Continuing isolation quick hits (part II)

1) OMG this is just the absurdist end-point of leftists eating themselves, “Durham fails to condemn anti-gay bill because of debate over who is more oppressed” 

Things got heated at Durham City Council’s Thursday work session when council member and former Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson introduced a resolution that would take a firm stance against the transphobic bills being filed in the North Carolina General Assembly.

North Carolina Republicans have filed at least two bills that directly target trans youth in North Carolina. The most worrisome of these is the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” — also known as N.C.’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill — that has already passed the N.C. Senate and will soon get a vote in the House.

This type of resolution seems like a no-brainer for Durham, the city that held North Carolina’s first Pride parade. Yet the conversation ended up taking a turn when Mark-Anthony Middleton, the current Mayor Pro Tem, had a concern over the phrasing of the second sentence in the resolution.

“WHEREAS, members of the LGBTQ+ community currently experience the highest rate of hate-motivated violence among all marginalized communities in the US.”

Middleton said he felt this wasn’t factually accurate, as the FBI’s hate crime tracking data shows that race is the most common reason victims of hate crimes were targeted. Johnson pointed out that, when compared to the size of the overall U.S. population, LGBTQ individuals experience the highest rate of hate crime victimization. 

From there, other members of the council began weighing in on the resolution and the argument between Johnson and Middleton. Johnson eventually asked if the rules could be suspended so that the council could hold a vote, even though that isn’t part of work session procedure. The council voted against changing things up, and now the resolution will be voted on in 10 days.

2) I really, really liked the movie Tar. (And shoutout to Peacock TV, which is proving to be my best $2/month).  Loved this analysis of key scenes from the movie.  And, I really liked this exploration of the movie’s reality (definitely don’t read this if you haven’t seen it). 

3) Ethan Mollick with a guide to making a remarkably effective fake video of yourself (it looks fake if you are looking for it, but could easily fool people not paying close attention) for less than $10 in software and tools. 

4) I really respect Cochrane views (as people who take science/medicine seriously, generally do), so was pretty taken aback by their essentially “masks don’t work” review.  I’ve seen surprisingly few good takes on-line, but, Scott Alexander came through with something that made a lot of sense:

45: New Cochrane meta-analysis finds no evidence that masks work for preventing transmission of respiratory illnesses, including COVID, but that hand-washing does.

Context is that long before COVID, there was debate about whether respiratory illnesses were more droplet spread (in which case hand-washing > masks) or airborne spread (in which case masks > hand-washing), and some people who have been on Team Droplet for decades wrote this meta-analysis, which did indeed find handwashing > masks.

This shouldn’t be surprising – most of the studies included were the same pre-COVID studies that the establishment used to argue that hand-washing worked and masks didn’t back in March 2020. Most of these were studies showing that if one person in a household had flu, them wearing a mask at home didn’t seem to prevent their family from getting flu – although there were some issues here like “they were supposed to wear masks even while sleeping because they slept in the same bed as their spouse, but obviously they didn’t do that and then their spouse got the flu” which don’t translate to the COVID situation. The analysis does include two new COVID studies – one from Bangladesh that shows a positive effect from masks and one from Denmark that doesn’t (but people complain the lockdown there was so strict that there was too low a sample size of people getting COVID). But mostly it’s just the same set of studies. So this shouldn’t be a strong update on whatever you thought about the mask debate in March 2020.

In March 2020, I reviewed many of these same studies and concluded that while they pretty clearly showed that masking within households didn’t prevent flu from spreading, this seemed different enough from the spread of COVID in public places that it was hard to say, and given the low risk of masks, they were probably worth trying for most people. I still think this is true, although notice that this is a lower bar than “government mandate”.

More commentary hereherehereherehere, I’m focusing on the negative commentary since obviously the positive commentary is “haha, we were right, suck it”. This article discusses the broader transition from Team Droplet to Team Airborne among epidemiologists, and I would interpret continuing establishment support for masks as coming from this change at the theoretical level, rather than new RCTs (which mostly haven’t happened). I’m cynical enough to believe that most RCTs conducted during the pro-droplet-consensus period got pro-droplet results, but that once they get around to conducting new RCTs during the new pro-airborne-consensus period, they’ll get pro-airborne results. But people mostly haven’t gotten around to conducting new RCTs during the new pro-airborne-consensus period, so most RCTs are still pro-droplet, so all the meta-analyses come out pro-droplet for now. Trust Science!

5) What we really need is regulatory crackdown so that pharmaceutical companies cannot change one meaningless molecule and claim they have a new drug with new patent protection, but, until then, I love this idea, “Insulin is way too expensive. California has a solution: Make its own.”

The newer artificial insulins can be very valuable for people with diabetes who need to time their insulin injections with meals in mind, though it is not clear that artificial insulin is more beneficial than bioengineered human insulins for some patients, such as those with Type 2 diabetes. But, according to many academic experts, the amount of innovation in the insulin business hardly justifies the current costs for insulin products. Insulin is still, at its core, more or less the same product that debuted a century ago.

Nevertheless, pharmaceutical companies stand to make a lot of money by continually refreshing their products. Thus, the three major insulin manufacturers in the US — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi — continue to do that, and thereby maintain their control of the country’s insulin supply. The main mechanism the US has for bringing down prescription drug prices is allowing generic drugs to compete with brand-name versions. When a company develops a new drug, it gets a period of exclusivity, 10 years or more, in which it is the only one able to make or sell that drug. But after that exclusivity period has passed, other companies can make a carbon copy and sell it at a lower price. Studies find that once several generic competitors come on the market, prices drop significantly.

But pharma companies are savvy about finding ways to extend their monopolies, with insulin and other drugs, by making minor tweaks to the chemical compound and asking for a patent extension. In the case of insulin, the companies can also modify the delivery device to protect their market share. Each product is meant to be used with specific, company-designed injectors. Though the patents on the artificial insulin developed in the 1990s have started expiring, these companies continue to hold and extend monopolies on either their devices or other chemical compounds, making it harder for generic competitors to enter the market.

Other federal regulations have added to the challenge. The FDA began to treat insulin as a biologic drug in 2020 — meaning it is made with living materials instead of combining chemicals like conventional pharmaceuticals — which comes with a different set of standards for generic versions, which are known as biosimilars, as well as manufacturing challenges given the precise conditions these products must be made in. Biosimilars can cost up to $250 million to produce and take up to eight years to bring to the market, versus a one-year investment of as little as $1 million for conventional generics. And unless the FDA recognizes a new generic insulin as interchangeable with the products already on the market, health insurers might not want to cover it and doctors may not be willing to prescribe it.

6) How did I have no idea about these absolutely massive prehistoric elephants?? “These Extinct Elephants Were Neanderthals’ ‘Biggest Calorie Bombs’
A study of butchered bones from 125,000 years ago offers what researchers call “the first clear-cut evidence of elephant-hunting in human evolution.””

It is now accepted that the more typical Neanderthal was one who lived in southern Europe through the Ice Age and in central Europe during interglacial periods, as epitomized by Neumark-Nord. About 86,000 to 106,000 years ago, for instance, fisher-hunter-gatherers occupied the Gruta da Figueira Brava site on Portugal’s Atlantic coast.

Similarly, a new body of research has transformed our image of Neanderthals as knuckle-dragging brutes who wandered from cave to cave while gnawing on slabs of slain mammoth. Evidence is mounting that they were skilled toolmakers with a complex language who built shelters, traded jewelry and lived in large social groups.

“Until very recently, Neanderthals were considered simple slaves of nature who were living off the land, the first hippies,” Dr. Roebroeks said. “The truth is that they were using fire to shape their environment, as well as having a huge impact on the most massive animals alive at that time.”

Straight-tusked elephants were the largest terrestrial mammals of the Pleistocene, a geological epoch lasting until 11,700 years ago when vast ice sheets and other glaciers spread across North America and Eurasia. Adult males weighed as much as 14 tons, adult females about half that. The straight-tusked elephant, or Palaeoloxodon antiquus, was the reigning elephant ancestor of that time. It was much larger than the woolly mammoth and roughly twice as big as today’s African elephant.

7) This is good. Liberals should not back from either of these.  We just need to define the progressive vision, not the cramped and problematic conservative versions. “Ro Khanna on the Progressive Case for Patriotism and Capitalism”

8) Jennifer Rubin on PRRI’s new poll on white Christian nationalism:

When you hear the phrase “Christian nationalists,” you might think of antiabortion conservatives who are upset about the phrase “Happy Holidays” and embrace a vaguely “America First” way of thinking. But according to a Public Religion Research Institute-Brookings Institution poll released Wednesday, Christian nationalists in fact harbor a set of extreme beliefs at odds with pluralistic democracy. The findings will alarm you.

“Christian nationalism is a new term for a worldview that has been with us since the founding of our country — the idea that America is destined to be a promised land for European Christians,” PRRI president and founder Robert P. Jones explained in a news release on the survey of more than 6,000 Americans. “While most Americans today embrace pluralism and reject this anti-democratic claim, majorities of white evangelical Protestants and Republicans remain animated by this vision of a white Christian America.”The poll used the following beliefs to gauge how deeply respondents embraced Christian nationalism:
  • “The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation.”
  • “U.S. laws should be based on Christian values.”
  • “If the U.S. moves away from our Christian foundations, we will not have a country anymore.”
  • “Being Christian is an important part of being truly American.”
  • “God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.”

PRRI found that 10 percent (“adherents”) of American adults believe in these ideas overwhelmingly or completely; 19 percent agree but not completely (“sympathizers”); 39 percent disagree (“skeptics”) but not completely; and 29 percent disagree completely (“rejecters”).

Who are these people? “Nearly two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants qualify as either Christian nationalism sympathizers (35%) or adherents (29%).” Put differently, Christian nationalist adherents are a minority but when combined with sympathizers still comprise a stunning 29 percent of Americans — many tens of millions.

Christian nationalists also make up the base of the Republican Party. “Most Republicans qualify as either Christian nationalism sympathizers (33%) or adherents (21%), while at least three-quarters of both independents (46% skeptics and 29% rejecters) and Democrats (36% skeptics and 47% rejecters) lean toward rejecting Christian nationalism.” In total, “Republicans (21%) are about four times as likely as Democrats (5%) or independents (6%) to be adherents of Christian nationalism.” Some promising news: There are fewer adherents and sympathizers among younger Americans. “More than seven in ten Americans ages 18-29 (37% skeptics, 42% rejecters) and ages 30-49 (37% skeptics, 35% rejecters) lean toward opposing Christian nationalism.” Support is also inversely related to educational attainment.

Christian nationalist adherents are emphatically out of synch with the pluralist majority. “Americans overall are much more likely to express a preference for the U.S. to be a nation made up of people belonging to a variety of religions (73%).” They also are much more likely to hold authoritarian and racist views…

More than 70 percent of adherents embrace replacement theory, nearly one-quarter harbor the antisemitic view that Jews hold too many positions of power and 44 percent believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than America, the poll found. More than 65 percent think Muslims from some countries should be banned. Almost 70 percent believe “the husband is the head of the household in ‘a truly Christian family’ and his wife submits to his leadership.”

If you think this sounds like MAGA tripe, you’re right. This is the hardcore MAGA base. More alarming: “Nearly six in ten QAnon believers are also either Christian nationalism sympathizers (29%) or adherents (29%).”

9) I love “Rick and Morty” and have definitely had concerns about how the loss of one of the co-creators may affect the show in the future, but this Vox essay suggests I need not worry and is a great appreciation of the show:

Hidden in all this clever recursion and juvenile brinkmanship are genuine human concerns. Throughout both shows, Jeff and Rick earnestly, even plaintively continue to wonder why they’re such walking disasters — at least they do when they can overcome their self-loathing long enough to get the question out. Why do people do bad things? Harmon wants to know, and he wants us to want to know.

10) No, “Last of Us” cordyceps is not coming for us, but we do need to worry about fungal pathogens:

Fungus-caused infections — real ones, not the ones sparking the zombie apocalypse on the popular show “The Last of Us” — pose a growing threat in the United States and around the world.

Mississippi has become the latest state to report residents infected with Candida auris, a highly contagious fungus that thrives in hospitals and nursing homes. It won’t be the last and, without dedicated effort, infections and deaths will continue to pile up.

