Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider Mississippi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) I am always here for deconstructions of originalism!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the previously-cited Dimitri Melhorn noted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14) Derek Thompson is so right about human progress:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18) Zeynep on the FDA and kids’ vaccines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) So much good stuff in this Noah Smith interview with a futurist:

So oil is where Putin makes his money. Russia makes about three times as much money from sales of oi and oil products as it does from the sale of natural gas.  Why is natural gas interesting?

Because natural gas (methane) keeps the lights on. And because it’s a regionally traded commodity.  You see, oil is a global commodity. Oil is moved extensively in tanker ships around the world. Europe could stop buying Russian oil and buy oil (or refined oil products, like gasoline or diesel) from somebody else. There’s differences, but in general it’s a pretty fungible market.

Natural gas is different.  The world has relatively little shipping capacity. To move gas over oceans you have to chill it to -160 degrees C, and turn it into a liquid. That’s doable. But it’s relatively expensive. And so most gas is moved by pipeline. That means that if the gas link between Europe and Russia were shut down for any reason – political, economic, or physical – that you have a much harder time replacing that supply.

Now, this natural gas doesn’t really make all that much money for Putin. I mean, it’s on the order of $80B / year (before this crisis), which is a third of the amount Putin makes from oil. Yet gas is actually more important in terms of his leverage over Europe.  That’s because of the problems shipping gas around that I mention above, and also because gas is used to keep the lights on and houses warm.

If you look at where Europe uses methane gas, one third of it goes to buildings. That means building heat. Literally keeping your home or office warm.  Another third is “heat and power” – that’s electricity. That’s keeping the lights on.  Another third is “industry”. And that’s a mix of using natural gas to make ammonia, a key ingredient in fertilizer, which massively affects crop yields and thus food prices, and other industrial uses such as refineries, making plastics, and so on.  You can see this breakdown in this chart from Eurostat:

The combination of natural gas’s greater difficulty of transportation vs oil, along with its mission critical role in keeping buildings warm, the lights on, and making fertilizer to apply to fields, means that, even though it earns Putin less money than oil, it’s incredible leverage that he has over Europe.  

Gas is where he has Europe over a barrel. Or where he thinks he does. And reducing or eliminating the need for Russian natural gas is going to be and incredible driver of innovation…

N.S.: Of course we should be doing the same thing in the U.S., right? How good was the Build Back Better bill, and how much does that bill’s death set back U.S. and global decarbonization efforts? Is this a minor setback or a catastrophe?

R.N.: We absolutely should be passing more policy in the US. The energy provisions of the Build Back Better bill are fantastic. They’re not a panacea, but they would amount to the most substantial federal legislation advancing clean energy of all time. The provisions advance clean electricity, electric vehicles, expansion of the power grid, new technologies like green hydrogen, and even carbon capture and direct air capture. Multiple analysis found that BBB would have gone a long way towards the US hitting its Paris commitments and more. And it would most likely lead to lower energy prices for American consumers, as solar and wind are just plain cheaper than coal and gas, and electric vehicles are increasingly becoming cheaper than gas-guzzlers (especially when you include the cost of fuel and maintenance).

Unfortunately, Build Back Better appears to be dead. By which I mean that the omnibus bill is likely dead. Manchin has actually said that he would be open to an energy-only BBB bill, with some initiatives in it to increase US fossil fuel production as well. The theory is that increasing US fossil fuel production would help increase US resilience to oil price shocks. In reality, that doesn’t do much, and the private sector has all the approvals it needs to drill a whole lot more for oil and gas. Renewables and EVs really do much more for energy security. Even so, I’d take such a deal with Manchin. Deploying more renewables makes them cheaper. Deploying more electric cars and trucks makes them cheaper. Scaling green hydrogen technology makes green hydrogen cheaper. The same just isn’t true of fossil fuels. It’s a battle of technology’s always-improving economics on one side, vs a “resource” play that has supply / demand dynamics that cause prices to fluctuate, sometimes wildly, on the other side. Technology will always win. Subsidize both of them equally, and the tech side will gain more.

Alas, Sinema has thrown cold water on such a deal…

The other policy we don’t talk about nearly enough, that’s even more under-rated, is getting out of the way of building things. In the US, a host of regulations empower NIMBY activists, land owners, and conservatives who just don’t like clean energy to block the development of solar and wind. Even worse policies make it practically impossible to build new electricity transmission in the US. And long-range, coast-to-coast power transmission is actually one of the cheapest ways to increase how much solar and wind we can use on the grid, to increase grid reliability across the country, and to lower the cost of energy. But bad regulation at the federal, state, and local level makes it hard to build. We have to fix that. The Left has to own up to this and fix it. This is a complete moral failing on the left, in my opinion. You want more clean energy? Fix NEPA.  Get rid of the Jones Act so we can actually build offshore wind in the US. And Congress has to reform permitting of transmission lines to make it at least as easy to build a transmission line as it is to build an oil or gas pipeline. It’s hilarious that today it’s much much much easier to build a dirty, polluting natural gas or oil pipeline in the US than it is to build an electricity transmission line to carry clean electricity. And fixing that requires action at the Federal level. And it also requires defeating lefty NIMBYs at the state and local level. You want progress? Get out of the way…

N.S.: Is it possible to be any more specific at this point? Do you have a short list of technologies that are in the more nascent, research-intensive stage? 

R.N.: I don’t want to be too prescriptive on the “how” of the technologies. But in terms of the goals, yes. Here are some of the biggest unsolved climate problems:

  • Ultra-long duration storage – economically storing weeks of electricity.

  • Cheap clean industrial heat & industrial processes – making steel, cement, plastics, and chemicals without carbon emissions, at a price similar to or cheaper than how it’s done today with coal or natural gas.

  • Clean “firm” energy resources – Next generation energy resources that can produce 24/7/365, anywhere on earth, in a compact footprint, including next generation advanced geothermal, advanced nuclear fission (thought that already gets the most funding of any energy technology), and energy fusion.

  • Decarbonizing aviation and shipping – Super high energy density batteries, or more likely, clean “electrofuels” made from solar and wind, at the same price or cheaper than jet fuel or bunker fuel are today.

  • Decarbonizing building heat – Can we make heating a building with clean electricity, including the installation and retrofit, as cheap as it is to burn natural gas.

  • Decarbonizing agriculture and ending deforestation – This is a big one. A quarter of the world’s emissions come from agriculture forestry and land use – AFOLU in the IPCC’s lingo. That comes form deforestation which is mostly caused by using land to grow livestock or biofuels. And it comes from fertilizer applied to the fields, which decomposes into nasty stuff like N2O and NOX that are potent greenhouse gasses. And then the animals themselves, especially cows, burp up methane. Each of those could use billions and billions each year in R&D funding.

  • Stabilizing fragile ecosystems – Even at 1.5 degrees C of warming (which we’re going to exceed) you’re going to see a lot more forest fires, and we could see a nearly complete loss of shallow water coral reefs. What can we do to intervene to make these ecosystems more resilient? Can we plant trees that don’t burn so easily? Grasses that sequester more moisture or carbon in the soils? Can we engineer corals that can survive higher temperatures and acidity? Or can we improve coral reef microbiomes to make them more resilient? Can we create robots or other ways of replanting corals that don’t require expensive, non-scalable human divers.

  • Direct climate system interventionsGeo-engineering. Most controversially, I will say that our biggest single climate policy miss, by far, is that we are doing essentially zero to advance the state of science of intervening in the climate system. I’m talking about a range of things here, from cloud brightening, to stabilizing glaciers that are melting, or somehow intervening in methane release from a thawing arctic, and all the way up to solar radiation management geo-engineering. Everyone seems to hate this idea. But I have news for you. We are not going to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. It is just not going to happen. We have missed that boat. We might stay below 2 degrees Celsius if we get our act together and deploy the technologies we have ready or have in the pipeline. We have a really great shot at staying below 2.5 or 3 degrees C. And we could even pull it in to below 2, I believe. But we’ve just plain missed 1.5 degrees Celsius. I want people to get that in their heads. There is no plausible scenario in which the world decarbonizes fast enough to hit that goal. Unless… Unless you reflect a tiny bit of the sun’s energy back into space. You’d probably do it by spraying aerosols into the stratosphere. It looks like it would be really cheap. People are terrified of the idea. But in part they’re terrified because we don’t understand the side effects. Actually, we might understand them better than people think. But okay. If that’s a problem, let’s do some very small scale experiments. And let’s fund 100x as much modeling of this as we have today. Let’s get serious about understanding how geo-engineering would work. Let’s have it ready as an option. It’s far better to have these tools available and not use them, then to find out that we’re up against a wall, that some climate tipping point is going much faster than we expected, and that we don’t have the tools that could help save us. So I will plant my flag here. Today, the world spends roughly single digit millions of dollars a year on geo-engineering research. Does that sound like a lot? It’s not. We spent more than $60 billion. Billion with a B. On venture capital investments into clean energy last year. In 2022 we’re going to spend probably a TRILLION dollars deploying solar, wind, batteries, and electric vehicles.  That’s awesome.  But it’s not enough. Let’s spend an addition, say, 1/1000th of that amount, or $1 Billion / year, on researching solar radiation management geo-engineering and other direct climate interventions. That would increase research in the area by roughly a factor of 100, which is about right.

2) Lots of people talking about this Vanity Fair piece about the “new right” funded by Peter Thiel.  I didn’t actually read it closely, but tell me if I should. 

3) The case for new houses (my house was built in 1985, for what it’s worth):

And despite what old-home snobs may believe, new housing is also just plain nice to live in—in many ways an objective improvement on what came before.

Noise is now appropriately recognized as one of the biggest quality-of-life issues in cities. As I write this in the living room of my 1958 Los Angeles dingbat, I can hear the neighbor on my right shouting over the phone and the neighbor on my left enjoying reggaeton at maximum volume. The distant hum of the 405 is forever in the background. Back when I lived in a mid-2000s apartment building in D.C.—a relatively old building in our pro-growth capital—I had no such distractions. Double-paned windows kept out virtually all street noise, even on a busy downtown intersection, while fiberglass insulation kept neighbors from bothering one another. I wasn’t even certain that I had neighbors until we bumped into each other several months after I moved in.

Modern homes and apartment buildings are not only far better insulated—they also feature modern HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) technologies, such that homes can be warmed and cooled without using nearly as much energy as their older counterparts. Given that heating and cooling account for nearly half of all household energy use in the U.S., the savings from new housing could have serious implications for climate change. That little space heater struggling to keep your drafty old apartment warm—to say nothing of your window AC unit—isn’t just unsightly. It’s also a climate failure.

In smaller ways, too, new construction is nicer. Bathrooms and closets are larger, as are kitchens, which are no longer walled off from the rest of the home. Modern windows let you bathe a unit in natural light, without temperature or noise concerns. Smaller unit sizes—think studios and one-bedrooms—better reflect shrinking households. And in-unit laundry is more common now, as are balconies—amenities that have only grown in value amid recurring COVID-related shutdowns.

For comparison’s sake, consider the Japanese approach. The average Japanese home is demolished 30 years after construction, the realistic life span of a typical cheaply built structure. The Japanese have virtually no “used home” market: Fully 87 percent of Japanese home sales are new, compared with 11 to 34 percent in the West. As a result, most Japanese households enjoy a new house or apartment with all the modern amenities and design innovation that entails, including ever-improving earthquake standards. And this steady supply of new housing has helped make Tokyo one of the most affordable cities in the world, despite a growing population.

All that construction consumes a fair share of resources, and housing in Japan doesn’t double as an investment vehicle. But I, for one, would take that trade-off.

4) Jerusalem Demsas on what’s behind the current moment for student loan forgiveness.  A number of theories, but I think it’s mostly this:

Reason five: The power of college graduates

According to Catalist data, roughly 43 percent of the 2020 Biden electorate graduated from a four-year college or university. Compare that with 2012, when, according to Pew, just 36 percent of registered Democrats had completed a four-year degree or more. Given that trend, student-loan forgiveness may seem like the classic tale of a political party transferring a valuable benefit to a crucial constituency.

Although college-educated voters are an important segment of the Democratic Party, no one identity group is completely dominant. The party has long been a coalitional organization stitched together loosely and lacking a clear ideological core. Daniel Schlozman, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University, explained a coalitional shift within the party in recent years. “Democrats are becoming more consistently liberal in a variety of ways, and they’re becoming more upper-middle-class all at once,” he told me. “And that creates some awkwardness.”

Awkward indeed that so much energy has been spent on a policy proposal that would affect just 13 percent of the population, and that would send the most dollars to high-income earners and those with graduate degrees. The fervor with which student-loan advocates argue that these policies are in fact racially and economically progressive may be an attempt to resolve the awkwardness that Schlozman describes—advocates of debt cancellation are trying to build a coherent narrative for why a diverse coalition, many of whom have never attended college, should be in favor of forgiveness.

College-educated voters are not just dominant within the Democratic Party; they also dominate the media and, naturally, academia—two institutions that have significant power over what issues are brought to the fore. Importantly, academia and media have also become notoriously unstable work environments lacking sufficiently well-paying jobs. The demographics and precarity of these fields are likely playing a role in the prominence of the student-loan-forgiveness debate.

There are many good proposals for how to forgive student debt, particularly targeted programs aimed at helping those who attended predatory institutions or those who never received a degree and thus missed out on the higher earning potential that comes with it. But the issue’s prominence in our discourse has less to do with its merits than the changing political landscape that has stymied legislative efforts and given college graduates agenda-setting power.

5) Really, really good interview with Yashca Mounk on his new book about multiethnic democracy:

Gupta: Let’s discuss the ideal scenario. We talked a little bit about it in terms of the group dynamics we want to encourage. What changes would you make to American society and politics to make that a reality? 

Mounk: I actually think the most important reason why I’m optimistic about the future is not that I’ve come up with a great solution, and I’m going to tell you what that solution is, and then if only you will listen to me, we can right the ship—I think a lot of books have that kind of structure and it’s never very convincing. The reason why I’m optimistic is that when I look at Twitter, I despair. When I look at a lot of newspapers, I despair. When I look at the cable news shows, I definitely despair. But when I look at what’s actually going on in society, I don’t despair. America has become much more tolerant in the last decades. We have really rapid socioeconomic progress of minority and immigrant groups, in a way that’s rarely appreciated by either the left or the right. The best study suggests that immigrants from Central or South America, for example, are rising up the socio-economic ranks as rapidly as Irish and Italian Americans did a century ago. This shows that the far-right is wrong in believing that there’s something somehow inferior about them. But it also shows that parts of the left are wrong in thinking that our countries are so racist and so discriminatory that nonwhite people don’t have opportunity. Thankfully, actually, people have opportunity. We see that in the way in which their children or grandchildren in particular are rising up very rapidly. Now, there are also all kinds of sensible things we can do in terms of how we think about our country, the education we engage in, the kind of patriotism we embrace, the kinds of policies and acts of Congress that we should pass—and that’s important, too. But fundamentally, my optimism comes from the developments that I already see happening in society.

6) Jane Coaston on don’t say gay legislation:

I didn’t come out as bisexual when I was a kid. I grew up in Ohio in the ’90s and attended Catholic school. The message I received was that women who weren’t feminine by traditional standards were vaguely suspicious. So I was clearly in big trouble, and bisexuality seemed like something I’d only get to achieve if I could somehow make it to a safer place.

If I had learned at some point when I was young that being L.G.B.T.Q. was a normal way to be a human being — not a sign that I was evil and disgusting or, even worse to a chubby girl in junior high, ugly — I could have avoided so much anguish and time spent trying to “fix” myself on evangelical Christian message boards.

So to me, bills like Florida’s HB 1557, which bars “instruction” on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, are vague at absolute best and extraordinarily dangerous at worst, aimed at solving a “problem” that I do not think exists.

This week, for “The Argument,” I was grateful to have had a chance to discuss the Florida bill, along with similar legislation, with Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg, columnists for Times Opinion.

As Ross recently wrote, some of these bills have been put forward by people who see the growing number of L.G.T.B.Q. Americans as a bad thing. The share of younger Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender has risen over the last decade, including 21 percent of those born between 1997 and 2003. Ross wrote in his column that the reactions to these numbers can be sorted into three groups: “this is great news,” “we shouldn’t read too much into it,” and “this trend is bad news.”

 

I can be found resting happily somewhere in between the first two groups. That more people are L.G.B.T.Q. seems like what would logically happen in a society that is more affirming of being L.G.B.T.Q.

But having read a great deal by social conservatives about the new bills, it seems to me that these writers believe that there are simply too many L.G.B.T.Q. kids — “far in excess of what can be explained by more people coming out as stigma declines” — and that this must be the fault of teachers “grooming” them or a media environment that’s too permissive. Because otherwise, those kids would be, as conservative writer Rod Dreher might put it, normal.

I would love to know the degree to which LGBT-identifying young adults in other western Democracies mirrors the rise here in the U.S. or is different and I’ve not been able to find that.  I’d love to know the percentage in France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, etc.

7) Singal and Chait both pushing back against a common leftist trope on twitter, but Chait I can link and quote:

8) This seems not great, “Fruits and vegetables are less nutritious than they used to be”

As you gaze across the rows of brightly colored fruits and vegetables in the produce section of the grocery store, you may not be aware that the quantity of nutrients in these crops has been declining over the past 70 years.

Mounting evidence from multiple scientific studies shows that many fruits, vegetables, and grains grown today carry less protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin C than those that were grown decades ago. This is an especially salient issue if more people switch to primarily plant-based diets, as experts are increasingly recommending for public health and for protecting the planet.

Nutrient decline “is going to leave our bodies with fewer of the components they need to mount defenses against chronic diseases—it’s going to undercut the value of food as preventive medicine,” says David R. Montgomery, a professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington in Seattle and co-author with Anne Biklé of What Your Food Ate.

Even for people who avoid processed foods and prioritize fresh produce, this trend means that “what our grandparents ate was healthier than what we’re eating today,” says Kristie Ebi, an expert in climate change and health at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Scientists say that the root of the problem lies in modern agricultural processes that increase crop yields but disturb soil health. These include irrigation, fertilization, and harvesting methods that also disrupt essential interactions between plants and soil fungi, which reduces absorption of nutrients from the soil. These issues are occurring against the backdrop of climate change and rising levels of carbon dioxide, which are also lowering the nutrient contents of fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Experts say it’s important to keep these declines in perspective and not let this news deter you from eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to maintain your health. But they hope the results will spur more people to care about how their food is being grown.

9) This is definitely not great, “Covid vaccine concerns are starting to spill over into routine immunizations”

Kids aren’t getting caught up on routine shots they missed during the pandemic, and many vaccination proponents are pointing to Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy as a big reason why.

Public health experts, pediatricians, school nurses, immunization advocates and state officials in 10 states told POLITICO they are worried that an increasing number of families are projecting their attitudes toward the Covid-19 vaccine onto shots for measles, chickenpox, meningitis and other diseases.

That spillover of vaccine hesitancy may also be fueling an uptick in religious exemption requests from parents of school-aged children and is making it more difficult for states to catch up with children who missed immunizations during the pandemic’s early days when families skipped doctor’s appointments, they say.

That has pediatricians, school nurses and public health experts worried that preventable and possibly fatal childhood illnesses, once thought to be a thing of the past, could become more common.

“We just want to keep measles, polio, and all the things we vaccinate against out of the political arena,” said Hugo Scornik, a pediatrician and president of the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

He was alarmed by the introduction of several bills in the state legislature in the last year to limit vaccinations, including one that would have ended immunization requirements in schools. Several states considered similar pieces of legislation that would have either removed or whittled away at school vaccination requirements, though none moved forward.

10) NPR, “The education culture war is raging. But for most parents, it’s background noise”

Math textbooks axed for their treatment of race; a viral Twitter account directing ire at LGBTQ teachers; a state law forbidding classroom discussion of sexual identity in younger grades; a board book for babies targeted as “pornographic.” Lately it seems there’s a new controversy erupting every day over how race, gender or history are tackled in public school classrooms.

But for most parents, these concerns seem to be far from top of mind. That’s according to a new national poll by NPR and Ipsos. By wide margins – and regardless of their political affiliation – parents express satisfaction with their children’s schools and what is being taught in them.

11) I like this from Drum.  I want to actually look at the data on this some myself:

Why don’t Americans trust experts anymore? Sean Illing interviewed Michael Lewis about this recently, but they somehow managed to miss the obvious. Here are three charts from the GSS survey:

There are blip and bloops, but around 1990 Republican trust in experts started a steady downward trend compared to Democrats. Republican distrust of the press is a long-told story. Distrust in medicine, which far predates COVID-19, likely has something to do with abortion, treatment of addiction as a disease, and perhaps increasing physician support of national health care. And distrust of the scientific community is pretty obviously because the scientific community keeps producing inconvenient conclusions.

I’m not claiming this is the whole story. But overall, distrust of experts is a Republican-driven phenomenon. You’re missing a lot if you don’t acknowledge that.

 

12) Ian Milhiser on the latest school prayer case, “The justices may take a big bite out of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, or they might take a simply enormous bite out of it.”

Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, briefly explained

Kennedy involves Joseph Kennedy, a former public school football coach in Bremerton, Washington, who for many years would lead post-game prayer sessions for his players and for players on the opposing team. After his school district ordered him to discontinue these sessions, he largely did so, but he still insisted upon going to the 50-yard line after games and visibly praying in front of his players and the gathered spectators.

Kennedy also went on a nationwide media tour — at one point, Good Morning America did a segment on him — promoting his desire to tout his faith while he was coaching his students. This led many of Kennedy’s supporters to become disruptive during games. After one game, for example, so many people stormed the field to support Kennedy that a federal appeals court described it as a “stampede.” The district itself complained that this rush of people knocked over members of the school’s marching band, and that it was unable “to keep kids safe.”

Meanwhile, at least one parent complained to the school that his son “felt compelled to participate” in Kennedy’s prayers, despite the fact that he is an atheist, because the student feared “he wouldn’t get to play as much if he didn’t participate.”

Eventually, the school placed Kennedy on leave, after he rebuffed the school’s attempt to reach an accommodation that would allow Kennedy to pray without disrupting games or pressuring students into unwanted religious acts.

Under existing law, this should not be a difficult case. The Supreme Court suggested in Lee v. Weisman (1992) that public school-sponsored religious activity is inherently coercive, both because of the authority school officials wield over students, and because students who stand out are likely to face peer pressure to fall in line. Such pressure, the Court said in Lee, may be “subtle and indirect” but it also “can be as real as any overt compulsion,” as it leaves a young nonadherent with “a reasonable perception that she is being forced by the State to pray in a manner her conscience will not allow.”

But the Court’s 6-3 Republican majority has been quite clear about its eagerness to overrule longstanding religion cases. One of the new majority’s very first actions after Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation gave Republicans a supermajority on the Court, for example, was to give churches and other places of worship a new right to defy public health orders during the Covid-19 pandemic.

13) I thought I’d give David French an open-minded read with his contention that the coach “should be allowed to pray.”  But the fact that French completely elides the key fact of the coach’s coercive power over his players made me even more firm in my opinions on this one. 

14) I think I missed this from Jeffrey Sachs in 2020, “No, Professors Are Not Brainwashing Their Students”

So What Does College Do?

It wasn’t always this way. Data from the 1940s to 1970s show that there used to be a strong relationship between college attendance and political liberalism. But the link has been weakening for decades, probably because of hardening political attitudes among freshmen. High schoolers also have a much wider range of colleges and universities to choose from, making it easier to find an institution that matches their pre-existing beliefs.

But none of this means higher education has no political effect. College graduates are more likely to be politically active than their non-graduate peers, especially if they major in the social sciences. They also tend to be more politically knowledgeable, as shown in a recent study of identical twins. And while college seems to have little impact on whether a student is liberal or conservative, a number of studies find that it does make them more supportive of civil liberties and gender egalitarianism, though not less religious.

However, even these changes are more likely due to the influence of peers (i.e., other students) than faculty. Indeed, one of the best predictors of whether a student’s political views will change in university is their degree of social embeddedness. The more involved a student is in campus clubs, Greek life, or athletics, the more likely he or she will adopt their peers’ political views. Students want to fit in, and that pressure affects their politics. But it’s not the approval of their faculty they crave. It’s their classmates.

Thus, while college graduates do tend to be more liberal than non-graduates, it is unlikely that college itself is responsible. On the contrary, someone who enters college a conservative will almost certainly leave as one. The same happens with liberals.

Some changes take place, especially in terms of general political knowledge, activism, and attitudes toward gender equality and civil rights. But anything beyond this is more likely due to socialization and peer pressure. Faculty have very little to do with it.

15) Love this from Pamela Paul, “The Limits of ‘Lived Experience’”

Did Dana Schutz, a white artist, have the right to paint Emmett Till? Was it fair that a white historian, David Blight, won a Pulitzer for his biography of Frederick Douglass? Should Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner be the ones to update “West Side Story,” a musical conceived by four Jewish men but fundamentally about Puerto Rican lives?

