blackface performance ever at all are.

The typical idea is that blackface is a reminder of the reign of minstrel shows, in which white performers wore blackface makeup and engaged in clownish distortion of Black speech and dance styles. Minstrel shows were core American entertainment for most of the 19th century, and well into the 20th. It was a filmic depiction of a minstrel show, in fact, that I showed my class: Al Jolson in 1930’s “Mammy.”

Minstrel shows were disgusting, all the more so in how utterly central they were in American entertainment for so very long. But is there no statute of limitations on how long a people will feel actual injury about such a thing? In 2021, there is barely a person alive who attended a minstrel show performed as mainstream, professional entertainment. Even those who may have caught ragtag amateur groups keeping the tradition alive are likely now quite elderly.

The idea seems to be that we (relatively) younger Black people and our non-Black fellow travelers are nevertheless so viscerally stung by seeing any manifestation of this bygone tradition that to show dated footage of a white British actor in blackface, as part of an academic colloquy, qualifies as a grievous insult. But I like to think of Black Americans as a people of pride and forward thinking. I miss those qualities in this submission to an insult leveled by perpetrators now very, very dead. And since no one can seriously argue that Sheng’s intent was to revive or exalt the practice of blackface — and not to teach something about the operatic adaptation of a seminal literary work — to treat him as an accessory to those dead perpetrators seems more a kind of performance in itself than a spontaneously felt insult.

Another idea would be that to imitate a Black person by trying to darken the appearance of one’s skin is, inherently, to ridicule that person. But is it impossible in the logical sense that someone might costume oneself as a Black person one admires and put on makeup to darken one’s face simply as part of seeking to look like that person? Many will heatedly object: “Impossible!” But we must attend to why. If the answer is minstrel shows, then see above.

These days, we’re expected to recoil, under any circumstances, at the idea of a white person attempting to make their skin look like the color of a nonwhite person’s, as if this were the automatic equivalent to using a racist slur, or worse. But context matters. A lot.

Is blackface being shown as part of a collegiate-level discussion, as in the Michigan case? College students shouldn’t need protection from an old film used to help them think about and debate the conversion of a classic over time. Sheng was using the film to stir and inform artistic consciousness. To read that situation otherwise is deeply anti-intellectual.

8) I think Jordan Weissman is right and a lot of reporting is making this too complicated, “The Absolute Simplest Explanation for America’s Supply Chain Woes”

But if you look at the bigger picture, it becomes clear the problems in the U.S. largely flow from one key factor: We are simply buying an enormous amount of things. When the pandemic began, and Americans found themselves unable to go out, households suddenly shifted their spending to goods from services. With the money they saved skipping restaurant meals, movie trips, and vacations, people spruced up their living rooms with new couches, built out home offices, and bought themselves some exercise equipment. Stimulus checks helped fuel the shopping as many employees who’d kept their jobs splurged on TVs and cars. Economists widely expected that, as the pandemic faded, Americans would revert back to their older spending patterns. But that hasn’t happened yet, thanks in part to the delta wave. By August, inflation-adjusted spending on goods was up 14.5 percent compared with pre-pandemic, while services were still down more than 2 percent.

Consumer Spending
Jordan Weissmann/Slate

As a result of this buying binge, the United States is now actually importing more physical goods than ever before. That may sound a bit strange, given all the focus on how supply chains are in disarray. But it’s true. Measured by shipping container volume, imports were up 5 percent year-over-year in September, and up 17 percent compared with the same time in 2019, before the pandemic, according to the latest report from Panjiva, the trade data firm owned by S&P Global. (Panjiva’s numbers only include goods that have been processed by U.S. customs officials, meaning they only cover items that have actually been unloaded, not the freight waiting offshore.)

This unprecedented tsunami of stuff has swamped America’s ability to unload, warehouse, and transport it all. There are only so many berths where cargo ships can dock, and only so many cranes to unload them. There are only so many trucks that can enter and exit the port at a time, and only so many warehouses where goods can be stored. And there are also only so many trained dock workers or truck drivers available to actually do these jobs. So while enormous amounts of goods are arriving, individual shipments—whether it’s a new container of shirts destined for J.Crew, or an office chair you ordered on Amazon—have to wait in a long line to make it through to their final destination.

9) This is cool, “New Lighting System Helps Deer Avoid Vehicles at Night”

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services (WS) program recently applied for a patent (U.S. Patent Application No. 16/668,253) for a new vehicle-based lighting system to prevent deer-vehicle collisions during low-light conditions.

Through a series of experiments with free-roaming white-tailed deer, researchers at the WS program’s National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) found the use of a rear-facing light-emitting diode (LED) light bar‒which illuminates a larger portion of the vehicle’s front surface than standard headlights alone‒resulted in fewer dangerous deer-vehicle interactions. The likelihood of dangerous interactions decreased from 35% to only 10% of vehicle approaches when using a rear-facing light bar plus headlights versus just headlights alone. The reduction in dangerous interactions appeared to be driven by fewer instances of immobility or “freezing” behavior by deer when the light bar was used. The study “Frontal vehicle illumination via rear-facing lighting reduces potential for collisions with white-tailed deer” is highlighted in the latest issue of the journal Ecosphere.

“This new lighting system takes advantage of a deer’s predator avoidance behavior (also known as flight behavior),” states lead author and former NWRC researcher Dr. Travis DeVault who currently serves as the associate director of the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. “We predicted that light reflected from the front surface of the vehicle would provide a more reliable looming image to deer, thus encouraging the deer to move out of the path of the approaching vehicle.”

When an object “looms,” it becomes increasingly larger to the perceiving animal, helping the animal realize that the object is an approaching object versus one that is stationary.

10) This interactive feature about the explosion in Beirut is from a year ago.  But I missed it then and it’s amazing. 

11) I know some of you think I’m too concerned about the wokeness.  But it is profoundly anti-liberal and it keeps leading to really bad outcomes on college campuses, which I care a lot about.  Ruth Marcus:

Maoist reeducation camps have nothing on Yale Law School. If you think this is an exaggeration, okay, it is, but keep reading.

Last month, a second-year law student sent some classmates an invitation to a party — to celebrate Constitution Day, of all things.

The student, Trent Colbert, who has the unusual profile of belonging to both the Native American Law Students Association (NALSA) and the conservative Federalist Society, emailed: “Sup NALSA, Hope you’re all still feeling social! This Friday at 7:30, we will be christening our very own (soon to be) world-renowned NALSA Trap House . . . by throwing a Constitution Day bash in collaboration with FedSoc. Planned attractions include Popeye’s chicken, basic-bitch-American-themed snacks (like apple pie, etc.) . . . Hope to see you all there.”

“Trap House,” according to the Urban Dictionary, was “originally used to describe a crack house in a shady neighborhood,” but “has since been abused by high school students who like to pretend they’re cool by drinking their mom’s beer together.” A popular far-left podcast, by three White men, calls itself Chapo Trap House, without incident.