The Mississippi Department of Public Health announced it has identified six people infected with C. auris. This pathogen can contaminate just about any surface imaginable, from intravenous lines and feeding tubes to bedsheets, doctors’ coats, and sinks. People who are elderly or immunocompromised are the most vulnerable to this pathogen, and it is often deadly: two of the six people infected in Mississippi have died.

The rapid ascent of C. auris is unsettling. The fungus has carved a deadly path around the globe since Japanese researchers identified the first-known infection in 2009. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2016 that it had logged seven cases of C. auris across four states: New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Illinois. By 2019, the pathogen had infected more than 700 people across 12 states, and the numbers continue to climb. In 2022, Louisiana, New Mexico, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Delaware, and Hawaii all confirmed their first C. auris cases, and nearly 5,000 people in the U.S. have now been infected with it.

Public health experts have for years been warning that C. auris and other fungal infections are a growing threat. Numerous studies have detailed the ways in which climate change may aid and abet the spread of these pathogens as the world warms. C. auris is just one of dozens of fungal pathogens affecting humans, yet the U.S. — and the world — has continually failed to take action against this threat.

A quick assessment of the armamentarium of antifungal agents shows just how underprepared countries are. No new classes of antifungal drugs have become available during the last 20 years, according to a study in the journal Drugs, and only one new agent from a known antifungal class has been approved in the last decade. Investment in this area is sorely lacking: the World Health Organization reports that fungal infections receive less than 1.5% of all infectious disease research funding.

11) Some good political science here, even if I find it mystifying as to why there would be a dozen co-authors, “Rooted in Racism? Race, Partisanship, Status Threat, and Public Opinion Toward Statehood for Washington, D.C.”

In recent years, a number of prominent elected officials on both sides of the partisan divide have weighed in on the possibility of making Washington, D.C., the nation’s fifty-first state. While Democratic supporters of statehood for D.C. emphasize issues of equal representation, some Republican opponents have stressed the partisan and ideological consequences of D.C. statehood. Other Republican opponents, in justifying their position, have made the claim that Washington, D.C., lacks the necessary and sufficient characteristics associated with statehood, and these claims have been widely interpreted as implicitly racist appeals. In this paper, using three nationally representative surveys, we explore whether mass opinion on this issue is primarily shaped by partisanship, ideology, racial status threat, or racial prejudice. We find clear and consistent evidence that while partisan and ideological attachments, as well as perceptions of racial status threat, influence opinion on statehood for Washington, D.C., the strongest determinant of opposition to statehood are negative racial attitudes. We take these results as further evidence of the debate over D.C. statehood, like debates over public policies that are purported to benefit African Americans, is intimately intertwined with negative racial views expressed by the mass public.

12) I don’t know how I had never come across this 10-year old Gladwell talk at Google, but it’s really good, “Why Did I Say “Yes” to Speak Here?”

13) This Vox video on the Titanic’s insufficient number of lifeboats is the best thing I’ve seen on the subject by far. 

14) Here’s a fun technology story, “‘My Watch Thinks I’m Dead’ Dispatchers for 911 are being inundated with false, automated distress calls from Apple devices owned by skiers who are very much alive.”

Winter has brought a decent amount of snowfall to the region’s ski resorts, and with it an avalanche of false emergency calls. Virtually all of them have been placed by Apple Watches or iPhone 14s under the mistaken impression that their owners have been debilitated in collisions.

As of September, these devices have come equipped with technology meant to detect car crashes and alert 911 dispatchers. It is a more sensitive upgrade to software on Apple devices, now several years old, that can detect when a user falls and then dial for help. But the latest innovation appears to send the device into overdrive: It keeps mistaking skiers, and some other fitness enthusiasts, for car-wreck victims.

Lately, emergency call centers in some ski regions have been inundated with inadvertent, automated calls, dozens or more a week. Phone operators often must put other calls, including real emergencies, on hold to clarify whether the latest siren has been prompted by a human at risk or an overzealous device.

“My whole day is managing crash notifications,” said Trina Dummer, interim director of Summit County’s emergency services, which received 185 such calls in the week from Jan. 13 to Jan. 22. (In winters past, the typical call volume on a busy day was roughly half that.) Ms. Dummer said that the onslaught was threatening to desensitize dispatchers and divert limited resources from true emergencies.

15) Great stuff from Jeff Maurer, “Debt Ceiling Idiocy Shows the Dangers of Living in a Fantasyland”

But here we are, trying to find a way forward that’s compatible with the Bizarro World of false narratives that Republicans have been living in for years.

The first falsehood warping Republican brains is the idea that the deficit needs to be mostly or completely eliminated to avoid catastrophe. This idea has become a bedrock of Republican orthodoxy over the course of several decades. Remember the National Debt Clock, which showed up in Times Square in 1989? Remember the Balanced Budget Amendment that was part of Newt Gingrich’s 1995 Contract with America? Remember Paul Ryan’s YouTube videos, which were delivered with the solemn tone of a tough-love dad who’s worried about your marijuana use? Conservatives keep warning of a fiscal crisis that never comes. Of course, the kernel of truth here is that debt does matter; leftists who have convinced themselves that it doesn’t are in a cult every bit as deranged and disappointingly sexless as the Republican one. But it’s become an article of faith on the right that we must move the deficit towards zero AND FAST, which doesn’t comport with reality.

Republicans love to compare the federal budget to a household budget. But the federal budget is different from a household budget in a few crucial ways. For starters, you and I can’t print money. I mean…I suppose we could. could run off a few million Maurer Bucks on the ol’ HP ink jet, but if I try to buy a Whopper with them, they’ll kick me out of Burger King. Also, my self-produced currency is unlikely to become a coveted store of value around the globe, and that remains true even in a world in which people buy Dogecoin. In contrast, the dollar is the world’s reserve currency, which makes it easier for the US to borrow money. Finally, a lot of federal borrowing is done in-house; America can borrow money from Americans, whereas I can’t borrow $1,000 from my son, because he is both a baby and a deadbeat.

Which is to say: We don’t need to balance the budget. And in fact, we shouldn’t: A singular focus on a balanced budget would cause us to pass up low-interest-high-yield investments that we should make. Our goal should be to keep the debt manageable, and our definition of “manageable” should change depending on economic conditions. The obsession with zero deficit is an overly-simple view promoted by people who either have ulterior motives or who don’t understand how the federal budget works.

The second Republican misunderstanding driving this insanity is the idea that a vote to raise the debt ceiling “puts more money on the nation’s credit card”. In reality, the money has already been charged to the card, and raising the debt ceiling just lets us pay the bill…

The third relevant brain worm is the myth that the budget could be balanced through a few relatively-painless cuts. Republicans frequently object to suggestions that they want to cut Social Security or Medicare, and obviously, tax hikes are as heretical to GOP doctrine as Lobsterfest is to Orthodox Judaism. So, if the deficit is a crisis, then what’s the proposed solution?

Republican rhetoric tends to focus on non-defense discretionary spending. That is: nuts-and-bolts government function stuff like highways and diplomacy, plus more touchy-feely stuff like environment, health, and education. That stuff doesn’t butter a typical Republican’s toast, and even a liberal like me will admit that not every penny of that spending is crucial funding keeping vulnerable Americans from being dragged out to sea by economic currents and ripped apart by sharks. But to talk about non-defense discretionary spending as a solution to the budget deficit is basically a non-sequitur.

The bottom line is that there just isn’t enough money there. Non-defense discretionary spending is usually around $600 billion (adjusted for inflation); the deficit has averaged $1.16 trillion over the past 15 years. So, if you carved out the whole District of Columbia, floated it into the Atlantic ocean, and then sank it along with the entire federal government, you’d be about half way to where you’d need to be. For context, this spending is slightly below where it’s been for the last 35 years as a percentage of GDP. To allege a budget crisis and then shift to talk of shaving non-defense discretionary spending is like announcing a plan to lose 100 pounds and declaring that you’ll get there by reducing how often you eat bananas foster.

These three myths combine to form a simple, misleading, narrative, which goes like this: The government is on the brink of a fiscal crisis. This crisis can be solved without tax hikes or cuts to popular programs. Members of Congress who vote to raise the debt ceiling are authorizing more profligate spending instead of getting our fiscal house in order.

How much does the GOP base believe this narrative? Well, they believe it enough that most Republican members of the House seem scared to vote to raise the ceiling. We also might deduce something from the fact that the most zealous debt ceiling warriors seem to be those Republicans who are least in touch with reality. To wit: Major players include Ralph Norman, who doesn’t appear to know what the debt ceiling is, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, of whom former RNC chair Michael Steele recently said: “She doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about.” GOP leadership has ignored White House calls for proposed spending cuts, and of course they have: No cuts exist that are big enough to satisfy the Republican base and that are popular with the rest of the country. The GOP is reaping what they sowed: They promoted a lie, people believed the lie, and now those same people are demanding that their leaders take action in response to a crisis that doesn’t exist.

16) Just maybe this time the promising new Alzheimer’s drug is actually promising?  Really interesting stuff here on the latest drug and the history of false hope.

17) Good stuff from Phillip Bump, “The core weakness of the Republican Party, on raucous display”

Why is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) in Congress?

The 2020 campaign that first brought her to Washington wasn’t centered on the policy proposals Greene wanted to enact as a legislator. Her campaign was instead centered mostly on fringe rhetoric and chastisements of the D.C. establishment, including members of her own party. This was amplified after Republican leaders like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) criticized past comments of Greene’s that were racist or endorsed the QAnon conspiracy theory.

But that didn’t matter. Greene easily won the primary and then election in a district that backed Donald Trump by a 3 to 1 margin. So now she’s in Congress — and was a key ally of McCarthy in his struggle to be elected House speaker. Her willingness to throw bombs at her perceived opponents has made her a force in Republican politics, one that McCarthy clearly thinks is useful to keep close.

In other words, Greene is in Congress because her style of agitating the Republican base was useful in winning a primary in a deep-red district, winning election in a wildly pro-Trump one and in getting access to the core of Republican institutional power. And this, really, is the Republican Party’s central weakness, as made obvious in last year’s midterm elections: It is very, very good at energizing its base and not very good at appealing to everyone else.

On Tuesday night, President Biden delivered his State of the Union address. This annual event is Congress’s prom, an opportunity to get dressed up and be fancy with lots of expectations that people will be on their best behavior. Before this year’s iteration, McCarthy cautioned his caucus to behave, reportedly reminding them that the country would be watching.

To continue the prom analogy, this is a bit like the principal telling the jocks that the local news would be filming the dance and not to act up. Guess what the jocks are going to do? …

The other motivation for interrupting Biden is implicit: Many Republican elected officials are simply used to treating their opponents with overt disdain. Greene has endorsed QAnon theories and mused about executions of prominent Democrats. Given the rare opportunity to be face-to-face with Biden, we should expect her to demurely observe his speech?

We should not be surprised that McCarthy’s warning to his caucus about behaving went unheeded. We should not be surprised that his efforts to quell the uproar in the moment were ignored. We should not be surprised that on Wednesday morning he excused the interruptions as evidence of his caucus being “passionate.” After all, the story of McCarthy’s tenure as leader of his party has largely been about his failure to erect fences around the party’s fringe, from Trump on down.

There is simply a large element of his party that is focused on combating the left, on fighting Democrats or other elites in Fox News hits or punchy tweets. They do so for the same reasons some of them interrupted Biden’s speech: They want attention or they are simply behaving in the way they’ve become accustomed to behaving. There’s a Pavlovian element here. Greene and others have been successful at getting Republican votes by ginning up Republican anger. In districts where Republicans win easily, that works just fine. In the jostle to get attention and support from Republicans nationally, extremism in this regard is a boon. But in winning contested races? Less so.

18) So tired of stories like this!! Our laws and enforcement are both woefully insufficient.  And who are all the damn people buying dogs from these disreputable breeders and thereby propping up the whole sordid mess?!  Shame on them! “47 dogs rescued from backyard breeder, animal hoarding home in rural NC”

19) I’m in a monthly meeting with a faculty member who I am pretty sure never turns her camera on because she believes cameras on is “ableist.” Oh, yeah, that’s a thing.  As for me, I believe it’s rude to hide yourself and participate by voice only if you are perfectly capable of more fully participating.  It’s already diminishing human contact enough to be on in zoom instead of in person, that you really shouldn’t make it worse unless there’s a good reason (to be fair, there’s often good reasons, but a stand against ableism is not among them).   

20) It was pretty cool to read this Atlantic article on obstacles to nuclear power growth from within the nuclear power industry and think, “wow, that was really good” and then go back and see it was Jonathan Rauch. I love that guy. 