Let’s make it personal: Am I, as a new columnist for The Times, allowed to weigh in on anything other than a narrow sliver of Gen X white woman concerns?

Not according to many of those who wish to regulate our culture — docents of academia, school curriculum dictators, aspiring Gen Z storytellers and, increasingly, establishment gatekeepers in Hollywood, book publishing and the arts. It’s the ultimate litmus test: Only those whose “lived experience” matches the story are qualified to tell the tale.

So what is this vaunted “lived experience”? You may recognize it by its longstanding name, “personal experience,” or less excitingly, “experience.” But “lived experience,” with its earthy suggestion of authority, says to other people: Unless you have walked in my shoes, you have no business telling my story.

Here’s the argument: The dominant culture (white, male, Western, straight) has been dictating the terms for decades, effectively silencing or “erasing” the authentic identities and voices of the people whose stories are being told. The time has come to “center” these other voices.

In practice and across the arts, this means that only those people who have directly experienced discrimination or oppression, for example, or who in some way embody that experience should be allowed to portray characters, create stories or drive programming about it. They’re the ones who can truly interpret those tales accurately. The goal is greater share of the narrative and greater stake in any profits.

It’s essentially a turf war. Only Latino authors can write novels about Latinos. Only Holocaust survivors can convey the truth of the Holocaust. Only disabled people can portray disabled people. Everyone else is out.

16) Fascinating in Smithsonian, “How Yellow Fever Intensified Racial Inequality in 19th-Century New Orleans: A new book explores how immunity to the disease created opportunities for white, but not Black, people”

17) I’m really intrigued by Katherine Harden’s work on genetics and I love Thomas Frank’s Success and Luck, so I quite enjoyed Frank’s review of Harden’s book:

That things like eye color, body mass, and longevity are heritable was known millennia before anyone even knew what genes were. Studies documenting the heritability of sexual orientation, academic achievement, schizophrenia, and political beliefs are relatively recent. As Kathryn Paige Harden notes in The Genetic Lottery, many social scientists are more comfortable acknowledging some of these linkages than others. Although it is uncontroversial to note that speech pathologies are heritable, for example, few seem comfortable discussing evidence suggesting that the same is true of a propensity to homelessness.

There’s an obvious explanation for this asymmetry. “For over 150 years,” Harden writes, “the science of human heredity has been used to advance racist and classist ideologies, with horrific consequences for people classified as ‘inferior’” (p. 12). A behavioral geneticist on the psychology faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, she is quick to disassociate herself from Social Darwinists and their ilk. An unapologetic egalitarian in the Rawlsian tradition, she argues that our efforts to construct a more just society will be more likely to succeed if we ground them on our best understanding of the forces that spawn existing social structures. She presents compelling evidence that genetic variation is one of the most important of those forces.

Income and wealth inequality clearly result in part from traits we inherit. Some of the relevant causal pathways have long been evident, as in studies linking earnings to IQ and good health, both of which are strongly heritable. Heritable traits like height and physical attractiveness are also associated with higher earnings. But Harden also describes new evidence linking genetic variation to less easily measured traits, such as openness to experience, ability to defer gratification, and grit—the ability to persist in the face of adversity. These traits also strongly influence someone’s ability to succeed in the labor market.

Studies showing that heredity’s role in economic success is far greater than many realized pose no challenge to the egalitarian position. On the contrary, Harden argues, they actually bolster it. Successful people have long been quick to attribute their accomplishments to talent and hard work alone. (As E. B. White memorably wrote, “Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.”) But where do talent and the inclination to work hard come from? Scientists could once say only that they result from a poorly understood mix of genetic and environmental forces. The forces themselves remain poorly understood. But as Harden’s narrative makes clear, revolutionary advances in gene sequencing have shown that the genetic components of these forces are far more important than once believed…

Even without reference to genetic variations, it has long been beyond question that events over which individuals have no control have enormous influence on important life outcomes. For example, roughly half of the variance in incomes across persons worldwide is explained by country of residence and the income distribution within that country. Even within a country, children are far more likely to flourish in some family environments than in others. Chance events also matter in a variety of less conspicuous ways—as when Bryan Cranston, who had never before acted in a leading dramatic role, was cast as Walter White in Breaking Bad only after Matthew Broderick and John Cusack first turned the role down.

To all that, we now add Harden’s evidence that the genetic lottery is even more influential than we knew. In the face of this evidence, it is difficult to deny that success in life is almost entirely a matter of luck.

But to acknowledge the importance of chance events is not to deny the importance of traditional determinants of success. Most successful people are of course both talented and hardworking, as they are quick to remind us. When they try to explain their success to themselves and others, they easily retrieve examples from memory in which they came to work early and stayed late, solved difficult problems, bested formidable rivals, and so on. It is thus perfectly natural that many might feel offended when their success is attributed, even in small measure, to luck.

But even though talent and an inclination to work hard result from genetic and environmental forces over which we have little control, it may be disadvantageous to think in those terms. Working hard is, well, hard. To persist in the face of difficult challenges often means having to dig deep, to resist powerful impulses to quit. Imagine two people who have managed to persist under trying circumstances. One thinks to herself, “How lucky I was to draw the DNA card for persistence in the genetic lottery.” Her rival instead basks in pride for having summoned the will to persist. If you agree that the rival will be more likely to persevere when the next difficult challenge arises, you understand why few parents encourage their children to view being inclined to work hard as luck. It is luck, of course. But from the individual perspective, it may be disadvantageous to view it that way.

That same caveat doesn’t apply in the domain of public policy, where steps to reduce luck’s contribution to inequality promise benefits for all.

18) Jerrod Carmichael’s “Rothaniel” special was honestly like nothing I’ve ever seen.  I highly recommend it.  Also, I find most stand-up comics just not all that funny.  Carmichael, though, actually makes me laugh.

19) Meanwhile, hard to think of a show with a bigger drop off in quality than Russian Doll season 2.  They really should’ve stopped after season 1.  After falling asleep during each of the first 3 episodes of season 2, I called it quits. 

20) Such a sad story, “Millions of Bees Bound for Alaska Are Rerouted and Die in Atlanta
A shipment of five million honeybees was diverted to Atlanta and left out on a hot tarmac. Local beekeepers tried to come to the rescue, but very few survived.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) NYT discussion on the future of democracy.  This part really stood out to me.  How much is about just plain cowardice:

Homans: Ben, you worked for the Republican Party for decades as an election lawyer. Did the way in which the party metabolized Trump’s response to the 2020 election, and the Jan. 6 attack, surprise you?

Ginsberg: The whole thing, honestly, has shocked me. It’s not so much the elected officials who were giving the fist pumps on Jan. 6, because they were sort of predictable in doing that. It’s the many people within the party whom I know and have known for years who are good, decent, principled people, who are silent. It’s the silence of the Republican Party that is most surprising to me and most upsetting. We’ve described the problem in this conversation, but the much more difficult part is figuring out what to do about it. I think that’s what Sarah and I as Republicans have a particular obligation to do. But I don’t know how you bring the people within the Republican Party who should be speaking out to do exactly what you say, Steve, which is to make clear that this violence and election denial is not acceptable.

Homans: Steven, one clear takeaway from “How Democracies Die” is that the resolution to democratic crisis really has to come from within the party that is incubating the anti-democratic movement. This was what the center-right parties in Germany and Italy failed to do in the 1930s, which delivered Hitler and Mussolini to power. But other European center-right parties in Sweden and Belgium, for instance, succeeded in expelling fascist movements within their ranks in that same period.

Levitsky: But I think the Republicans will not reform themselves until they take a series of electoral defeats, major electoral defeats — and given the level of partisan identity that Lily describes, and given an electoral system that is biased toward the Republicans through no fault of their own, that’s not going to happen.

Also, totally agree with Lewitsky on this point:

Levitsky: Some of that is obviously true. I think what’s needed in the short term to preserve democracy, to get through the worst of this storm, is a much broader coalition than we’ve put together to date. Something on the lines of true fusion tickets that really brings in Republicans — maybe not a lot of the electorate, but enough to assure that the Trumpist party loses. That would mean bringing in a good chunk of that Bush-Cheney network that’s out there — that in private says the same things that I’ve said, but that has thus far been largely unwilling to speak out publicly — and having them in many cases on the same ticket.

And that means something that we have not seen enough of in the last couple of decades, which is real political sacrifice. It means that lifelong Republicans have to work to elect Democrats. And it means the progressives have to set aside a slew of policy issues that they care deeply about so that the ticket is comfortable to right-wing politicians. And we’re nowhere near that, neither in the Bush-Cheney network nor in the Democratic Party. Having talked to a number of Democratic elected politicians, I can tell you that we are nowhere near Democrats being willing to make those kinds of political sacrifice. But that is what is needed.

2) Good stuff from Jeff Maurer:

One of the main Republican lines of attack involves Judge Jackson’s work as a public defender. Both Mitch McConnell and the RNC suggested that her time as a defense attorney indicates sympathy for criminals, including prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. I find this logic phenomenally dumb; I think the principle that everyone deserves a defense has been basically settled since John Adams/Paul Giamatti defended British redcoats/the guy who played Pius Thickness in Harry Potterway back in 1770/2008.

And yet, I managed to hear the “how dare you defend that person” argument twice in one day. At roughly the same moment that Judge Jackson was being sworn in, Aaron Sibarium was publishing an article on Bari Weiss’ substack recounting numerous instances of defense attorneys getting flak from left-leaning law students. The law students were basically asking the same question as Congressional Republicans: How could you defend that person? And, of course, that question has an answer: You defend that person because if a right exists, then it exists universally, or it doesn’t exist at all. I think that’s easy to understand. But I’m struck by the number of people on the left these days who appear not to understand that, and how they also don’t seem to realize that continually carving out exceptions to liberal principles will almost surely come back to bite them in the ass.

Consider free speech. A common argument among those who feel that American doesn’t have a free speech problem is that the concern over eroding speech norms is mostly just white men who want freedom to be racist. There’s a mountain of evidence suggesting that that’s not true — the very New York Times editorial that ignited the most recent Twitter tribalism dunk-fest contains some of that evidence — but suppose that it was true. Suppose that this entire debate was about straight-up, no-doubt-about-it racism.

Probably the most famous free speech case in American history is the ACLU defense of Nazis’ right to march in Skokie, Illinois. We will surely never have a harder test case of the free speech principle because Nazis are — I’m sure we can all agree — the worst people. It’s actually incredible how near-universal that sentiment is. In a century that saw the Soviets, the Khmer Rouge, the KKK, and the 1980s Oakland A’s, the Nazis still emerged as the all-but universally agreed uponworst people in the world. When it comes to undisputed GOATs, it’s basically just Hitler for evil and Michael Phelps for swimming, which I’m sure is a comparison that Michael Phelps loves.

The ACLU understood that if free speech could be curbed for Nazis, it could be curbed for other groups. In fact, they were explicitly trying to push back against tactics that had been used to shut down civil rights protesters in the south. Many backers of the free speech movement were socialists, which makes sense, because being a socialist in Cold War America was about as popular as being a nudist at bible camp. By defending a far-right group, the ACLU defended a principle that also gave left-wing groups freedom to operate…

The right will continue to use tactics being used by the left. This week, Josh Hawley achieved the incredible feat of lowering my opinion of Josh Hawley by accusing Ketanji Brown Jackson of being soft on child pornographers. The charge was utter bullshit — it was even denounced in the National ReviewBut Hawley’s tactic was a classic Twitter-era move: accuse someone of a charge so toxic that they lose by even addressing it. An unhealthy aspect of our culture is that people thrown around very serious charges — pedophilia, racism, sexism, etc. — the way Jackson Pollack tossed around paint. Judge Jackson will survive because people understand what Hawley’s doing, and also because Hawley is about as popular as a bee sting to the anus. But our habit of lobbing serious charges just to put our enemies on the defensive is not an appealing societal trait, and I think it’s ridiculous to pretend that it doesn’t have a chilling effect on speech.

3) The squat as the ultimate exercise:

What is the single best strength-building exercise many of us could be doing right this minute but almost certainly are not? Consult enough exercise scientists and the latest exercise research, and the answer would likely be a resounding: squats.

“For lower-body strength and flexibility, there is probably no better exercise,” said Bryan Christensen, a professor of biomechanics at North Dakota State University in Fargo, who studies resistance exercise.

The benefits are not confined to the lower body. “It is really a whole body exercise,” said Silvio Rene Lorenzetti, the director of the Performance Sports division of the Swiss Federal Institute of Sport in Magglingen. “It requires core stability and trains the back.”

Some people worry that squats can imperil the knees and hips, but the exercise can actually help protect and improve the workings of these and other joints, said Sasa Duric, an exercise scientist at the American University of the Middle East in Kuwait, who has studied squats. The movement “helps maintain the flexibility, stability and function” of hips, knees and ankles, he said.

But perhaps most fundamentally, squats are key to living and aging well. “When we clean the house or plant a vegetable garden, we need to squat,” Dr. Duric said. Ditto for easing into and out of chairs and lowering ourselves to toddler level for face-to-face playtime.

In essence, according to a 2014 scientific overview, squats are “one of the most primal and critical fundamental movements necessary to improve sport performance, to reduce injury risk and to support lifelong physical activity.”

When my timer on my office desktop goes off reminding me to move every 20 minutes, I actually usually do squats.

4) Because we’re not going to fix European soccer with financial rules doesn’t mean we can’t fix European soccer.  Rory Smith:

By now, it is abundantly clear that the way to manage the central problem in European soccer — the lack of competition engendered by financial imbalance — does not lie in a set of fiscal rules. They are too easily circumvented, too lightly enforced and invariably introduced several years too late.

Instead, the solution has to be sporting. The biggest teams will always make the most money — or at least say they make the most money — and will therefore have an advantage when spending is limited to a percentage of income. The more effective way to improve competition, both between clubs and between leagues, is to limit how they can spend it.

A hard salary cap, the sort often seen in North American sports, is clearly not something the clubs are prepared to accept. But there is nothing at all to stop UEFA from instituting policies that demand all teams have a significant proportion of homegrown players, or a certain number of squad members under age 23. There is no reason it cannot cap the number of players any team can send out on loan, or even introduce rules that grant effective free agency to players who have not made a specific number of appearances.

Any and all of those measures would discourage the hoarding of stars by a handful of teams. In turn, they would allow that talent to be spread more evenly around Europe’s various leagues. They would encourage teams to be more judicious in the market, to think more long-term. They would help to level the playing field not by suppressing some, but by lifting others.

5) Great stuff from Leonhardt on the insanity of Republicans at the KBJ hearings:

The debate over Jackson’s nomination has often had little to do with her. It has become an argument over a nominee who does not exist — one who does not respect America, is not truly religious, coddles child abusers and terrorists and has highly developed views about the importance of “woke” education. Yesterday, conservative activists used this portrayal to pressure moderate Democratic senators to vote against Jackson.

Conspiracy theories and unfair accusations have a long history in American politics, of course. But they have often remained on the margins. Today, distortions and falsehoods have moved to the center of politics.

While neither party is entirely innocent, there is a fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats. False claims regularly flow from the leaders of the Republican Party — including its most recent president, several of its likely future presidential candidates and the most influential media figures aligned with the party.

Donald Trump began his political career by claiming that Barack Obama was born in Africa and ended his presidency with false accusations of voter fraud. Prominent Republicans regularly cast doubt on the fact that greenhouse gases are warming the planet and contributing to extreme weather. Disinformation about Covid-19 vaccines has been so widespread that almost 40 percent of Republican adults have not received a shot, sometimes with fatal consequences.

There is no comparable list of false information coming from senior members of the Democratic Party…

But in trying to make Jackson a stand-in for these views, Republican senators are distorting reality. They are creating a caricature of a liberal Democrat that bears little resemblance to Jackson herself.

“One thing that is striking about this hearing,” Lori Ringhand, a legal scholar, told The Times, “is how little effort we are seeing to engage the nominee on her views about actual legal issues.”

6) Good stuff from Chait, “Trump’s Greatest Triumph Is Convincing America Crime Pays The failure to prosecute is a defeat for the rule of law.”

We don’t need to rely on Pomerantz’s say-so to evaluate Trump’s culpability. The public evidence is very extensive. As a practical matter, these crimes turn out to be difficult to prosecute. Trump famously refuses to write things down, scolds his aides and lawyers from taking notes in his presence, and manically destroys documents. Some of the crimes that are documented, like his years of systematic tax fraud proven by the New York Times, occurred too long ago to be charged today.

That said, the correct observation that certain crimes are difficult to charge seems to be transmuting into a sense that stealing is more or less acceptable. Even complaining about the fact that a once and potentially future president of the United States can be a career criminal has become deeply unfashionable.

The modern history of Ukraine shows the deeply corrosive effects of allowing this assumption to exist unchallenged. When a country gives up on the idea that rich people have to follow the law, the entire legitimacy of the state comes into question. Both the supporters and the enemies of Ukrainian sovereignty have understood for more than a decade that its very existence hinged on eliminating, or at least suppressing, the legal impunity enjoyed by its business class.

That belief is why Vice-President Joe Biden, at the tail end of the Obama administration, was pushing Ukraine to fire its ineffective prosecutor and install one who would make rich Ukrainians follow the law. And it is also why Vladimir Putin has so relentlessly used Ukrainian corruption as a pretext to violate his neighbor’s sovereignty.

Trump has spread a similar idea here. He has, of course, promiscuously accused all his antagonists of being crooks. But he has also insinuated his own complicity in their crookedness, bragging that he bought off politicians. The prosecutors who have tried to bring him to heel all look like losers. Mueller is a punchline. The broad cynicism that has set in about the rule of law is a genuine triumph for Trump.

7) This is such a fantastic essay from Ross Douthat (gift link) on the decline of movies as we know them (especially all the great middlebrow movies for adults that barely exist anymore).

My favored theory is that the Oscars are declining because the movies they were made to showcase have been slowly disappearing. The ideal Oscar nominee is a high-middlebrow movie, aspiring to real artistry and sometimes achieving it, that’s made to be watched on the big screen, with famous stars, vivid cinematography and a memorable score. It’s neither a difficult film for the art-house crowd nor a comic-book blockbuster but a film for the largest possible audience of serious adults — the kind of movie that was commonplace in the not-so-distant days when Oscar races regularly threw up conflicts in which every moviegoer had a stake: “Titanic” against “L.A. Confidential,” “Saving Private Ryan” against “Shakespeare in Love,” “Braveheart”against “Sense and Sensibility”against “Apollo 13.”…

Within the larger arc of Hollywood history, though, this is the time to call it: We aren’t just watching the decline of the Oscars; we’re watching the End of the Movies…

No, what looks finished is The Movies — big-screen entertainment as the central American popular art form, the key engine of American celebrity, the main aspirational space of American actors and storytellers, a pop-culture church with its own icons and scriptures and rites of adult initiation.

This end has been a long time coming — foreshadowed in the spread of television, the invention of the VCR, the rise of cable TV and Hollywood’s constant “It’s the pictures that got small” mythologization of its own disappearing past…

The late 1990s were this cultural order’s years of twilight glow. Computer-generated effects were just maturing, creating intimations of a new age of cinematic wonder. Indie cinema nurtured a new generation of auteurs. Nineteen ninety-nine is a candidate for the best year in movies ever — the year of “Fight Club,” “The Sixth Sense,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Election,” “Three Kings” and “The Insider,” so on down a roster that justifies not just a Top 10 but a Top 50 list in hindsight.

8) And OMG was 1999 an amazing year for movies.  And that also led me to an oral history of one of my personal favorites from 1999, “Office Space.

9) I’m fully intending to write more about the incredibly problematic use of the precautionary principle, but for now, a snipped from Chait regarding a horrible misguided piece from a couple of public health authors:

10) I love reading about how Jon Bon Jovi thinks about his set lists:

“I’ve been blessed. I’ve released 17 albums in my career. That’s a lot of music. … You go, ‘Oh, this one would be nice to pull out again.’ And it’s not an easy task, because the audience wants hear Song X, Y and Z. … You gotta do all the obvious hits. … You’re not gonna not play ‘Livin’ On a Prayer,’ and ‘It’s My Life,’ and ‘You Give Love a Bad Name.’

“So it’s just how far into the ‘Bed of Roses,’ and ‘Always,’ and then ‘I’ll Be There for You.’ ‘Oh yeah, that’s three ballads. Gee, I can’t fit three. But they’re all hits!’ Believe me, it’s a good problem to have,” Bon Jovi says, with a laugh.

“But yeah, the hits take up 70%, and that leaves you with 30% for new material and obscure tracks. That’s the kind of breakdown. (So it leaves) you with X amount of slots for your artistic, you know, ‘listen-and-look-at-me’ moments, when it’s just about ‘I don’t care if you don’t wanna hear this song, I wanna play it. I’m allowed one or two of those,” he says, chuckling again.

“Then I have the benefit of changing it on a nightly basis. … If somebody hears ‘Always’ one night and ‘Bed of Roses’ the next night, it’s cool. It’s all acceptable.”

“Truly, it is like a very simple (process),” Bon Jovi adds, “but nonetheless a Rubik’s Cube.”

11) This is cool, “Is Geometry a Language That Only Humans Know? Neuroscientists are exploring whether shapes like squares and rectangles — and our ability to recognize them — are part of what makes our species special.”

The researchers called this the “geometric regularity effect” and they hypothesized — it’s a fragile hypothesis, they admit — that this might provide, as they noted in their paper, a “putative signature of human singularity.” (Experiments are ongoing and open to participants online.)

With the baboons, regularity made no difference, the team found. Twenty-six baboons — including Muse, Dream and Lips — participated in this aspect of the study, which was run by Joël Fagot, a cognitive psychologist at Aix-Marseille University.

The baboons live at a research facility in the South of France, beneath the Montagne Sainte-Victoire (a favorite of Cézanne’s), and they are fond of the testing booths and their 19-inch touch-screen devices. (Dr. Fagot noted that the baboons were free to enter the testing booth of their choice — there were 14 — and that they were “maintained in their social group during testing.”) They mastered the oddity test when training with nongeometric images — picking out an apple, say, among five slices of watermelon. But when presented with regular polygons, their performance collapsed.

Fruit, Flower, Geometry

Symbols used to test whether baboons can pick out a non-matching symbol within a group.

 

By The New York Times | Source: Mathias Sablé-Meyer, Stanislas Dehaene et al.

“The results are striking, and there seems indeed a difference between the perception of shapes by humans and baboons,” Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University, said in an email. “Whether this difference in perception amounts to human ‘singularity’ would have to await research on our closest primate relatives, the apes,” Dr. de Waal said. “It is also possible, as the authors argue (and reject), that humans live in an environment where right angles matter, whereas baboons do not.”

12) As almost always, great stuff from deBoer: “Sometimes People Legitimately Disagree on Difficult Questions: it’s not in fact true that everyone who disagrees with you is secretly evil”

I choose this tweet merely because it’s an encapsulation of so much of the assumption of bad faith and avoidance of the social justice perspective. (That Adam Costco is one of the most nakedly self-aggrandizing Last Good White Men is merely a bonus.)

Here’s the deal. I am opposed to the “social justice movement,” while being very much in favor of social justice, for a few reasons. The first is that I think the social justice movement is legitimately wrong on a variety of core issues. For example, civil liberties – I think they’re good; the social justice movement thinks they’re a con on the part of bigots. That’s a genuine disagreement. There’s people in the social justice movement who are explicitly, unambiguously opposed to free speech as a principle. And that’s cool. They’re wrong, is all. You can find plenty of books written that define the reasons free speech is good. But that disagreement between me and them is real. It’s not code for “I think trans people are faking.” (I genuinely don’t have the slightest idea what that could mean.) Unlike many in the social justice movement, I believe that civil liberties are essential even while I understand the vital need to fight racism, sexism, and transphobia. I simply believe that those fights have to be balanced with the defense of civil liberties, and in fact think that waging those fights requires a respect for civil liberties. Costco is free to disagree. But he’s not free to tell me what I “really” think. Another disagreement is about the proportionality of social punishment. The social justice movement often seems to think that anyone guilty of even minor expressions of bigotry should be permanently socially outcast. I don’t agree. But that’s all it is. It’s just disagreement. Happens every day.

But here’s something that should perhaps concern even people like Costco: the social justice movement has coopted basic left goals and has completely failed to meet them. The social justice movement hates racism, sexism, homophobia, and assorted social ills, and yet has achieved nothing in fighting them.

Indeed, I criticize the social justice movement not because I oppose challenging our status quo power hierarchy, but precisely because I do want to challenge that hierarchy. The social justice movement absolutely sucks at challenging establishment power! …

This failure, by the way, is perfectly predictable when you observe the fact that the social justice movement actively disdains persuading others (“it’s not my job to educate you”) and relentlessly fixates on ideas that are vastly unpopular (“defund the police”). Those seem like valid, important observations.