Not at Yale Law School. Within minutes, as reported by Aaron Sibarium of the Washington Free Beacon, the invitation was posted on the group chat for all 2Ls, or second-year law students, of which several asserted that the invite had racist connotations, and had encouraged students to attend in blackface.

“I guess celebrating whiteness wasn’t enough,” the president of the Black Law Students Association wrote in the forum. She objected to the involvement of the Federalist Society, which, she said, “has historically supported anti-Black rhetoric.”

But what erupted on the group chat didn’t stay on the group chat. All too typically, the issue was escalated to authorities and reinforced by the administrative architecture of diversity and grievance. And that’s when things went off the rails.

 

Within 12 hours, Colbert was summoned to meet with associate law dean Ellen Cosgrove and diversity director Yaseen Eldik. There, he was told that his message had generated nine student complaints of discrimination and harassment, and was more or less instructed to apologize.

Colbert secretly recorded that conversation, and another the next day, and the Free Beacon has posted them. The audio offers an unsettling insight into the hair-trigger and reflexively liberal mind-set of the educational diversity complex.

12) Ted Lasso season 1 was really good.  Season 2 is enjoyment, but a clear step down in quality.  The Christmas episode of season 2 was an abomination that almost made me stop watching the show.

13) Loved this from Dan Drezner as, like him, I had my first post-pandemic common cold last week and lived my life (while testing Covid negative, of course), “We need to get used to occasionally being sick”

With in-person activities back, however, it is inevitable that non-covid viruses and bugs will reemerge. I know this because, as I type this, I’m getting over my first post-pandemic cold.

A few weeks ago at my place of work, someone suggested that individuals who test negative for the coronavirus but are experiencing flu or cold-like symptoms should “of course” stay away from campus. But that strikes me as a massive overreaction. Before the pandemic, there were no restrictions on those who had a cold from attending class. If anything, the current masking requirement means that the chance of spreading a cold now is lower than in the pre-pandemic era. Making students stay home for non-covid illnesses is punitive and unnecessary.

It is also understandable, because we have spent more than 20 months being panicked at the first sign of any sickness — myself included. A rational calculation of the risks should acknowledge that there are costs to excessive caution. Society might not be able to readjust to the higher risk of catching a perfectly ordinary ailment, but this can and should be part of returning to a semblance of normality.

People should get vaccinated for the flu, of course, but those vaccines are much more variable than the mRNA vaccines against the coronavirus. There is no vaccine against the common cold. Perhaps a norm of masking when sick would be a solid precaution to take. But so is the notion that for some illnesses, the costs of possibly getting sick are outweighed by the benefits of living one’s life.

14) It really is amazing that we’ve got so much good evidence on how to best teach kids to read and it is so often not followed.  Emily Oster interviews Emily Solari:

Emily Solari: I am a professor of education at the University of Virginia. My work concentrates on translating scientific findings to classroom practice. Specifically, I focus on reading development — how reading develops, why some kids find learning to read difficult, and how we can provide evidence-based reading instruction in classroom settings. In your book, you highlight the decades-old debate related to how reading is taught in the nation’s schools. But just like most things in education, there is a complex history, as schools are complex systems.

How children learn how to read is, arguably, the most researched aspect of human learning. Decades of research from multiple disciplines has shown us the importance of early reading instruction concentrating on foundational reading skills — such as phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, and phonics. In your book, you discuss the evidence base and state that “in the end, phonics has returned, and this is most certainly what your child’s school will use.” However, a recent survey suggests that about 75% of teachers use curricula that teach early reading using a cueing approach, not explicitly and using systematic instruction in phonics or early reading foundational skills. Given the state of reading instruction in the country, I think it’s important that we are communicating with parents about the reality of the instruction their children may receive…

One of the most prominent and extensively researched frameworks for understanding reading development is the Simple View of Reading, which highlights the importance of both decoding (word reading) development and linguistic awareness, or oral language development. As such, teachers working with our youngest readers should include explicit and systematic instruction in alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness, and phonics in order to effectively and efficiently teach students to decode words. At the same time, teachers need to engage in activities that promote students’ linguistic comprehension via instruction focusing on building vocabulary and background knowledge. We do this through engagement in high-quality read-alouds and vocabulary and oral language instruction across all content areas.

Second, the teaching of foundational skills, such as alphabet knowledge, phonemic awareness, and phonics, can and should be fun — and can be done efficiently during the English language arts block, so that it is not taking up the whole time. Phonics instruction has been given a bad rap by many, but the effective teaching of early foundational skills unlocks the code of reading for kids and allows kids to read words, and therefore comprehend what they read. Playing with sounds and words can be fun and game-like — and should be appropriately paced so that kids are being challenged but also able to practice enough that they are reaching mastery.

There is really no greater gift that a teacher can teach a child than how to accurately and fluently read words so that they can engage authentically with text — and young children need to be explicitly taught how to read. The reality is that we have decades of data showing how instruction should occur in classrooms. What most people don’t understand or do not want to understand is that the teaching of reading in ways that do not align with the scientific evidence base is ingrained in many of the teaching materials and curricula that teachers have at their fingertips. Further, when teachers are getting their teaching credentials, they are often not prepared to teach reading in an evidence-based way. I say this to remind folks that there should not be blame placed on teachers. Teachers are just one actor in a broad and complex educational system. Many teachers who I have worked with are surprised and shocked when they do learn about how they should be teaching early reading — aligned with the evidence base — when they think back to their own training.

One common rebuttal to the implementation of explicit and systematic early phonics instruction is that it does not foster a joy for reading. I would like to flip this and ask people to consider: It’s very hard to develop joy for reading if you can’t read. A child who is not taught how to read is a child who is more likely to become disengaged in school; they become frustrated and this impacts all academic content areas. 

15) Yes, the woke are annoying– and sometimes worse– but, no I have not remotely forgotten that far too many Republicans are just nuts, and really, so much worse.  There is nothing in the excesses of CRT as bad as this insane over-response from the Republicans in Johnston County, NC:

Johnston County teachers could be disciplined or fired if they teach that American historical figures weren’t heroes, undermine the U.S. Constitution in lessons or say that racism is a permanent part of American life.

The Johnston County Board of Commissioners is withholding $7.9 million until the school board passes a policy preventing Critical Race Theory from county classrooms. School leaders deny that Critical Race Theory is being taught. But to get the money, the school board unanimously approved Friday an updated policy on how history and racism will be taught.

“When we all work together we can accomplish good things for kids, and this is one of those moments I truly believe has happened,” school board vice chairwoman Terri Sessoms said at Friday’s specially called virtual meeting.

The revised Code of Ethics policy includes new wording such as “the United States foundational documents shall not be undermined,” and “all people who contributed to American Society will be recognized and presented as reformists, innovators and heroes to our culture.” The policy says failure to comply “will result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.”

16) This is kind of wild, “Wolf Puppies Are Adorable. Then Comes the Call of the Wild.”

NICOLET, Quebec — I’m sitting in an outdoor pen with four puppies chewing my fingers, biting my hat and hair, peeing all over me in their excitement.