Small and safe is the vision, at least. Dozens of companies and labs in the U.S. and abroad are pursuing it. Kairos is well along, with a permit to build a full-fledged nuclear test reactor already moving toward federal approval, hopefully by the end of 2023. That test will depend on this one in Albuquerque, because molten-salt reactor cooling has not been tried in the United States since the 1960s, when a five-year experiment at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee, proved the idea viable. In a few days, the test unit’s top will be installed, crowning the device with bristling pipes and sensors. Nearby, welders ready those pipes and valves. Engineers stand on top of scaffolding slotting graphite reflectors into place.

As I tour the facility, however, I soon realize that the crucial technology is not 16 feet tall but about 5 foot 6, balding, with jeans and thick, black-framed glasses…

Nuclear power is in a strange position today. Those who worry about climate change have come to see that it is essential. The warming clock is ticking—another sort of countdown—and replacing fossil fuels is much easier with nuclear power in the equation. And yet the industry, in many respects, looks unready to step into a major role. It has consistently flopped as a commercial proposition. Decade after decade, it has broken its promises to deliver new plants on budget and on time, and, despite an enviable safety record, it has failed to put to rest the public’s fear of catastrophic accidents. Many of the industry’s best minds know they need a new approach, and soon. For inspiration, some have turned toward SpaceX, Tesla, and Apple…

The real challenge with giant nuclear plants like Fukushima and Three Mile Island is not making them safe but doing so at a reasonable price, which is the problem that companies like Kairos are trying to solve. But even people who feel scared of nuclear power do not dispute that fossil fuels are orders of magnitude more dangerous. One study, published in 2021, estimated that air pollution from fossil fuels killed about 1 million people in 2017 alone. In fact, nuclear power’s safety record to date is easily on par with the wind and solar industries, because wind turbines and rooftop panels create minor risks such as falls and fire. As for nuclear waste, it has turned out to be a surprisingly manageable problem, partly because there isn’t much of it; all of the spent fuel the U.S. nuclear industry has ever created could be buried under a single football field to a depth of less than 10 yards, according to the Department of Energy. Unlike coal waste, which is of course spewed into the air we breathe, radioactive waste is stored in carefully monitored casks.

And so environmentalists, I thought, were betraying the environment by stigmatizing nuclear power. But I had to revise my view. Even without green opposition, nuclear power as we knew it would have fizzled—today’s environmentalists are not the main obstacle to its wide adoption…
And so, in a generation, nuclear power went from the fuel of the future to not worth the bother. Supply chains withered; talented engineers and executives sought greener pastures. The United States, once the industry’s world leader, became an also-ran. Today, as Peterson said, we find ourselves “mired in this world where all you can get are light-water reactors, and they’re challenging and expensive to build, and we don’t have good alternatives. Breaking out of that set of problems is one of the critical things we need to do today.” That requires technological breakthroughs; more important, however, it requires attitudinal ones.

21) Headlines like this all the time, of course, “Single Powerball Ticket Wins $754.6 Million Jackpot” got me thinking how much more good would we do in in the world and really change lives by having 100 $7 million jackpots.  That would be so much better!  Of course, I’m sure you’d sell way less tickets for that.

22) McWhorter on “racism” and policing:

As Duane Loynes Sr., an assistant professor of urban and Africana studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, told The Los Angeles Times’s Jaweed Kaleem, “Here’s a dirty little secret: Studies indicate that Black officers are just as brutal and at times even more brutal against Black bodies as their white counterparts.”

The point is not that we don’t have a grievous problem, but rather that the problem is not exclusively racist white cops. It’s cops, period. (An important note: When it comes to nonlethal mistreatment, as opposed to police shootings, studies demonstrate the existence of outright racial bias. This is very much a problem, but a very different problem from police killings.)

The way we are trained to view the situation is understandable, but outdated. As recently as the 1970s and 1980s, cops killed people — Black and white alike — at much higher rates in major cities than they do now, as the criminologist Peter Moskos has shown. I grew up in the Philadelphia of that era, where Mayor Frank Rizzo openly condoned cops’ brutality against Black people. By morbid coincidence, I saw the gruesome videotaped beating of Nichols shortly after I rewatched Melvin Van Peebles’ pioneering 1971 film “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” In the movie, Van Peebles plays a Black man on the run from racist white cops whose shameless, bloodletting brutality roughly corresponded to what some Black people of the period actually experienced. A lot of time has passed since then, but the way we discuss police brutality against Black people today can sometimes make it sound as if there is no difference between the situation Van Peebles depicted — of marauding, openly racist cops — and the one we face today.

Yet white Americans are also killed by police officers in appalling numbers — many more, overall, than Black Americans, owing to the fact that the latter make up only about 14 percent of the U.S. population. In 2022, The Washington Post’s database on cop killings documented that of 755 victims whose race was known, 225 were Black and 389 were white.

Because casual and sometimes lethal violence against Black people by cops is part of our shameful and still recent national narrative, names like those of the victims I cited earlier sometimes become national news stories. But the media rarely even covers police killings of white people, which don’t fit so neatly into that pre-existing narrative…

Police killings of unarmed or unthreatening American citizens are a national disgrace, and one that requires action. But action requires comprehension, and the simplest explanation — “racist white cops kill Black people” — is clearly often not the correct one.

Is “systemic racism” at work in Memphis?  Quite clearly.  That said, I think the fact that black cops killed a black man forces us to deal with the broader problems of policing and police culture rather than just simply saying, “see… racism.”

23) Drum on social security: “Fixing Social Security forever requires only 1.5% of GDP”

Social Security is back in the news. The word on the street is that MAGA Republicans—unlike Donald Trump himself—want to “reform” Social Security so it doesn’t go “bankrupt” and cut off our kids from their rightful pensions.

I’m willing to go toe-to-toe on the gritty details of Social Security with anyone, but not today. Instead, I’ll just give you a taste of the Social Security doomsaying we’re likely to get. Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, here is Travis Nix telling us that raising the payroll tax cap is a bad idea:

The Social Security administration forecasts that without benefit cuts or structural reforms the entitlement program will run out of money in 2035. In response, lawmakers in both parties are mulling the idea of lifting the payroll tax cap.

….[This] wouldn’t fix the structural issues with Social Security. Like a ponzi scheme, the program relies on the contributions of a shrinking young population to pay off an increasing elderly population.

….These programs need serious structural reforms—more tax revenue won’t save them….Lawmakers need to think bigger to offer real solutions. By raising the retirement age, letting workers put their tax in personal accounts instead of Social Security, and shifting Social Security to a flat benefit to make it a true antipoverty program, lawmakers could begin to address the crisis.

First off, Social Security will not “run out of money” in 2035. Current estimates say it will run about 25% short in 2035. That’s a big difference, but conservatives can never bring themselves to say it.

Second, it’s not a Ponzi scheme. If you cut off all the babble surrounding it, Social Security is just a standard social welfare program: Taxes go in and pensions go out. This can keep up forever, just like it can for Medicaid or the military or anything else.

Third, raising the retirement age saves money but does so mainly on the backs of the poor. Personal accounts are risky, which is why Social Security doesn’t use them. And a flat, small benefit for the few would destroy public support for Social Security. Nix surely knows all this.

Fourth, literally everything Nix implies is baloney. I’m excited to report that the Social Security Trustees now include Excel data in their annual report, which means I can recreate their charts on my own. Here’s the most basic, most important single chart you will ever see about Social Security:

That’s it. That’s all you need to know. Forget about high and low estimates or bend points or the accuracy of the Trustees’ actuarial assumptions or any of that. Those are trivial. What this chart tells you is that Social Security is not doomed to an endless spiral of death. It’s projected to eventually run annual deficits of about 1.5% of GDP forever.

So to fix it, all we need is reform that eventually adds up to 1.5% of GDP. That’s it. Some combination of tax hikes and benefit cuts that come to 1.5% of GDP. That will keep Social Security properly financed forever

24) Oh man do I hate unrealistic obsessions with “stranger danger” and I loved this Melida Wenner Moyer post so much!

During the show, host Brown took a moment to address the audience, saying: “Predators are a real threat. In the U.S., 2,300 children go missing each day. I know it’s uncomfortable, but it’s an urgent child safety issue.”


There is so much fear-mongering about child safety these days, and I believe it’s actually more dangerous than the supposedly scary things parents are being warned about.

Consider the terrifying statistic that 2,300 kids are reported missing each day in the U.S. That’s technically true, but extremely misleading. For one thing, an estimated 99 percent of those kids are found fairly quickly, and 98 percent of them are either runaways or abducted by family members. The F.B.I. reported that only between 52 and 306 children were kidnapped by strangers or acquaintances in 2019, which is a very, very small number, considering that there are about 75 million children living in the United States. As researchers from UC-Irvine explained in a 2016 research paper:

The actual risk of a teen or child being abducted by a stranger and killed or not returned is estimated at around 0.00007%, or one in 1.4 million annually—a risk so small that experts call it de minimis, meaning effectively zero.

And yet, according to a new Pew Research survey published in January, 28 percent of American parents say they are “extremely worried” that their children will someday be abducted.


Why are we so worried about abductions when they are so rare? Well, because of shows like The Parent Test. Okay, I’m oversimplying; there are many reasons, but the media sure hasn’t been helping. In a 2022 study, researchers in Australia analyzed the content of TV shows and other media that discussed child abductions and related issues. They found that 94 percent of the media coverage focused on scary risks and that only six percent mentioned the potential benefits of granting kids autonomy. (The reports of parents being arrested for not constantly supervising their kids don’t help, either.)

It’s worth pointing out, too, that violent crime rates have dropped precipitously since the 1990s, even though U.S. adults tend to say they think crime has been increasing:

Okay, but, you might be thinking — it’s better to be safe than sorry, right? I mean, if there’s even a slim chance your kid could be abducted or hurt, shouldn’t you teach them to be scared of strangers and supervise them as much as possible? Not necessarily. When we worry too much about stranger danger and overestimate the potential risks of giving kids freedom, we rob our children of important experiences and opportunities. (It’s important to note here that some American kids really do face horrific dangers. Black children are, for instance, are nearly six times as likely as white children to be killed with guns. So some parents are indeed right to be terrified, which is unfair and awful.)

Among other things, parents today are much less likely than parents of generations past to let kids walk to school alone and to let them play unsupervised. In fact, research has found that parents believe they should be communicating to their kids that the world is a terrible, scary place.

The problem is that all this over-protectiveness doesn’t give kids the chance to learn how to navigate the world. It may also make them more prejudiced. And when we constantly tell our kids to be afraid, they are more likely to develop anxiety. (To learn more about why over-protectiveness is dangerous — and what to do instead — check out the non-profit organization Let Grow and its resources.)

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t consider risk or teach our kids to be aware of it. What I am saying is that safety risks — especially to kids — are often overstated, and that this inaccurate messaging harms kids and society at large. I found myself quite frustrated that The Parent Test chose drama over data, fueling a dangerous parenting trope. What we need from the media is balance.

Yes, we should teach our kids what to do if strangers ring the doorbell. But if our kids are a bit too trusting at times, this does not mean we have failed them or that they have failed. We shouldn’t teach our kids that the world is always out to get them, and, assuming they really aren’t at much risk, we shouldn’t hide our children away to keep them safe.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Good stuff from Brian Beutler:

Republicans trying to hurt the country rather than serve as a faithful opposition isn’t new. Antipathy between the far right and the GOP leadership is longstanding. If you think right-wing Republicans lying to their voters about the limits of their power for personal gain is something they invented in 2023, Ted Cruz would like a word. And if reactionaries are going to issue marching orders to their leaders, including orders to shut down the government or default on U.S. debt unless Democrats pay various ransoms, the correct response is also old: We won’t negotiate. You get nothing.  

What’s new, or at least unique to this circumstance, is the character of the splinter faction that seems poised to seize control of the House. It’s composed almost entirely of insurrectionists. Their aims as legislative terrorists, such as we can discern them, aren’t the kinds of nonstarter policy demands that marked Republican hostage taking in the Obama years (gut Medicare, defund the Affordable Care Act, etc). They are rooted in the realm of corruption. They want to steal elections. They want to sabotage criminal investigations that implicate themselves, Donald Trump, and January 6 defendants, current and future. They want to dictate the the tactics and tools the House will bring to bear to achieve those goals to whoever becomes speaker. They want to institutionalize a standard of impunity for Republicans caught in the reach of legitimate oversight, and a different standard of total compliance for Democrats, whether investigating them is merited or not.