13) Yes to this on how to make the NCAA games way better:

The sport shouldn’t get rid of replay, but it should, at the very least, adopt a couple of fixes. No one needs officials quietly whispering “Enhance” to the replay operator eight times to see if the ball nicked the offensive player’s hangnail after the defender knocked it out of his hands and out of bounds.

When I tune into the final minutes of an NCAA Tournament game, I want to see a moment that looks like a dynamic athlete is operating on bullet-time closely followed by a decision that looks like a team never has seen a full-court press before.

I want to see the best plays I’ve ever seen randomly interspersed with the worst plays I’ve ever seen. It’s the beauty of watching college players chase a dream. It’s tremendous television. You never know what can happen on the bracket, but you never know what can happen on the floor in a game, either. On Saturday, North Carolina coughed up a 25-point lead in less than a half and beat a No. 1 seed in overtime anyway. It was the kind of game with enough twists and turns that would be a farce if it was fiction. Instead, it was one of the craziest games I’d seen all year.

I want to see that.

I don’t want to see 12 replays of a block/charge call interspersed with a closeup of the back of two referees hunched over a tiny monitor at center court. I’d rather watch a marathon of the final season of “Lost” on repeat for a week.

This can be fixed.

One, install a permanent replay official with the power to overturn a call. There’s no reason the game needs to be stopped for a replay review of whether a shooter’s foot was on the line. Let a replay official, with no responsibilities on the court, examine it during play. If the call was correct, keep it moving. If a change is necessary, stop play at the next made basket or dead ball and announce it. Then keep it moving.

And most importantly, that “52 seconds” that can go well over on plenty of occasions and definitely did so during the season, has to drop. Let a permanent replay official, whether on-site or in a neutral location like the NBA does, begin the review immediately (maybe even before a review officially begins) and consult with on-court officials after they go to the monitor and work together to make a decision.

But there has to be a clock. No review needs to go longer than a minute or 90 seconds at most, barring a fix to the game clock to correct a missed call. If it’s not 100 percent clear by that brief deadline, let the call stand.

Replay has to be a net to catch egregious misses, not forensic science. The pursuit of getting calls right is a noble one, but when it becomes three minutes spent watching eight zoomed-in shots of four different angles and a couple of fan-shot videos from the crowd to learn that, actually, the ball didn’t graze the center’s leg hair and officials got the call right on the floor, that pursuit becomes a net negative on the sport.

The NCAA Tournament is the most fun event in sports, but replay is turning the most fun part of the game into an atrocious viewing experience.

14) Good stuff from Katelyn Jetelina on the possibilities we face for BA.2. 

15) Unless one of you convinces me otherwise, I’m done with “Severance” on Apple TV.  Mostly, I’ve decided the creative team has some interesting ideas that I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a big payoff at the end, but they have basically no idea how to construct a compelling episode of television.

It might as well be called the Maguffin Corporation, given that whatever their work might be revealed to affect, if indeed it affects anything at all, will be less important than the fact that none of them have any idea what it’s about and less interesting than the pokily building adventure that gets them to wherever this show is meant to end. Clues are dropped that something deeper is going on, but so much time elapses between them that you may have dropped one by the time you gather the next…

And because there is a mystery, if only in the sense that we are given very little information — even the characters, apart from Mark, have been severed from their backstories — one keeps watching, to discover what’s being held back, however many trips down a white corridor to jaunty tropical hold music that entails. You will have to wait a little; the season finale is genuinely exciting and suspenseful, but, really, even as an advocate of slow television, we might have got there in half the time with twice the effect. Rod Serling could have wrapped it up in half an hour.

16) Meanwhile, “The Other Two” is an absolute delight and so well-written.  Way more people should be watching and talking about this show. 

17) This Editorial from the UVA student newspaper calling for Mike Pence not to speak on campus is nuts. It really is “no platform for Republicans.”  

A student organization recently announced its plans to host former vice president Mike Pence this April to speak in Old Cabell Hall. For Pence, gay couples signify a “societal collapse,” Black lives do not matter, transgender individuals and immigrants do not deserve protection and the pandemic should not be taken seriously. Nevertheless, the University has accepted Pence’s visit as an “opportunity to hear from, and engage with, leaders and experts from a wide variety of fields and perspectives.” So-called “perspectives” should not be welcomed when they spread rhetoric that directly threatens the presence and lives of our community members. [emphasis mine] The LGBTQ+ individuals Pence has attacked, the Black lives he refuses to value and the successful stories of immigration he and the former president hope to prevent — these very people are our peers, our neighbors and our community members. We refuse to condone platforming Pence.

Oh, “the lives” threatened by Pence! Anyway, I got my first ever block on twitter as Jamelle Bouie (UVA alum) blocked me for tweeting derisively about this editorial. 

18) Mark Joseph Stern, “The Ketanji Brown Jackson Hearings Show Marriage Equality Is the Next Target Once Roe Falls”

During Ketanji Brown Jackson’s hearings this week, GOP senators have, predictably, condemned Roe—but not as much as might be expected. Instead, many senators have turned their attention to a different precedent that’s likely next on their hit list once Roe likely falls this summer: Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision recognizing same-sex couples’ constitutional right to marry.

Loathing for Obergefell emerged early on Tuesday, when Republican Sen. John Cornyn launched a frontal assault on the ruling, then sought Jackson’s reaction. He began by criticizing “substantive due process,” which holds that the “liberty” protected by the due process clause protects substantive rights, not just procedural ones. The Supreme Court has used this theory to enforce “unenumerated rights” that it deems fundamental, including the right to marry, raise children, use contraception, and terminate a pregnancy. Along with equal protection, it served as the basis of Obergefell. According to Cornyn, however, this doctrine is “just another form of judicial policymaking” that can be used “to justify basically any result.”…

In case it wasn’t clear what these senators were up to, Cornyn made it explicit on Wednesday afternoon. “The Constitution doesn’t mention the word abortion,” he lectured Jackson, “just like it doesn’t mention the word marriage.” These senators appear confident that the Supreme Court will overrule the constitutional right to an abortionin Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which should come down by JuneThey are so confident, in fact, that they prodded Jackson to say whether she would abide by Dobbs once she joins the court, rather than fight to revive Roe. But on the whole, Republicans were noticeably less engaged over abortion than they were about same-sex marriage…

It’s easy to see why. The GOP, alongside the conservative legal movement, has built up a massive infrastructure to fight the culture wars. After Roe, it will need a new target, and marriage equality is the obvious choice. Republicans never really gave up on the issue, but rather staged a tactical retreat after Obergefell, pressing for sweeping exemptions from civil rights laws to legalize discrimination against same-sex couples. But after Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett replaced the gay-friendly Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this retreat slowed to a crawl, and Republicans sought to regain some ground. They pressed the Supreme Court to roll back protections for same-sex couples (to no avail—yet) and have now launched a campaign to mandate anti-LGBTQ discrimination in schools. A GOP legislator in Texas has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to declare that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage remains valid and enforceable.

As the architect of Texas’ vigilante abortion ban has candidly acknowledged, overturning Roe will leave Obergefell hanging by a thread. And the unraveling won’t stop there. A number of major decisions protecting reproductive rights, including access to contraception, will be imperiled if the court repudiates substantive due process. So will Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 decision legalizing interracial marriage, which—just like Obergefell—relied on both due process and equal protection. Republican Sen. Mike Braun claims to have misspoken when he said that Loving should be overturned on Tuesday. But he was only following his beliefs to their logical conclusion.

19) This is really good, “How Putin badly misjudged the West, as explained by a Russia expert”

Greg Sargent: What is it about Putin’s way of seeing the world, and his understanding of his own mythologies, that made it inevitable that he’d underestimate the Western response?

Timothy Snyder: For me the most revealing text here is the victory declaration, which the Russian press agency accidentally published on Feb. 26. What they say is that the West just basically needed one more push to fall into total disarray.

If you watch Jan. 6 clips over and over again, you can get that impression. The Russians really have been fixated on Jan. 6.

They thought a successful military operation in Ukraine would be that nudge: We’d feel helpless, we’d fall into conflict, it would help [Donald] Trump in the U.S., it would help populists around the world.
 
Sargent: When you say Russia has been making a lot of Jan. 6 — what do they read into it?

Snyder: Number one, they use it to mock us by saying, “These are just peaceful protesters.” Number two, they use it for one of their favorite arguments, which is that democracy is a joke everywhere.

But the deeper point is that Trump’s attempt to overthrow the election on Jan. 6 made the American system look fragile. They think, “One more Trump and the Americans are done.” In invading Ukraine, they think they’re putting huge pressure on the Biden administration. They’re going to make Biden look weak.

That probably was their deep fantasy about the West: Successful military occupation in Ukraine; the Biden administration is totally impotent; we humiliate them; Trump comes back; this is a big strategic victory for us.

20) This is old and funny as hell, “Ayn Rand reviews children’s movies”

“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”

An excellent movie. The obviously unfit individuals are winnowed out through a series of entrepreneurial tests and, in the end, an enterprising young boy receives a factory. I believe more movies should be made about enterprising young boys who are given factories. —Three and a half stars. (Half a star off for the grandparents, who are sponging off the labor of Charlie and his mother. If Grandpa Joe can dance, Grandpa Joe can work.)…

“Charlotte’s Web”

A farmer allows sentimental drawings by a bug to prevail over economic necessity and refuses to value his prize pig, Wilbur, by processing and selling him on the open market. Presumably, the pig still dies eventually, only without profiting his owners. The farmer’s daughter, Fern, learns nothing except how to become an unsuccessful farmer. There is a rat in this movie. I quite liked the rat. He knew how to extract value from his environment. —Two stars.

21) Good free Yglesias post you should read, “Climate politics for the real world: What the Sunrise Movement and its boosters get wrong”

And it’s worth stepping back from the debate about specific tactical decisions and bad tweets to examine that underlying framing. This is the way I think the left sees the climate issue:

  • There is a latent desire among the mass public for sweeping change in general and for sweeping climate-related change in particular.

  • The main impediment to change is an elite cabal of special interests, most of all the fossil fuel companies, who wield power through campaign contributions and buying ads to distort the media agenda.

  • Due to the corrupting influence of fossil fuel money, not only do Republicans take bad stances on climate-related issues but so do Democrats, which means highlighting Joe Manchin’s personal financial relationship to the coal industry is crucial to communicating the legislative dynamics at work.

The upshot of this framework is that we need a broad grassroots movement that can push the political system (including corrupt and wayward moderate Democrats) into taking the drastic action the planet needs and the people demand.

And my view is that this is all wrong…

The vast majority of people believe that climate change is a real problem and would like to see politicians and elected officials do something about it.

But popular commitment is fairly shallow for a number of reasons:

  • Most people are somewhat selfish and somewhat short-sighted, and the worst impacts of climate change occur in the future and afflict other people.

  • Climate is a global problem and solutions require global coordination, which is inherently difficult and involves players who want to free-ride and also those who worry about others free-riding.

  • Humans are often arbitrarily averse to change. If you tell people “instead of X you can have Y,” they have a strong tendency to be suspicious that Y is worse than X.

 

 

 

(Very) Quick hits (part II)

Sorry.  Super busy (but fun) weekend continued, meaning fewer quick hits.

1) Brian Beutler last week:

Obviously right-wing men in America can’t get away with literally everything. When they plot to kidnap a Democratic governor, they go to jail; when they film themselves, or get caught on someone else’s camera, laying siege to Congress and assaulting Capitol police, they generally go to jail. When they commit sex trafficking, they stay in Congress, but maybe eventually go to jail.

But if they create a general atmosphere of menace and threat, through illegal actions that don’t constitute direct harm to people or property—or through acts of violence that are arguably legal—they tend to get off scot free. They might even get invited to the State of the Union address by their Republican representatives, or offered contributor contracts with Fox News. 

Underlying all the brazen lawlessness and antisocial conduct on the political right is an implicit threat, especially unsubtle among far-right men, to make the country ungovernable if they don’t get their way, let alone if they face any kind of consequences for their actions.

They are aided further in this hostage-taking approach to civic life by non-trivial levels of support among law-enforcement officers, and a general passivity among liberal leaders, who often convince themselves that any exercise of liberal power will be met with a larger opposite backlash. That is: they’re scared. The anti-democratic right thrived in this climate throughout the Trump years, and is testing the limits of impunity now that he’s out of office…

If the system we have is ever to work, though—if we’re ever going to have a passable democracy—liberals are going to have to press ahead doing the right thing with as much conviction and fearlessness as these bad actors bring to their bad deeds. It simply can’t function if one side gets a hostage-taker’s veto over the rules of fair play. And if that’s not enough to persuade Democrats to stiffen their spines, they should game this all out in purely partisan terms as well. It’s soothing to imagine that the public will reward Democrats simply for behaving reasonably by comparison to their screeching opponents, but so much recent history suggests that absent pushback, the public will just grow desensitized to right-wing tactics or, worse, come to suspect that the people with all the passionate intensity must be worked up over something valid. 

At bottom, that means Dems can respond to all of it—the vandalous truckers, the frothing school board astroturfers, the Trump mobs—in one of two ways: wait for them to set the terms of the fight before it begins, or choose new ones proactively, and fight them on those.

2) I loved this from Yglesias because I used to love Slate and I’ve really enjoyed reading most of these publications he talks about:

Katie Robertson of the New York Times recently wrote about my former employer Slate and its “struggles to find identity and profit” in the modern world.

As an industry veteran, I hate when critics assert that a site’s business problems simply reflect the consequences of their own personal editorial critiques, so I want to be clear: plenty of websites that I think are garbage (like Dan Bongino’s) seem to be doing well as businesses, and I think a digital media operation of Slate’s size would struggle no matter how excellent its product.

But the identity point is one I feel acutely as someone who read Slate for years before working there, loved every minute I was on the job with a great group of people, and has been sad to see the site lose a lot of its distinctiveness over the last few years.

Once upon a time, Jonah Weiner wrote a Slate article with the headline “Creed is Good: Scott Stapp’s nu-grunge foursome was seriously underrated.” People lost their shit. The ensuing discussion spawned an early Twitter meme about #slatepitches, and Slate, having a good sense of humor about itself, aggregated the best Slatepitch tweets. The meme made sense to people because it wasn’t like Weiner published some random bad take. Slate had a whole editorial style that was based around provocative — some would say trolly — articles and up-is-down theses. At its best, Slate championed unpopular causes and provoked fantastic debates. At its worst, Slate seemed to be deliberately stretching to come up with indefensible ideas. But everyone understood what made a pitch a Slatepitch.

That’s something Slate has sort of lost. But more than just Slate, I feel like it’s been lost by the internet as a whole. Publications employ any good writers they can manage to hire and lump them together with whichever not-so-good writers they happen to have on hand. Management hopes for the best, while staff plans for the worst, unionizing so everyone at least gets a decent severance when the layoffs come…

An article about the Bush administration’s nefarious plans to launch a war with Iran could run in TAP or The Nation or The Washington Monthly or Reason or TAC but definitely could not run in TNR or National Review or The Weekly Standard. A piece arguing that conservatives should try to become more populist in their economic thinking could run in The Weekly Standard or TAC but not National Review or Reason or any of the left-of-center publications.

How do I know that? If you worked in professional political journalism at the time, you paid attention to these things. But it was also clear to readers because these publications deliberately cultivated distinct brand identities. They were flagrantly closed-minded. If you pitched something that didn’t comport with the editorial line, they wouldn’t run it — and it wouldn’t be personal. Because the publications were explicitly ideological, something might not fly at TAP just because it wouldn’t fly; nobody had to get in high dudgeon about causing harm or how beyond the pale your ideas were. You could just pitch it elsewhere. The point of all the small political publications was to articulate a distinctive point of view. Not demanding absolute adherence or unanimity, of course, but they were trying to cultivate particular sensibilities and ideas.

And then there was Slate.

The art of the Slatepitch

Floating above these grim ideologues was Slate, a less political and less partisan publication.

Slate was contrarian. But not like today’s “contrarians” who are like “I’m a liberal but…” and then just agree with conservatives about everything. Slate was the place to say the things that were not being said elsewhere. Creed, for example, is bad. And yet Creed was a very popular, very successful band. There are presumably lots of people who do not think that Creed is bad, yet Creed was so unfashionable that there was nobody around to champion them. The troll caricature is someone pretending to like Creed to get attention on the internet. But we’re talking, again, about a very popular and successful band! Weiner did not convince me, but he championed something many people felt was worth championing.

The same is true for my own infamous Slatepitch “The Case Against Eating Outside.”

Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve all learned to appreciate outdoor dining and perhaps even dabbled in it during some unseasonable weather. But this was 2013. When I wrote a piece saying I prefer to eat inside, even when the weather is nice, I got lots of denunciations. But also lots of people emailed me to say “hey, yeah, you’re right.” Preferences differ.

The Slatepitch was also, at times, a fruitful lens through which to view politics. I wrote a piece during the 2012 campaign about how, precisely because I agreed with liberals that Republicans were sabotaging the Obama economy, growth would probably be faster if Romney won. That’s the kind of argument a liberal magazine wouldn’t make (because it implied it would be good for Romney to win), but it’s also one a conservative magazine wouldn’t make (because it implied Republicans were sabotaging the economy). But it was an interesting argument and, I think, a true one. It was, as we said at the time, “Slate-y.”

Everything is the same now

Today, publications are all the same.

Here are some headlines:

Those all ran in different, once-distinct publications. And it’s not just America. According to Macleans from Canada, “The Pandemic is Breaking Parents.” One could almost say that Canada’s parents are not okay.

One of those stories about how parents are not okay ran in Slate, and it’s a pretty good story. It expresses what all the “parents are not okay” stories express, namely the unique frustrations of pandemic parenting in an environment where kids have been last in line for vaccination but first in line for NPIs in a way that’s very stressful and annoying. That said, what I think they would have told you at Old Slate is that parents actually experienced better mental health during the pandemic than non-parents. The stresses of being cooped up with kids were real, but the boredom and isolation of living alone was, for many people, worse. And if you think about human history in the long run, having kids underfoot while you’re trying to get your hunter-gathering or subsistence agriculture done is difficult but a reasonably normal experience in a way that being all alone in a house for weeks at a time is not.

The depressing aspects of isolation are probably rendered all the more depressing by the fact that you’re not even supposed to complain. How are you going to whine about being sad there’s no happy hour and running out of stuff to binge-watch when your coworker is supervising two kids on Zoom school and nursing a half-dozen (valid) resentments about how unhelpful her husband is? No one has had it easy the last two years, and in many ways, the tasks facing your coworker are objectively more difficult. But that very social undesirability of insisting that “actually parents are dealing with the kind of stress that humans are well-adapted to while singles are forced into a weird psychic torment” is exactly why it was valuable to have a publication like Old Slate around.

Whenever someone would say something kind of weird and provocative over lunch at Slate, David Plotz and the other editors would try to give them the courage to be daring. They recognized that it’s psychologically risky to come out as a Creed fan knowing that people are going to make fun of you. But doing the take provides a great service to all the other indoor kids. And it improves the overall intellectual health of society to have annoying people picking at the edges of conventional wisdom.

Today, though, almost everything is vaguely the same. Articles are consumed decontextualized from their publications, so nobody knows what anything is anyway. And everything is programmed for the same Google and Facebook algorithms. Modern social media is very nasty, and modern office politics is also very nasty. There’s no guarantee your coworkers won’t throw you under the bus if you become Twitter’s Main Character, and editors won’t necessarily discipline people for knifing each other. Vox doesn’t really run explainers anymore, Buzzfeed doesn’t do quizzes, and nobody is explicitly ideological even as every publication more or less subscribes to the same mostly-leftist politics of young college graduates in big cities.

3) Excellent breakdown of some “bad” studies from Emily Oster, “Lots of Studies Are Bad”

One of my children’s favorite places in the world is the arcade at Ryan Family Amusements in Newport, R.I. I will confess to also loving it, and my go-to game is something we call “Ice Zombies,” where you shoot video zombies with a water gun. One of the main warnings the game gives you as you play is “Look out for zombies from both sides!

I was thinking about this phrase in considering two relatively new studies — one on the value of masking from the CDC, and one on the value of lockdowns out of Johns Hopkins University. These are on very different sides of the COVID divide. The first argues that masks lower the risk of COVID infection by between 56% and 83%. The second argues that lockdowns in general had almost no impact on mortality. The reality is that they are both flawed. There is such a strong tendency to see good in the studies we agree with and bad in the ones we do not. But there are bad studies — just like zombies — on both sides…

Putting this all together, what this study is doing — at the core — is comparing the masking behavior among a select sample of wealthier individuals who are tested primarily for work, travel, or medical procedures with an even more select sample of lower-income individuals who are testing primarily due to symptoms. This comparison is virtually impossible to learn from. The authors claim they’ve done sensitivity analyses around some of these issues, but the populations are so fundamentally different as to render the entire exercise completely meaningless.

To be clear: I’m not claiming that this study shows that masks do not work. What I’m claiming is that this study shows nothing. At best, it perhaps shows that masking is more common in some demographic groups than others (interesting, yet already known). It tells us nothing at all about masking efficacy, because it’s just too poorly constructed…

That doesn’t mean lockdowns worked! Again, it’s not even clear what that would mean, since there is no one definition of lockdown. My point isn’t that this paper is wrong in its conclusions, just that it’s largely uninformative. The authors begin with an interesting graph showing a limited relationship between the stringency of COVID restrictions and mortality. That deserved more study, but this paper isn’t helping us understand it much…

Who should I trust? 

The reaction to these studies was enormously frustrating to me. Both studies are poor. And both were taken up seemingly uncritically by people whose priors they supported. People who oppose the relaxing of mask requirements pointed to the first as proving that masks work and that we should be reluctant to move away from them. People who oppose lockdowns picked up the second study as proving that lockdowns ruined lives with no benefits. 

There may be merit to both of these positions. There may be evidence for both of them. But that evidence isn’t enhanced by these papers.

One question is, as a consumer, is there a way to actually identify which studies are problematic in these ways? Like, how would you know not to trust these? This can be hard to do when reading on your own, in part because some of the reasons to distrust them are kind of statistically complicated. 

The simplest way I have found to try to impose discipline on your judgment is to consume some media or commentary outside of your echo chamber. This will make you mad! But hear me out. In the example of the mask study, reading the outcry from the political right identified a lot of the issues with the study, even if the tone was sometimes a bit much. A similar thing could be said for the outcry from the political left on the other. 

For a while, I was trying to listen to a conservative podcast during half of my long runs and a liberal one on the other half, just for balance. But even if you do not want to do this regularly (indeed, I eventually had to save my sanity and switch to podcasts about sports), you can still take advantage of it in the moment. If you’re wondering whether to believe a study, start with what the skeptics say. 

In these cases, though, there are zombies on all sides. Get out your water gun. 

4) Matt Bai wrote an awful “both sides!” column in the Washington Post and Eric Levitz writes an even longer column on why Bai is so wrong.  Yes, it seems odd to do all this for one misguided column, except that Bai represents a lot of kneejerk both-sides centrism that really does need a thorough debunking:

The point of these attacks is to disguise the actual fault lines between America’s two major parties — which concern, among other things, the distribution of after-tax income, the balance of power between labor and capital, the propriety of environmental regulation, and the desirability of popular sovereignty — behind a set of controversies that do not cleave Democrats from Republicans so much as separate America’s cultural mainstream from its left-wing vanguard.

Which is smart politics. The Democratic Party’s agenda is not universally beloved, and some of the GOP’s policy ideas poll well. But Biden’s actual policy positions are much more popular than the grab bag of far-left sentiments Republicans have ascribed to him. Democrats’ internal polling has reportedly found that attacks on the party for supporting “defund the police,” “open borders,” and “critical race theory” are “alarmingly potent.” So it makes sense for GOP apparatchiks to pretend the Democratic Party is run by a politburo of DEI consultants and antifa super-soldiers.

Why some liberal pundits feel compelled to do the same is more puzzling.

In a Washington Post column Tuesday, longtime political reporter Matt Bai writes that the Republican Party “would, if left to its own devices, destroy the foundation of the republic.” He lambastes the conservative movement for advancing the notion “that citizenship alone doesn’t mean you belong here — that your race or ethnicity, the language that you speak, or the identity you choose can somehow make you less American than your neighbor.” Bai goes on to argue that President Biden has “governed well” and that, for all the Democratic Party’s faults, the GOP is surely worse.

Nevertheless, the reporter seems to suggest that he will not necessarily support the president’s reelection, nor Democratic candidates at the ballot box this fall. His reasoning is worth quoting at length:

For all of [President Biden’s] successes, though, there’s a fire raging in his party that Biden hasn’t even tried to control — and probably couldn’t extinguish if he did. For me (and probably a lot of suburbanites voting this fall), this is more than a backdrop to his presidency. It’s a dealbreaker.