At eight weeks old, they are two feet from nose to tail and must weigh seven or eight pounds. They growl and snap over possession of a much-chewed piece of deer skin. They lick my face like I’m a long-lost friend, or a newfound toy. They are just like dogs, but not quite. They are wolves.

When they are full-grown at around 100 pounds, their jaws will be strong enough to crack moose bones. But because these wolves have been around humans since they were blind, deaf and unable to stand, they will still allow people to be near them, to do veterinary exams, to scratch them behind the ears — if all goes well.

Yet even the humans who raised them must take precautions. If one of the people who has bottle-fed and mothered the wolves practically since birth is injured or feels sick, she won’t enter their pen to prevent a predatory reaction. No one will run to make one of these wolves chase him for fun. No one will pretend to chase the wolf. Every experienced wolf caretaker will stay alert. Because if there’s one thing all wolf and dog specialists I’ve talked to over the years agree on, it is this: No matter how you raise a wolf, you can’t turn it into a dog.

As close as wolf and dog are — some scientists classify them as the same species — there are differences. Physically, wolves’ jaws are more powerful. They breed only once a year, not twice, as dogs do. And behaviorally, wolf handlers say, their predatory instincts are easily triggered compared to those of dogs. They are more independent and possessive of food or other items. Much research suggests they take more care of their young. And they never get close to that Labrador retriever “I-love-all-humans” level of friendliness. As much as popular dog trainers and pet food makers promote the inner wolf in our dogs, they are not the same.

The scientific consensus is that dogs evolved from some kind of extinct wolf 15,000 or more years ago. Most researchers now think that it wasn’t a case of snatching a pup from a den, but of some wolves spending more time around people to feed on the hunters’ leftovers. Gradually some of these wolves became less afraid of people, and they could get closer and eat more and have more puppies, which carried whatever DNA made the wolves less fearful. That repeated itself generation after generation until the wolves evolved to be, in nonscientific terms, friendly. Those were the first dogs.

People must spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for weeks on end with wolf puppies just to assure them that humans are tolerable. Dog puppies will quickly attach to any human within reach. Even street dogs that have had some contact with people at the right time may still be friendly.

Despite all the similarities, something is deeply different in dog genes, or in how and when those genes become active, and scientists are trying to determine exactly what it is.

There are clues.

Some recent research has suggested that dog friendliness may be the result of something similar to Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder in humans that causes hyper-sociability, among other symptoms. People with the syndrome seem friendly to everyone, without the usual limits.

17) Fascinating Planet Money newsletter trying to understand what’s gone so wrong with Haiti.

18) Good stuff from David Epstein (really, read both The Sports Gene and Range), “What Nobel Laureates and Elite Athletes Have in Common: Short-term results can undermine long-term development”

What Nobel Laureates and Elite Athletes Have in Common

Nobel-worthy breakthroughs take time, risk, and willingness to follow a meandering path — to detour in light of “unforeseen small findings,” as Yoshinori Ohsumi put it. Nobel laureates, too, require long-term development.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a new study on the childhoods of elite athletes. Bottom line: athletes who went on to become the best adults did a wider variety of activities in childhood, and initially progressed more slowly than the best youth athletes — who more often specialized early and peaked early.

That study also referenced Nobel laureates. Specifically, a 2015 paper on Nobel laureates found that — compared to high-achieving but non-Nobel peers — Nobel laureates were more likely to do multidisciplinary work early in their careers, and to progress more slowly early on.

“Nobel laureates were less likely to have won a scholarship as a student and took significantly longer to earn full professorships…Taken together, the observations suggest that early multidisciplinary practice is associated with gradual initial discipline specific progress but greater sustainability of long-term development of excellence.”

Pressure for short-term development of people, then, may ultimately curtail breakthrough innovation — just like pressure for short-term results in research.

I think we need all kinds of research, with all kinds of time horizons. The danger, as highlighted in “Transformation and Enterprise,” would be if all the pressure and incentives increasingly align for the short-term. How, then, do we get mRNA vaccines?

This year, if another Nobel laureate uses their platform to challenge the current funding climate — if they highlight the way that a short-term-results orientation limits exploration — I hope the research-funding world listens.

19) Get moving! “Why Exercise Is More Important Than Weight Loss for a Longer Life: People typically lower their risks of heart disease and premature death far more by gaining fitness than by dropping weight.”

For better health and a longer life span, exercise is more important than weight loss, especially if you are overweight or obese, according to an interesting new review of the relationships between fitness, weight, heart health and longevity. The study, which analyzed the results of hundreds of previous studies of weight loss and workouts in men and women, found that obese people typically lower their risks of heart disease and premature death far more by gaining fitness than by dropping weight or dieting.

The review adds to mounting evidence that most of us can be healthy at any weight, if we are also active enough…

As a whole, the studies they cite show that sedentary, obese men and women who begin to exercise and improve their fitness can lower their risk of premature death by as much as 30 percent or more, even if their weight does not budge. This improvement generally puts them at lower risk of early death than people who are considered to be of normal weight but out of shape, Dr. Gaesser said.

 


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Vaccine booster opposition is an ideology

There really is no other reasonable conclusion.  The anti-booster crowd is just so dedicated to their position (whether due to global vaccine equity issues or the belief that the only purpose of vaccines is to prevent severe cases) that they are just unwilling to admit that… boosters work!!  And almost assuredly are a good idea for most people who can get one.  Many of them are living in an Alpha world where the vaccines were just amazingly effective, but that’s just not the case against Delta.  They insist that, hey, we’re preventing a bunch of hospitalizations (we are and that’s great) and that’s all that matters.  A “mild” case of Covid is simply one that doesn’t land you in the hospital.  Last time I had the flu, I could barely leave my sofa for days and was completely miserable. That’s the time of “mild” illness I’d sure as hell like to avoid if an additional shot dramatically improves my chances of that (and it does!)  

What’s especially frustrating is that they have gone so far to read the clear and convincing evidence for boosters as somehow “weak.”  Apparently, anything short of beyond a reasonable doubt is not enough for this crowd.  Check out some of the negativity in yesterday’s NYT article about boosters (and the booster both-sidesism from NYT):

Well over 100 million fully vaccinated people will be eligible for boosters if the F.D.A. and C.D.C. endorse the committee’s latest recommendations, even though some scientists say that the evidence supporting boosters remains weak and that it would have been wiser to focus on reaching the unvaccinated, including abroad...

While some experts emphasized that the data was based on small groups of volunteers and short-term findings, others urged the F.D.A. to move quickly with what has fast become known as a mix-and-match approach, especially for recipients of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which is much less widely available.

“I’m sold already,” said Dr. Mark Sawyer, an infectious disease specialist with the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. “We need flexibility and to improve access to everyone.”

Others said they worried that the public would end up bewildered if the government kept broadening the categories of people eligible for boosters and which vaccine could be used for extra shots.