And here we get drawn into the question of how Democrats should react. Because the key thing about this insurgency is that the faction waging it is the same one that just cost Republicans victory in the 2022 midterms. Its goal is to redouble the party’s commitment to the exact same losing politics. And as of this writing—by deposing McCarthy or making him their puppet—the insurgents are poised to win.

Over the past week plenty of smart people have daydreamed that a more sensible wing of the GOP will reach its breaking point, find a sane candidate to nominate for the speakership, and get him elected by offering Democrats some basic concessions—no trifling with government shutdowns and debt defaults; no Benghazi-style fishing expeditions. Other equally smart but more jaded observers have noted…well, have you met Republicans?!

And as a practical matter, the cynics are almost certainly right. But as a theoretical matter, there’s really nothing more far fetched about a coalition legislature than one commandeered by right-wing hijackers. The difference is that the hijackers are willing to try. The Republicans who claim to be furious at the hijackers could stop them. But once again, same as it ever was, they’re more fixated on their jobs or their grievances than with what’s best for the country. Their failure to confront the MAGA wing is an endorsement of the MAGA uprising over the alternative of conceding an inch to political reality or the national interest. The whole Republican Party, every last member of the House GOP, has now re-embraced the toxic politics of its losing 2022 campaign. And so, through the speakership crisis and for the next two years, Democrats should remember what it was that saved them from landslide defeat in the 2022 midterms. 

2) An AI text detector

3) So, not stretching, but here’s a dynamic warmup before exercise.  

But in recent years, exercise science has coalesced around a better way to prepare your body for exertion: the dynamic warm-up.

A dynamic warm-up is a set of controlled, up-tempo movements that can help make your workout safer and more effective, said Alvaro López Samanes, an assistant professor and international coordinator of physiotherapy at Universidad Francisco de Vitoria, in Madrid, who’s studied them in tennis players.

Research suggests dynamic warm-ups improve agility, speed and overall performance for a wide range of sports, including tennisbaseball and running. They also appear to reduce injury risk. In a fast-moving, direction-changing sport like soccer, a tailored dynamic warm-up lowered the odds of getting hurt by about 30 percent in one 2017 research review.

While Olympic sprinters and World Cup players do them before competing, they’re not just for elite athletes. In fact, “people who don’t move athletically very often need dynamic warm-ups the most,” said Emily Hutchins, a personal trainer and owner of On Your Mark Coaching and Training in Chicago. If you go straight from your office chair or your bed to a workout, you might arrive with a hunched posture, not to mention cold, tight muscles that don’t move fluidly. Dynamic warm-ups bridge the gap.

4) I really wish NYT had just written a nice article instead of giving us this video, but the gist is important.  The reason that we keep running out of hospital space for kids is largely that hospitals have simply decided adults are more profitable.  

5) Hell, yeah, “Guns Are Not Speech”

In dealing with the controversy that erupted, I made hundreds of speeches, many of them in synagogues, defending free speech for everyone, including the Nazis. I published a book on the subject called “Defending My Enemy.” I hold the same beliefs today as I expressed then: I would defend free speech for all, regardless of my antipathy for their views.

But in these controversies, we have to be clear about what free speech actually entails. In recent years, there has been a troubling increase in people conflating free speech with something quite different: the right to carry weapons. On November 26, The New York Times published a front page article on the increasing frequency with which guns are being carried and displayed by participants in demonstrations. It included an analysis of more than 700 such demonstrations during the past three years and found that, at about 77 percent of them, those carrying guns came from the political right.

Indeed, right-wing groups have been increasingly outspoken in recent years about what they claim are efforts to suppress the expression and dissemination of their views. A spokesman for Gun Owners of America told the Times that “Americans should be able to bear arms while expressing their First Amendment rights, whether that’s going to church or a peaceful assembly.” Proud Boys and Oath Keepers invoked free speech to justify their armed participation in the January 6 Capitol assault.

But these arguments represent a fundamental misunderstanding of what free speech is all about. Freedom of speech is about persuasion. Those engaged in free speech try to persuade others on the basis of the information they disseminate and the quality of their arguments. If these are worthless or repugnant, like those of the Nazis who proposed to march in Skokie, they deserve to fail. If their views have merits, that should be the basis on which they persuade others. In either case, their right to express their views should be protected.

Weapons, on the other hand, are about threats. Openly brandishing weapons conveys the message that they may be used against those who express contrary views. It is the antithesis of freedom of speech, and clearly indicates that one is not interested in persuasion or dialogue but is only interested in intimidation. Unsurprisingly, protests at which firearms are carried are far more likely to turn violent than protests without guns present.

For these reasons, I would not have defended the right of the Nazis to march in Skokie if they had chosen to carry guns, knives, baseball bats, or anything else they could have used to assault or intimidate people. They had a right to seek police protection as they marched—but no one has a right to use or threaten violence to impose their views on others.

6) I love that EJ Dionne is devoting a column to my former member of Congress and former Duke Political Science Professor, David Price.

Price, who is retiring from Congress in January at the age of 82 after 17 terms in office, has been a special figure in our public life. He is a loss to the institution and our politics precisely because he thinks institutionally. He believes that Congress matters and that individual members have obligations not only to themselves, their consciences and their constituents, but also to making the first branch of government function effectively.

He grew up in east Tennessee in a Republican family and became a Democrat as a student in North Carolina because of his engagement in the early years of the civil rights movement. He got divinity and political science degrees from Yale and is a first-rate political scientist — his book on Congress, first published in 1992, came out in its fourth edition at the end of 2020. It’s one of the best examples of “participant-observer” scholarship.

7) I actually did not notice at all that the new Avatar movie was using high frame rates. 

The problem is that increasing the frame rate begins to make everything look hyper-clear. That extreme sharpness, far from being an unalloyed benefit, changes the whole texture of the image, giving it a look that we associate with video and stripping away whatever mystique and aesthetic allure comes from longer time gaps between frames…

There is no discernible rationale for Cameron’s choices: The rate often shifts within a scene or when he cuts to another angle on the same object. And the technique isn’t simply used for action scenes and fast camera movements, the most obvious potential sources of blur or judder. Some of the action is shown at 24, and some quiet, character-driven shots are at 48.

8) One of those big-think Noah Smith pieces you just have to read, “The third magic: A meditation on history, science, and AI”

9a) Surely, at least part of the answer, “Young adults are struggling with their mental health. Is more childhood independence the answer? “

But a growing body of evidence is beginning to suggest that the problems of “adulting” and mental health in college students may be rooted, at least in part, in modern childhood. Research shows that young people are lacking in emotional resilience and independence compared to previous generations. The problem has been growing in tandem with rising rates of anxiety and depression, perhaps exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and has left colleges scrambling to help and adapt.

“Some parents have been parenting differently, they have this value of success at all costs,” said Dori Hutchinson, executive director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University. “I like to describe it as some kids are growing up developmentally delayed, today’s 18-year-olds are like 12-year-olds from a decade ago. They have very little tolerance for conflict and discomfort, and COVID just exposed it.” …

Research shows that young people who arrive on campus with healthy amounts of resilience and independence do better both academically and emotionally, but today more students of all backgrounds are arriving on campus with significantly less experience in dealing with life’s ups and downs. Many even see normal adult activities as risky or dangerous.

In a new study currently under review, Georgetown University psychologist Yulia Chentsova Dutton looked at whether American college students’ threshold for what is considered risky was comparable to their global peers. Chentsova Dutton and her team interviewed students from Turkey, Russia, Canada and the United States, asking them to describe a risky or dangerous experience they had in the last month. Both Turkish and Russian students described witnessing events that involved actual risk: violent fights on public transportation; hazardous driving conditions caused by drunk drivers; women being aggressively followed on the street. 

But American students were far more likely to cite as dangerous things that most adults do every day, like being alone outside or riding alone in an Uber.

The American students’ risk threshold was comparatively “quite low,” according to Chentsova Dutton. Students who reported they gained independence later in childhood — going to the grocery store or riding public transportation alone, for example — viewed their university campus as more dangerous; those same students also had fewer positive emotions when describing risky situations. 

Chentsova Dutton hypothesizes that when students have fewer opportunities to practice autonomy, they have less faith in themselves that they can figure out a risky situation. “My suspicion is that low autonomy seems to translate into low efficacy,” she said. “Low efficacy and a combination of stress is associated with distress,” like anxiety and depression.

In recent years, other psychologists have made similar associations. Author and New York University ethical leadership professor Jonathan Haidt has used Nassim Taleb’s theory of anti-fragility to explain how kids’ social and emotional systems act much like our bones and immune systems: Within reason, testing and stressing them doesn’t break them but makes them stronger. But, Haidt and first amendment advocate Greg Lukianoff have argued in their writing, a strong culture of “safetyism” which prizes the safety of children above all else, has prevented young people from putting stress on the bones, so to speak, so “such children are likely to suffer more when exposed later to other unpleasant but ordinary life events.” 

Psychologists have directly connected a lack of resilience and independence to the growth of mental health problems and psychiatric disorders in young adults and say that short cycles of stress or conflict are not only not harmful, they are essential to human development. But modern childhood, for a variety of reasons, provides few opportunities for kids to practice those skills. 

While it’s hard to point to a single cause, experts say a confluence of factors — including more time spent on smartphones and social media, less time for free play, a culture that prizes safety at the expense of building other characteristics, a fear of child kidnapping, and more adult-directed activities — together have created a culture that keeps kids far away from the kinds of experiences that build resilience.

Chentsova Dutton said America has an international reputation for prizing autonomy, but her study opened her eyes to a more complicated picture. American parents tend to be overprotective when children are young, acting as if kids are going to live at home for a long time, like parents do in Italy. Yet they also expect children to live away from home fairly early for college, like families do in Germany. The result is that American kids end up with drastically fewer years navigating real life than they do in other countries that start much earlier. 

“We parent like we are in Italy, then send kids away like we are in Germany,” Chentsova Dutton said with a laugh. “Those things don’t match.”

The woke culture of “safetyism” where everything is a threat to personal well-being, sure doesn’t help either. 

9b) and just before queuing these up, I came across this:

10) Really interesting post on evolved sex differences across species

Biological Constraints


Darwin’s [7] sexual selection, that is, the social dynamics that emerge with intrasexual competition for mates and intersexual choice of mating partners, is the primary source of sex differences across species [for review see 8]. Sexual selection results in the evolution of traits that support competition and choice, and the evolutionary emergence of sex differences for these traits, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The male kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) from The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex, Vol. II, by C. Darwin, 1871, London, John Murray, p. 255. Males compete by locking horns and pulling and pushing each other as a display of physical strength and stamina. Females are hornless.

These traits can be physical (e.g., body weight), ornamental (e.g., colorful plumage), behavioral (e.g., mating displays), or supported by brain and cognitive systems (e.g., bird song). The key result is trait exaggeration in one sex or the other. But this exaggeration can also create a vulnerability for the seemingly advantaged sex [4]. Larger, exaggerated traits consume more cellular energy (and result in more oxidative stress and other cell damaging processes) to build, maintain, and express, making them especially vulnerable to energy and nutritional short falls, as well as to other stressors [9]. By analogy, a poorly working furnace will result in a more rapid drop in ambient temperature in a 300-square-meter than a 100-square-meter house. Basically, the ability to fully express these traits depends on the overall condition of the individual, which is why they are called condition-dependent traits, and the condition of the individual will depend in part on social and ecological conditions.

The factors that sap the development and expression of these traits are well-captured by the Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Figure 2), that is, infection, famine, and intense social competition. Exposure to these conditions, as well as some man-made toxins, compromise exaggerated traits more than other traits and therefore reduces the magnitude of any associated sex differences [5, 10, 11]. There are, of course, individual differences within each sex in sensitivity to these stressors, such that some individuals are compromised more strongly than others, but the overall results are smaller sex differences for the population and more variability in the affected trait across individuals…

By the logic above, variation in nutrition, disease risk, and social stressors represented by the Horsemen should result in variation in the magnitude of the sex differences in physical size, such as height. More precisely, height differences between the sexes should have increased over time as developed nations kept the Horsemen at bay with improvements in public health (among other factors) and be larger today in developed than in developing nations. Indeed, from 1900 to 1958, the sex difference in height increased 36 percent in Great Britain [17]: In 1900, the average British man was 11 cm taller than the average woman, but this increased to 15 cm by 1958. For young adults in nutritionally stressed regions of Nigeria, men are 7.5 cm shorter than their better-nourished peers, whereas women are 3.2 cm shorter [18]. The result is a sex difference in height that is 38 percent smaller than it would be if these adults had received better nutritional and medical care during childhood and adolescence.