In their zeal to beat back Trumpism, the loudest Democratic groups have transformed into its Bizarro World imitators. Tossing aside ideals of equal opportunity and free expression, the new leftists obsess on identity as much as their adversaries do — but instead of trying to restore some obsolete notion of a White-dominated society, they seek vengeance under the guise of virtue.

One of the bibles of this movement is a book called “How to Be an Antiracist,” in which Ibram X. Kendi declares: “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”

This is not — as the celebrated author claims — an expression of support for Lyndon B. Johnson–style affirmative action, which still makes sense to me. It is a case for the kind of social upheaval that occurred when foreign empires relinquished their colonies. It does not end well.

Bai suggests that this radical, Maoist ideology now predominates among the “mainstream” of the Democratic Party. Indeed, he argues the party is now so hostile to the “ideals of equal opportunity” and creedal nationalism (the notion that Americans are “bound not by common origin, language, or culture but by a series of laws and values that make us who we are”) that those who still subscribe to such old-fashioned liberalism are no longer “welcome” in blue America.

In support of these premises, he cites approximately no evidence. Bai does not point to a single instance in which Democratic policy-makers used state power to undermine equal opportunity or free expression, let alone to foment an anti-colonial upheaval. His sole example of the Orwellian turn in Democratic politics consists of a hyperlink to a column on the American Medical Association’s new “Health Equity” guide, which advises doctors to replace myriad phrases germane to their occupation with less stigmatizing alternatives (e.g., instead of doctors referring to the “morbidly obese,” the guide advises them to say “people with severe obesity”). This prescriptive vocabulary may be annoying or counterproductive. One thing it isn’t, however, is a product of the Democratic Party. Electing Republicans this fall will not force the AMA to become less “woke” because the government does not run the AMA…

My argument here is not that the worldview referenced by Bai is powerless. And even if its influence were merely cultural, liberals would be well within their rights to criticize it. The notion that progressives have a duty to withhold criticism of left-wing illiberalism or racial essentialism — on the grounds that the right-wing variety is more prevalent and noxious — rings false to me. That argument is implicitly premised on a kind of consequentialist reasoning: Even if a critical assessment of a progressive intellectual current is true, one shouldn’t voice it because doing so would validate a right-wing talking point and therefore be net harmful in its impact. Yet it’s very hard to anticipate exactly what the real-world impact of any truthful utterance will be. Given that most left-wing commentators command the respect and attention of many powerful progressives — but virtually no powerful conservatives — critiquing the former’s foibles may actually do more good than lambasting the latter’s crimes, since, in the first case, there is a much higher chance of changing a relevant person’s mind.

Thus, the problem with Bai’s piece is not that he criticizes some left-wing ideas despite knowing the GOP is the greater threat to liberal ideals. Rather, the problem is that he (1) falsely asserts that “mainstream” Democrats have abandoned liberal universalism for a doctrine of “vengeance” against white people and (2) suggests it would be rational for liberals to respond to this by withholding support for Democratic candidates, even as he produces no evidence to support either contention.

5) This story is infuriating, “An Arizona priest used one wrong word in baptisms for decades. They’re all invalid”

A Catholic priest in Arizona has resigned after he was found to have performed baptisms incorrectly throughout his career, rendering the rite invalid for thousands of people.

The Catholic Diocese of Phoenix announced on its website that it determined after careful study that the Rev. Andres Arango had used the wrong wording in baptisms performed up until June 17, 2021. He had been off by a single word.

During baptisms in both English and Spanish, Arango used the phrase “we baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He should have said “I baptize,” the diocese explained.

“It is not the community that baptizes a person and incorporates them into the Church of Christ; rather, it is Christ, and Christ alone, who presides at all sacraments; therefore, it is Christ who baptizes,” it said. “If you were baptized using the wrong words, that means your baptism is invalid, and you are not baptized.”…

As far as the diocese is aware, all of the other sacraments that Arango conferred are valid. But because baptism is the “sacrament that grants access to all the others,” a botched baptism could invalidate any subsequent sacraments, including confirmation, marriage and holy orders.

“What this means for you is, if your baptism was invalid and you’ve received other sacraments, you may need to repeat some or all of those sacraments after you are validly baptized as well,” the diocese said.

The Catholic Church is just completely embarrassing and delegitimizing itself here.  The idea that this could possibly, remotely, represent the will of beneficent deity beggars belief.  

6) Good stuff from German Lopez on the difficulty of finding solutions for our opioid problem:

A robust treatment system could have mitigated the damage from increasing supplies of painkillers, heroin and fentanyl. But the U.S. has never had such a system.

Treatment remains inaccessible for many. Sean Blake’s parents, Kim and Tim, drained savings and retirement accounts and college funds to pay for treatment. Like the Blakes, many families spend thousands of dollars to try to get loved ones into care. Health insurers often refuse to pay for treatment; legal requirements for insurance coverage are poorly enforced.

When treatment is available, it’s often of low quality. The Blakes frequently found that providers were ill-equipped and overwhelmed. Some seemed to offer no evidence-based care at all.

Across the country, most facilities don’t offer effective medications; instead, they often focus on unproven approaches, like wilderness or equine therapy.

Some are just scams. One, called the “Florida shuffle,” has in recent years sent patients from facility to facility without offering real treatment — taking advantage of people desperate for help.

Beyond treatment, the U.S. lags behind other countries in approaches like needle exchanges that focus on keeping people alive, ideally until they’re ready to stop using drugs. The country also could do more to prevent drug use and address root causes of addiction, a recent report from Stanford University and The Lancet found.

The solutions are costly. A plan that President Biden released on the campaign trail, which experts praised, would total $125 billion over 10 years. That’s far more than Congress has committed to the crisis. Lawmakers haven’t taken up Biden’s plan, and the White House hasn’t pushed for it, so far embracing smaller steps.

But inaction carries a price, too. Overdose deaths cost the economy $1 trillion a year in health expenses, reduced productivity and other losses, a new government report concluded — equivalent to nearly half of America’s economic growth last year.

7) Why, why, why are we still convicting people based on what is largely proven as junk “science” like “shaken baby syndrome“?  This is so wrong.  And, you know what, even if this person did, somehow, kill this baby, there’s just so much reasonable doubt around the whole “shaken baby” thing.

8) Lots of people complaining about recent Wordles, but, not actually any harder, “No, The New York Times did not make Wordle harder: Wordle’s solutions have been preset since the game first launched”

9) Adam Serwer, “The Supreme Court Seems to Think Discrimination Is When You Try to Remedy Discrimination: The conservative justices are scrapping Americans’ constitutional rights, all while pretending they aren’t.”

The right-wing majority on the Supreme Court continues its run of nullifying constitutional rights by shadow docket, while insisting that it is doing no such thing.

On Monday, the Court blocked a ruling—written by a panel of three federal judges, two of whom were appointed by President Donald Trump—that found that Alabama had violated the Voting Rights Act when it drew a congressional map with one majority-Black district out of seven rather than two, in a state where Black people make up more than a quarter of the population. Five of the justices disagreed with the lower court’s decision, but only Justice Brett Kavanaugh explained his rationale in an opinion joined by Samuel Alito, arguing that complying with the Fifteenth Amendment would just be too much work.

“When Kavanaugh says that the challenge is too close to the election,” the legal journalist Elie Mystal writes at The Nation, “he means that literally any challenge to any new, racist state districting map cannot be heard until at least one election cycle has taken place under the racist maps.” Convenient if you’re a Republican trying to win back the House.

Over the past few years, the Supreme Court’s emergency docket, once simply a necessary means to issue rulings on time-sensitive matters, has become a kind of drive-through window for conservative plaintiffs to get the Court’s right-wing majority to rewrite the Constitution. Instead of waiting for cases to reach them through regular procedure, the right-wing justices have taken to nullifying constitutional rights by emergency order when conservative plaintiffs give them the opportunity. Just as last year’s ruling in the Texas abortion-ban case sent the message to other states that they are free to ignore Roe v. Wade, the legal precedent guaranteeing the right to an abortion, this ruling communicates to Republican legislators that the Voting Rights Act’s restrictions on gerrymandering their nonwhite constituents into political irrelevance will no longer be enforced. In both cases, for those affected, these rights continue to exist only in a symbolic sense, and in both cases, the majority pretended to be bound by procedure when they were simply indulging their own ideological preferences.

The observation that the Supreme Court’s conservatives have been using emergency orders to make sweeping changes to American law outside of regular procedure has aggravated the paper-thin skin of the conservative justices, who are not satisfied with rewriting the Constitution but also wish to be praised for it. “The principal dissent’s catchy but worn-out rhetoric about the ‘shadow docket’ is similarly off target,” Kavanaugh writes, insisting that “the Court’s stay order is not a decision on the merits.”

Here, Kavanaugh bravely dismisses an argument that is not being made. No one is criticizing the Court for formally reaching the merits in most of these shadow-docket decisions. Its critics are well aware that the Republican appointees are using the shadow docket to approve policy changes they support while technically leaving the cases undecided. Kavanaugh’s lament is that the public has not adopted the talking points the right-wing justices have developed in order to downplay the significance and radicalism of their decrees…

Perhaps you think I’m being unfair. But even Chief Justice John Roberts, who once wrote an opinion invalidating a key section of the Voting Rights Act without even naming which part of the Constitution it violated, chided the majority for ignoring precedent, while nonetheless indicating his potential sympathy with Alabama’s justifications for gerrymandering Black voters into a single district. Roberts wrote that although he agreed with Kavanaugh that the law regarding race and redistricting has “engendered considerable disagreement and uncertainty,” he was dissenting because “the District Court properly applied existing law in an extensive opinion with no apparent errors for our correction.”

In other words, Roberts is saying that the lower court’s ruling was consistent with what the law currently is, and should not have been overturned—at least not yet. Roberts would like his more fanatical colleagues to follow proper procedure when invalidating key precedents; they, by contrast, would like to do so now, now, now.

10) Charlie Warzel, “The Bad Ideas Our Brains Can’t Shake”

Granted, plenty of COVID ignorance and misinformation is ideologically motivated or borne from a genuine misunderstanding of how viruses work. But some of it might also be the result of this sticky-information problem, which is known in psychology circles as the “continued influence effect.” A recent paper in Nature described it this way:

When information is encoded into memory and then new information that discredits it is learned, the original information is not simply erased or replaced. Instead, misinformation and corrective information coexist and compete for activation.

I called up Maddy Jalbert, a postdoctoral scholar and Caulfield’s colleague at the University of Washington, to ask her about this. Jalbert studies how context and our daily experiences can shape our memory and also our decision-making abilities. “When you give humans a piece of information, we are very good at connecting it to things we already know,” she told me. “But if you retract that piece of information and people have already made these connections, you can’t go back and magically take that information out of a person’s head because then that whole understanding of the information they’ve connected it to is different. So people will then rely on their original understanding of things they’ve incorporated.”

What Jalbert is saying is that once we’ve yoked a new piece of information to something we already know and still believe to be true, the new piece of information becomes structurally important to our understanding of the world around us. It is load-bearing and thus not easily removed. It’s one reason why, in trial settings, even if a piece of evidence is ruled inadmissible, it may consciously or subconsciously sway a jury…

It’s not only first-heard information that is sticky. Details or facts that make you feel safe or in control might be naturally sticky. Information that is repeated frequently is more likely to be internalized as true, even if, deep down, you know it isn’t, Jalbert said. And one’s own personal experiences and environment will also shape how persistent a morsel of new knowledge might be. Especially when a subject is polarized or politicized (like masking), an important determiner of sticky information is social norms. “When people hear new information and think, What should I do? most look around and copy people similar to them or those in their social circle. And when everyone around you is doing something one way, you develop a false sense of consensus around an idea.”

Some of what Jalbert describes is intuitive, and yet there’s still so much politicians and public-health communicators could learn from thinking about the continued influence effect and the way to communicate risk in future crises. In the case of COVID, there’s been a particular challenge, which is that science and politics collided quickly on a global stage. Sometimes, like in the case of discouraging masking or the decision to delay booster shots, policy decisions designed to shape public behavior (preventing shortages of masks for health-care workers) were framed as purely scientific decisions. People were told to “trust the science” but what officials were really saying was to “trust specific scientific and political institutions, who are working off of science that is changing daily” (my newslettering colleague Yair Rosenberg had a fascinating interview about this last week).

Most of us are not used to seeing the sometimes messy, iterative form of science, where hypotheses are tested, refuted, retested, and eventually confirmed. We’re used to that process happening outside of our view and then having more definitive, fully formed conclusions presented to us. But when a novel virus spreads swiftly around the world, we’re forced to take in new information in real time. A lot of us aren’t used to this as news consumers but more importantly, our brains don’t exactly love it, either.

Jalbert told me that the way our brains work is quite utilitarian. In any situation—looking at a landscape, conversing with friends, reading the news—there’s too much information to take in at once. So we use practical tricks to process. “We employ all these mental heuristics and shortcuts because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do anything in our lives,” she said. “The idea behind peoples’ beliefs is that they help you perform tasks. But to do that doesn’t require you to deeply understand every single thing you learn. You’re drawing on shortcuts.” These shortcuts, Jalbert said, are incredibly useful, but they’re also a vulnerability, because if one of them is based on a piece of outdated information, it could steer you in the wrong direction. These mental heuristics, she told me, are the reason why everyone is susceptible to believing wrong information.

It is possible to correct even sticky information that’s wrong. But it requires being deliberate. Jalbert told me that when you retract or debunk a piece of information, what you’re doing is leaving a gap that needs to be filled in a person’s cognition—otherwise, the false information will just pop back in to take its place. “We need a coherent understanding of the gap,” Jalbert said, “which means if you’re going to correct some wrong information, you have to explain in very clear and simple language why you’re updating.”

Jalbert used the example of changing guidance around wearing N95s or hospital-grade masks instead of cloth ones during the Omicron wave. “The messaging was, ‘Okay, now we’re requiring better masks. Get on that.’ But a lot of that messaging was missing the reason why,” she said. “Why was it the case that cloth masks were okay before? And now what’s changed? Those things are really critical to get people to understand and receive new explanations.”

This may sound like common sense. But too often, institutions and leaders are too arrogant to explain themselves.

(New year’s day) Quick hits (part I)

0) A little late, but on the right day.  Happy New Year!

1) Eric Topol really unhappy with new CDC 5-day quarantine guidelines:

Yesterday, the CDC issued a shortened isolation period guideline of 5 days instead of 10 days for people with Covid infections. That came less than a week after they issued the guideline of 7 days for health care workers.

There were serious problems about the new 5-day isolation period. First, there are no data or evidence to back it up. Yes, we’re facing an Omicron onslaught of cases and it would be useful to come up with a strategy to avoid a mass loss of functionality among our workforce and the on-the-go public, no less in the midst of the holiday season. But that doesn’t justify issuing a vacuous guideline. Second, there was no mention of using a test, to confirm that the isolated individual is now OK to circulate, that there is no indication of infectiousness. That could be done via a rapid antigen test, which denotes infectiousness, carries some reduced sensitivity with Omicron, or via a PCR. The cycle threshold value of a PCR test is also indicative of infectiousness; the lower it is, the more likely potential for spread. Either of these tests would be far better than no test to justify a reduced isolation time in any individual.

Third, there are no data for Omicron’s clearance time. We know the characteristics of shedding and average time it takes for clearance of the virus for Delta and preceding variants, but to date we have not seen any such data for Omicron kinetics. With the Hong Kong report of 70-fold copies of the virus in the upper airway for Omicron versus Delta and prior variants, there is no certainty yet that Omicron’s clearance is fast.

Fourth, the guidance did not mention a word about vaccinated or unvaccinated status of people. We know from past studies there is a more rapid clearance among vaccinees than people who were not vaccinated, but the recommendation does not take this knowledge into account. Fifth, it assumes that all people handle the virus similarly when, it fact, there is considerable variability. Look at the data last week published at NEJM

2) Aaron Carroll more circumspect and a take which I personally prefer, “The C.D.C. Has New Covid Guidelines. This Is What It Got Wrong.”

It seems that even at this late date, the C.D.C. is trying to appease everyone and therefore is pleasing no one.

What would be better is a more evidence-driven approach. Antigen testing provides us a means to see whether people remain infected, and perhaps infectious, over time…

The C.D.C. should develop further guidelines, right now, that allow for those who are vaccinated and boostered to leave isolation as soon as possible after they have gotten negative results repeatedly with antigen tests. The government should do everything possible to make such antigen tests freely and easily available. The Biden administration’s efforts are necessary but not sufficient. They need to go much further and much faster.

Such guidelines would provide another incentive for people to be fully vaccinated. They also might get more people who are avoiding testing because they fear a mandatory lockdown to test, because the implications of a positive test aren’t as severe.

They would also provide us a means to transition to a way of thinking that recognizes that Covid is here to stay and that we need to find a way to live with it. Our previous plans were based on an illness that could be controlled by testing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation, along with vaccination.

Omicron may not be so controlled; it appears to be very, very possible to prevent serious illness and death with vaccination, but it may not be possible to prevent transient infections, even with masking. If that’s the case, we need to redouble our focus on the former and accept the latter. Infectious people need to isolate as long as they are infectious, no longer and no less, and we need more accurate means to make those judgments.

Covid is changing right before our eyes. We need to adapt along with it.

3) Of course, what we really need (and I’m optimistic about– of course, I’m always optimistic about biotechnology) is the pan-corona virus vaccine.  Katelyn Jetelina (with an assist from Topol):

An ideal solution is a universal coronavirus vaccine that would not only protect against SARS-CoV-2 but also against other coronaviruses that might cause future animal outbreaks and pandemics. Scientists have been advocating for this type of coronavirus vaccine since as early as May 2020 and as recently as the beginning of this month

We’ve been working for years on a pan-vaccine for other viruses, like HIV-1, influenza, malaria, Epstein-Barr (NCT03186781NCT03814720NCT04579250NCT04645147NCT04296279), but no vaccine has successfully made it through clinical trials thus far. The difference for SARS-CoV-2 is that it mutates far less than HIV or influenza, making it more ideally suited for such an approach. If any universal vaccine makes it through the rigorous clinical trial process, it will be a big leap in medicine and science. 

How does the “super” vaccine work?

The main approach taken by research labs is to find people called “elite neutralizers” who have had COVID19 or been vaccinated (or both) but have an incredibly rare and unique response. These are people who can make very potent antibodies (called broad neutralizing antibodies; bnAbs) that bind to parts of the virus well beyond the spike protein—parts of the virus that are present in all of the coronavirus family, remain unchanged despite mutations, and are hidden (“cryptic” epitope sites). These elite neutralizer people are rare, but there’s basically a treasure chest of protection lying within them.

More than 10 scientific groups have found such potent bnAbs. For example, scientists at Duke compared antibodies among a SARS patient and compared it to antibodies among a COVID19 patient. They looked at 1,700 different antibodies in total and found 50 antibodies that were able to bind to many different coronaviruses. The Duke researchers then worked with the UNC-Chapel Hill to test whether these antibodies effectively blocked infections in mice. This science was published in early November and found that these antibodies were very effective. But finding these “elite neutralizers” is half the battle. Then a reverse engineering approach is required to make vaccines that produce the bnAb. After that, the vaccine goes into pre-clinical and clinical trial testing.

4) Huge, huge fan of E.O. Wilson.  What a brilliant man and tremendous science communicator (I think his books were some of the first I read written by an actual scientist).  I still remember learning in my undergraduate classes just how controversial he was in the 1970’s and thinking how ridiculous this was.  Drum summarizes that controversy:

E.O. Wilson died yesterday. He was a expert on ants, beloved by . . .

Yeah, yeah. It so happens that Wilson was an expert on ants, but his real fame comes from the final chapter of his 1975 book, Sociobiology, titled “Man.” The book is generally about the way evolution and natural selection affect the genetic underpinnings of animal behavior, and for 26 chapters everything was fine. Vertebrates? Sure. Birds? No problem. Carnivores? Such big teeth. Nonhuman primates? They’re so fascinating. Man?

Hold on there. Roughly speaking, everyone agreed at the time that genes affect physical development in all living creatures. And everyone agreed that genes affect behavior in all living creatures—except. h. sapiens. Here’s what this looks like:

Wilson filled in that top left square with a big Yes—i.e., genes do affect human behavior and human cognitive traits—and liberals went ballistic. Why? Because this was only a few years after Arthur Jensen had published his (in)famous article suggesting that the measured IQ difference between Black and white people was due mostly to genetic factors. This, needless to say, set the liberal community on fire and made it hypersensitive toward any research that might be construed as aiding and abetting racists. Sociobiology fit squarely in that category.

So in the same way that Darwin’s opponents in the 19th century insisted for religious reasons that mankind couldn’t be a product of evolution, liberals in the 20th century insisted for idealistic reasons that the behavior of mankind couldn’t be a product of evolution. This was not liberalism’s finest moment, and it’s Exhibit 1 for anyone who wants to demonstrate that liberals don’t always follow the science when it’s inconvenient for them…

In the end, of course, Wilson was vindicated. Natural selection affects the evolution of the human body. The brain is part of the human body. And the brain is the source of behavioral and cognitive behavior. Therefore, natural selection affects cognitive behavior in humans. Even Darwin knew this—though it took another century before we understood the genetic mechanism underlying it all.

This is just the simplified version, but don’t worry. The more complicated version vindicates Wilson too. [emphasis mine] Nobody today seriously denies that both genes and environment affect both human behavior and human cognitive traits. It’s only a matter of how much each matters.

Yep, it’s really not that complicated.  

5) And yet, here we are in 2021 in Scientific American: “The Complicated Legacy of E. O. Wilson: We must reckon with his and other scientists’ racist ideas if we want an equitable future”

His influential text Sociobiology: The New Synthesis contributed to the false dichotomy of nature versus nurture and spawned an entire field of behavioral psychology grounded in the notion that differences among humans could be explained by genetics, inheritance and other biological mechanisms. Finding out that Wilson thought this way was a huge disappointment, because I had enjoyed his novel Anthill, which was published much later and written for the public.

This is insane!  Of course, Wilson and all others would put an emphatic “in part” between “explained” and “by.”  Literally nobody would suggest that society, social interactions, etc., don’t explain all this.  And, yet, this absurd critique of Wilson as a “racist” implicitly argues that there’s an “only” here and again, that’s nuts and nobody remotely believes that.  Thanks Scientific American!

6) And just cause, this above essay links to the following article which is practically a self-parody of academia, “Making Black Women Scientists under White Empiricism: The Racialization of Epistemology in Physics.” Apparently our understanding of physical properties of the universe is, well… racist. 

7) Now, for actual racism, we can look to lots of Ron Paul supporters (and many current Trumpists).  Noah Smith recently re-shared this great blog post from originally back in 2011:

I have often remarked in the past how libertarianism – at least, its modern American manifestation – is not really about increasing liberty or freedom as an average person would define those terms. An ideal libertarian society would leave the vast majority of people feeling profoundly constrained in many ways. This is because the freedom of the individual can be curtailed not only by the government, but by a large variety of intermediate powers like work bosses, neighborhood associations, self-organized ethnic movements, organized religions, tough violent men, or social conventions. In a society such as ours, where the government maintains a nominal monopoly on the use of physical violence, there is plenty of room for people to be oppressed by such intermediate powers, whom I call “local bullies.”

The modern American libertarian ideology does not deal with the issue of local bullies. In the world envisioned by Nozick, Hayek, Rand, and other foundational thinkers of the movement, there are only two levels to society – the government (the “big bully”) and the individual. If your freedom is not being taken away by the biggest bully that exists, your freedom is not being taken away at all.

In a perfect libertarian world, it is therefore possible for rich people to buy all the beaches and charge admission fees to whomever they want (or simply ban anyone they choose). In a libertarian world, a self-organized cartel of white people can, under certain conditions, get together and effectively prohibit black people from being able to go out to dinner in their own city. In a libertarian world, a corporate boss can use the threat of unemployment to force you into accepting unsafe working conditions. In other words, the local bullies are free to revoke the freedoms of individuals, using methods more subtle than overt violent coercion.

Such a world wouldn’t feel incredibly free to the people in it. Sure, you could get together with friends and pool your money to buy a little patch of beach. Sure, you could move to a less racist city. Sure, you could quit and find another job. But doing any of these things requires paying large transaction costs. As a result you would feel much less free.

Now, the founders of libertarianism – Nozick et. al. – obviously understood the principle that freedoms are often mutually exclusive – that my freedom to punch you in the face curtails quite a number of your freedoms. For this reason, they endorsed “minarchy,” or a government whose only role is to protect people from violence and protect property rights. But they didn’t extend the principle to covertly violent, semi-violent, or nonviolent forms of coercion.