“I hope we can do this in a way that doesn’t look like we’re changing rules all the time,” said Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of immunology at the University of Iowa…

The experts generally agreed that the protection conferred by a single dose was inadequate, but at least some were unconvinced that the second dose would bolster that protection significantly.

The evidence is not “weak.”  It seems NYT’s lead reporter on this is firmly in the anti-booster crowd.  Notice all the discussion on “weak” evidence for boosters is about severe disease and death.  Sure, that’s most important, but there’s a lot to be said for preventing cases of Covid, period.  And I sure wish the anti-booster crowd would stop eliding that point and so clearly using motivated reasoning to make their case against boosters.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Great stuff from Adam Serwer, “By Attacking Me, Justice Alito Proved My Point: If he wants the public to see the Court as apolitical, he should try meeting that standard himself.”

Last month, Justice Samuel Alito insisted that the Supreme Court’s critics are wrong. The Court is not “a dangerous cabal” that is “deciding important issues in a novel, secretive, improper way, in the middle of the night, hidden from public view,” he said. Reading aloud from a piece I wrote in the aftermath of the Court’s recent ruling on an abortion law, Alito insisted that it was “false and inflammatory” to say that the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision had been nullified in Texas.

Alito’s complaint about my description of the substance of the Court’s ruling was just as meritless as his grousing about my description of the process by which it was delivered. The practical effect of the Supreme Court’s September decision was to deny Texans the right to decide when to end a pregnancy, and many—those who can afford it—are going out of state for treatment. Anti-abortion activists are so delighted with the law’s impact that they are trying to dissuade people from suing under the law, because that might subject it to substantive review by the courts more swiftly. The whole idea of the law was to prevent women in Texas from being able to obtain abortions for as long as possible. It would be wrong to say that Roe has been overturned, but it is beyond dispute to say that its protections are no longer in effect in Texas. In a word, it has been nullified.

The reporters who cover the Supreme Court are a hierarchical bunch, as anyone who has had to sit in the fourth row of the press area, straining to see or hear the proceedings, will tell you. They are decorous and proper and deferential to the justices. The longtime SCOTUS reporters for outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post did not even link to my piece that Alito was mischaracterizing so that their readers could make their own judgments; His Honor’s word would do. And yet here is the Times:

He addressed the recent decisions in unusual detail, rejecting, for instance, what he said was the “false and inflammatory claim that we nullified Roe v. Wade” in early September by allowing a Texas law that bans most abortions after six weeks to come into effect.

“We did no such thing, and we said so expressly in our order,” he said, quoting from it. Indeed, the majority in the 5-to-4 ruling said it based its decision on procedural grounds and did not address the constitutionality of the Texas law.

The effect of the ruling, however, has been to deny abortions to most women in Texas. In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the majority’s unsigned order “illustrates just how far the court’s ‘shadow docket’ decisions may depart from the usual principles of appellate process.”

This is the closest a Supreme Court reporter for a major outlet gets to saying, “Although the justice insisted the liquid was rain, chemical analysis shows the composition to be identical to urine.” Few if any reports saw the decisions as affirming the constitutionality of the Texas law, but many observers surmised that the majority was happy to leave it in place for now, because it does not think women should have the constitutional right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term, and therefore does not consider circumstances in Texas to be a matter of significant concern.

2) Michael Tesler, “Why Abortion May Now Motivate Democrats More Than Republicans”

Abortion has long motivated Republicans as a political issue. But following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in early September not to block Texas’s new law banning most abortions once an ultrasound can detect cardiac activity, usually about six weeks into a pregnancy, many have argued that Democrats may become more motivated by reproductive rights. As one Republican pollster recently told the Associated Press, “It is going to be a very motivating issue for women who haven’t typically been single-issue pro-choice voters.”

Tracking data from The Economist/YouGov seems to support this viewpoint. In each weekly survey since February, respondents were asked about the importance of abortion, and as we see in the chart below, the issue has become increasingly more important to Democrats and less important to Republicans ever since.

Throughout most of 2021, Trump voters were actually more likely than Biden voters to say that abortion is a “very important” issue to them. That matched the long history of abortion opponents rating the issue as more important than its proponents. But, as the chart above shows, this pattern was dramatically reversed after Texas’s abortion ban went into effect. Averaged across the five weekly surveys conducted by The Economist/YouGov since then, 51 percent of Biden backers rated abortion as a very important issue compared with just 39 percent of Trump supporters. Morning Consult’s polling shows that the share of Democratic women who said issues such as abortion, contraception and equal pay are central when voting for federal office nearly doubled immediately after Texas’s ban.

3) I’ve only had a gas stove for two years of my life and have always preferred electric.  Now I can feel morally superior about it :-). NPR:

Americans love their gas stoves. It’s a romance fueled by a decades-old “cooking with gas” campaign from utilities that includes vintage advertisements, a cringeworthy 1980s rap video and, more recently, social media personalities. The details have changed over time, but the message is the same: Using a gas stove makes you a better cook.

But the beloved gas stove has become a focal point in a fight over whether gas should even exist in the 35% of U.S. homes that cook with it.

Environmental groups are focused on potential health effects. Burning gas emits pollutants that can cause or worsen respiratory illnesses. Residential appliances like gas-powered furnaces and water heaters vent pollution outside, but the stove “is the one gas appliance in your home that is most likely unvented,” says Brady Seals with RMI, formerly Rocky Mountain Institute.

The focus on possible health risks from stoves is part of the broader campaign by environmentalists to kick gas out of buildings to fight climate change. Commercial and residential buildings account for about 13% of heat-trapping emissions, mainly from the use of gas appliances.

4) Holy crap, planarian flatworms are crazy!  Ed Yong, “They can tear themselves in half and regrow complete bodies. They can retain memories despite decapitation. And if you chop them into little pieces, each piece will start acting like a perfectly intact worm.”

5) One of the great things of federalism is that it allows states to be “laboratories of democracy.”  States can experiment and come up with all sorts of great policy innovations.  Or, they can be like South Dakota and come up with the equivalent of equivalent of chlorine gas in their lab, “South Dakota’s tax avoidance schemes represent federalism at its worst”

The Pandora Papers — the trove of more than 11.9 million confidential documents shared with The Washington Post and partner news organizations — shine a light on South Dakota’s role as an offshore financial center. For the most part, the revelations relate to the Mount Rushmore State’s status as a magnet for foreign wealth, including money derived from international drug smuggling and exploitative labor practices. But it’s not just foreigners who are moving assets to the “little tax haven on the prairie”: High-net-worth Americans also are shifting billions to South Dakota and a handful of other domestic havens, shortchanging federal and home-state tax collectors in the process.

The rise of domestic tax havens marks a troubling new chapter in the history of American federalism. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis hailed states as “laboratories of democracy,” but increasingly U.S. states are becoming laboratories of sophisticated tax avoidance. So far, Congress and the states whose tax bases are being cannibalized by the domestic havens have done little to fight back. Hopefully, the Pandora Papers will catalyze a reaction that’s long overdue.