11) Teen pregnancy and child poverty are both down and it is a fascinating and difficult question of which of these declines is driving the other one more.  You should read this, thus the gift link (I’m actually going to run out of these). 

Teen births have fallen by more than three-quarters in the last three decades, a change of such improbable magnitude that experts struggle to fully explain it. Child poverty also plunged, raising a complex question: Does cutting teen births reduce child poverty, or does cutting child poverty reduce teen births?

While both may be true, it is not clear which dominates. One theory holds that reducing teen births lowers child poverty by allowing women to finish school, start careers and form mature relationships, raising their income before they raise children. Another says progress runs the other way: Cutting child poverty reduces teen births, since teenagers who see opportunity have motives to avoid getting pregnant…

The reasons teen births have fallen are only partly understood. Contraceptive use has grown and shifted to more reliable methods, and adolescent sex has declined. Civic campaigns, welfare restrictions and messaging from popular culture may have played roles.

But with progress so broad and sustained, many researchers argue the change reflects something more fundamental: a growing sense of possibility among disadvantaged young women, whose earnings and education have grown faster than their male counterparts.

“They’re going to school and seeing new career paths open,” said Melissa S. Kearney, an economist at the University of Maryland. “Whether they are excited about their own opportunities or feel that unreliable male partners leave them no choice, it leads them in the same direction — not becoming a young mother.” …

On the surface, the decline in teen births is easy to explain: Contraception rose, and sex fell.

The share of female teens who did not use birth control the last time they had sex dropped by more than a third over the last decade, according to an analysis of government surveys by the Guttmacher Institute. The share using the most effective form, long-acting reversible contraception (delivered through an intrauterine device or arm implant), rose fivefold to 15 percent. The use of emergency contraception also rose.

Contraception use has grown in part because it is easier to get, with the 2010 Affordable Care Act requiring insurance plans, including Medicaid, to provide it for free.

At the same time, the share of high school students who say they have had sexual intercourse has fallen 29 percent since 1991, Child Trends found. Some analysts, including Brad Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, say the postponement of sex, which has intensified since 2013, stems in part from the time teens spend in front of screens.

Abortion does not appear to have driven the decline in teen births. As a share of teenage pregnancy, it has remained steady over the past decade, although the data, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, omits medication abortions, and analysts say the recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion, could cause teen births to rise.

12) I actually had this book sitting in my “maybe read from the library” pile when BB sent me this really interesting article, “Rethinking the European Conquest of Native Americans: In a new book by Pekka Hämäläinen, a picture emerges of a four-century-long struggle for primacy among Native power centers in North America.”  Now I’m not sure if I should read the book or if I got most of what I would’ve out of the article.

13) Somewhat relatedly, this is a fascinating thread on gender dynamics among Native American tribes after the introduction of horses and how much it varied across tribes.

Here’s what I’ll add based on these two.  Land Acknowledgements are just insultingly stupid.  Do you know what any indigenous tribe would have done to the colonists if they were the ones with better weapons? Killed them and taken their land. This is what humans do.  I’m so tired of the noble savage.  Any land acknowledgement that addresses the Comanches (and quick google shows that there are plenty of these), for example, ignores the fact that they violently and brutally appropriated their land from other native tribes.  

14) A nice post on Epicurus and how to be happier from Eric Barker:

This is how to be happier:

  • Live For Pleasure: Not the frat party kind. Prize tranquility. We should be strategic hedonists. Think about the responsibly happy life you would wish for your children.
  • The Three Types Of Pleasure: Focus on Necessary pleasures like friendship. Enjoy Extravagant pleasures as long as they don’t require too much or infringe on the Necessary. Abolish Corrosive desires like the pursuit of fame and status.
  • Seek “Enough”: Satisfaction beats success. What we call “success” is often just slavery to Corrosive desires. And you don’t need quintuplets to be a happy parent.
  • Friendship is #1: (If you stop reading this right now to go laugh with friends over pizza, I promise not to be disappointed.)
  • Pleasure Can Make Us Resilient: Supportive friends, warm memories, and gratitude. A focus on these Necessary pleasures can give us strength.

15) I guess it’s good we’re making some progress on Alzheimer’s Drugs, but, this really doesn’t seem like enough to justify the costs and the risks:

In the Clarity study, which involved 1,800 patients, participants’ health declined whether they received the treatment or a placebo, but the lecanemab group deteriorated 27 percent more slowly. At 18 months, those patients scored a half-point better than the placebo group on an 18-point dementia test involving memory, judgment and other areas, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Some doctors say those effects are not large enough to be meaningful to patients and their families, and may not even be noticed. But others argue that the treatment could allow some patients with the fatal disease to enjoy the birth of a grandchild or to live at home longer.

16) I don’t think it will actually happen, but I would love to see a college lose it’s accreditation for such a gross violation of academic freedom, “A College Fired a Professor for Showing a Painting of Muhammad. Now, It Could Lose Its Accreditation.”

17) The idea of a cultural history of butts is pretty interesting. A shame the author had to turn it into overly-woke nonsense.  Apparently, men being attracted to women’s butts is racist or something. Kat Rosenfield:

For this we may thank the existence of Butts: A Backstory, a new book by journalist Heather Radke. To be fair, it surely is not Radke’s intention to inculcate racial anxiety in her reader: Butts feels like a passion project, deeply researched and fun to read, offering a deep dive into the history and culture of the human rear end, from the Venus Callipyge (from whose name the word “callipygian” is derived) to Buns of Steel to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s seminal rap celebrating all things gluteal. It is a topic ripe for well-rounded analysis, so to speak. But having been written in the very particular milieu of 2020s America, Butts unfortunately falls victim to the contemporary vogue for viewing all matters of culture through a racial lens. The result is a work that not only flattens the butt, figuratively, but makes the book feel ultimately less like an anthropological study and more like an entry into the crowded genre of works which serve to stoke the white liberal guilt of the NPR tote bag set…

The book is insistent on this front: butts are a black thing, and liking them is a black male thing, and the appreciation of butts by non-black folks represents a moral error: cultural theft or stolen valour or some potent mix of the two. Among the scholars and experts quoted by Radke on this front is one who asserts that the contemporary appreciation of butts by the wider male population is “coming from Black male desire. Straight-up, point-blank. It’s only through Black males and their gaze that white men are starting to take notice”. To paraphrase a popular meme: “Fellas, is it racist to like butts?”

Perhaps needless to say, a wealth of cultural artefacts — from the aforementioned Venus sculpture to the works of Peter Paul Rubens to certain showtunes of the Seventies —  belie the notion that white guys were oblivious to the existence of butts until black men made it cool to notice them. But the cultural legacy of the butt is undeniably entangled with the legacy of racism and eugenics, including a sordid and repellent history wherein certain anthropologists of the white male variety both fetishised the physiques of black women with ample backsides and conflated their peculiarities with savagery and promiscuity…

Certainly, it is impossible to do justice to the history of butts without devoting ample space to Baartman. But it’s one thing to give due scrutiny to the fact that some 19th century anthropologists indulged in the repugnant racial stereotyping of black women’s bodies and body parts; it’s another to replicate it ourselves — or to assume that other people are.

Radke does assume, though — repeatedly, persistently, and sometimes in spite of alternative theories or evidence to the contrary. This includes advancing the argument that bustles, the Victorian-era fashion that trended more than 50 years after Sarah Baartman’s death, were inspired by her singular figure — and that white women were coyly, perhaps even consciously, appropriating Baartman’s silhouette in an act of racist fetishisation. Notably, Radke is the first to acknowledge the obvious flaw in her argument: “There is also a question of why a late-19th-century woman would have wanted to look like Sarah Baartman, whose silhouette had been used as the quintessential example of African as subhuman,” she writes. Why, indeed? But Radke answers this question with some crude stereotyping of her own: “White culture and fashion have both proved relentlessly adept at cherry-picking throughout the centuries, finding a way to poach the parts of other people’s culture, histories, and bodies that suit them and leave behind the rest.”

Why would 19th century women have aspired to the silhouette of a sexually promiscuous savage? Because they were a bunch of Karens, that’s why (and here the self-loathing contemporary white woman reader is surely nodding along).

18) Another fascinating Noah Smith post, looking at economic development in Ghana (again, one of those things where I would typically just ignore it, but Smith is invariably so interesting in these essays). 

19) Interesting idea, “Can a Federally Funded ‘Netflix Model’ Fix the Broken Market for Antibiotics?”

The $6 billion measure, the Pasteur Act, would upend the conventional model that ties antibiotic profits to sales volume by creating a subscription-like system that would provide pharmaceutical companies an upfront payment in exchange for unlimited access to a drug once it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Some call it the Netflix model for antibiotics.

The measure attempts to address the vexing economics of antibiotics: Promising new drugs often gather dust on pharmacy shelves because health providers would rather save them for patients whose infections don’t respond to existing ones. That’s because the more frequently an antibiotic is used, the more quickly it will lose its curative punch as the targeted bacteria develop the ability to survive.

New antibiotics also tend to be expensive, a disincentive for hospital-based prescribers who will often turn to cheaper ones, making it even harder for drug companies to earn back their initial investmentAside from the shortages of drugs that still work, the shrinking toolbox of effective antimicrobials has become a silent global crisis that claims nearly 1.3 million lives a year. By 2050, the United Nations estimates that drug-resistant pathogens could kill 10 million people annually.

“If we want antibiotics to work for our kids, our grandkids or ourselves in 10 years, we have to invest in the infrastructure today,” said Kevin Outterson, executive director of CARB-X, a nonprofit that provides funding for small biotechs developing novel antibiotics.

By separating profits from sales volume, supporters of the bill hope that prescribers will save new drugs for patients whose infections are resistant to existing medications. Limiting their use, experts say, can help extend the life of a new antibiotic before evolutionary pressure creates a “superbug” all but impervious to available antimicrobials.

The bill, a decade in the making, has bipartisan support and is widely backed by researchers, health care policy experts and drug company executives. But as momentum for the bill has gained steam, opposition has emerged from a small group of doctors and health care advocates, many of them critics of Big Pharma. They say the bill is a drug-industry giveaway — and unlikely to address the problem of antibiotic resistance.

20) I went through Evolv scanning/metal detectors for the first time ever last week at the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space museum.  I loved how quick and efficient it was.  Get these everywhere.  “AI may be searching you for guns the next time you go out in public”

Evolv machines use “active sensing” — a light-emission technique that alsounderpins radar and lidar — to create images. Then it applies AI to examine them. Data scientists at the Waltham, Mass., company have created “signatures” (basically, visual blueprints) and trained the AI to compare them to the scanner images.

Executives say the result is a smart system that can “spot” a weapon without anyone needing to stop and empty their pockets in a beeping machine. When the system identifies a suspicious item from a group of people flowing through, it draws an orange box around it on a live video feed of the person entering. It’s only then that a security guard, watching on a nearby tablet, will approach for more screening.

Dan Donovan, a veteran security consultant who rents Evolv’s systems out to clients for events, says that by allowing guards to focus on fewer threats, it avoids the fatigue metal-detector operators can feel.

A cool video of how they work.  

21) Somewhat relatedly, I have seen “Clear” at airports on my most recent flights and turns out it it’s basically evil:

That is the entirety of CLEAR’s offer to American flyers: Pay us money and give us your biometric data, and in return you can jump in front of other people to access an essential federal service. Unlike with TSA Pre, whose purpose is to speed up the entire airport safety system, there is no public benefit to CLEAR’s role in the screening process; it’s simply a way for a company—and airports themselves—to make money at the expense of passengers.
Worse, its insertion into aviation security undermines a core government function.

22) I loved, loved, loved Planet Money on the economics lessons in children’s books.  It featured one of my kids’ favorites that I have read hundreds of times, Put Me in the Zoo, as well as my favorite kids book ever, The Sneetches.  

23) The strong case for an economic market for kidneys.  Too many people are dying waiting for a kidney and lots and lots of people have extra kidneys they would do just fine without. 