Not surprisingly, this gigantic loophole has made modern American libertarianism the favorite philosophy of a vast array of local bullies, who want to keep the big bully (government) off their backs so they can bully to their hearts’ content. The curtailment of government legitimacy, in the name of “liberty,” allows abusive bosses to abuse workers, racists to curtail opportunities for minorities, polluters to pollute without cost, religious groups to make religious minorities feel excluded, etc. In theory, libertarianism is about the freedom of the individual, but in practice it is often about the freedom of local bullies to bully. It’s a “don’t tattle to the teacher” ideology.

Therefore I see no real conflict between Ron Paul’s libertarianism and his support for the agenda of racists. It’s just part and parcel of the whole movement. Not necessarily the movement as it was conceived, but the movement as it in fact exists.

8) How did I just this week learn about the “Phantom of Heilbronn”?  And, then hear about it a second time two days later?  

The murderer dubbed the Phantom of Heilbronn had been baffling German investigators for two years. The criminal was a rarity, a female serial killer, and a very busy one: police had linked DNA evidence from 40 crimes — including the infamous homicide of a policewoman in the southern German town of Heilbronn — to the same woman.

Police had found her DNA on items ranging from a cookie to a heroin syringe to a stolen car. They had put a $400,000 reward on her head. Profilers from around Europe were called in to help hunt her down. The police even consulted diviners and fortune-tellers in hopes of discovering her identity. The papers declared the case “the most mysterious serial crime of the past century.” (See pictures of fighting crime.)

The police thought they’d been looking everywhere. But it turns out they should have been looking down — at the cotton swabs they were using to collect DNA samples. On March 26, German police revealed that the cotton swabs they use may have all been contaminated by the same worker at a factory in Austria — and that the Phantom of Heilbronn never existed.

For the second time in a week, DNA evidence has led German police down a dead end. “Are the heads of our police stuffed with cotton wool?” asked a headline in this week’s Bild newspaper. The Phantom is now considered the most embarrassing lapse in German DNA analysis yet.

The Phantom became a national celebrity in 2007, after the murder of 22-year-old policewoman Michele Kiesewetter. All of Germany watched the case unfold, and Heilbronn police alone racked up 16,000 hours of overtime pursuing the culprit. Police announced they’d found DNA traces matching that of the Phantom on several cold cases, including a murder dating back to 1993. (See pictures of cults that went wacko.)…

This raised suspicions that the DNA found at all the Phantom’s crime scenes might be traced to a single innocent factory worker, probably employed to package the swabs. Cotton swabs are sterilized before being used to collect DNA samples, but while sterilizing removes bacteria, viruses and fungi, it does not destroy DNA. 

9) Loved this first-person essay on marriage:

After 15 years of marriage, you start to see your mate clearly, free of your own projections and misperceptions. This is not necessarily a good thing.

When encountering my husband, Bill, in our shared habitat, I sometimes experience him as a tangled hill of dirty laundry. “Who left this here?” I ask myself, and then the laundry gets up to fetch itself a cup of coffee.

This is not an illusion; it’s clarity. Until Bill has enough coffee, he lies in a jumble on the couch, listening to the coffee maker, waiting for it to usher him from the land of the undead. He is exactly the same as a heap of laundry: smelly, inert, almost sentient but not quite.

Other times I experience Bill as a very handsome professor, a leader among men, a visionary who has big ideas about the future of science education in America. This is clarity.

And then our dashing hero begins to hold forth on “the learning sciences” — how I hate that term! — and he quickly wilts before my eyes into a cursed academic, a cross between a lonely nerd speaking some archaic language only five other people on earth understand and a haunted ice cream man, circling his truck through the neighborhood in the dead of winter, searching for children. I see Bill with a scorching clarity that pains me.

This is why surviving a marriage requires turning down the volume on your spouse so you can barely hear what they’re saying. You must do this not only so you don’t overdose on the same stultifying words and phrases within the first year, but also so your spouse’s various grunts and sneezes and snorts and throat clearings don’t serve as a magic flute that causes you to wander out the front door and into the wilderness, never to return.

10) Which also leads to a really good Jill Filipovic essay on marriage:

The thing with marital malaise is that in the United States, women’s lives have changed tremendously, and men’s lives haven’t changed nearly as much, and we still have an ideal in which all of us pair off together in happy twosomes. I’m not convinced that women were happier in the old days when women’s roles within the family were clear but constrained, but I am convinced that married women now have both the opportunity for happier marriages and a much higher chance of profound marital dissonance. Many women believed they were signing up for an equal partnership, only to find themselves doing ever more for everyone else and precious little for themselves. Jones talks about spending “so many years as a wife” writing nothing at all, exhausted and overwhelmed by the work of keeping a house and birthing, breastfeeding, and raising three children. Havrilesky writes about her husband as essentially a large third child, somehow louder, more obnoxious, and less emotionally regulated than her two actual children. These snapshots look like so many marriages, and sound like so many of the cultural tropes and the “jokes” that women and men alike make about their partners: the hapless husband and the harried wife; the dolt and the nag.

11) Interesting take on Colorado Governor, Jared Polis, and Covid:

Polis’s pragmatic positioning on COVID, at a time when most Democratic governors and mayors have tried to outcompete each other on issuing the most onerous regulations and mandates, should be a lesson to the Biden administration about where the political sweet spot is on the pandemic. As the more-transmissible but less-severe omicron variant begins to spread in Colorado, Polis is again urging a get-vaccinated, get-back-to-normal approach that contrasts significantly from most of his Democratic gubernatorial colleagues.

“Initially this was a biological struggle with the virus, but now it’s more of a psychological struggle, given the endurance of this thing. It’s about how people can continue to live their lives in a fulfilling way and keep themselves reasonably safe,” Polis said. “People need to get on with their lives. This has been two years of it. People are only on this planet for 70 to 80 years. This is a significant part of their lives. Kids missed out on social activities in school, seniors in senior centers missed going out to movies.”

Polis went on to lament the mental health consequences that indefinite COVID disruptions cause: “People always say, ‘oh the economy’ but it’s also about if you’re young and single, you want to date, you want to go out, right? If you live in a senior center and only have a few years left, you want to have poker night with your friends, you know? It’s not just about economics, it’s about people’s lives,” he said. “If you’ve had three doses of the vaccine, you shouldn’t live your life in fear of it. You may well get it at some point but it probably won’t knock you out more than a couple of days, like the seasonal flu.”

12) I loved this Kevin Drum post on not drinking alcohol, because it’s so annoying how other people feel about me not drinking.  As if me preferring a Diet Dr Pepper is some implicit indictment of their beer or wine?

In the Washington Post, Rachel Rueckert complains that it’s a pain in the butt being a teetotaler. I concur! Even though about a quarter of American adults are nondrinkers, people still look at you a little funny if you don’t drink. And this causes problems:

Standing in a dim bar for the annual work party or a festive meet-and-greet with my graduate school classmates, I order a Shirley Temple, just to have something fizzy and reddish to hold….I’m relaxed, having a good time — enjoying the radio soundtrack and the casual conversation — until a well-meaning person asks me what I’m drinking. Then comes the shock, followed by a response tinged with pity or slight offense (as if my choice reflects judgment about theirs). “Why don’t you drink?”

….I’ve tried for most of my adult life to satisfy these curious inquiries with a revolving set of answers. The first: I grew up in a devout Mormon home in suburban Utah….The second: I have boring preferences….Another response: It’s too pricey….Another: Bad memories….Another: I’m the designated driver….Another: Addiction runs in my family.

Here’s a better excuse: I hate the taste of alcohol. In my case this is true, but it doesn’t matter if it’s a bit of a white lie. I’ve never come across anybody who keeps digging much after I say this.

And, yeah, I pretty much hate the taste of alcohol and get much less benefit from inebriation than others because of my natural neuro-chemistry.  

13) I felt like Michael Gerson was trying a too hard here, “Most evangelical objections to vaccines have nothing to do with Christianity.”  It’s really simple… as very well established, they are Conservative Republicans first, Christians second.

The main resistance of evangelicals to public health measures does not concern abortion. Having embraced religious liberty as a defining cause, they are now deploying the language of that cause in opposition to jab and mask mandates. Arguments crafted to defend institutional religious liberty have been adapted to oppose public coercion on covid. But they do not fit.

More than that, the sanctification of anti-government populism is displacing or dethroning one of the most basic Christian distinctions. Most evangelical posturing on covid mandates is really syncretism, a merging of unrelated beliefs — in this case, the substitution of libertarianism for Christian ethics. In this distorted form of faith, evangelical Christians are generally known as people who loudly defend their own rights. They show not radical generosity but discreditable selfishness. There is no version of the Golden Rule that would recommend Christian resistance to basic public health measures during a pandemic. This is heresy compounded by lunacy…

And when Christians are asserting a right to resist basic public health measures, what is the actual content of their religious-liberty claim? The right to risk the lives of their neighbors in order to assert their autonomy? The right to endanger the community in the performative demonstration of their personal rights?

This is a vivid display of the cultural and ideological trends of a warped and wasted year. It just has nothing to do with real Christianity.

14) I’m somewhat skeptical of programs designed to have Democrats and Republicans get along, but, I definitely share the skepticism of a lot of approaches in that they really come from a liberal viewpoint:

It’s trickier than it seems. A variety of organizations have sprung up in more recent years to forge a kind of depolarization field, most of them sincere and well intentioned. But there is a bias in the soil: a Blue bias. (Blue = leans liberal; Red = leans conservative.) The vast majority of leaders, funders, and participants in the bridging field are Blue, and this imbalance dictates the approach taken to depolarization.

People interested in bridging often believe that the primary aim of bridging work is to get people on both sides to see each other’s humanity. Blues usually approach this through exercises designed to build the empathy of one group for the lived experiences and emotions of the other. For example, one group of people will be asked, “What life experiences led you to this view?” Or “What does it feel like to live as a [insert category] person in America?”

The goal is for people to listen to others’ experiences and feelings and to walk out saying, “That person isn’t so different from me,” or, “If I’d gone through that experience, I might feel exactly the same way.” If a substantive conflict arises, the facilitator is likely to redirect the group back to sharing.

This sounds right and good, doesn’t it? It focuses on personal experience, presumes identity categories. Most importantly (and actually rare), it’s an approach rooted in asking questions. The virtue of Blues is that they are very open (at least at the beginning), and they’re always the first to reach out a hand and say they want to learn about the other side. The vice, however, hidden to themselves most of all, is in the fact that many Blues assume that if Reds could just be taught what is true, they would be enlightened into Blueness.

Reds, understandably, smell this train and dislike the tracks. To be fair, Reds have their own version of arrogance, which I can best describe with an example: If I hear one more Red say “Well, but he’s not a real . . .” (fill in what you like—American, Christian, soldier, leader), I might actually say something I shouldn’t. The virtue dancing with this vice is that Reds tend to be stubbornly caught up in grace: they are extremely loyal, and, interestingly, very forgiving. The religiously based belief that we’re all sinners but we’re also all children of God leaves room for a lot of human complexity.

The Blue-inflected traditional empathy-building forms of bridge-building have a great deal to recommend them. But there is a flaw: the implicit belief underlying this style of bridging is that we can learn to love each other by seeing that we are all deeply the same. While true in some senses, this misses a fundamental insight about relationship that most of us know from experience: We have the capacity to build relationship through conflict

If you are a Blue, you may be thinking, “but wait—we want to celebrate differences! We love diversity, that’s what we’re all about.” And I commend your intention. But what I’ve found, over and over again, is that Blue organizations say they love diversity, but not when it comes to viewpoint diversity. Oh sure, they can handle your standard libertarian who works in IT, but when it comes to real difference—like being a Trump supporter because you genuinely love Trump and think he’s one of the great Americans of our generation—somehow the celebratory fanfare dims.

The reasoning Blues will offer is typically that they want to celebrate difference as long as everyone is tolerant. The problem is that many powerful forms of religious, political, and philosophical belief make claims that are in direct conflict with the idea that all ways of being are equally valid. Blue insistence on “tolerance” functions as a fence to keep those beliefs and their adherents out. In simpler terms, when Blues say they want to “celebrate difference,” Reds often hear the caveat: that some are “approved differences” and others, like their political persuasion, are not.

I admire the intent here, but it doesn’t truly address the depth of our differences. To my mind, this is one of the most profound causes of our present polarization: the ethic of tolerance, which goes in the guise of a neutral standard, denudes public argument of its profound spiritual dimensions and thereby guts the richness of pluralism. The result is a vacuum, and sure enough, new pseudo-religious orthodoxies have reared their heads to fill it. Our differences are our glory, and we need to examine what it would look like to really celebrate them—to face them boldly, and respond with the trusting inquiry that leads to love.

15) Really good stuff from Katherine Wu on what we might expect with the future of Covid vaccines:

At this point in the pandemic, though, there’s no consensus on the number of shots we’ll need in the long term; plenty of the world’s leading COVID-vaccine experts have shifted their stance in just the past few weeks. Back in the summer, Ali Ellebedy, an immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis, thought, “There is no way we will need annual vaccinations,” he told me. “I am [at] 50 percent now.”

A future of annual vaccinations would almost be a relief. In the past year, the U.S. government has recommended that almost everyone eligible be COVID-vaccinated three times over, and the possibility of an Omicron-focused shot now looms. But the sweet spot for boosting frequency isn’t all that easy to find—both undervaccinating and overvaccinating have downsides—and the narrative is definitely not as simple as more is more. Maybe we’ll luck out, and finagle some truly durable protection out of our current shots. Or perhaps we’re just at the start of what could be the world’s most intense and widespread repeat-vaccination campaign to date.

There are two main reasons to vaccinate the already vaccinated: a substantial drop in our body’s defenses or a huge hike in the virus’s offenses.

 

We’re still, for instance, working to understand how well our immune systems cling to the intel offered by our shots. For months, scientists have been monitoring the lift and drop in protection from asymptomatic infection and milder forms of COVID-19, dynamics that seem tightly tethered to antibodies, the molecules that can waylay viruses outside of cells. Antibodies always declinein the months after infection or vaccination, for any pathogen, Rafi Ahmed, an immunologist at Emory University, told me. But boosters can lift their levels back up, sometimes to new heights; the triply dosed are better at fending off the virus, even dueling new variants that they’ve never encountered before. (Protection against severe disease and death is less capricious, thanks to defenders such as B and T cells, which stick around long-term.)

After people’s first two mRNA shots, levels of neutralizing antibodies ticked down about five- to tenfold from their peak in about six months. Now immunologists are monitoring what happens after the third dose—where antibody levels will stabilize, and how long reaching that plateau will take. The lower it is, or the steeper the downslope, the sooner we might be asked to vaccinate again. In a nonideal scenario, we’d see something of an up-and-down “sawtooth” trend, John Moore, a vaccine expert at Cornell University, told me, with a similarly steep decay after every dose. (Some researchers are starting to wonder whether we’re seeing the beginnings of this now—and durability may differ by vaccine brand.)

Then again, maybe the drop will be ​less pronounced, or at least more gradual, after the third shot. There’s reason to hope that might be the case. Post-boost, we pump out more antibodies than we did after the first shots; they’ll naturally take longer to dip below a protective threshold. Repeat exposures to a vaccine can also up the quality of antibodies, which get iteratively better at sniping SARS-CoV-2 down. “That means it takes way fewer of them to protect you,” Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona, told me. If that process keeps chugging along after the third shot, or perhaps the fourth, we might be able to get away with vaccinating much less often than we are now. The final pace of vaccination will also depend on what we want our shots to achieve. Blocking severe disease requires fewer shots; trying to suppress most infections and transmission means more. And we’ll need to set our expectations reasonably. Indefinitely preventing infections “is a bar that vaccinology, historically, has not been able to really meet,” Kizzmekia Corbett, an immunologist and COVID-vaccine developer at Harvard, told me recently.

All this gets more complicated, though, if the coronavirus itself keeps metamorphosing. Solid protection against one variant might not be enough to thwart another. Already, Omicron is so heavily mutated that many of our vaccine-trained antibodies don’t recognize it very well. That puts people who are far out from their first doses in a more vulnerable spot: Their defensive walls are low, and the variant’s genetically primed to jump extra high. Our current boosters still help in this scenario—the original virus and Omicron are similar enough that, given a glut of antibodies, some will still meet their mark. But even weirder versions of the virus are almost certainly on their way. Viral switcheroos are a huge part of why we offer annual flu vaccines. Coronaviruses don’t shape-shift as swiftly, but experts such as David Martinez, a vaccinologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, think “our policy to boost is going to be driven by how much the virus is changing.” The more variants we’re troubled by, and the more often we collide with them, the more doses we’ll need.

16) Honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a book about refugees.  But I believe in author’s and Omar El Akkad’s American War was one of the best novels I’ve read in recent years so I decided I’d read his What Strange Paradise.  Very glad I did.  Very entertaining and thought-provoking and really stuck with me.  Nice interview with El Akkad here. 

The next front in the Abortion conflict

With Roe v. Wade about to be either officially overturned next year, or, at minimum, functionally eviscerated, abortion policy is going to be a state-by-state issue.  And, in many states the new front line may well be the issue of medical abortion.  Expect to see lots of political and policy conflict here after the Court decision.  NYT with details:

The federal government on Thursday permanently lifted a major restriction on access to abortion pills. It will allow patients to receive the medication by mail instead of requiring them to obtain the pills in person from specially certified health providers.

The decision, by the Food and Drug Administration, comes as the Supreme Court is considering whether to roll back abortion rights or even overturn its landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that made abortion legal nationwide.

The F.D.A.’s action means that medication abortion, an increasingly common method authorized in the United States for pregnancies up to 10 weeks’ gestation, will become more available to women who find it difficult to travel to an abortion provider or prefer to terminate a pregnancy in their homes. It allows patients to have a telemedicine appointment with a provider who can prescribe abortion pills and send them to the patient by mail.

Earlier this year, for the duration of the pandemic, the F.D.A. temporarily lifted the in-person requirement on mifepristone, the first of two drugs used to end a pregnancy. The decision to make this change permanent is likely to deepen the already polarizing divisions between conservative and liberal states on abortion. In 19 states, mostly in the South and the Midwest, telemedicine visits for medication abortion are banned, and these and other conservative states can be expected to pass other laws to further curtail access to abortion pills.

Yet other states, like California and New York, which have taken steps in recent years to further solidify access to abortion, are expected to increase the availability of the method and provide opportunities for women in states with restrictions to obtain abortion pills by traveling to a state that allows them.

“It’s really significant,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University. “Telehealth abortions are much easier for both providers and patients, and even in states that want to do it, there have been limits on how available it is.”

Groups that want to outlaw abortion issued strong statements against the decision.

“The Biden administration today moved to weaken longstanding federal safety regulations against mail-order abortion drugs designed to protect women from serious health risks and potential abuse,” said a statement from the group Susan B. Anthony List. “The Biden administration policy allows for dangerous at-home, do-it-yourself abortions without necessary medical oversight.”

Let’s just pause here for a moment to deride the pro-life’s side completely bad-faith, risible argument that this about protecting women’s health.  Just own it and say “we are in favor of anything that makes it harder to take unborn life” or whatever along the lines. I just hate these completely fallacious arguments that this is in any way about women’s health.  Continuing…

So far this year, presumably in anticipation of such a decision, six states banned the mailing of pills, seven states passed laws requiring pills to be obtained in person from a provider, and four states passed laws to set the limit on medication abortion at earlier than 10 weeks’ gestation, said Elizabeth Nash, the interim associate director of state issues for the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

Susan B. Anthony List said in its statement that next year, at least seven additional states were likely to enact laws restricting the method.

The current practice is that women who live in states that don’t allow telemedicine for abortion must travel to a state that does — although they don’t have to visit a clinic. They may be in any location within that state for their telehealth visit, even a car, and may receive the pills at any address in the state.

But legal experts said they expected supporters of abortion rights to try to find ways to make the pills available without requiring a patient to travel, including possibly filing legal challenges to state laws banning telemedicine for abortion…

“There’s going to be plenty of people who try to use them in states where they’re illegal without traveling out of state, legal ramifications aside,” said Professor Ziegler. She said such efforts might include clearinghouses that would try to allow “fudging where people’s addresses are to receive it” and a “black market” that might emerge.

In data released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42 percent of all abortions — and 54 percent of abortions before 10 weeks — occurred with medication in 2019, the most recent year for which C.D.C. data is available. (The report represents most of the country, but does not include data from California, Maryland and New Hampshire.)

In 2020, in some states, including IndianaKansas and Minnesota, the method accounted for a majority of abortions, according to state health department reports.

The C.D.C. also reported that 79 percent of all abortions occurred before 10 weeks’ gestation, suggesting that there are many more women who might choose abortion pills over an in-clinic procedure if they could.

There’s also the fact that these drugs essentially induce a miscarriage.  Sadly, this means in many states the trauma of having a miscarriage will only be compounded.  Jessica Grose:

When you have your first bad sonogram, you fall into an abyss of maternity care. If you haven’t experienced it, you might not know the contours of this purgatory, but I can tell you what it’s like. Almost exactly seven years ago, the face of my obstetrician fell while performing an ultrasound for a very wanted pregnancy, and our collective mood shifted in an instant from buoyant to somber.

I learned that day that it appeared that my pregnancy was not progressing, because my doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat. But he couldn’t be certain; my period was quite irregular, and it was possible that he misdated the pregnancy and that it was still viable. So I had to wait. One week, then two. Dragging myself into the radiologist’s office every few days to see if there was a heartbeat while attempting to work and parent my then-2-year-old and desperately trying not to cry most of my waking moments.

When my doctors were finally certain that the pregnancy would not go forward, I was given three options: I could continue to wait and see if my body would miscarry on its own without intervention, I could take medication and end the pregnancy at home, or I could have a surgical procedure to empty my uterus, known colloquially as a D. and C. (The last two options are the same choices offered to abortion patients.)

I chose the D. and C., mainly because I wanted to get this awful experience over with as soon as possible.

 Years later, I am at peace with the pregnancy loss; the fetus had a chromosomal issue called Turner syndrome, which “may cause up to 10 percent of all first-trimester miscarriages,” according to the National Institutes of Health. I know now that miscarriages are common. An estimated one-quarter of all pregnancies and around 10 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage before 20 weeks. Thankfully, I was able to have another healthy child later. But that two-week wait remains painful to think about.

And yet I’m thinking about it in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday allowing federal court challenges to Texas’ restrictive abortion law, S.B. 8, but leaving the law in effect, essentially outlawing abortions after six weeks in that state. That’s because in countries where elective abortion is outlawed or extremely restricted, women are not given the choices I had when they miscarry.

Abortion restrictions create a chilling effect on medical professionals who are understandably concerned about being prosecuted for anything resembling elective abortion. And so doctors in countries with restrictive laws “don’t always provide all the relevant information concerning the pregnancy, especially if they see there are complications and they’re afraid women can take drastic measures,” said Irene Donadio, a senior adviser at the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

I asked Dr. Isabel Stabile, a gynecologist in private practice in Malta and an abortion-rights activist, what first-trimester miscarriage care looks like in her country, where there is a total ban on abortion, with no exceptions. “The short answer to this question is in Malta it’s always a wait and see. Women are never given the immediate option of being hospitalized and having a D. and C. nor having pills so we can proceed with a spontaneous miscarriage. The medical and surgical options are never offered as a first line,” she said…

In cases like mine, when there is no detectable heartbeat, the trauma may primarily be to women’s mental health. But when there isa detectable heartbeat and there are other pregnancy complications, there are physiological stakes, including that women can and have died. In Poland, which has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europea 30-year-old woman named Izabela died of septic shock this year in Pszczyna after doctors declined to intervene to save her life. The fetus’s heart was still beating, so physicians may have been afraid to break the country’s laws because the penalty is spending three years in prison, according to reporting in The Guardian

If you think this wouldn’t happen in the United States, think again, because there is evidence that it is already happening. At Catholic hospitals, which are expected to follow directives set by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to never allow abortion services, women may not be getting the full slate of medical options when they present with an ectopic pregnancy.

In September, Ghazaleh Moayedi, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Texas, sounded the alarm in these pages. “Pregnancies that face complications will now be at greater risk. Under this new law, the only abortion exception allowed is for a medical emergency. That might mean if a woman will imminently lose an organ or die without intervention. But how we judge that risk will play out individually with each hospital’s policy, in each clinic,” she wrote. “I can think of no other area of health care in which we would wait for someone to worsen nearly to the point of death before we offered intervention. It’s just unconscionable.”

I honestly think many and probably most opponents of legal abortion have good-faith religious/moral objections that lead them to this political position.  Heck, I used to hold similar positions myself. But, the sad reality is that trying to implement these particular moral beliefs through public policy is ultimately injurious not only to women’s autonomy, but to women’s health and that’s a tradeoff we should not be making.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Excellent stuff (lots of good charts, too) from Noah Smith.  Just read it. “Progressives need to tell the positive story about immigration: Fortunately, it’s true.”