Congress, for example, could close the loopholes in federal tax law that domestic havens exploit. And the states that lose out from cross-border tax wars could bolster their own legal defenses. Of course, lawmakers in the domestic tax havens also could halt their efforts to emulate overseas havens such as Luxembourg and Switzerland.

There is nothing new — or terribly remarkable — about states competing to lure residents and businesses by offering low tax rates. New Yorkers have long moved to Florida, and Californians relocated to Nevada, to avoid state income taxes. Domestic havens such as South Dakota, however, allow high-net-worth clients to minimize taxes without leaving the comfort of their Manhattan condos and Napa Valley chalets.

South Dakota’s history as a domestic tax haven dates to 1983, when the state legislature voted to lift all durational limits on trusts. Previously, South Dakota — like all but two other states — followed the “rule against perpetuities,” inherited from English common law, which generally prevented trusts from lasting much longer than three generations. And the two states that didn’t follow the rule — Idaho and Wisconsin — weren’t terribly attractive trust fund destinations because they imposed state tax on trust income. With the 1983 law, South Dakota became the first state to allow trusts to exist free of state income tax forever.

The opportunity to establish a perpetual “dynasty trust” with no state income tax induced many of the richest American families to locate their trusts in South Dakota. The Pritzkers of Hyatt hotel fame and the heirs to the Wrigley chewing-gum fortune both opened private trust companies in the state’s largest city, Sioux Falls. By the end of fiscal 2020, financial institutions in South Dakota managed more than $367 billion in trust assets. The state’s success attracted copycats: Delaware followed suit by allowing perpetual trusts in 1995, Alaska in 1997 and a flood of others afterward. Perpetual trusts — rare before the 1980s — have now become a standard tool in the high-end estate planning kit.

The biggest loser in all this is the U.S. Treasury. Carefully designed, a South Dakota dynasty trust can operate as a perpetual estate-tax-avoidance machine. If wealthy families passed their fortunes from grandparents to children to grandchildren and so on, a 40 percent federal estate tax would apply at each generational interval. Shifting those fortunes to perpetual trusts allows them to escape estate tax indefinitely. (A separate federal tax — the generation-skipping transfer tax — is intended to prevent estate tax avoidance via perpetual trusts, but flaws in the design of that levy mean that as a practical matter it often doesn’t achieve its end.)

6) I’ve been a fan of Steven Pinker going back to 1997’s How the Mind Works.  I’m also a fan of his current stance against campus illiberalism and for a less pessimistic view of all sorts of things.  A nice NYT interview from last month about his latest take on rationality, “Steven Pinker Thinks Your Sense of Imminent Doom Is Wrong”

Your new book is driven by the idea that it would be good if more people thought more rationally. But people don’t think they’re irrational. So what mechanisms would induce more people to test their own thinking and beliefs for rationality? Ideally there’d be a change in our norms of conversation. Relying on an anecdote, arguing ad hominem — these should be mortifying. Of course no one can engineer social norms explicitly. But we know that norms can change, and if there are seeds that try to encourage the process, then there is some chance that it could go viral. On the other hand, a conclusion that I came to in the book is that the most powerful means of getting people to be more rational is not to concentrate on the people. Because people are pretty rational when it comes to their own lives. They get the kids clothed and fed and off to school on time, and they keep their jobs and pay their bills. But people hold beliefs not because they are provably true or false but because they’re uplifting, they’re empowering, they’re good stories. The key, though, is what kind of species are we? How rational is Homo sapiens? The answer can’t be that we’re just irrational in our bones, otherwise we could never have established the benchmarks of rationality against which we could say some people some of the time are irrational. I think the answer is, especially for publicly consequential beliefs: We achieve rationality by implementing rules for the community that make us collectively more rational than any of us are individually. People make up for one another’s biases by being able to criticize them. People air their disagreements, and the person with the strongest position prevails. People subject their beliefs to empirical tests…

7) Big fan of this take, “‘Emergency situation. Might help. Won’t hurt. Worth pursuing.’ In a pandemic, it’s the right logic.: Health agencies have been slow to follow their usual emergency guidance when it comes to covid-19”

This is not, of course, only my personal logic. It’s standard thinking in the treatment of medical emergencies. It is logic that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention follows, as well. Despite citing literature that admits that “systematic reviews have not identified any randomized-controlled trials that support the use of these agents,” the CDC nevertheless advises physicians in published recommendations to “consider giving famotidine” to patients suffering from anaphylactic reactions.

But while the CDC is happy to accept such logic in that scenario, for some reason, it seems unable to apply the same thinking in others. And that’s continuing to hurt the U.S. response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Early on, the CDC advised the public against general mask usage. “If you are not sick,” the agency said in the spring of 2020, “you do not need to wear a face mask unless you are caring for someone who is sick.” Then-Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams followed this guidance in late February 2020, tweeting: “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing [the] general public from catching #Coronavirus.” One month later, CDC Director Robert Redfield backtracked, stating that in light of new data, guidance on the general public’s use of masks was being “critically re-reviewed.” By then, the new virus had already spread beyond anyone’s ability to control.

 
Similarly, it was not until May 2021, over a year into the pandemic, that the CDC admitted that the coronavirus behind the disease did indeed spread through the air via aerosolization rather than by droplet particles that fall quickly to the ground. Droplet diseases can be evaded by staying six feet apart from our peers and employing the use of simple surgical masks, while airborne diseases are best controlled by emphasizing good ventilation and the use of aerosol-protective N95 masks. Of course, no school or office building would have been injured by a recommendation that they open their windows in addition to spacing their desks apart, and no nurse or doctor would have been seriously harmed by utilizing an N95 mask before it was proved that they were absolutely needed. At worst, some people would have worn sweaters indoors for no good reason, and an extra layer of protective masks would have been worn when they weren’t absolutely necessary. At best, however, the pandemic would have been better contained, and many of the 3,600-plus health care workers who died in the first 12 months of the pandemic would still be alive today. Here again, “Emergency situation. Might help. Won’t hurt. Worth pursuing,” would have been a wise mantra to follow. (Because of ongoing misinformation, it is important to note here that the politicized treatments of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin do not meet the criteria of this mantra. These treatments can better be described as “Won’t help, might hurt, don’t pursue.”)

Despite all this, the CDC and other federal agencies leading the pandemic response do not appear to have learned the lesson. Even as the Food and Drug Administration admits that coronavirus booster vaccines don’t carry any significant safety risk and that they appear to be effective, they have gone on to reject recommending them for most people, instead endorsing them only for the elderly and people at high risk of severe covid…

More important than any specifics, however, is that the current issue, like the ones before it, serves to highlight a fundamental logic gap that seems to be going repeatedly unaddressed at the highest levels of our government. In an emergency situation, we often don’t have the luxury of a complete data set before we decide to do what is right. As with a patient struggling to breathe as the result of an allergic reaction, we cannot wait for the worst to happen before we finally decide to take action. We don’t need to think our plan is a silver bullet for it to still make sense to pursue it.