24) Nice piece on the profound, very conservative influence Pope Benedict had on the Catholic Church, largely before he became Pope. 

25) A headline you don’t see everyday, “An airline worker died after being ‘ingested into the engine’ of a plane, NTSB says”

26) Here’s some amazing AI work:



Quick hits (part I)

1) So good from Kat Rosenfield, “Why I Keep Getting Mistaken for a Conservative”

This is a theory I’ve had for some time, but it crystallized in the writing of this piece: In our current era, politics no longer have anything to do with policy. Nor are they about principles, or values, or a vision for the future of the country. They’re about tribalism, and aesthetics, and vibes. They’re about lockstep solidarity with your chosen team, to which you must demonstrate your loyalty through fierce and unwavering conformity. And most of all, they’re about hating the right people…

As Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown noted, “the whole thing makes no sense — except as an exercise in labeling anyone out of step with progressive orthodoxy in any way at all as a right-winger.”

But of course this exercise is increasingly the preferred — and perhaps only — means for sorting people into various political boxes. And on that front, the whole thing makes perfect sense: This with-us-or-against-us ethos is how I, a woman who has voted Democrat straight down the ticket in every election for the past 20 years, found myself suddenly accused of apostasy by the Left at the same time that I began receiving invitations from right-wingers to appear on Gutfeld! 

I said yes to those invitations, too, of course. I even had a good time! 

But this is why conservatives so often mistake me for one of their own: not because I argue for right-wing policies or from a right-wing perspective, but because progressives are often extremely, publicly mad at me for refusing to parrot the latest catechism and for criticizing the progressive dogmas that either violate my principles or make no sense. I look like a friend of the Right only because the Left wants to make me their enemy — and because I can’t bring myself to do the requisite dance, or make the requisite apologies, that might get me back in the Left’s good graces. 

On that front, I am not alone. There’s a loose but growing coalition of lefties out there, artists and writers and academics and professionals, who’ve drawn sympathetic attention from conservatives after being publicly shamed out of the progressive clubhouse (that is, by the type of progressive who thinks there is a clubhouse, which is of course part of the problem). It’s remarkably easy these days to be named an apostate on the left. Maybe you were critical of the looting and rioting that devastated cities in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police in 2020. Maybe you were skeptical of this or that viral outrage: Covington Catholic, or Jussie Smollett, or the alleged racial abuse at a BYU volleyball game that neither eyewitness testimony nor video evidence could corroborate. Maybe you were too loud about the continued need for due process in the middle of #MeToo. Maybe you wouldn’t stop asking uncomfortable questions about the proven value of certain divisive brands of diversity training, or transgender surgeries for kids, or — come the pandemic — masking. Maybe you kept defending the right to free speech and creative expression after these things had been deemed “right-wing values” by your fellow liberals.

This is a fraught moment for those of us who aren’t reflexive team players, who struggle with reading the room, who remain committed to certain values on principle even when they’ve become politically inexpedient. The present climate leaves virtually no room for a person to dissent and yet remain in good standing. Attorney Lara Bazelon — whose commitment to due-process protections in Title IX cases puts her not just at odds with her left-wing peers but also, in a shocking turn, on the same side as the Trump administration — described the challenges of heterodoxy on an episode of Glenn Loury’s podcast in October 2022. “I have a tribe and they have a position, and I don’t agree with it,” Bazelon said, looking bewildered. “Why is it so poisonous and toxic and canceling-inducing to be able to say that basic thing?”

Now, of course, we’re not all post-policy– which is why Rosenfield still is a liberal:

The title of this essay is “Why I Keep Getting Mistaken for a Conservative,” and it’s not lost on me that it would be an excellent setup for a tidily dramatic ending in which I suddenly realize that wait, no, the mistake was mine, and finally I see that I’ve been a conservative all along. But despite the occasional flirtation (or lunch) with members of the center-Right, and despite the lucrative career potential of a right-wing pivot, I shan’t be coming out of the closet or putting on a “Team GOP” jersey today. I still believe in liberal principles such as free speech, high social trust, and a government that provides a robust safety net for people in need while leaving the rest of us to live and let live. I support same-sex marriage, universal health care, police and prison reform, and an end to the destructive and foolhardy wars on drugs and terror — and while we’re abolishing things, I wouldn’t mind getting rid of the sex-offender registry and capital punishment, too.

2) NHL offside review are just so awful.  I love this list of possible solutions.  This one seems great:

4. Shorten the coach’s time to decide

Offside review has always been broken, but it certainly seems like there’s one element that’s been getting worse over the last year or two: The interminable delays while we wait for the coach to make up his mind.

This is bad, for two reasons. First of all, hockey was way more fun when a goal would be scored and we’d cut to a shot of the other team’s coach looking mad, or yelling at this team, or waving his arms around, or reacting with some form of human emotion instead of just passively staring at a little screen like a bored toddler at the end of a long car ride. But more importantly, it’s giving all these coaches even more time to find those freeze-frame pixel plays that shouldn’t able to overturn a call but somehow still do.

You’d think we could turn to the rulebook for some sort of time limit here, but there actually isn’t one. It just says that the review has to be initiated before the next faceoff. And if the officials are willing to just stand around before dropping the puck, then the coach has all the time in the world to figure things out.

We need a limit, and here’s my suggestion: Five seconds.

That’s it. Five seconds from the moment the goal is scored until the coach has to make up his mind. The referee in the offensive-zone signals goal, and the trailing referee looks over at the coach and holds up five fingers. Count it down. Five seconds, coach, what do you got?

OK, I’m guessing you think that’s too quick. If so, make it 10 seconds or whatever. The point is that we want a quick decision, one that has to come before the video coach has had time to dig through every replay like it’s the Zapruder film. If the coach thinks he saw something in real time, or he trusts his players who say they did, then we’ll review it. But you don’t get to tell the linesman he missed a call when you didn’t see it either.

The beauty here is that we’d still be missing plays that were technically offside. It would probably happen even more often than with our other ideas. But now it’s not the officials’ fault anymore. Now it’s on the coach for not being quick enough. If the broadcast discovers an angle that shows a skate was a half-inch over the line, they won’t be blaming the linesman for not finding it on replay. They’ll blame the coach instead…

And this one such a no-brainer!

2. Limit how long the reviews can take

I hear this one a lot from frustrated fans, and it’s really just an extension of the first suggestion. The idea here is that any review that drags on for too long can’t be conclusive and irrefutable, so we put a time limit on things. Let’s say that from the moment the review begins, we have two minutes before the screens shut off. If you haven’t made your mind up by then, that’s fine. It means that the call on the ice was right, or at least that it was close enough that we can live with it. Let’s get the game going again.

Would it help? Let’s hold that thought, because the next idea is a similar approach

3) Krugman:

So Republican plans to cut Medicare and Social Security would impose widespread hardship, with some of the worst impacts falling on red-state, noncollege whites — that is, the party’s most loyal base.

Why, then, does the party want to do this? We needn’t take claims that it’s about fiscal responsibility seriously; a fiscally responsible party wouldn’t be seeking to make the Trump tax cuts permanent or oppose giving the I.R.S. the resources it needs to crack down on tax cheats. What we’re seeing, instead, is that despite its populist rhetoric, the G.O.P. is still very much a party of and for the rich.

A more interesting question is why Republicans think they can get away with touching the traditional third rails of fiscal policy. Social Security remains as popular as ever; Republicans themselves campaigned against Obamacare by claiming, misleadingly, that it would cut Medicare. Why imagine that proposals to deny benefits to many Americans by raising the eligibility age won’t provoke a backlash?

At least part of the answer is surely the expectation that the right-wing disinformation machine can obscure what the G.O.P. is up to. The Republican Study Committee has released a 153-page report calling, among other things, for denying full Social Security benefits to Americans under 70; that didn’t stop Sean Hannity from declaring the other day that “not a single Republican has ever said they want to take away your Social Security.”

Finally, how do Republicans imagine they could pass any of this agenda? After all, even if they do win the midterms, they won’t have enough votes to override a Biden veto.

Unfortunately, we know the answer: If Republicans win one or both houses of Congress, they’ll try to achieve their goals not though the normal legislative process but through blackmail. They’ll threaten to provoke a global financial crisis by refusing to raise the debt limit. If Democrats defang that threat, Republicans will try to get what they want by making America ungovernable in other ways.

Will they succeed? Stay tuned.

4) Is Long Covid just myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome?  Maybe sort of?

5) “Integralism” is the old conservatism made new again:

Broadly speaking, there are two different kinds of contemporary American conservatism. The more familiar—traditional conservatism—holds that the founding principles and institutions of the American polity remain sound but have been distorted by waves of progressive activism that have eroded our commitment to individual liberty and limited government. The task is to preserve these fundamentals while restoring their original meaning and function. 

The second kind of conservatism claims that America was flawed from the start. The focus on individual rights comes at the expense of community and the common good, and the claim that government exists to preserve individual liberty creates an inexorable move toward moral anarchy. These tendencies have moved us so far from traditional decency and public order that there is little of worth left to “conserve.” Our current situation represents a revolution against the forces—religion, strong families, local moral communities—that once limited the worst implications of our founding mistakes. The only remedy for this revolution is a counter-revolution. Instead of limited government, we need strong government capable of promoting the common good and defending moral common sense against the threat posed by unelected elites.

This proposed counter-revolution has little to do with conservatism as traditionally understood. It seeks not to limit the flaws in our founding principles but to replace them. Specifically, it is a revolt against liberalism, the political theory rooted in the Enlightenment that inspired the Declaration of Independence. This New Right is unabashedly anti-liberal, at the level of philosophical principle as well as political practice.

There are different kinds of anti-liberalism. Some are secular—for example, fascism, which rests its legitimacy on the culture and spirit of a specific “people” and uses all available means to pursue the interests of this people, as defined by an elite that purports to speak in its name. Other kinds of anti-liberalism appeal to a specific religion, the truth of which is taken for granted. Legitimate government rules in the name of this religion and promotes God’s will on earth.

With these distinctions, we have reached integralism, which is a distinctive form of religious anti-liberalism within Catholicism. It arose many centuries before the emergence of liberalism, as a justification for the integration of Catholicism and political power that began under the Roman emperor Constantine and was completed in 380 by emperor Theodosius I, who embraced Christianity not only as his personal religion but also as the religion of his realm. At the end of the next century, Pope Gelasius I formalized the Catholic understanding in his famous distinction between priestly and royal authority. In matters concerning religious practice and ultimate salvation, Gelasius argued, political authorities are required to submit to the authority of the Church. 

Among other implications, this arrangement precludes religious liberty as now understood. Any political authority that permits individuals and groups to freely choose among religions ipso facto denies the authority of the Church in spiritual matters.

6) This is a real must-read, “US Traffic Safety Is Getting Worse, While Other Countries Improve”

The US underperformance in road safety is especially dramatical: 11.4 Americans per 100,000 died in crashes in 2020, a number that dwarfs countries including Spain (2.9), Israel (3.3) and New Zealand (6.3). And unlike most developed nations, US roadways have grown more deadly during the last two decades (including during the pandemic), especially for those outside of cars. Last year saw the most pedestrians killed in the US in 40 years, and deaths among those biking rose 44% from 2010 to 2020…

In recent months I’ve written a series of CityLab articles exploring why many countries — including FinlandFrance and Japan — boast roadway death rates that are a fraction of the US toll. The closer you look, the clearer it becomes that the US traffic safety crisis is not a reflection of geography or culture. It is the result of policy decisions that elevated fast car travel and automaker profits over roadway safety. Other countries made different choices, and they’ve saved lives as a result…

Uniquely, the US has seen larger SUVs and pickup trucks dominate its domestic car market. While the profitability of this trend has delighted automakers, the weight and height of these vehicles places other road users in greater danger. Research has linked the ascent of SUVs to the surge in US pedestrian deaths. Larger vehicles are gaining popularity in other countries as well, but higher gasoline taxes (as well as weight-based fees adopted by countries like France) have slowed their adoption.