2) This is good and definitely reflects where my thinking has been heading, ‘Why Hospitalizations Are Now a Better Indicator of Covid’s Impact”

The world has a new Covid variant, Omicron, that’s expected to drive up cases if it becomes the dominant strain in the coming months. Much remains unknown, including how quickly Omicron will spread in more highly vaccinated areas, or whether it causes more mild disease than Delta, the variant the United States is continuing to battle.

Thankfully the variant is arriving in a different pandemic landscape in the United States: one in which vaccines, tests and, soon, oral treatments are available. The country will need a new framework for thinking about what comes next, and in highly vaccinated areas, focusing on a different set of numbers, hospitalizations, rather than case counts, can better tell us how we’re doing.

America is in the slow process of accepting that Covid-19 will become endemic — meaning it will always be present in the population at varying levels. But the United States has effective tools to deal with that reality, when it happens in the future.

Learning to live with the virus long-term will require changes in both mind-set and policy. Relying on Covid-19 hospitalizations as the most important metric to track closely will provide the most reliable picture of how an area is faring with the virus. And by focusing attention on the number of hospitalizations, health professionals can better focus on reducing them.

This becomes especially important as case counts become more complicated. A positive case of Covid-19 doesn’t mean what it used to if you are vaccinated. Most breakthrough infections, which will grow as the number of vaccinated people increases, so far remain mild. Although antibodies wane over time and may be affected by variantsT cells and B cells generated from vaccines should continue to offer protection against severe illness. Right now, in areas of high vaccination, an increase in cases does not necessarily signal a comparable increase in hospitalizations or deaths…

Some policymakers may be wary of not using case numbers as the primary metric to guide public behavior and policy. As cases become more complex, however, health departments should still monitor infection numbers, but guidance should be tied to hospitalization metrics. When rising cases do not reliably predict hospitalization surges, hitching Covid policies to cases alone is no longer effective policy — or good public health.

3) HIV has proven to be a ridiculously difficult virus to vaccinate against.  This is early phase here, but some real hope in the latest mRNA HIV vaccines.

4) This is really, really, really good. “COMMENTARY: 8 things US pandemic communicators still get wrong”

1. Overconfidence and failure to proclaim uncertainty

It is not easy to communicate uncertainty. The public doesn’t want to hear it, so to truly get it across, you have to proclaim it, not just acknowledge it.

Doing so goes against the grain for most public health agency spokespersons. They rightly think the public prefers confident-sounding officials.

But the public can tolerate official uncertainty, if it’s confidently and matter-of-factly stated: “We’re building our boat and sailing it at the same time.” Among the many benefits: The damage done when you turn out wrong is a lot lower.

Officials’ overconfidence re COVID has been too obvious to belabor. Among the early mistakes confidently asserted: There’s no reason to think the virus is spreading significantly in the USmasks are uselessthe most important thing you can do is wash your handsit’s not airborne; etc. I had dinner recently with a friend who told me, “I just don’t trust what they say anymore. They’ve been so sure and so wrong so often.”

Plenty of uncertain things are asserted with equal overconfidence today. We just don’t know yet which ones will turn out to be mistaken.

Consider this hypothetical example—and ask yourself why I can’t find many examples like this that aren’t hypothetical:

We don’t entirely know what we’re doing, we’re uncertain, we disagree among ourselves. We have made some mistakes, and we’re going to make more. We’ll keep changing our minds as we fight out our disagreements and take new evidence onboard. If you’re not sure we’re right about something, join the club: We’re not sure we’re right either. This is what it’s like to face an evolving pandemic caused by a new pathogen.

One overconfidence issue that particularly bothers me is attribution bias—particularly about surges. Every time the COVID situation gets better or worse, public health people “explain” why. Officials and experts rarely say—CIDRAP Director Michael Osterholm is a notable exception—that they don’t have a clue why something happened; that the virus does what the virus does; that we’re not steering this ship, we’re passengers.

These overconfident attributions aren’t science-based, but they’re not random. Often they seem to be based on what public health agencies and experts want the public to think and do. Bad news is attributed to not enough people doing what you asked them to do; good news is attributed to lots of people doing what you asked them to do.

Another example: I keep reading that flu disappeared in 2020-21 because of COVID precautions—even though it disappeared also in places like China, where normal life had pretty much resumed until Delta emerged.

When you overconfidently attribute events we don’t really understand, like rises and falls in case numbers, it undermines public confidence in the things you truly can confidently attribute. The fact that vaccinated people are much less likely than unvaccinated people to be hospitalized with COVID is genuinely attributable to vaccination, for example.

A good risk communication strategy is to pair something you know with something you don’t: “Even though we really don’t understand why waves of infection rose here and fell there, we are very confident that the vaccines have reduced people’s COVID hospitalization risk.” …

3. Fake consensus

Like most professions, public health is a guild, and guild members are deterred from deviating publicly from mainstream guild opinion. It can sometimes work like this: A 20% minority of the experts believe something. The 80% prevail. Most of the 20% go silent. The 2% who speak up look like cranks. And journalists and other non-experts (even non-experts within public health) get a misimpression of expert consensus.

In highly uncertain crisis situations like the COVID pandemic, fake consensus can be very harmful. Policymakers are deterred from giving the minority position the consideration it deserves. Researchers are deterred from studying the minority position; granting agencies are deterred from funding research that explores it; journals are deterred from publishing evidence that supports it. In the worst cases, the majority position becomes reified not just as the expert consensus but as inviolate scientific truth that only an anti-science denialist would dare to question.

Under these conditions, discovering that the majority position is mistaken, if it is, takes much longer. And when the news finally reaches the public that the (former) majority position was mistaken, not inviolate scientific truth after all, the loss in trust can be deep and long-lasting.

(Here again I want to acknowledge Osterholm’s unique value. For decades, he has somehow managed to assert outlier opinions without being expelled from the inner circle.)

Please note that I am explicitly disagreeing with many other risk communication experts, whose mantra on the subject is “Speak with one voice.” (We don’t all speak with one voice on the wisdom of speaking with one voice.) I agree that real expert consensus is a wonderful thing, as long as it stays tentative and open to new evidence. Fake consensus that masks real disagreement is something else entirely.

There have been several patterns of fake consensus vis-à-vis COVID. The most dangerous is shutting up the dissenters, or bashing them so badly that potential followers shy away and they can’t get a fair hearing. The maltreatment of the Great Barrington Declaration authors comes to mind. The question isn’t whether they were right or wrong to oppose last year’s lockdowns; the question is whether the mainstream was right or wrong to try to muzzle them. Wrong, I think. Badly wrong.

A less extreme case: Proponents of aerosol transmission were widely ignored for far too long, partly because many of them came from disciplines (like engineering and fluid dynamics) that public health professionals knew little about, and published in journals that public health professionals rarely read. How many lives might have been saved if Lisa Brosseau and her colleagues had been listened to sooner?

A different pattern is when both sides speak as if the other side didn’t exist, as if their half of an ongoing debate were the consensus position. 

Often the fake consensus starts with a genuine consensus regarding the scientific data, but then tacks on a faux consensus regarding what to do about it. Public health policies about COVID or anything else are necessarily grounded in both scientific judgments based on evidence and trans-scientific judgments based on values. The debate about COVID vaccine boosters in August through October 2021 is a nice case in point. The debate was never mostly about the scientific evidence. It focused instead on two trans-scientific questions: How important is it to reduce the incidence of mild breakthrough infections? And with regard to severe breakthrough infections, should we take a “better safe than sorry approach” based on preliminary data, or should we wait for stronger evidence before okaying a booster rollout?

I think the vaccine booster debate was also partly about many public health professionals’ resentment of political leaders for getting ahead of the public health consensus, making their own judgments about these trans-scientific questions instead of simply following the science. In the minds of many public health professionals, “follow the science” really means follow the scientists—that is, follow them—even with regard to choices that are about values more than science and even when there is no scientific consensus on these values choices. Their outrage that President Joe Biden got the policy horse before their scientific cart may have delayed their acceptance of the wisdom of universal COVID booster access. [emphasis mine]

5a) Love me some soda.  But, the idea of paying premium prices to just mix my beloved Diet Dr Pepper with other flavors?  Not so much.  But, enough people do that it’s a growing business. 

Samantha Durfey was a high school sophomore in St. George, Utah, when the first Swig soda shop opened its doors there. Today, at 28, Ms. Durfey, visits the shop at least three times a week. She usually orders a Save Me Jade — Diet Dr Pepper with sugar-free vanilla and coconut flavor syrups — but every now and then she’ll change her order if she wants a break from caffeine.

“They have really good carbonated-water drinks, and because carbonated water itself is disgusting they mix it with fresh fruits and sugar-free syrups and stuff,” she said, “and it makes it taste really yummy.”

Since the first Swig opened in 2010, dozens of soda-shop chains and independent soda shacks have opened from Idaho to Utah to Arizona, an area of the Mountain West sometimes called the Mormon Corridor. A significant portion of the region’s population belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the church’s prohibition on tea and coffee has spurred a niche beverage market that has intensified in the last decade, hitting a fever pitch during the pandemic.

5b) Also, my hypothesis is that if Joseph Smith understood caffeine or if soda existed when he lived, the Mormons would have banned that, too. 

6) Did you see that insane Christmas card from Thomas Massie with all the guns?  A friend of mine went to the trouble of figuring out what all those guns would cost– a lot!

On to the front row!

Starting on the left, you’ve got an M60 machine gun. Buying a legally transferable M60 is pricey. It will run you between $50,000 and $60,000. (That’s substantially more than the U.S. median income for an individual, which was only $34,100 in 2019 — the most recent year I could find numbers for.)

Next to the M60 is an UZI. That’s somewhere between $1,100 and $1,900, with an average market price of around $1,700.

The last gun pictured appears to be a Thompson M1SB, the submachine gun also termed a “Tommy Gun” — but without the distinctive ammo drum. It’ll run you between $1,200 and $2,200.

Time for some quick math! If we add up the cost range for all of those weapons, it comes to a price tag of between $56,200 and $75,100.

That’s well over the median income in the U.S.

It’s a darn sight more than a few hundred dollars for cookware.

And, to the best of my knowledge, nobody’s ever committed mass murder with a serving dish.

7) Freddie deBoer on how advanced stats ruined baseball:

Players are obsessed with launch angle, for the understandable reason that this obsession has seemingly increased homerun totals – 650 more total homers in the 2019 season than in the 2017 season, up a full 10%, to pick one remarkable stat. Teams, meanwhile, are asking players who once would have been instructed to fixate on contact to swing away. I have little doubt that the analytics departments that are asking scrawny middle infielders to approach the batter’s box as if they were Frank Thomas actually does contribute some positive win percentage compared to the previous norm of trying to slap singles or drop bunts. But it’s removed the variety of approaches at the plate that used to make baseball more interesting. Meanwhile the “Moneyball”-era focus on the value of walks and running up large pitch counts has contributed to a steady increase of pitches per plate appearance for 30 years. This means more fouls, more excitement-sapping pitcher changes as guys hit their rigid pitch count limits, and longer games.

The result of all of this is that a game that has an intrinsic tendency towards inaction and guys standing around has seen more of both. I concede that homers are fun, as are strikeouts. But the more you see, the less special they become, and the modern baseball fan sees dramatically more than a previous era’s did. Meanwhile the most athletic, fun, and unpredictable elements of baseball, fielding and baserunning, have become less and less prevalent over time. Guys launch homers or they strike out, wracking up foul balls by the score, and when that’s not happening it’s just pause after pause, long stretches of nothing. We live in an increasingly-frenetic digitally-mediated culture, and Shoeless Joe isn’t coming out of the holy cornfield to entice your kids to watch baseball. It’s really hard to see how the game competes with Twitch and YouTube moving forward, to say nothing of the NFL or the NBA…

Now. Do I think the style of play dictated by sabermetrics is the sole cause of baseball’s decline in popularity, in some simplistic way? No. But I think it is certainly an important contributor. I’m sure there’s all kinds of social trends and cultural forces at play in baseball’s current status as the weird old uncle of American sports. One way or the other, though, the only possible route to greater popularity and success is by enticing people with the game itself. That’s it, that’s all you can market yourself on, your product on the field of play. Right now, the product stinks, in my opinion.

8) This is excellent, “Why ‘both sides’ journalism fails in the face of the rising threat to our democracy

As I’ve written before, and as many others have said, we’re in the midst of a crisis of democracy. The Republican Party, already disproportionately empowered because of the Constitution’s small-state bias and the Senate filibuster (the latter, of course, could be abolished tomorrow), is working to strengthen its advantage through partisan gerrymandering and the passage of voter-suppression laws. The result could be white minority rule for years to come.

The situation has deteriorated to the point that the European think tank International IDEA now regards the United States as a “backsliding democracy.” To quote from IDEA’s report directly, “the United States, the bastion of global democracy, fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself, and was knocked down a significant number of steps on the democratic scale.”

And the media remain wedded to their old tropes, covering political campaigns as though they were horse races and treating the two major parties as equally legitimate players with different views.

It’s a topic that was discussed at length recently on Ezra Klein’s New York Times podcast by New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen and guest host Nicole Hemmer, a scholar who studies right-wing media. Their conversation defies easy summary (the whole episode can be found here), but essentially, Rosen argued that the political press falls back on its old habits because breaking out of them is just too difficult.

“The horse race absorbs a lot of abuse from people like me,” he said. “But it can take that abuse, because it is such a problem-solver. It checks so many other boxes that even when people know it’s kind of bankrupt, it stays on.” As an alternative, Rosen proposes coverage based on a “citizens agenda,” which he has written about at his blog, PressThink. But he admitted to Hemmer that we may lose our democracy before his ideas are adopted by more than a fraction of journalists.

What I find especially frustrating is that the media have not been ignoring the Republican threat to our democracy. Far from it. As just one small example, the Times on Sunday published a front-page story by Nick Corasaniti on a multitude of actions being taken at the state level to suppress the vote and put Trump loyalists in charge of the election machinery.

“Democrats and voting rights groups say some of the Republican measures will suppress voting, especially by people of color,” Corasaniti wrote. “They warn that other bills will increase the influence of politicians and other partisans in what had been relatively routine election administration. Some measures, they argue, raise the prospect of elections being thrown into chaos or even overturned.”

So why am I frustrated? Because this sort of valuable enterprise reporting is walled off from day-to-day political coverage. We are routinely served up stories about the congressional Republican leaders, Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Mitch McConnell, going about their business as though they were latter-day versions of the late Bob Dole, sharply partisan but ultimately dedicated to the business of seeking compromise and governing. In fact, whether through cowardice or conviction, they are enabling our slide into authoritarianism by undermining the investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection as well as by failing to call out Trump and the excesses of their worst members.

Earlier this year, Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan endorsed the idea of a “democracy beat,” which would look closely at attempts to subvert voting rights. Sullivan would go further than that, too. “The democracy beat shouldn’t be some kind of specialized innovation,” she wrote, “but a widespread rethinking across the mainstream media,” permeating every aspect of political and governmental coverage.

9) I will say I quite enjoyed “Sex and the City” way back when.  Not so much interest on a new series focusing on these women twenty years later and proving how much more enlightened the characters and show creators now are.  

10) Also, how had I never heard about “hip dips.”  And, yes, having an 11-year old daughter on the verge of puberty does scare me. Nice little NYT doc on teen girls discussing their difficulties.

11) Scientists trying to find the genetic determinants of what makes a good dog, “Is There a Genetic Link to Being an Extremely Good Boy?”

Good health is key for guide dogs, but temperament is just as important. They need to lead their owners around obstacles and other people while staying calm and obedient. They need to resist chasing after squirrels or getting too excited when meeting other dogs. Not every breed has what it takes. For example, the typical cocker spaniel is intelligent, affectionate, and a great option for families, but it is also too excitable. “Even if you give them the same training, you would never expect a spaniel to be a guide dog. They’re far too temperamentally unsuited, and that’s probably a genetic thing,” says Lewis.

Sixty years of breeding and research at the charity has shown that German shepherds, golden retrievers, and Labradors—especially golden retrievers crossed with Labradors—are best suited to guide blind or visually impaired people. These breeds are confident, intelligent, and eager to please; they are large enough for the harness that wraps around their torso and includes a sturdy handle for the owner; they are strong enough to pull their owners away from dangerous obstacles, and yet small enough to lie comfortably under a bus seat.

In 2019, researchers at four universities in the United States analyzed genetic information and behavior logs for more than 14,000 dogs from 101 breeds. They found some genes that contributed to 60 to 70 percent of variation among breeds for traits such as aggressiveness toward strangers or trainability, but no gene turned out to be solely responsible for any of them. This suggests that the behavioral patterns seen in dogs are an interplay of many genes and environmental influences.

 

This study, however, was based on existing genetic data sets and surveys with dog owners. That’s not ideal, because the genetic and behavioral data were from separate sample groups, and not from the same dogs. “The only reason we took the breed-average approach was to compile massive amounts of behavioral and genetic data from the existing literature,” says lead author Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona, whose ongoing research involves DNA sampling and behavioral experiments with dogs.

The new Guide Dogs project aims to bridge this gap by collecting full genome sequences from 3,000 of their bred dogs, including puppies and their parents, and correlating that with their internal data to identify genes that determine patterns of disease and behavior. So far, staff and volunteers have collected DNA samples from 400 dogs, and sequencing will begin next year. But the project will take many years to complete; a team of researchers will study the guide dogs until their retirement, to watch for diseases that develop late in life.

12) Is it wrong of me to question whether we are at the point where we need to try and open up space to people with disabilities?  

13) Interesting study on male and female physicians lifetime earnings reveals all the complicated factors– very little is overtly paying women less for the same work– that lead to women earning less in all sorts of fields:

The researchers analyzed self-reported salary data submitted to Doximity, a social network similar to LinkedIn that claims to reach 80 percent of doctors in the United States. Comparing wages between men and women with the same amount of experience, the researchers estimated that, over a simulated 40-year career, male physicians earned an average of $8.3 million while women made roughly $6.3 million — a nearly 25 percent difference.

In their calculations, the researchers controlled for an array of factors that highly influence pay, like a doctor’s specialty, type of practice and patient volume.

More men, for example, become surgeons — the highest paid of all physician specialties — whereas more women go into primary care. And women have been shown to spend more time with their patients, leading to a lower volume of services and procedures that can be billed for.

Some of these measures are “themselves the likely manifestations of systemic bias or discrimination,” said Dr. Reshma Jagsi, a radiation oncologist and bioethicist at the University of Michigan medical school who was not involved with the new report. For example, studies have shown widespread bias against women applying for jobs in medicine that are traditionally or predominantly held by men. And women in academic medicine are less likely to get big research grants or hold leadership positions.

14) For you “Succession” fans out there (and, for my money, the best show– and funniest– currently in production), this profile of Jeremy Strong is terrific.  

When I asked Strong about the rap that Kendall performs in Season 2, at a gala for his father—a top contender for Kendall’s most cringeworthy moment—he gave an unsmiling answer about Raskolnikov, referencing Kendall’s “monstrous pain.” Kieran Culkin told me, “After the first season, he said something to me like, ‘I’m worried that people might think that the show is a comedy.’ And I said, ‘I think the show is a comedy.’ He thought I was kidding.” Part of the appeal of “Succession” is its amalgam of drama and bone-dry satire. When I told Strong that I, too, thought of the show as a dark comedy, he looked at me with incomprehension and asked, “In the sense that, like, Chekhov is comedy?” No, I said, in the sense that it’s funny. “That’s exactly why we cast Jeremy in that role,” McKay told me. “Because he’s not playing it like a comedy. He’s playing it like he’s Hamlet.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff on uncertainty around Omicron, “Why It Could Take ‘Two Weeks’ To Learn If Omicron Impacts COVID-19 Vaccines”

Why two weeks? A fortnight is a weirdly specific timeframe?

The main reason behind the wait is that a legion of virologists need this time to tease apart omicron’s attack patterns. This new variant’s large amount of mutations has made this work harder than it typically is. Omicron has about 50 mutations — twice as many mutations overall as delta.

Also contributing to the delay is the lag time between catching the virus and being hospitalized. It typically takes about seven to 12 days. Most of the early omicron cases were spotted in college students who developed mild disease, according to their doctors. But younger adults are way less likely to experience severe COVID, and wave after wave has taught us that these youths also tend to be on the leading edge of surges. So, these early cases do not offer much clarity on omicron’s severity.

2) This is important and the best reason to temper the truly alarmist takes, “A reason for optimism on Omicron: Our immune systems are not blank slates”

The new SARS-2 variant, known as Omicron, may more easily sidestep some of the immunity of some vaccinated and previously infected people. But there’s good reason to think people who already have some immune protections may avoid the worst of what Covid infections can do to immunologically naïve people.

“Dealing with naïve people is never the same as if you have some memory. It’s never like [being back at] square one,” Ali Ellebedy, an associate professor of pathology and immunology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told STAT. “The virus is going to not find it as easy compared to the situation in January 2020 or December 2019. It’s just completely different now.”…

The new variant may well erode some of the protection induced by vaccines, or by prior Covid infection. If Omicron takes off, there may be larger numbers of breakthrough infections among the vaccinated and more reinfections among the previously infected. But a smaller portion of those infections may develop into cases of serious or severe disease.

“One would think that even if now at the get-go you don’t have a neutralizing antibody response, there might still be a safety net there. And that safety net may be relatively stable when we talk about infection,” said Florian Krammer, a professor of vaccinology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

There are real worries that some of the mutations in the spike protein of Omicron variant viruses will undermine the efficacy of the neutralizing antibodies generated after vaccination. While the correlates of protection for SARS-2 — the types and amounts of immune system weapons needed to be protected against it — aren’t yet fully defined, neutralizing antibodies clearly play an important role in protection. And their waning seems to presage a rise in the risk of breakthrough infection.

Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at the Scripps Research Institute, is among those worried about how big a dent Omicron may put into SARS-2 acquired immunity.

“I think we’ll see very significant degradation of immune protection, whether that be by infection-induced immunity and possibly also via vaccine-derived immunity, especially as it comes to the ability to protect against infection and transmission,” Andersen said.

He acknowledged other immune system weapons — T-cells and other types of antibodies — will recognize and respond to the virus. “But the concern is that we don’t really know the role of T cells. For example, exactly how much are they or are they not protecting against disease, infection, transmission, all these different things? Because it really does seem like our level of neutralizing antibodies correlates really well with the ability to protect,” he said.

Anna Durbin, director of the Center for Immunization Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said T cells — which have been trained by vaccine or infection to look for and attack a particular pathogen, in this case SARS-2 — may not be enough to prevent infection with the Omicron variant, but should help shut down the disease it triggers, if infection occurs.

3) Some of the best twitter threads of the whole pandemic have been from Muge Cevik.  This one on Omicron joins the list. 

4) Okay, some non-Covid, “Garry Kasparov on Resisting Authoritarianism” in Persuasion:

Mounk: When I was a grad student at Harvard University, you came to speak there to present one of your books. I think this must have been around the time that Barack Obama ran for reelection, and it was striking because at this point you were in political exile from Russia. You were warning about Putin being a dictator, but also about Russia having expanded ambitions to be a spoiler on the international scene. This was around the time Obama had announced the reset with Russia.

Kasparov: In my book, Winter Is Coming, I talked about all the top American officials who became aware about the threat coming from the KGB and Putin after they left office. It’s amazing. You read their memoirs, whoever—Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright, a long list. They all knew, but somehow when they were in office, they acted differently. 

From my previous life, I already knew what the KGB was. I read enough books, and I saw the growing threat of Putin to the free world, not only to Russia, but also to neighboring countries, the rest of Europe, and eventually to America. And Putin was not shy in using his resources to bribe politicians. The fact is that he could buy former German Chancellor Schröder and many other politicians, though few of that caliber. Former Prime Minister of Finland Paavo Lipponen and now former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon are on a long list of politicians who decided to sell their souls and principles—if they had any—for Putin’s cash. That was a clear and present danger. Putin attacked the Republic of Georgia—technically Medvedev was in power, but I have no doubt that it was Putin’s push—to punish Saakashvili for his independent politics. It was not rocket science: Any country that tried to escape from the sphere of influence of the Kremlin would be subject to an attack. Thank God the Baltic states were under the NATO umbrella—though, these days, probably even NATO doesn’t offer full protection. But Ukraine was a clear target of Putin’s aggression. I had no doubt that he would look for any opportunity to spread chaos around the world, because that’s what he needed. You can’t blame him with hiding his intentions. You just had to follow what Putin had been saying all along. His speech in Munich in 2007 was a clear message to the world that he was going to depart from the arrangements of the post-Cold War and would restore Russian imperial power. Today, in 2021, we still have people saying that maybe we shouldn’t take these types of words at face value. We must, because with every success they become more emboldened. Dictators never ask “why?” It’s always “why not?”