Our current pandemic will have more stages to come, and the future will present us with new pandemics, each with their own challenges and difficult decisions. If we are to do a better job going forward than we have done looking back, “Emergency situation. Might help. Won’t hurt. Worth pursuing,” is a mantra our most senior officials would be wise to adopt.

8) Some interesting social science: “College and the “Culture War”: Assessing Higher Education’s Influence on Moral Attitudes”

Moral differences contribute to social and political conflicts. Against this backdrop, colleges and universities have been criticized for promoting liberal moral attitudes. However, direct evidence for these claims is sparse, and suggestive evidence from studies of political attitudes is inconclusive. Using four waves of data from the National Study of Youth and Religion, we examine the effects of higher education on attitudes related to three dimensions of morality that have been identified as central to conflict: moral relativism, concern for others, and concern for social order. Our results indicate that higher education liberalizes moral concerns for most students, but it also departs from the standard liberal profile by promoting moral absolutism rather than relativism. These effects are strongest for individuals majoring in the humanities, arts, or social sciences, and for students pursuing graduate studies. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our results for work on political conflict and moral socialization.

9) Loved Yglesias‘ take on investing in producing a ton of zero-carbon energy and then doing cool things with it (free post):

Over the centuries, people have invented many different kinds of machines that help us do things and improve living standards. But in a very general way, what most of these inventions do is let us substitute some form of power for human effort. And as long as we were totally ignoring the costs of burning coal and oil, this was a great mechanism for progress — you invent new ways to do things by burning coal and oil, so then you burn more coal and oil.

But since the mid-1970s we’ve been increasingly aware of the limits and problems with this model, and it’s put us on an energy diet. Now when we invent something cool, we often have to say “too bad the energy requirements are so high.”..

But as Ryan Avent (from whom I borrowed that chart) and others have written, this is a backward way of looking at things. The turn toward conservation and efficiency was a necessary evil in an era when we couldn’t come up with a better way to deal with geopolitical instability linked to oil and pollution linked to all forms of fossil fuels.

Instead, we should raise our clean energy production ambitions. We don’t want to replace 100% of our current dirty energy — we want to generate vastly more energy than we are currently using and make it zero carbon…

Cleaning the air

One convenient fix for climate change would be large-scale direct air capture technology where machines act like supertrees, sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it somewhere.

Such a technology would have a lot of virtues. Because greenhouses gasses added to the atmosphere stay there, even reaching global zero emissions won’t stop global warming. It would halt the acceleration of global warming (which is good and important), but the ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would let us go net negative and try to halt the warming.

A related issue, as the Georgetown philosopher Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò argues, is that carbon capture is a means for developed countries to pay reparations for our outsized role in contributing to the global stock of emissions. Right now America’s idea of global contribution to the fight against climate change is to push development banks to stop financing fossil fuel projects in poor countries. We got rich burning fossil fuels, but it’s now bad if others do the same. China is the biggest emitter right now, but if you look at total emissions, the United States has still doubled Chinese emissions with a much smaller population.

Direct air capture is a way to make it right.

It’s also, of course, a way to get to net zero without totally eliminating fossil fuels…

More clean energy faster

Making as much zero-carbon electricity as possible as quickly as possible is substantially more important than trying to stamp out fossil fuel use. In part, that’s because energy abundance has important upsides for humanity. We’ve been talking here about the upside for rich countries, but in some parts of the world, people don’t have any electricity at all.

Beyond that, it’s the scarcity of clean electricity that prevents us from unleashing some of our most promising technologies for both the mitigation and adaptation sides of things. An important question, of course, is how you actually accomplish this. That’s going to have to wait for later posts.

But the big picture question of how we orient ourselves is important. We shouldn’t be looking at our current energy usage and asking, “How can we get this much energy, but cleaner?” We should be looking at a 45-year energy diet and asking, “How can we use clean energy technology to shatter this barrier and open up incredible new vistas?”

10) No trigger warnings from me (not that I was going to anyway).  Jeanne Suk Gersen, “What if Trigger Warnings Don’t Work: New psychological research suggests that trigger warnings do not reduce negative reactions to disturbing material—and may even increase them.”

Because trigger warnings involve assumptions about emotional reactions, particularly with respect to P.T.S.D., psychology researchers have begun to study whether trigger warnings are in fact beneficial. The results of around a dozen psychological studies, published between 2018 and 2021, are remarkably consistent, and they differ from conventional wisdom: they find that trigger warnings do not seem to lessen negative reactions to disturbing material in students, trauma survivors, or those diagnosed with P.T.S.D. Indeed, some studies suggest that the opposite may be true. The first one, conducted at Harvard by Benjamin Bellet, a Ph.D. candidate, Payton Jones, who completed his Ph.D. in 2021, and Richard McNally, a psychology professor and the author of “Remembering Trauma,” found that, among people who said they believe that words can cause harm, those who received trigger warnings reported greater anxiety in response to disturbing literary passages than those who did not. (The study found that, among those who do not strongly believe words can cause harm, trigger warnings did not significantly increase anxiety.) Most of the flurry of studies that followed found that trigger warnings had no meaningful effect, but two of them found that individuals who received trigger warnings experienced more distress than those who did not. Yet another study suggested that trigger warnings may prolong the distress of negative memories. A large study by Jones, Bellet, and McNally found that trigger warnings reinforced the belief on the part of trauma survivors that trauma was central (rather than incidental or peripheral) to their identity. The reason that effect may be concerning is that trauma researchers have previously established that a belief that trauma is central to one’s identity predicts more severe P.T.S.D.; Bellet called this “one of the most well documented relationships in traumatology.” The perverse consequence of trigger warnings, then, may be to harm the people they are intended to protect.

11) How Covid vaccine innovations can help with flu vaccines:

But a new generation of highly effective flu vaccines may emerge in the next few years, based on the same mRNA technology that has protected hundreds of millions of people against Covid-19.

While traditional influenza vaccines are grown for months in chicken eggs, mRNA vaccines are manufactured relatively quickly from scratch. In theory, their faster production may make them better matched to each season’s flu strains. And when they’re injected into people, they may provoke a stronger immune response than traditional flu vaccines do.

Two companies — Moderna, the Massachusetts biotech company that produced one of the authorized mRNA vaccines for Covid-19, and Sanofi, a French vaccine maker — began trials for mRNA flu vaccines this summer. Pfizer and BioNTech, the companies that produced the other mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, started their own flu trial last month. And Seqirus, a vaccine producer based in England, is planning to test another mRNA vaccine for the flu early next year.

No one can say for sure how well any of these four seasonal flu vaccines will turn out, but many experts are optimistic. And further down the line, mRNA technology may be tailored to make vaccines that work for years against a wide range of influenza strains.

“I am beyond excited for the future of flu vaccination,” said Jenna Bartley, an immunologist at the University of Connecticut…

But some studies suggest that mRNA vaccines might prove more potent than traditional ones. In animal studies, mRNA vaccines seem to provide a broader defense against influenza viruses. They prompt the animals’ immune systems to make antibodies against the virus, and also train immune cells to attack infected cells.