7) Loved this Nature article on the prospect of Far-UVC for cleaning our air of pathogens.  I so want us to invest in this, especially in places like schools:

With GUV light, “you can get very high rates of air disinfection with relatively little air movement”, says Milton. “And with the newest technology, maybe you don’t even have to worry about air movement, because now there are wavelengths that are safer to use and you can use GUV in the whole room.” In crowded spaces such as schools, hospitals and restaurants where diseases can easily spread, GUV can operate unnoticed “even before you know that you’ve got a problem”, Milton says. “That’s really critical in keeping these things under control.” …

Although there are no universally accepted and enforced standards for indoor air quality, targets are typically expressed in terms of how often the amount of air in a room is exchanged per hour. The recommendation for examination rooms in US hospitals, for instance, is six air changes per hour. That’s a struggle for ventilation systems and typically requires a lot of energy, Bahnfleth says. Whereas, an upper-room GUV system can easily reach the equivalent of two or three times those levels of air exchange for disinfection purposes while using much less energy than a ventilation system.“It’s mostly impossible for anything but a hospital or special facility to have six air changes,” says Nardell. “GUV is the only method that gives you this incredibly high number of equivalent air changes, because you can disinfect such a large volume of air at once.”…

8) If you’ve heard of John Lott you know he specializes in justifying conservative causes (mostly guns) with very dubious social science.  Nice takedown in the New Yorker.

For almost thirty years, Lott, who has a doctorate in economics from U.C.L.A., has provided the empirical backbone for the gun-rights movement. Virtually every statistical argument against regulation—made by lobbyists, Republican lawmakers, and National Rifle Association members alike—is based on his research, which reaches two conclusions: guns make Americans safer, and gun restrictions place them in danger. He stands against droves of distinguished academics who have determined that the opposite is true. But, in the scientific debate over firearms, no one has had greater influence.


Lott’s first and most famous book, “More Guns, Less Crime,” was published in 1998 by the University of Chicago Press, one of the country’s most prestigious academic publishers. The book has been republished multiple times, and offers one seemingly irrefutable statistic after another. It specifies that when states relaxed laws restricting the concealed carrying of handguns, counties saw a roughly eight-per-cent drop in murders, a five-per-cent reduction in rapes, and a seven-per-cent decrease in aggravated assaults. The text is the basis for arguments blaming “gun-free zones” for mass shootings, and the notion, popularized by the N.R.A., that only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. “Overall,” Lott writes, “my conclusion is that criminals as a group tend to behave rationally—when crime becomes more difficult, less crime is committed.”

Lott’s findings and methods have generated scathing criticism from prominent academics, who have questioned his veracity and exposed flaws in his work. But the critiques have not diminished his stature. Instead, they have fed the conspiracy-oriented mentality of the gun-rights movement. In the eyes of its adherents, and in the messaging of the gun lobby and trade groups, attempts to discredit Lott are really attempts to suppress the truth…

In the second edition of his book, published in 2000, Lott attributed the brandishing claim to this three-month study. That year, in a piece for The Criminologist, Duncan had laid out his concerns. Lott, who was now in a temporary research position at Yale, responded in the same journal, providing some new specifics and an explanation for the confusion. “The survey that I oversaw interviewed 2,424 people from across the United States,” he said. “I had planned on including a discussion of it in my book, but did not do so because an unfortunate computer crash lost my hard disk right before the final draft of the book had to be turned in.”

In September, 2002, James Lindgren, a law professor at Northwestern University who has a Ph.D. in quantitative sociology, offered to examine the matter. Lott told Lindgren that the calls for the survey were made by University of Chicago undergraduates, who volunteered for the work and used their own phones. Lott did not have phone records, but the students could confirm whether the survey was conducted in the first place. When Lindgren asked for the students’ names, however, Lott said that he did not remember. Later, he explained that he was “horrible at names.” Lindgren told me, “After all these years, no one has come forward to say they worked on the survey.” Two people, however, claim that they were respondents; one of these, David Gross, is a former N.R.A. board member.

9) Good stuff from Lee Drutman, “Why Do People Who Don’t Like Politics Hold the Fate of the Country in Their Hands?”

It’s almost Election Day, and once again, the party that wins the midterms will likely be determined by swing voters — a small but critical slice of the electorate that, despite the polarization of U.S. politics, is still open to voting for Democrats or Republicans.

These swing voters have gained a reputation for being the one remaining moderating force in our politics. But more often they are a mercurial mix of unorthodoxy and political uninterest — and they hold disproportionate power to decide the fate of the country, based on the price of gasoline or a reflexive turn against the party in the White House.

What we’re left with in our polarized system is that the only real swing voters are those who either don’t really follow politics (most swing voters) or whose deeply considered political values leave them ambivalent about the two major parties (a few highly educated voters with an outsize media presence).

As Democrats and Republicans continue to diverge, especially over fundamental questions like “Was the 2020 election legitimate?” and “Is America a democracy?” the stakes of winning over these mostly disengaged voters are higher than ever.

This raises a perplexing question: Why do those who pay very little attention to our politics, whose vote choices are largely inscrutable and who are the most likely to default to voting against the party of the current president, hold the most decisive power? The answer is as simple as it is unsatisfying: Because that’s how our voting system is set up. We can come up with a better system. It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen in time for Election Day in November, but in a better system, all votes would matter equally everywhere, instead of just those of swing voters in swing districts.

10) With affirmative action in the news, good time to revisit Yglesias‘ take from earlier this year:

Affirmative action generates more racially balanced classes at elite universities but places the burden of adjustment on the shoulders of Asian Americans and lower-class white people rather than rich white people. Meanwhile, a person like me — a fairly privileged young person whose father’s family happens to come from Cuba — got a boost. I don’t know of any theory of distributive or restorative justice that says this is a reasonable formula for addressing America’s legacy of racial discrimination or present-day inequities. But it’s what’s actually happening.

I think Bill Clinton’s old “mend it, don’t end it” formula made a lot of sense, but in reality, nothing has been mended in the 25 years since he said that. Now the courts are poised to end it, and unfortunately, ending it could have bad consequences too…

Sometimes it does make sense to invest the most resources in training the most elite prospects. But at least at the current margin for American higher education, we would get better returns by giving money to help teach the weaker students. Whether through affirmative action (Bleemer) or Top X%, it is beneficial to be a below-average student at a more-competitive college because the more competitive college will devote more instructional resources to you.

It is obviously in the narrow interests of Harvard to keep fighting for a world in which Harvard gets tons of money and then wins social justice points by having a racially diverse class.

But from the standpoint of social justice, by far the preferable option is to redistribute the money away from the institutions that have so much and give it to the ones who serve a more diverse set of people from more modest backgrounds.

11) Likewise, Pew from earlier this year, “As courts weigh affirmative action, grades and test scores seen as top factors in college admissions”

More than nine-in-ten Americans (93%) say high school grades should be at least a minor factor in admissions decisions, including 61% who say they should be a major factor. Grades are, by far, the criteria the public says should most factor into admissions decisions. This is followed by standardized test scores (39% major factor, 46% minor factor) and community service involvement (19% major, 48% minor), according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted March 7-13, 2022.

A bar chart showing that Americans see grades and standardized test scores as top factors to be considered in college admissions

A bar chart showing that compared with 2019, fewer Americans now see high school grades and test scores as major factors that should be considered in college admissions decisions


12) Max Boot, “Don’t blame ‘both sides.’ The right is driving political violence.”

It should not be controversial to say that America has a major problem with right-wing political violence. The evidence continues to accumulate — yet the GOP continues to deny responsibility for this horrifying trend…

Violence is unacceptable whether from the left or right, period. But we can’t allow GOP leaders to get away with this false moral equivalency. They are evading their responsibility for their extremist rhetoric that all too often motivates extremist actions.

The New America think tank found last year that, since Sept. 11, 2001, far-right terrorists had killed 122 people in the United States, compared with only one killed by far-leftists. A study from the Center for Strategic and International Studies last year found that, since 2015, right-wing extremists had been involved in 267 plots or attacks, compared with 66 for left-wing extremists. A Washington Post-University of Maryland survey released in January found that 40 percent of Republicans said violence against the government can be justified, compared with only 23 percent of Democrats.

There is little doubt about what is driving political violence: the ascendance of Trump. The former president and his followers use violent rhetoric of extremes: Trump calls President Biden an “enemy of the state,” attacks the FBI as “monsters,” refers to the “now Communist USA” and even wrote that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has a “DEATH WISH” for disagreeing with him. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has expressed support for executing Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats. Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Tex.) has tweeted that “the America Last Marxists … are radically and systematically DESTROYING our country.”…

That type of extremist rhetoric used to be confined to fringe organizations such as the John Birch Society. Now it’s the GOP mainstream, with predictable consequences. The U.S. Capitol Police report that threats against members of Congress have risen more than tenfold since Trump’s election in 2016, up to 9,625 last year.

13) Good stuff from Jesse Singal on the state of modern journalism.  Well worth a read, but tough to excerpt.

14) As much as I would love permanent Daylight Savings Time, it was always crazy that the Senate just passed this unanimously with minimal discussion.  It’s not gonna happen. 

15) I still recycle a lot of plastic, but don’t feel bad throwing it away anymore. “On Second Thought, Just Throw Plastic Away: Even Greenpeace now admits the obvious: recycling doesn’t work.”

The Greenpeace report offers a wealth of statistics and an admirably succinct diagnosis: “Mechanical and chemical recycling of plastic waste has largely failed and will always fail because plastic waste is: (1) extremely difficult to collect, (2) virtually impossible to sort for recycling, (3) environmentally harmful to reprocess, (4) often made of and contaminated by toxic materials, and (5) not economical to recycle.”

16) A pandemic updates from Eric Topol.

New on the Bivalent Booster

Now for the best news of the day, which is on the BA.5 bivalent booster, a reprint from Emory University that shows how well the bivalent held up to BQ.1. and BA.2.75.2, two of the most immune evasive new variants, compared with the original monovalent shot(s) via the live neutralization assay. This is the best data we have yet seen for the bivalent booster, since for the 2 earlier preprints by the Ho and Barouch labs, both did not show a big BA.5 neutralizing antibody response as was hoped. The prior studies used a pseudovirus assay whereas the Emory used live virus, likely a more accurate assessment. The BA.5 neutralization with bivalent was 4-fold the original booster, which is certainly better than 1.3 fold from the Barouch lab report. Importantly, now we have lab evidence that our defense against 2 of the worrisome variants with a growth advantage in the United States (especially BQ.1.1) should be bolstered with the new booster.

17) Definitely wonky, but I loved this so much from Nate Cohn, “Will One Small Shift Fix the Polls in 2022?”

The great polling misfire of the 2020 election wasn’t just about how Trump supporters were less likely to respond to political surveys.

It was also about the failure of pollsters’ usual statistical adjustments to fix the problem.

After all, some demographic groups — like Hispanic voters — invariably respond to surveys at lower rates than others. Usually, pollsters just adjust for it, most often by “weighting” respondents from underrepresented groups to represent their share of the population. In 2020, the problem was that weighting didn’t do the trick. Even if a poll had the right number of Republicans or working-class whites, it still understated Donald J. Trump’s support against Joe Biden.

But this cycle, one weighting technique that didn’t do the job in 2020 might just be a little more powerful this time around.

That technique is called weighting by recalled vote choice. That term is a fancy way to say having the right number of people who say they voted for a candidate, like Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden, in the last election.

Not every pollster weights on recalled vote. The Times/Siena poll doesn’t. But based on Times/Siena data, weighting on recalled vote seems a lot likelier to shift a poll toward Republicans than two years ago, even if Trump supporters are no more likely to take surveys.

What’s changed? In 2020, Times/Siena respondents showed more voters reporting they voted for Mr. Trump four years earlier than the actual 2016 result. Now, our respondents are likelier to report voting for Mr. Biden than the actual 2020 result. As a consequence, weighting on recalled vote would now shift Times/Siena polls toward the right, since we would need to give additional weight to Mr. Trump’s 2020 supporters to match the 2020 tally.

If that’s a little confusing, here’s a concrete example:

In our final poll of Pennsylvania in 2020, voters who recalled backing Mr. Trump in 2016 outnumbered those who recalled backing Hillary Clinton by four percentage points, even though Mr. Trump won Pennsylvania by less than one point in 2016. If we had adjusted our poll to match the 2016 result, we would have needed to give more weight to Mrs. Clinton’s former supporters, shifting our already-too-Democratic poll result further to the left.

This year, the pattern is reversed: In our recent Pennsylvania poll, voters who said they recalled voting for Mr. Biden outnumbered those who backed Mr. Trump by four points, compared with Mr. Biden’s actual one-point victory. If we had adjusted our poll to match the 2020 results, we would have given more weight to the voters who said they backed Mr. Trump, shifting our results to the right (if you’re curious, John Fetterman would have led by three points in our recent Senate poll of Pennsylvania, 48 percent to 45 percent, rather than by 5.5 points).