Mounk: Tell us how you took some of the insights you developed in Russia, seeing the rise of Vladimir Putin, and applied them to the candidacy of somebody like Trump.

Kasparov: I think of Donald Trump’s ascent, and the KGB operations to help him get elected. I saw the Russian propaganda machine fully supporting Trump, and using the newly-built troll factories and fake news industry to help Trump to be elected. And whatever Trump’s relations with the KGB were in the past—I believe there were—it was clear that Putin thought that was a time to go for this final blow to divide America, to create in American democracy a friction it couldn’t heal. Trump was an ideal agent of chaos. It’s like an icebreaker, destroying the American political system. I don’t think Putin expected Trump to win, but I think he thought that Trump could do what he is doing now [sowing division].

Now, the new administration that needed to heal the damage caused by Trump demonstrated its impotence, or some would say incompetence, with the clear and present danger in dealing with Putin. The summit in Geneva was a disaster beyond imagination.

5) Director commentary and featurettes? “Why Do DVDs Still Exist?”

It all begs the question: Why do DVDs and Blu-rays still exist? And why does Technicolor expect to print and ship 750 million discs this year? The answer is simple: Some people still buy them—though not necessarily who you’d think. While pop psychology would suggest that older generations are clinging to their love of the physical disc, those over the age of 60 make up a smaller proportion of the disc-watching population than their share of the total US population. Instead, those aged 25 to 39 are more likely than most to watch DVDs, according to the MPAA. And they’re often collectors, locked into building out their collections. “I think the term ‘legacy format’ plays into this,” says Tony Gunnarsson, principal analyst of TV, video, and advertising at Omdia. “We have people who have been buying and renting DVDs for so long that they continue to do so.”

That includes Jeanne Sager, a social media marketer from New York state, whose DVD and Blu-ray collection covers four shelves in her family home. Many of the discs in the collection were bought for her child when they first got into movies. “We also tended to collect along the way, as we live in the middle of nowhere, so going to the movies is a bit harder when your town has a theater with just one screen,” she says. Now she doesn’t know what to do with the collection. They take up space—but she fears that getting rid of them could make it much harder to watch her favorite movies or TV shows. “I’m wary of getting rid of them because when you do want to watch something, even with 37 different streaming services out there, it seems the one thing you really want to watch isn’t on them,” she says.

Also, they work even when the internet doesn’t.  And, as I’ve mentioned I’m still on the Netflix DVD plan because online rentals are never more than 48 hours, and often, still just 24.

6) Harry Enten, “Why we need to stop with the 2024 predictions”

For those tempted to look at these polls or the current political environment to try to glean something about the next general presidential election, I have only one thing to say: Stop it. Neither the current presidential polling nor the current political environment tells us much about what will happen in the 2024 general election.

Let’s start with the horserace polling (i.e. the matchup between two candidates). There have been seven previous election cycles prior to this one where polling was taken between an incumbent and their eventual challenger at about this point in the cycle.

When you match up the polling and the ultimate margin, the relationship is statistically insignificant.
 

7) Interesting piece from Mark Allan Smith, “The Rise of Do-It-Yourself Religion: Secularization was supposed to make people more rational. Instead, it made us more polarized and superstitious.”

The share of Americans holding no religious affiliation has risen from 6% in 1991 to 28% in 2021, while weekly attendance at worship services has dropped by more than a third.

When we dig more deeply into the data, however, the simple label of “secularization” does not adequately capture these trends. Most Americans unaffiliated with a religion nevertheless believe in some type of a God or universal spirit. Research from the University of Kent in the U.K. indicates that even atheists do not consistently uphold the scientific rationality many intellectuals anticipated as a replacement for religion. Specifically, the research finds that most atheists in the U.S. and several other countries embrace at least one from a set of beliefs encompassing astrology, karma, supernatural beings, and a handful of other supernatural and mystical phenomena.

The other side of the religious spectrum is also internally inconsistent. In a development that would make any fundamentalist preacher want to scream, one-fifth of evangelicals now believe in reincarnation. Other evangelicals draw religious sustenance from online sources with a dubious connection to any historical Christian teaching. Works in political science and sociology show that Christians of all stripes often read their political allegiances into the Bible rather than using the Bible to guide their political stances.

Instead of pure secularization, then, we have seen a shift toward what could be called Do-It-Yourself religion. Some people still attend worship services, but they mix and match their beliefs and practices according to personal taste. It’s not just “cafeteria Catholics”—we have cafeteria evangelicals, Muslims, and Jews. Meanwhile, the people who have abandoned organized religion entirely often explore the paranormal even as they retain a belief in God…

What has changed in modern America is not the existence but rather the prevalence of DIY religion. The twentieth century was a high point for organized religion, which not only structured lives but also wielded cultural influence. Today, with religious adherents attending services at lower rates, and with many Americans claiming no religious affiliation, there are greater possibilities for people to blend ideas from different sources. The remaining churchgoers who seem conventional nevertheless often combine the instruction of their pastors and priests with the endless stream of unorthodox material they encounter online.

This movement is heightened among young people. Many social trends gather steam initially in the young, and that is certainly true with respect to religion. Within Generation Z—generally defined as people born after the mid-to-late 1990s—the percentage who do not affiliate with a religion has reached an all-time high. Among those who do hold a religious identity, attendance at worship services has fallen off a cliff.

Young people are also disproportionately represented among the enthusiasts for astrologyTarot cards, and various forms of New Age mysticism. They frequently pair their excursions into the paranormal with standard religious activities such as prayer. To put it simply, DIY religion has meant for young people a substantial retreat from religious participation in an organized community but no major withdrawal from religious and mystical belief.

8) This school is about a mile from my house. Nice to have my negative priors about local charter schools confirmed, “Cary principal says charter school fired him over diverse hiring, COVID mask mandate”

A principal of a charter school in Cary who was fired after less than two months in charge is suing the school’s parent company in federal court. Brian Bauer was hired by Charter Schools USA to lead Cardinal Charter Academy, a tuition-free, K-8 public charter school in Cary, in mid-July, according to a civil complaint originally filed in Wake County in late October. He was fired around Sept. 2, shortly after the start of the school year. Bauer accuses school officials of firing him “for his hiring of racially diverse staff and/or his insistence on enforcement of the school’s Reopening Plan,” which included a school-wide mask mandate and quarantine requirements for students in certain circumstances.

9) Really, really good article on the quest (it really does seem like we’re getting close) for a universal flu vaccine.  A must read for the science-minded among you.

10) Loved this from Graeme Wood  so much, “‘Land Acknowledgments’ Are Just Moral Exhibitionism”

The practice of “land acknowledgment”—preceding a fancy event by naming the Indigenous groups whose slaughter and dispossession cleared the land on which the audience’s canapés are about to be served—is one of the greatest associate-producer credits of all time. A land acknowledgment is what you give when you have no intention of giving land. It is like a receipt provided by a highway robber, noting all the jewels and gold coins he has stolen. Maybe it will be useful for an insurance claim? Anyway, you are not getting your jewels back, but now you have documentation.

Long common in Canada and Australia, land acknowledgment is catching on in the United States and already de rigueur in certain circles. If you have seen enough of these—I have now watched dozens, sometimes more than one at the same event—you learn to spot them before the speaker even begins acknowledging. In many cases the tone turns solemn and moralizing, and the speaker’s posture stiff, as if preparing to read a confession at gunpoint. One might declare before, say, a corporate sales retreat: We would like to respectfully acknowledge that the land on which we gather to discuss the new line of sprinkler systems is in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq. The acknowledgment is almost always a prepared statement, read verbatim, because like all spells it must be spoken precisely for its magic to work. The magic in this case is self-absolution: The acknowledgment relieves the speaker and the audience of the responsibility to think about Indigenous peoples, at least until the next public event.

Maybe it is a victory for Indigeneity to have the name Muckleshoot even mentioned at a Microsoft conference. By far the most common defense of land acknowledgments is that they harm no one, and they educate Americans about a hidden history that took place literally where they stand. Do they not at least do that?

No, not even a little. It is difficult to exaggerate the superficiality of these statements. What do members of the acknowledged group hold sacred? What makes them unique and identifies them to one another? Who are they, where did they come from, and where are they going? The evasion of these fundamental questions is typical. The speaker demonstrates no knowledge of the people whose names he reads carefully off the sheet of paper. Nor does he make any but the most general connection between the event and those people, other than an ancient one, not too different from the speaker’s relationship with the local geology or flora…

Some people argue that land acknowledgments are “gestures of respect.” I’m not sure one can show respect while also being indifferent to a people’s existence. The statements are a counterfeit version of respect. Teen Vogue put it well, if unintentionally: “Land acknowledgment is an easy way to show honor and respect to the indigenous people.” A great deal of nonsense about identity politics could be avoided by studying this line, and realizing that respect shown the “easy way” is just as cheap as it sounds. Real respect occurs only when accompanied by time, work, or something else of value. Learning basic facts about a particular tribe might be a start.

Most of these acknowledgments are considered (by the speakers, anyway) moral acts, because they bear witness to crimes perpetrated against Native peoples and call, usually implicitly, for redress. If you enjoy moral exhibitionism, to say nothing of moral onanism, land acknowledgments in their current form will leave you pleasured for years to come.

Damn that was good. And, oh man, “moral onanism,” I’ll have to use that some time.

11) Lots of reasons (I blame mostly the mumbly actors), but this is really, really interesting, “Here’s Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult To Understand (And Three Ways To Fix It)”

12) Terrific Dahlia Lithwick.  Read it! “SCOTUS Will Gaslight Us Until the End: Oral arguments today made clear that this court will overturn Roe—and that they’ll insist on their own reasonableness the whole time.”

Perhaps it would be refreshing if the conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court no longer felt the need to lie to us. The lying, after all, is becoming nearly untenable—especially for an institution that relies on public confidence. After confirmation hearings in which they promised that stare decisis was a deeply felt value and that Roe v. Wade was a clear “precedent of the court” and “the law of the land.” there’s something sort of soothing about knowing the lying to our faces will soon be over. They were all six of them installed on the Supreme Court to put an end to Roe v. Wade after all, and that is exactly what they intend to do. There will be no more fake solicitude for women making difficult choices, no more pretense that pregnant people really just need better medical advice, and no more phony concerns about “abortion mills” that threaten maternal health. There is truly something to be said for putting an end to decades of false consciousness around the real endgame here, which was to take away a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy—rape, incest, abuse, maternal health no longer being material factors. At least now we might soon be able to call it what it is.

But somehow, even still, only some of the six conservatives seem brave enough to admit to the real project. That became clear as oral arguments progressed this morning in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. Evaluating the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that prohibits virtually all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a pre-viability ban on its own terms that quite deliberately violates Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, some of the justices continued to pretend that what was being proposed—the overturning or hollowing out of a precedent on which generations of pregnant people had relied—was a teensy little tweak, a long-overdue tug of the constitutional sheets in the right direction.

13) What a brilliant synthesis of science, journalism, and graphic design.  Here’s a gift link, so make sure you check this out, “The Coronavirus in a Tiny Drop”

14) Catherine Rampell is right with this frame, “Red states are now paying people not to get vaccinated”

Once upon a time, states debated whether to pay people to get vaccinated. Now, some red states are paying people not to get vaccinated, by cutting checks to workers who quit or are fired because they refuse covid-19 shots.

All spring and summer, Republicans cried bloody murder about how too-generous unemployment benefits were supposedly discouraging Americans from returning to work. Expanded jobless benefits were creating welfare queens, they argued, and driving labor shortages and hurting small businesses.

As I wrote at the time, it seemed reasonable to believe that at least for some workers, jobless benefits were a factor weighed when deciding whether to accept or reject available jobs. But lots of other factors mattered, too — including child-care availability, fear of getting ill, transit problems, changing family priorities, the wages offered and burnout.

Ultimately, those other factors seemed to matter more. Expanded pandemic benefits ended, first in a few GOP-controlled states (over the summer) and eventually nationwide (in September). Their lapse appeared to have little impact on job growth.

That didn’t stop some Republican politicians from continuing to blame labor shortages on unemployment benefits even after the offending federal programs had expired nationwide. Their talking point long outlasted its plausible relevance.

Now, Republicans are expanding these laziness-inducing benefits once again — but only for workers who refuse shots.

At least four states — FloridaIowaKansas and Tennessee — have recently extended benefits to workers who are fired or quit over their employers’ vaccine requirements. For context, workers who are fired for cause or who quit voluntarily are usually not eligible to receive unemployment benefits. With limited exceptions, only those laid off through no fault of their own have been able to receive such aid.

15) Definitely don’t agree with all his artistic takes, but this (as usual), was a fun and thought-provoking read from Freddie deBoer, “Nü-Metal and Twilight Are the True Outsider Art, the Only Rebel Poets: you only get to be an outsider artist if everybody hates you, now”

Anyway, the documentary mostly functions in the culture as an excuse for aging millennials to make fun of nü-metal again, which is a thrill for them because they haven’t had an opinion about relevant music since back when they would constantly tweet that Bon Iver is boring. (And then quietly cry in front of their laptops while they watched the “Holocene” video.) It’s interesting to me to see such naked artistic classism at hand in artistic opinion again; the content industry derives an awful lot of clicks from pretending to oppose that sort of thing. I don’t mean classism to say that nü-metal was poor people music, but rather that it was and is perceived to appeal to base and populist tastes – in other words, the kind of tastes that the entire critical edifice has been championing for at least 15 years. This is the era of poptimism, as much as the poptimists like to pretend that isn’t the case, and we are now to understand that any preference for the experimental or challenging or niche is not just the hand of elitism but probably of racism and sexism as well. Yet Limb Bizkit et al were the epitome of a certain kind of shameless populism, and they are again coming up for mockery. I guess rules are meant to be broken.


It’s interesting, to me if to no one else, to consider the collective disdain for nü-metal in light of the stunning dominance of the lowbrow today. That pop culture is superior to whatever tiny avant garde still exists is a matter of holy writ on the internet, these days, and the properties that have spread to the masses from what was once nerd culture are the most protected of all. I’ve written many times about the bizarre place we’re in when it comes to “fandom” and pop culture. You are familiar with the genres and properties that fall under the fandom heading, like super heroes, fantasy, video games, and sci fi. The very weird condition we’re in is that these properties are commercially dominant, suck up the vast majority of critical attention and analysis, and increasingly succeed with awards shows and critics – and yet their fans never stop bitching and moaning about being disrespected. Our culture simply could not have rolled out a red carpet more welcomingly, even grovelingly, for the “fandom” fans than it has, and yet they still spend 80% of their time talking about how they are an oppressed minority struggling under the yoke of marginalization.

Since I’ve been writing about this subject, the reality of nerd domination has become so stark and obvious that the defensive fans have taken to changing their tune. Instead of continuing to claim, ludicrously, that their tastes are marginal, they now claim that there is no alternative, so no one should complain…

This is, in fact, just factually untrue – adult dramas were huge box office successes for decades after Jaws’s release. Philadelphia is a movie about watching a man slowly die from AIDs; it went to number one in the box office in 1994. City of Angels, a turgid romance about Meg Ryan falling in love with an angel played by Nicolas Cage, was the top grossing film for two weeks four years later. That same year, Patch Adams – Patch Fucking Adams – was also the top earner, despite/because it’s about a sad clown failing to save the lives of dying children. Why, this very millennium saw Erin Brockovich, a movie about investigating the health effects of environmental pollutants that mostly takes place in law offices, go to number one. Burn After Reading went to number one just thirteen years ago, and that’s a Coen brothers movie! Schindler’s List, a movie about watching many Jews painfully die, made the equivalent of $620 million in today’s dollars. The Passion of the Christ, a movie about watching one Jew painfully die, made the equivalent of $880 million in today’s dollars.I’m sorry, but the notion that it was ever thus and R-rated films made about adult themes and for adult sensibilities never made money is simply untrue. And dramas didn’t just do big box office on random February weekends when the big movies weren’t competing, either; these films were able to go up against blockbuster movies and hold their own. Now “hit drama” is almost unheard of. Go through the historical lists of number one films and you’ll see movie after movie that today would be put out by A24, get respectful reviews, and earn like $12 million.

You can read reams about this, of course; once studios realized that “children+adults” resulted in a bigger number than “just adults,” it was all over. But I do think that another aspect of this is simply that there was a sense of adult responsibility to consume adult art that used to exist and no longer does. Back then, you could still appeal to people’s sense that you couldn’t eat candy all the time, that everyone needs a little more substance sometimes and that it’s important to balance dumb fun with deeper concerns. But today’s tentpole movies have a shield that their predecessors don’t, which is a culture industry that’s become obsessively concerned with showering lowbrow fare with respect. Nerd culture is a grievance culture; nerds don’t know how to win and don’t enjoy it when they do. So when their beloved properties became economically dominant, they shifted their complaints away from being stuck in a small niche and towards vague but bitter feelings of status anxiety.

For a long while fandom justified their self-righteous grievance culture by insisting that their favorites were commercially successful but critically disdained. (The fear that someone somewhere is looking down their nose at you is one of the most powerful of all human feelings.) The trouble is that this claim simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The Return of the King, part of the granddaddy of all nerd franchises, won Best Picture and a mountain of other Oscars almost 20 years ago. The MCU movies are often discussed as critically derided, which is just objectively untrue – their average Rotten Tomatoes score is like 85%, and by that metric Black Panther and (lol) Avengers Endgame are two of the ten best-reviewed films of all time. If you don’t like Rotten Tomatoes, just read the reviews those movies get in the New York Times and other snooty places. The MCU shows got twenty-eight Emmy nominations this year! The Harry Potter films received very strong reviews, on the whole. So did Rogue OneThe Force Awakens, and The Last Jedi. (The Rise of Skywalkergood lord.) The DC movies have been made fun of a lot, principally because most of them are terrible, but Wonder Woman and Aquaman received a lot of praise, in part because critics get off on writing about “a newfound respect” for what they have made fun of in the past. If you pick a nerd property at random you may not find the universal critical lionization these fans seem to want, but you will almost invariably find an aggressively open critical mind and an effort to find things to praise.

16) Wow, this story, “They trusted a coach with their girls and Ivy League ambitions. Now he’s accused of sex abuse.”  But what really gets me is that well before they knew he was a sexual abuser, they knew he was a complete bully, but nobody seemed to care as long as the girls got college scholarships.

Now, three days after their graduation from Whitman, the seven rowers decided to send a missive to the parent board, a group of mothers and fathers who volunteered to oversee the program. In just a few weeks, one girl was headed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; at least three others had earned scholarships to row in college. None of them wanted other students to have the same experiences they’d had with Shipley.

The coach, the seven warned in the letter they sent June 15, “has taken advantage of his role on the team and used his position to create a toxic, competitive atmosphere that fosters negativity and tension among the athletes. … He very clearly plays favorites, and when athletes spoke up or criticized his actions, their boat placement was often affected. This could be seen all three years we were on the varsity team.”

An excerpt of a June 2021 letter sent by seven Whitman High School rowers to the parent board about the way Kirk Shipley treated them. (Obtained by The Washington Post)

They detailed the times he’d pitted girls in different boats against each other, called them names, asked probing questions about their boyfriends and delved into their personal lives in ways that felt invasive and inappropriate. After one of their teammates attemptedsuicide, they told the 14-member parent board, Shipley had bluntly asked her, “So, how did you try to do it?”

This wasn’t the first time Shipley, who declined an interview request through his attorney,had been the target of a complaint about the way he operated. He’d been investigated in 2018 after being accused that spring of creating a toxic culture — a claim he denied, arguing in an email to the complaining parent that it was just “the competitive nature of the Women’s program at Whitman.”

A human resources consultant hired by the parent board said in a report that she found “quite a lot of bitterness” over Shipley’s perceived favoritism toward “his chosen rowers” and described a “potentially polarizing, unapologetic style” of coaching. But she didn’t recommend any drastic changes to the program.

17) I’m loving working straight through Seinfeld on Netflix.  More convinced than ever that it is the greatest comedy in the history of television.  It hits its stride so damn strongly in season 3.  I watched “The Boyfriend” parts I and II last night.  Just so many great scenes, but you just can’t beat, “and you wanted to be my latex salesman.”

“Evangelical” = religious Republican

I’ve been following Ryan Burge on twitter for around a year and he’s a constant source of fascinating graphs/charts on American religion.  (If you follow me on twitter, you’ve definitely seen some re-tweets).  

This week he took to the NYT with a fascinating Op-Ed on the evolving meaning of “Evangelical.”

The conventional wisdom about religion in the United States is that the number of people who have no religious affiliation is rising rapidly. In the 1970s, secular Americans (often called the Nones) made up just 5 percent of the population; now, that number has climbed to at least 30 percent. The data suggest that religious groups must be suffering tremendous losses as the Nones continue to increase in size and influence each year.

That’s why a recent report from the Pew Research Center came as a huge surprise. Its most shocking revelation was that, between 2016 and 2020, there was no significant decline in the share of white Americans who identify as evangelical Christians. Instead, the report found the opposite: During Donald Trump’s presidency, the number of white Americans who started identifying as evangelical actually grew

What is drawing more people to embrace the evangelical label on surveys is more likely that evangelicalism has been bound to the Republican Party. Instead of theological affinity for Jesus Christ, millions of Americans are being drawn to the evangelical label because of its association with the G.O.P.

This is happening in two different ways. The first is that many Americans who have begun to embrace the evangelical identity are people who hardly ever attend religious services. For instance, in 2008, just 16 percent of all self-identified evangelicals reported their church attendance as never or seldom. But in 2020, that number jumped to 27 percent. In 2008, about a third of evangelicals who never attended church said they were politically conservative. By 2019, that had risen to about 50 percent…

The data from the Pew Research Center reinforces that: Those who had warmer views of Mr. Trump were more likely to become evangelical between 2016 and 2020 than those who didn’t feel warmly toward him. The evidence points in one direction: For many Americans, to be a conservative Republican is to be an evangelical Christian, regardless of whether they ever attend a Sunday service.

The second factor bolstering evangelicalism on surveys is that more people are embracing the label who have no attachment to Protestant Christianity. For example, the share of Catholics who also identified as evangelicals (or born again) rose to 15 percent in 2018 from 9 percent in 2008. That same pattern appears with Muslims. In fact, there’s evidence that the share of Orthodox Christians, Hindus and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who identify as evangelical is larger today than it was just a decade ago.

Yet these non-Protestants are embracing the evangelical label for slightly different reasons. Protestants and non-Protestants have a strong affinity for the Republican Party and the policies of Donald Trump, but non-Protestant evangelicals are much more religiously devout. For instance, half of Muslims who attend services at a mosque more than once a week and align with the G.O.P. self-identify as evangelical. (Just 20 percent of Republican Muslims attend mosque once a year.) In essence, many Americans are coming to the understanding that to be very religiously engaged and very politically conservative means that they are evangelical, even if they don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

The rapid rise of the nonreligious and non-Protestant evangelical has meant that the tradition did not fade in any significant way over the last decade. But instead, what it means to be evangelical is being radically remade. It used to be that when many people thought about evangelicalism, they conjured up an image of a fiery preacher imploring them to accept Jesus. Now the data indicate that more and more Americans are conflating evangelicalism with Republicanism — and melding two forces to create a movement that is not entirely about politics or religion but power.

Really, really interesting stuff.  There’s not a survey I conduct or a regression model I run with other people’s surveys (mostly ANES and GSS) that I don’t use “do you consider yourself Evangelical?” or a very similar measure as a control.  Unsurprisingly, it almost always has a very substantial and statistically significant impact in the conservative direction.  But, now it seems as if its almost a tautology.  “Evangelicals” keep showing up as really conservative because the label has essentially come to mean “religiously engaged and politically conservative” for many, completely divorced from its original theological meaning.  I’m definitely going to be following this and thinking hard about how to best measure religious conservatism.

And beyond social science, but just ordinary politics, we clearly need to be careful how we use the term Evangelical and think about what it means and explains in American politics.

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.

Why are abortion attitudes so stable?

Sorry I’ve been such a bad blogger!  Part of the explanation is that I was busy with a Political Science conference last week (and still catching up on everything after returning).  I figured the least I could do is tell you about the PS I was up to.  Here’s the abstract of my paper with Melissa Deckman and Mary-Kate Lizotte.