But perhaps most important for the flu, mRNA vaccines can be made rapidly. The speed of mRNA manufacturing may allow vaccine makers to wait a few extra months before picking which influenza strains to use, potentially leading to a better match.

“If you could guarantee 80 percent every year, I think that would be a major public health benefit,” said Dr. Philip Dormitzer, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer.

The technology also makes it easier for mRNA vaccine makers to create combination shots. Along with mRNA molecules for different strains of influenza, they can also add mRNA molecules for entirely different respiratory diseases.

12) This!! “Religious Exemptions for Vaccine Mandates Shouldn’t Exist: Freedom of religion was never meant to excuse people from obligations that apply to everyone.”

SCALIA WAS RIGHT about vaccines and civic obligation, but it’s odd that he had to worry about vaccine requirements in the first place. In fact, religious opposition to vaccines is vanishingly rare. In 2013, John D. Grabenstein, a vaccinologist and practicing Catholic, surveyed a wide range of world religions and couldn’t find any that had anti-vaccine teachings.

Except one. The Church of Christ, Scientist teaches that the material world, including disease, is an illusion, and so the way to overcome disease is through prayer, not medicine or vaccination. Members routinely reject medical care, even for their children. Although tiny—most estimates peg membership in the tens or low hundreds of thousands range—the group was politically influential in the mid-20th century, with several Christian Scientists serving in the Nixon administration. In the 1960s and ’70s, as vaccine mandates for diseases like measles and polio proliferated, the church’s lobbying efforts contributed to a wave of state laws creating religious opt-outs. Today, 48 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of exemption. By the time the modern anti-vaxx moment picked up steam in the 2000s, these exemptions were sitting around like a loaded gun.

“From a doctrinal perspective, it’s just the Christian Scientists,” Grabenstein says. “What we’re really seeing [now] is people wanting a personal philosophical exemption. They’re calling it religious when it’s really their own philosophy.”

Other experts who have studied the matter come to the same conclusion: Almost everyone who claims a religious exemption is using it as a cover for secular concerns, like fear of side effects or a general distrust of government. “I would be very surprised if more than a handful of these people are really thinking about religion at all,” says Dorit Rubenstein Reiss, a professor at UC Hastings College of Law who has studied vaccine exemptions extensively.

Reiss notes that in Connecticut, for example, the rate of religious opt-outs from school vaccine requirements grew from 1.7 to 2.7 percent between 2012 and 2019, even though there was no corresponding change in the state’s religious composition. In California, the rate nearly quadrupled between 1994 and 2009. Rising opt-out rates have correlated, as you’d expect, with rising infections. In 2019, two decades after measles was declared “eliminated,” the CDC reported 22 outbreaks and 1,249 cases—the highest number since 1992.

Reiss laid out the problem bluntly in a 2014 article : “First, people lie to get a religious exemption. Second, U.S. jurisprudence makes preventing such abuse very hard.”

STATE LEGISLATURE MAY have had Christian Scientists in mind when they wrote exemptions into law. The trouble is that carveouts can’t legally be limited to any particular denomination, or even to members of organized religion. In 2001, for example, a federal judge ruled that Arkansas’ vaccine exemption violated the Constitution because it only applied to members of a “recognized church or religious denomination.” Arkansas responded by changing the law to allow parents to claim a “personal belief” exemption, a path that 14 other states currently follow. Research has found that these states grant more non-medical exemptions than states that limit them to religious claims…

While the language of religious objections typically refers to someone’s “sincerely held belief,” judges are understandably wary of trying to read someone’s heart and mind. That creates room for mischief when it interacts with a cultural shift that constitutional law scholar Robert Post calls the “protestantization of religion”—the growing feeling that religious doctrine is not handed down by hierarchical organizations, or even governed by internal consistency, but is a question of individual private belief. Everyone is potentially a religion of one, an echo of the Supreme Court’s 1879 warning about permitting “every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

If America’s religious objectors aren’t taking their cues from official teachings, where are they getting them? To some degree, the answer seems to be Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and right-wing media. The result is a “religious” opposition to vaccine mandates that is at times indistinguishable from a political stance.

13) This, from Cathy Young, on Wokeness is really good, “Defining “Wokeness”: Yes, there is a distinct ideology behind “wokeism,” “social justice,” and other terms that refer to progressive orthodoxy—and it’s toxic”

The supportive replies are typical: It’s just “making an effort not be racist or sexist,” or “a meaningless epithet whose unironic use is pure cringe.”

But in fact, the ideology denoted by “wokeness” and “wokeism”—sarcastic riffs on “woke,” a term from African-American vernacular that means being awake to social injustice—does exist. (Writer Wesley Yang has also dubbed it “the successor ideology” to convey its succession to old-style liberalism.) To avoid the pejorative overtones, I will mostly use “Social Justice,” since that term is embraced by many activists themselves.

Its basic tenets can be summed up as follows:

Modern Western societies are built on pervasive “systems of oppression,” particularly race- and gender-based. All social structures and dynamics are a matrix of interlocking oppressions, designed to perpetuate some people’s power and privilege while keeping others “marginalized” on the basis of inherent identities: race or ethnicity; sex/gender identity/sexuality; religion and national origin; physical and mental health. (Class also factors into it, but tends to be the stepchild of Social Justice discourse.)  Individuals and their interactions are almost completely defined and shaped by those “systems” and by hierarchies of power and privilege. The only right way to understand social and human relations is to view them through the lens of oppression and power.

Everyone who belongs to a non-oppressed category in some core aspect of identity (white, male, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, Christian, non-immigrant) possesses “privilege,” enjoys unearned benefits at the expense of the oppressed, and is implicated in oppression. Thus, social justice advocacy must focus not only on the problems faced by the disadvantaged but on the unfair advantages of the “privileged.”

Because various oppressions are so deeply embedded in everything around us, all actions that do not actively challenge it actively perpetuate it. Writer, scholar and new MacArthur Genius Grant winner Ibram X. Kendi, whose 2019 book How to Be an Antiracisthas made him an intellectual star of the Great Awokening, puts it most succinctly: everything is either racist or antiracist, with no possibility of anything in between.

Challenging oppression and inequality requires not only combating injustices and reforming or dismantling oppressive institutions, but eradicating the unconscious biases we have all learned…

Moral judgments of virtually any situation should be based primarily on where the people involved stand in the power/privilege hierarchy. As David Frum wrote in 2015, discussing many leftists’ rush to blame the victims after Islamist gunmen attacked the offices of the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo in retaliation for cartoons poking fun at Islam, killing 11 people and wounding 11 more, this moral theory can be summed up as: “1. Identify the bearer of privilege. 2. Hold the privilege-bearer responsible.”

These are the core foundational concepts; but there are other important tenets, spoken or unspoken. For instance:

All claims and accounts of identity-based oppression, abuse, or prejudice must be accorded the presumption of belief; to challenge or deny them is oppressive. Above all, a privileged person accused of causing harm to a marginalized person must listen, learn, and show contrition; to protest innocence is to show “fragility” and is itself an act of harm.