In recent decades, America has undergone dramatic change in public opinion on a religiously-oriented social issue—attitudes towards same-sex marriage. Yet, at the same time, attitudes about another prominent religiously-oriented social issue—legal abortion—have barely budged. In fact, in 1975, Gallup found support for legal abortion “under certain circumstances” at 54 percent and support for a ban in all circumstances at 21 percent. Those figures in 2021 were 48 percent and 19 percent respectively. While there’s been, of course, modest fluctuations over time, the notable feature of public attitudes towards abortion is its amazing stability. And, yet, this stasis has persisted during a period of dramatic change in American politics and public opinion from the dramatic polarization of the parties, to the geographic and demographic realignment of the parties, to the strong left-ward shift on LGBT and related cultural attitudes, to the increasing secularization of Americans. In our analysis, then, we attempt to explain this surprising stability of abortion attitudes by exploring these attitudes over time among politically-relevant sub-groups based on party, ideology, race, gender, age, religious affiliation, etc., in order to uncover the underlying shifts taking place that are being hidden by the overall stability. Using GSS data, we find evidence of increasing party polarization over time including significant differences between Democratic and Republican women, which underscores the political implications of contemporary debates and controversies about abortion policy.

You can see the powerpoint that goes along with it here.

And from the take-aways slide:

  • Growing secularization of public almost perfectly counter-acted by rightward shift among Evangelical Christian

  • Shift among Democrats to left pretty much perfectly counter-acted by rightward shift of Republicans.

  • Impact of partisanship grows substantially over the past 50 years, especially since 2000.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Freddie de Boer on expertise:

I think I’ve been consistent – vastly more consistent on my basic political and policy beliefs since I started writing in 2008 than American liberalism has been. For example, there was no anti-free speech element among liberals in 2008, not at scale, and there certainly is now. There are many people in the left-of-center who will now exclusively put “free speech” in scare quotes, love big tech companies for censoring, and insist that speech should routinely be suppressed to ensure their definition of “safety.” I, in contrast, was a civil libertarian before and I am still a civil libertarian now, following in the tradition of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, Eugene Debs, Noam Chomsky, and others. I could write a whole pro-free-speech-from-the-left thing. But I shouldn’t have to! I shouldn’t have to because civil liberties have been an indispensable part of much left-wing philosophy for hundreds of years. The fact that the internet has the attention span of a child and the memory of a goldfish does not obligate me to drop my core political commitments when told.

It’s perfectly fair to want to change the values of a movement you belong to. But what has happened in 21st century left spaces is that massive changes come barreling down the pike, emerging from the Brown faculty lounge and elite media Twitter, and everybody is expected to jump onboard without debate or discussion. And then they call me a contrarian for sticking with my lifelong values! If you claim to be a liberal or leftist and you’re against free speech, you are the contrarian. If you claim to be a liberal or leftist and you insist that language and feelings are more important than material conditions, you are the hot take artist. If you claim to be a liberal or a leftist and you think the FBI was an important check on far-right extremism in the Trump years, rather than still seeing it as the agency that tried to get Martin Luther King to kill himself, you’re the one that’s dealing in revisionism. You don’t get to take absolutely core beliefs, change them because you were told to on the Teen Vogue Slack, and then say anyone who doesn’t join you is a grifter. Sorry….

OK this is definitely about Nate Silver. But I do have to defend the concept of “crash courses.” Democracy requires generalism, as it insists that ordinary people become minimally conversant on many topics of controversy. Media as well; journalists often specialize, but even so they retain a lot of generalist tendencies. (There are science journalists, but there are no science scientists.) As always, your behavior towards this stuff matters most. You can “do a little research” by reading the first paragraph of a Wikipedia article or by reading many books and articles. I don’t consider myself an “expert” on the Nation of Islam, but to write about them and Farrakhan I’ve read four books and parts of eleven others, dozens of articles and chapters from academic sources, dozens of articles in the popular press (including going way back in the archives to contemporary pieces), and listened to about 80 hours of Farrakhan speeches that I found on YouTube, scraped from the internet, or accessed via a friendly professor. Is that enough? Do I have a right to write about the NOI, then? Your answer to that question should stem from your perception of the pieces I wrote, how convincingly supported and argued you find them, not from where I write or what letters come after my name. But for many, an independent publication like this one will always be suspect. The standards of who gets to write about what, who has expertise enough, floats around in the media conversation constantly. As liberalism has merged with authority to a greater and greater degree, its gatekeepers become more and more insistent that only people employed as professors in a given field can comment. This seems to betray a failure to understand just how many professors are absolute fucking idiots. Trust me, I’ve spent almost my entire life on college campuses.

Plus experts get things wrong all the time, including on the most important questions, and also liberals ignore expert opinion whenever they want to. (For example, on the predictive validity of educational testing or the health consequences of obesity.) Also this whole fucking political project was supposed to be antiestablishment and anti-authority, or something. I vaguely remember that.

2) Chait on silly charges of political hypocrisy:

Monday night, after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared at the Met Gala wearing a dress emblazoned with the slogan “Tax the Rich,” her critics exploded in indignation. The complaint (mostly, but not exclusively, from the right) assailed AOC’s “fraud,” “hypocrisy,” and peddling “empty political slogans.”

But what exactly is the problem here? Should a politician who favors higher taxes on the rich avoid social engagements with them?

But of course AOC is not, and does not claim to be, an “actual revolutionary.” She is an advocate of dramatically more egalitarian economic policy, but not an advocate of executing the rich. Her agenda is not based on a moral critique of the rich, but a rather banal observation that rich people can stand to have less money in order to finance social needs for those in greater need.

Indeed, the whole idea that the Democratic Party’s rationale for more progressive taxation is based on personal moral condemnation of the rich is almost entirely a canard invented by the right. First conservatives accuse liberals of hating and wishing to punish the rich, and then turn around and accuse them of hypocrisy for violating the belief they never actually held.

The strangest aspect of this little setpiece in political outrage theater is that AOC’s stance on taxing the rich is not an answer we need to divine by projecting fantasies onto her appearance. She is an elected official with written, measurable policy proposals, and a key player in a live ongoing debate over what is intended to be the most significant tax increase on the rich in decades.

AOC’s glamorous evening hobnobbing with the rich is orders of magnitude less consequential than her intention to tax their fortunes. What’s truly shallow is the fixation with symbolism and cultural association rather than the concrete fiscal transfer taking shape right now. It is bizarre to watch AOC be accused of being a fake class warrior in the midst of a live class war in Washington with trillions of dollars at stake…

But the changes in the composition of the two parties’ voting bases have not altered the long-standing class orientation of their policy agendas. Democrats still vote to redistribute income downward, while Republicans vote to redistribute it upwards. The political media’s fixation with the marginal change in the composition of the two parties’ bases has made it lose touch with the actual purpose to which they use their power.

The class orientation of their programs — the important things they actually do with power — has not changed. Democrats are pushing through a bill whose intent and effect would be to bring about a historically large downward transfer of resources. The upper-middle-class voters the party has been attracting in greater numbers would face combined tax rates at or around 60 percent, in the highest tax states. The spending these taxes would finance would go to people of modest means.

It surely isn’t Met Gala attendees who will make use of expanded Medicaid in red states or free community college. The people dismissing programs like that as undesirable or unaffordable are the conservatives who posture as tribunes of the working people.

Indeed, the two parties are more polarized over redistribution than any other single dynamic. Republicans will routinely abandon their posture against spending, deficits, centralized government control, but they will never waver from their opposition to taxing the rich…

The Republican Party has spurred a lot of talk about populism, but nothing resembling a serious challenge to its fanatical opposition to redistribution. If J.D. Vance is elected to the Senate, he will vote for the next big capital gains or estate tax cut Republicans put in front of him.

Even a casual familiarity with the contours of the ongoing policy fight would dispel the vulgar Marxist assumption that the Democratic Party’s growing support among affluent voters would signify a rightward change in its economic program. It’s downright strange to be living through a polarized fight over whether hundreds of billions of dollars will remain in the hands of the wealthy, or instead be used to finance benefits for the downtrodden without the broader debate taking any real note of it.

You would think the class contours of the debate in Joe Biden’s Washington would be obvious enough that people clinging to their image of fancy Democrats and downscale Republicans couldn’t ignore it anymore. But the human ability to ignore the obvious is strong enough that many of us can’t see who wants to tax the rich even when it’s staring right at us in blazing red letters.

3) Research like this frustrates me.  Alas, there’s no America where you can expect Republican to receive honest and accurate information about how taxing the rich actually works.  The world just doesn’t work that way.

Learning the facts changed Republicans’ attitudes about taxing the rich

We found three key things. First, learning what a high proportion of rich Americans inherited their wealth boosted support for raising the top federal income tax rate by six percentage points, compared with those in the control group, who read about rivers. Individuals in this group were also less likely than people in the control group to believe that rich people deserve a lower tax rate or that they worked harder than other Americans. In other words, this information increased support for higher taxes on the rich by fundamentally changing people’s beliefs about whether doing so was fair.

Second, individuals in the group informed that past cuts in the top federal income tax rate did not result in higher economic growth were the most likely to support higher taxes on the rich; this information increased support by more than eight percentage points, compared with the control group. However, when looking at core beliefs, we can see that this cannot be explained by changing beliefs about the economic effects of lower taxes. Instead, the finding is entirely driven by the information that the top federal income tax rate has been cut almost in half since 1979. In other words, once individuals learned how much higher rates had been in the past, they were more willing to raise taxes on the rich today.

Finally, the effects were strongest for Republicans. When Republicans learned that 122 American billionaires who inherited their wealth are wealthier than the bottom 50 percent of the population, their support for raising the top federal income tax rate increased by 13 percentage points. Learning how that the top income tax rate had been cut in half raised support even more dramatically, by about 17 percentage points.

In other words, Republicans’ opposition to tax hikes became much weaker when they learned facts that challenged their beliefs.

4) Margaret Sullivan on good stuff from the journalists at the Philadelphia Inquirer:

There’s a simple but powerful idea behind the Philadelphia Inquirer’s recent decision not to use the word “audit” when referring to an effort by the state GOP to investigate the 2020 election:

Words matter.

The words that a news organization chooses to tell a story make a difference. If a journalist calls something a “lie,” that’s a deliberate choice. So is “racially tinged.” Or “pro-life.” Or “torture.”

Such decisions carry weight. They have power.

Acknowledging this power and being transparent about those choices is exactly what the Inquirer did the other day when it embedded within a news story a bit of explanatory text, under the headline: “Why We’re Not Calling It an Audit.”

In clear language, the paper explained that it’s because “there’s no indication” that this effort, which follows months of demands from Donald Trump alleging baselessly that the election was rigged, “would follow the best practices or the common understanding of an audit among nonpartisan experts.”

How so? The Inquirer noted that when it asked how the review would work, how ballots and election equipment would be secured, who would be involved, and so on, the leaders of this effort did not explain.

The Inquirer stated some reporting-based facts linked to the paper’s previous stories about them: That Joe Biden won the state by more than 80,000 votes, that state and county audits affirmed that outcome, and that there is no evidence of any significant fraud.

“We think it is critical to speak plain truths about efforts to make it harder to vote and about efforts to sow doubts about the electoral process,” Dan Hirschhorn, senior politics editor at the Inquirer, told me. “These are not ‘he said/she said’ stories — there is clear, objective truth here.”

More plain truths from the Inquirer: In the story carrying this explainer box, the paper uses the term “forensic investigation” — which is what the GOP wants to call it — in quotation marks. A sub-headline makes it clear that this effort is “modeled off the months-long partisan review in Arizona,” widely regarded as irrevocably flawed and unnecessary to begin with, initiated by Republican lawmakers carrying water for Trump and placed in the hands of dubious private firms. (“Fraudit” may be a more accurate term.)

More of this, please!  And less false balance at any costs (yes, I’m looking at you Politico, Axios, and similar).

5) OMG the Democratic “centrists” are the worst.  They are not moderate, they’re just stupid!  Brian Beutler lets loose:

Just this week, a tiny group of centrists with ties to the pharmaceutical industry forced the party to remove provisions that would allow the government to directly negotiate prescription prices for Medicare beneficiaries from the Build Back Better Act. These provisions are extremely popular and generate huge cost savings. It’s the most destructive and selfish single thing any of the centrists in Congress have done, and they’ve justified it with disingenuous pablum about bipartisanship.

If there’s good news here it’s that Schrader et al had to stand and be counted; the leadership didn’t quietly do their bidding, they had to join a bunch of Republicans in voting to strip the pricing provision from the bill text in committee, exposing themselves to serious political recriminations. But the question for leadership now is whether to let that be the end of the story. If they don’t try to revive the provision at all it could very well kill the bill; if they revive it in a substantially weakened form, it might also kill the bill, but it’ll definitely weaken its tangible benefits for real people, and thus the party’s ability to say: We lowered your drug prices, send us back to Washington.

The alternative is to jam them; to say their six month reign of destruction is over; to revive a robust drug-pricing provision and dare them to tank the whole bill, to sink the party, draw primary challenges, lose committee assignments—whatever.

Senate leaders will face similar conundrums in the days ahead when Republicans filibuster democracy-protection legislation, and, soon thereafter, a debt-limit increase. Under the old paradigm, that’d be the end of the line for voting rights, and the beginning of a new, destructive phase of bipartisan negotiations over budget austerity between centrists and giddy Republican saboteurs. Under a better one, the centrists will have to decide whether they’d truly prefer to wreck the party and the country rather than abolish the filibuster and pass the bills the country needs.

If common sense prevails, it’ll serve the public interest, but it’ll also improve the party’s political outlook. In the centrists’ telling, their political fortunes are so fragile that they can be upended by the wrong protest-movement slogan, but so impervious that they can withstand gerrymandering, broken health-care promises, a divided party, and any number of other problems of their own creation. And because the prevailing trope is that they must be possessed of some deep political wisdom to have won their seats in the first place, a whole political industry will echo whatever random, self-serving things they say as the holy writ of pragmatism.

But for all the grousing they do about taking tough votes and The Squad and the mystical politics of their states and districts, their political fates will rise and fall with Biden’s, and his standing has as much to do with what’s in (say) the Build Back Better agenda as in the sense that he’s actively, nimbly, quickly fixing things—prescription drug prices, yes, but also corruption and abortion rights in Texas and the ongoing insurrection—and unafraid to side with his supporters on the big moral issues of the day. It would be better for the country for Build Back Better to be filled with popular provisions that improve people’s lives, but the damage Schrader et al are doing isn’t just making the bill worse; it’s making Biden and the Democrats seem in over their heads. Republicans took on a lot of water trying to repeal Obamacare, but there’s a reason they weren’t grateful to John McCain for killing their efforts. The story here is similar, except the agenda in peril today is very popular.

It may be the case that Biden et al actually are in over their heads; that holding together such narrow majorities for such far-reaching legislation is just beyond their capabilities because it’s really, really hard. If so, then Build Back Better was doomed from the start. But if not, the best thing they could do to overcome these obstacles is remind the centrists—quickly—that their fortunes rise and fall together, so they must toe the party line. If that doesn’t work, the next-best thing would be to lose their patience.  

 

 

6) David Brooks with a piece that dovetails quite nicely with what I wrote about opinion polling earlier this week: “Is Self-Awareness a Mirage?”

One of the most unsettling findings of modern psychology is that we often don’t know why we do what we do. You can ask somebody: Why’d you choose that house? Or why’d you marry that person? Or why’d you go to graduate school? People will concoct some plausible story, but often they really have no idea why they chose what they did.

We have a conscious self, of course, the voice in our head, but this conscious self has little access to the parts of the brain that are the actual sources of judgment, problem-solving and emotion. We know what we’re feeling, just not how and why we got there.

But we also don’t want to admit how little we know about ourselves, so we make up some story, or confabulation. As Will Storr writes in his excellent book “The Science of Storytelling”: “We don’t know why we do what we do, or feel what we feel. We confabulate when theorizing as to why we’re depressed, we confabulate when justifying our moral convictions and we confabulate when explaining why a piece of music moves us.”

Or as Nicholas Epley puts it in his equally excellent “Mindwise,” “No psychologist asks people to explain the causes of their own thoughts or behavior anymore unless they’re interested in understanding storytelling.”

7) Just do disturbing to see all the Republicans defending January 6 and re-writing history.  From Leonhardt:

Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina cast those arrested after the riot as “political prisoners” and suggested he wanted to “try and bust them out.”

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin described the attackers as “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement.”

Senate Republicans blocked Congress from creating an independent commission to investigate the attack. Senator Mitch McConnell called it a partisan effort “to debate things that occurred in the past.”

 

J.D. Vance, a best-selling author and Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, said that there were “some bad apples” but that “most of the people there were actually super peaceful.”

Julie Kelly of the journal American Greatness suggested Michael Fanone — a Washington police officer who suffered a heart attack and a brain injury during the attack — was lying about it, and called him a “crisis actor.”

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia said on the House floor, “The people who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 are being abused.”

Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona accused law enforcement of “harassing peaceful patriots” and “law-abiding U.S. citizens.”

Representative Jody Hice of Georgia said, “It was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others.”

Four Republican House members staged actions at the Justice Department and a D.C. jail demanding information about the treatment of Jan. 6 defendants. One of them, Gosar, said the defendants were being “persecuted.”

 

CarlsonGreene and Candace Owens, a conservative commentator, have all suggested that the F.B.I. or Justice Department was behind the riot.

Joe Kent — a Washington State Republican running with Trump’s endorsement against one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over Jan. 6 — plans to attend tomorrow’s rally, The Times reports.

8) From Wired, “Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years: Social scientists are researching what humans can do to improve their quality of life. Their findings echo what religious practices perfected centuries ago.”

Science and religion have often been at odds. But if we remove the theology—views about the nature of God, the creation of the universe, and the like—from the day-to-day practice of religious faith, the animosity in the debate evaporates. What we’re left with is a series of rituals, customs, and sentiments that are themselves the results of experiments of sorts. Over thousands of years, these experiments, carried out in the messy thick of life as opposed to sterile labs, have led to the design of what we might call spiritual technologies—tools and processes meant to sooth, move, convince, or otherwise tweak the mind. And studying these technologies has revealed that certain parts of religious practices, even when removed from a spiritual context, are able to influence people’s minds in the measurable ways psychologists often seek.

My lab has found, for example, that having people practice Buddhist meditation for a short time makes them kinder. After only eight weeks of study with a Buddhist lama, 50 percent of those who we randomly assigned to meditate daily spontaneously helped a stranger in pain. Only 16 percent of those who didn’t meditate did the same. (In reality, the stranger was an actor we hired to use crutches and wear a removable foot cast while trying to find a seat in a crowded room.) Compassion wasn’t limited to strangers, though; it also applied to enemies. Another study showed that after three weeks of meditation, most people refrained from seeking revenge on someone who insulted them, unlike most of those who did not meditate. Once my team observed these profound impacts, we began looking for other linkages between our previous research and existing religious rituals.

Gratitude, for instance, is something we had studied closely, and a key element of many religious practices. Christians often say grace before a meal; Jews give thanks to God with the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon awakening. When we studied the act of giving thanks, even in a secular context, we found it made people more virtuous. In a study where people could get more money by lying about the results of a coin flip, the majority (53 percent) cheated. But that figure dropped dramatically for people who we first asked to count their blessings. Of these, only 27 percent chose to lie. We’ve also found that when feeling gratitude to a person, to fate, or to God, people become more helpfulmore generous, and even more patient.

The combined effects of simple elements like these—ones that change how we feel, what we believe, and who we can depend on—accumulate over time. And when they’re embedded in religious practices, research has shown they can have protective properties of sorts. Regularly taking part in religious practices lessens anxiety and depression, increases physical health, and even reduces the risk of early death. These benefits don’t come simply from general social contact. There’s something specific to spiritual practices themselves.

9) This seems simple enough.  Professor tweets pretty abhorrent stuff about 9/11; University defends free speech of professor.  But they damn sure need to defend all sorts of abhorrent speech.  Also, this bit, ““We have to be more honest about what 9/11 was and what it wasn’t. It was an attack on the heteropatriarchal capitalistic systems that America relies upon to wrangle other countries into passivity” is just so embarrassingly over-the-top it might as well be from the Onion.

10) The Atlantic had a great feature four years ago on why it might actually make sense to bring back the Wooly Mammoth.  And, now, just maybe, it may happen.

A team of scientists and entrepreneurs announced on Monday that they have started a new company to genetically resurrect the woolly mammoth.

The company, named Colossal, aims to place thousands of these magnificent beasts back on the Siberian tundra, thousands of years after they went extinct.

“This is a major milestone for us,” said George Church, a biologist at Harvard Medical School, who for eight years has been leading a small team of moonlighting researchers developing the tools for reviving mammoths. “It’s going to make all the difference in the world.”

The company, which has received $15 million in initial funding, will support research in Dr. Church’s lab and carry out experiments in labs of their own in Boston and Dallas.

11) Great, disturbing feature on Tucker Carlson in TNR, “How Tucker Carlson Lost It: He once craved responsibility and tried to give a right-wing audience real news. They didn’t want it. And he adjusted with a vengeance.”

12) Greg Sargent, “The right-wing media is helping Trump destroy democracy. A new poll shows how.”

When future historians seek to explain the United States’ perilous slide toward authoritarianism in the 21st century, they will grapple with the role played in all these events by Fox News and the right-wing media. Simply put, those actors are helping Donald Trump and his movement threaten democracy, in a way that will likely continue getting worse.

A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute demonstrates in a fresh way just how responsible those bad-faith media actors are for what we’re seeing right now. And this raises anew the question of how much damage they will do over the long haul.

The poll’s big finding is that people who rely heavily on Fox News and other right-wing media are overwhelmingly more likely to believe the election was stolen from Trump — and are overwhelmingly less likely to blame Trump for the insurrection — than those who do not.

In one sense, that’s a no-brainer. But taken together, those views add up to something truly toxic: The “belief” that the election was stolen, and the simultaneous refusal to assign accountability for an effort to violently overthrow our constitutional order, suggest right-wing propaganda may be softening the ground for a more concerted abandonment of democracy going forward.

The PRRI poll finds that 69 percent of Americans do not believe the election was stolen, while only 29 percent do believe this. That latter number largely reflects Republicans, among whom 71 percent believe it. Only very small minorities of independents and Democrats do.

The poll also finds that 56 percent of Americans say Trump does bear much of the blame for the Jan. 6 violence, that 59 percent say this about white supremacist groups, and that 41 percent say this about GOP leaders.

If anything, those numbers are too low. Trump did incite the violence, far-right groups did organize the “Stop the Steal” rally around lurid lies about the stolen election destroying American freedom, and GOP elites did extensively humor or even validate those lies.

Regardless, the poll also broke down these numbers through the prism of which media sources people trust, including Fox News and far-right sources such as One America News and conventional broadcast networks such as ABC, CBS and NBC.

At my request, PRRI cut the data and provided me with these findings:

  • Among Americans who most trust Fox News or those far-right news sources, a stunning 76 percent believe the election was stolen. By contrast, of those who most trust those other sources, only 21 percent believe this.
  • Among Americans who most trust Fox News or those far-right news sources, only 12 percent say Trump gets a lot of blame for the Jan. 6 riot. And 64 percent blame liberal or left-wing activists, such as antifa.

13) NYT on air quality:

Is bad indoor air dulling your brain?

How healthy is the air in your workplace?

It’s a question many of us are now asking to protect ourselves from Covid-19. But indoor air quality is also something we should be talking about long after the pandemic ends. Because not only can the quality of your workplace air influence the number of sick days you take each year, but it may even affect how well your brain works in the office.

A new study shows that poor indoor air quality is associated with subtle impairments in a number of cognitive functions, including our ability to concentrate and process information. The study tracked 302 office workers in commercial buildings in six countries — the United States, Britain, China, India, Mexico and Thailand — for 12 months.

The scientists used monitors to measure ventilation and indoor air quality in the buildings, including levels of fine particulate matter, which includes dust and minuscule particles from smoking, cleaning products and outdoor air pollution that seeps into the building. The workers were asked to use an app to take regular cognitive tests during the workday. The tests included simple math problems, as well as a tricky color and word brain teaser called the Stroop test, in which a word like “blue” or “purple” is printed in green or red ink. (The test asks you to name the color of the ink, but our brains want to read the word instead. You can try the Stroop test yourself here.)

The study found that the office workers in buildings with the poorest indoor air quality tended to perform worse on the brain teasers. While the effect wasn’t dramatic, the findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the air we breathe affects brain health.

“This study looked at how several factors in the indoor environment have an immediate impact on our cognitive function and performance,” said Joseph G. Allen, the director of the Harvard Healthy Buildings program and the study’s senior author. “This study shows that the air you’re breathing at your desk at that moment has an impact on how well you think.”

In the past, air quality control in buildings has been mostly focused on energy efficiency and comfort, with little consideration given to infection control or overall worker health. But the pandemic has prompted many workplaces to take a closer look at indoor air quality. The good news is that many of the changes being made to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are the same improvements that need to be made to improve the overall air quality linked with cognitive function and worker productivity.

“There is a newfound appreciation for how much the indoor environment influences our health,” said Dr. Allen. “Healthy buildings,” he said, should not just be thought of as “something we do during Covid or a crisis. It has to be the new normal, not the exception, going forward.”

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