The privileged can easily harm people with marginalized identities by “appropriating” their voices or aspects of their culture such as dress or food. Offenses can range from a story, novel, or poem in the voice of a marginalized person to an ethnic Halloween costume .

Institutions and cultural products are irrevocably tainted by historical connections to oppressive practices or bigoted beliefs, whose effects remain deeply embedded. Thus, (inaccurate) claims that American policing had its origins in slave patrols have been used as proof of systemic police racism. An author’s or artist’s racist or sexist views, even if normal for his/her time, are presumed to infect the work. Recent critiques of Dr. Seuss, for instance, argue that The Cat in the Hat subtly perpetuates “racist ideologies” because the Cat’s appearance and mischievous behavior may have drawn on some tropes from black minstrelsy. (No, seriously.)

14) Biden administration wants banks to help crack down on tax avoidance that costs the American public trillions.  Tax cheats and the banks that help them are not happy and just throwing up a bunch of chaff about “privacy.”

15) Wouldn’t be a quick hits without Freddie deBoer these days.  Damn this is good.  You should read it. “That One Side Would Like to Utterly Destroy the Other Side Seems Significant, To Me”

But the popularism debate is a perfect example of how progressives simply can’t have the debates they need to have when the boundaries of the debate are hemmed in by the fear of vindictive reprisals. Should the party moderate? Should the party push left? How should it accomplish either? These issues involve everyone in the Democratic coalition. The rules of the game, though, tell us that some people have to mind their Ps and Qs while others get to engage angrily, vengefully, jokingly, and immaturely, as for some bizarre reason we have carved out a total exemption to basic rules of conduct in argument within left-of-center spaces for those who claim to speak from the standpoint of “the marginalized.” Unfortunately, their grasp on who actually holds that status is a little… motivated.

They say, for example, that people who come from less privileged backgrounds – there isn’t any such ordinal scale, of course, but hang on – should have special status to dictate the future of the party. And you might imagine that this would privilege conservative and moderate Democrats, of which there are far more than you could ever imagine from Twitter. The young activist core of the progressive Democrat agenda is dominantly white; it must be, as most Americans are white and an even higher percentage of college graduates are white and the percentage of those who went to the tiny handful of elite schools that graduate the vast majority of our politically influential class is even more white. Those activists are thus overwhelmingly young and majority white and almost universally college educated and, while in some cases making bad money now, upwardly mobile and uniquely equipped to navigate the knowledge economy when they move on to getting paid, as they all inevitably will. This would seem to be a privileged class in the most obvious sense, and against them stands a lot of regular Democrat voters. Say, people with some college but no degree, Black, middle aged, middle class, and far more conservative than the average Twitter liberal, favoring “commonsense” abortion restrictions, opposed to major policing reductions, vaguely worried about deficits and taxes, and deeply skeptical about mass immigration.

So the dictate to favor the more marginalized members of the coalition leads to pursuing an agenda consonant with the values of those moderates, right? Good lord, of course not. Instead the activist class just insists that they are the marginalized voice, and if you disagree, they try to ruin your life. Black Democrats have been perhaps the most conservative element of the party since the formation of the modern Democratic coalition, but this fact is inconvenient for those who both claim to speak ex cathedra when discussing racial justice and who hold policy positions far to the left of most Black Democrats. So they just ignore the reality of who favors further-left positions among Democrats, and if you try to bring the reality to their attention, you get white men calling you a white man at best and a digital mob trying to declare you a permanent untouchable at worst. So how can we have the immensely important debates we need to have, under those conditions? In so many domains, the left-of-center is hamstrung by a punishingly narrow range of acceptable positions, a mass assumption of bad faith, and a refusal to insist that everyone play by the same rules…

But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the activist class, the Twitter-obsessed class, the collegiate class, the vengeful “progressive” NPCs that have poisoned the well by normalizing attempts to destroy people they disagree with. No one is saying you shouldn’t advocate for your values. You absolutely should be vocal and passionate, and you are free to invoke moral language, and you certainly don’t have to personally like the people you disagree with. But you don’t get to threaten people’s lives, which is very common in some social media spaces, and you don’t get to silence anyone, and you don’t get to dox anyone, and it’s profoundly fucked up to try and separate someone from their job in a world where you have to work to eat. That can never be an authentically progressive or left-wing action, I don’t care how righteous you think your movement is. There’s no excuse for that behavior, especially given that the people who are guilty of this are almost all perfectly empowered and socioeconomically secure. You can’t run a political party under these conditions, or a social movement, and we shouldn’t have to. Advocate for your values, do the work, build the coalition through persuasion, accept that people will always disagree with you and that this is a healthy condition, and stop pretending that you are the subaltern when you’re really a whole industry of A students who went to elite colleges and have never known what it’s like to not be listened to and taken seriously.

To put it simply, grow up. And stop trying to destroy people. Like you yourselves keep saying, canceling doesn’t reliably work, so why bother? Judging by the utter lack of meaningful change since last summer, neither have the protests or riots. That’s not a nice thing to say, but it’s reality, and if you are sincere about helping those you claim to speak for, your first duty is to efficacy. So maybe time to try something else.

16) Sometimes I enjoy being one of the crowd and doing what everybody else is doing.  And, in this case, I quite enjoyed “Squid Game.”

17) I recently finished reading, Mine: How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control our Lives.  It’s great.

I once returned to my childhood home to find my father going through my collection of baseball cards, carefully calculating their value. It was as if he thought he … owned them. Seriously? I had collected them, I had cared for them, I had paid for them. Or, more accurately, I had regularly stolen change from his coin tray to buy them and then abandoned them as a teenager, but that all struck me as singularly irrelevant. They were, to pilfer the title of the thought-provoking new book by Michael Heller and James Salzman, “Mine!”

“Mine!” sets out to change the way we think about what we own, which is often decidedly at odds with reality. The authors cast the idea of ownership broadly, taking in not just land, cash and cars but also the confounding array of things we claim as our own, or try to, in our lives. Who is entitled to those few precious inches of space between our knees and the inevitably reclining seat in front of us on airplanes? Can someone force me to lop off the tops of my trees just because my neighbors have decided to install solar panels on their roof? Do I really need to tell my doctor not to steal my cells while I undergo surgery? And what exactly does Amazon mean when it says that the e-book I just purchased — or thought I did — “may become unavailable” to me?

 

The tiny turf wars we wage may seem trivial, but Heller and Salzman convincingly demonstrate they are anything but. “Our things — like our bodies — define and constitute who we are, not just as individuals, but as part of meaningful communities,” they write. We are conditioned to think of ownership as preordained and inevitable, bestowed through some natural order of things. Instead, our assertions of ownership are value-laden, inconsistent and regularly in conflict with others’ equally plausible claims of right. In the end, “Mine!” proposes, there are just six “pathways to claiming ownership,” ranging from possession or being first to family entitlement. The authors posit that if people could recognize their own underlying assumptions about ownership, they would become better advocates for themselves, their communities and the common good.

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