Nowadays, many pollsters weight on recalled vote choice. If their underlying data looks similar to ours, the decision to weight on past vote might do a lot to shift those polls to the right compared with the last cycle. This effect of recalled vote weighting might wind up improving the accuracy of the polling averages, even as the underlying data quality remains unchanged…

Nonetheless, I’m not convinced that this is a good practice — at least for us.

The biggest reason: There’s longstanding evidence that voters are less likely to recall voting for the losing candidate, and more likely to recall voting for the winner (this is one of my earliest polling-nerd memories).

The shift in our data is consistent with this pattern: Mr. Trump won the 2016 election, thus he outperformed the final result on recalled 2016 vote in 2020 polling; Mr. Biden won the 2020 election, thus he’s the one now outperforming. This suggests weighting on recalled vote will bias a poll against the party that won the last election, all else being equal.

This isn’t just a theoretical proposition: The partisanship of the people who refuse to tell us whom they supported last time around offers evidence that this is playing out in the Times/Siena poll. In our recent wave of congressional polling, nearly 10 percent of validated 2020 voters didn’t tell us whom they supported last time around. As a group, these voters are registered Republicans by a two-to-one margin, 48 percent to 25 percent. They disapprove of Mr. Biden by an even greater margin, 61 percent to 26 percent. This is certainly consistent with the possibility that an important and disproportionate sliver of Trump 2020 voters would prefer not to recall or divulge their vote.

I would find it hard to embrace something that would have unequivocally made our results even worse in 2020, no matter what our 2022 data showed. This evidence makes it very hard for me to justify weighting on recalled vote — even if I think the results look better that way.

There’s also an important practical challenge: What’s the right target? It’s easy enough to say that it should match the 2020 election, but that’s really not quite so clear. It’s entirely possible that Mr. Trump ought to lead on recalled vote with the likely electorate, if Republicans enjoy the usual midterm turnout advantage. Or maybe it’s the other way around, if Democrats benefit from demographic change or an influx of new registrants. And what about the voters who don’t seem to provide accurate information — like the folks who won’t tell us whom they supported or those who say they voted, even though they don’t have a track record of doing so. It’s messy.

Nonetheless, pollsters have been using recalled vote more and more over the last few years, and it’s easy to see why…

Unfortunately, this methodological debate is hard to resolve. It’s entirely possible that recalled vote will help cancel out a Democratic bias. It just won’t be clear whether that choice yielded a representative sample — whether a hypothetical perfect poll of America would show no bias on recalled vote — or whether it created a new, rightward bias that canceled out other biases.

And even if it is unbiased this time, there will be no way to know whether it will be unbiased in the future. After all, it would have hurt the Times/Siena polls in 2020.

What is fairly clear, though, is many pollsters using recalled vote weighting might show more favorable results for Republicans in 2022 than they did in 2020, even if their underlying data remains just as biased toward Democrats. It tends to reduce the risk of another 2020-like polling error.

Sorry to be so late with this! More tomorrow.  

(Abbreviated and late) Quick hits (part II)

1) Spent all of Saturday being a marching band dad, which put me way behind, but a few things you should try and find some time to read.

1) This Yascha Mounk conversation with Sam Harris is really, really good.  If you are the type of person who finds the same things interesting that I do (and, if not, why are you here?) you should just read it. 

2) Loved this NYT Magazine interview with Bono.  They covered a lot of interesting ground, but I especially enjoyed the parts about contemporary pop music and about songwriting:

It’s more about where your music fits into the culture. Is the pop-culture world still a place where U2 can realistically compete for attention? I know now that with youth culture I am kind of tolerated hanging out at the back of the birthday party but the magic show’s going on down here for the kids. I wished to connect with the pop charts over the last two albums and failed. But the songwriting got really good. “Songs of Experience” is great songwriting even if you don’t like the sound of it. Or “Every Breaking Wave” or “The Troubles” on “Songs of Innocence.” I would have loved to have a pop song on the radio. Probably we’ve run a road on that. So right now I want to write the most unforgiving, obnoxious, defiant, [expletive]-off-to-the-pop-charts rock ’n’ roll song that we’ve ever made. I spoke to about it this week. He’s going, “Is it that call again?” “What call?” “The one about we’re going to write the big [expletive]-off rock song?” And I say, “Yeah, it’s our job!” We can make songs famous now, but I don’t think U2 can make them hits…

Not exactly your highest moment. You’ve never heard us doing those songs. [Expletive] you. “The Boy Falls From the Sky” is an amazing song; so is “Turn Off the Dark.” 

 But why did we end up working on Broadway? The American songbook! If I could impart one thing to you in this exchange it’s that I’m a student, and so is my friend Edge. We’re students of songwriting. We don’t mind if we’re humiliated to find a great song. These  we worked with on our last albums know a lot about songs. You say, “But you’re U2 — you don’t need that.” What’s interesting is that we want that.

3) Paul Waldman, “We’ve been told a lie about rural America”

There’s a story Republicans tell about the politics of rural America, one aimed at both rural people and the rest of us. It goes like this: Those coastal urban elitist Democrats look down their noses at you, but the GOP has got your back. They hate you; we love you. They ignore you; we’re working for you. Whatever you do, don’t even think about voting for a Democrat.

That story pervades our discussion of the rural-urban divide in U.S. politics. But it’s fundamentally false. The reality is complex, but one thing you absolutely cannot say is that Democrats don’t try to help rural America. In fact, they probably work harder at it than Republicans do.

Let’s talk about just one area that has been of particular interest to Democrats, and to rural people themselves: high-speed internet access, a problem that’s addressed by hundreds of millions of dollars in funding that the Biden administration announced this week.

The problem is straightforward: The less dense an area is, the harder it is for private companies to make a profit providing internet service. Laying a mile of fiber-optic cable to reach a hundred apartment buildings is a lot more efficient than laying a mile of cable to reach one family farm.

So you need government to fill the gaps. That’s because the lack of high-speed service makes it harder to start and sustain many kinds of businesses, have schools access the information students need, and allow people many of the basic pleasures of modern life, like rewatching all six seasons of “Peaky Blinders.”

The Biden administration has now rolled out $759 million in new grants and loans for building rural broadband. This money comes from the infrastructure bill, but the other big spending bills President Biden signed, the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act, also had a wealth of money and programs specifically targeted to rural areas.

While those programs cover a variety of needs, broadband is particularly visible. The administration is using the money to fund rural broadband projects from Alaska to Michigan to Minnesota to Oregon. And of course, when that federal money provided by Democrats over the objection of Republicans comes to red states, Republican officials rush to take credit for it.

This isn’t new or unusual. Every Democratic presidential campaign puts out a plan for rural America. The Biden administration created the Rural Partners Network to coordinate executive branch initiatives affecting rural Americans. Every big spending bill Democrats write makes sure to direct money to address the needs of rural areas…

Liberals sometimes say rural dwellers have been fooled into voting Republican — and therefore against their economic interests — based on social issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights. That’s not the argument I’m making here. It’s legitimate to put those issues first if they’re what you care about the most. If you live in rural Kansas and your opposition to abortion is profoundly important to you, it would be unreasonable to expect you to support the pro-abortion-rights party, even if it brought broadband to your town.

But it would be wrong to ignore the extremely hard work Democrats do to improve the lives of rural Americans, even as they won’t win most of their votes. We could argue about the value of different programs or economic policies in such areas, but you can’t say Democrats aren’t trying.

4) Before he became a public intellectual on race and wokism, John McWhorter was just a great linguist.  I loved this column on the oddity of English having the exact same word for singular and plural 2nd person, ie., you.

Fish don’t know they’re wet, and we English speakers don’t know we’re weird. Have you ever thought about how odd it is that English uses the same word for “you” in the singular and the plural?

Possibly not, because to speak English lifelong is to sense this as normal. But try to think of another language where there is only one word for “you.” Imagine if in Spanish one used “usted” to mean both one person and several, or if in French there were no “tu” and “vous” was the only word ever used to mean “you.” As often as not, languages do even more than just distinguish the singular and plural in the second person, marking distinctions of politeness as well. In Hindi there is the informal singular “tū,” the more formal “tum” and then “āp” for addressing elders and others to whom one is meant to show respect.

And in cases where English serves as the foundation for brand-new languages, one of the first things people do is fill in the “you” hole. When the British first arrived in Australia, one of the ways they initially communicated with Indigenous people was through a pidgin English with a limited vocabulary. That pidgin was later used throughout the South Seas area, and ultimately flowered into actual languages. One of them is now the lingua franca of Papua New Guinea. In that language, Tok Pisin, no one puts up with this business of using “you” for all numbers of people. Rather, they get even more fine-grained than most others: They address two people as “yutupela” — you two fellows — and three as “yutripela.” …

What happened with English?

It’s something we may never have a complete answer to. Certainly, in the Middle Ages across Europe, a fashion arose in various languages of addressing individuals with the plural pronoun as a mark of respect. The idea was that using a singular form was too direct; the plural form suggested a kind of polite distance, rather like Queen Victoria’s reputed fondness for saying about herself that “we are not amused,” the premise being that to refer to herself in the singular would suggest that she was on the same level as ordinary people.

At first, this usage of “you” was between people of higher status, with the expectation then developing that people lower on the social scale would address their betters as “you” while addressing one another as “thou.” But the “you” fashion spread down the scale, with even middle-class couples alternating between calling each other “thou” and “you” depending on factors of formality, affection and subject matter. In Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” Benedick, likely wanting to connote intimacy to Beatrice, tells her, “Come, bid me do anything for thee.” But a bit later, when he is addressing a more formal and even menacing matter, he switches to “you”: “Think you in your soul the Count Claudio hath wronged Hero?”

This stage was paralleled in many European countries, but the odd thing about English is that “you” then edged out “thou” completely in the 17th century. Why English took it this far is difficult to know. At a time when “thou” was still a recent memory, Quakers found the “you” takeover elitist, with its overtone of saluting and bowing creating conflict with their egalitarian ideology. I attended a Quaker school for a while in the late 1970s and at least one teacher was still using “thou” in this way — I will never forget him reminding me before an exam, “Be sure to put thy name on thy paper.” However, in the 17th century, Quakers’ insistence on using “thou” even with people of high status felt to many like an insult, and some were even physically assaulted for their refusal to get on the “you” bandwagon.

The Quakers’ beef was with matters of hierarchy, but they were also onto something in the linguistic sense. Normal languages have separate singular and plural second-person pronouns, period.

5) The US Constitution is way too hard to amend and that’s bad for our country.  Jill Lepore with a cool interactive feature on it in the New Yorker. 

6) Eric Levitz, “The Media Did Not Trick Voters Into Disliking Inflation”

As of this writing, FiveThirtyEight’s forecast gives Republicans an 81 percent chance of taking the House. Democrats’ prospects for keeping the Senate, meanwhile, are surprisingly favorable: Despite widespread disapproval of Joe Biden and the economy, Democrats are narrowly favored to retain a majority in the upper chamber.

This suggests that the GOP might be paying a penalty for its flirtations with authoritarian rule. But if so, the penalty is small. In polls, voters consistently name inflation as their top concern. And support for Democrats appears to rise and fall with the price of gasoline; when pain at the pump goes up, Democratic vote-share goes down…

The open conspiracy against democratic government in the U.S. troubles voters much less than the cost of living.  When Gallup asked voters to name America’s most important problem in September, only 4 percent mentioned threats to its democracy.

This has inspired an understandable yet ironic genre of commentary: The denunciation of the voting public, in the name of democracy…

There is something to this critique. All news media has a negativity bias. And mainstream outlets have not devoted much attention to the merits of the Biden economy. Two and a half years after the 2008 crash, unemployment remained well above 8 percent; two and a half years after the COVID crash, unemployment is at 3.5 percent. More basically, the press has done a poor job of contextualizing today’s inflation. The cause of contemporary economic dysfunction is not primarily Biden’s economic mismanagement, even if one stipulates, for the sake of argument, that the American Rescue Plan was excessively large. Rather, the cause of our economic difficulties is a prolonged pandemic that killed more than 1 million Americans, disabled many others, forced factory closures, bankrupted many small businesses, and triggered a sudden shift in the structure of consumer demand. We could have been paid for those costs through high unemployment. Instead, we are paying them through elevated prices. One can debate whether the Biden administration struck the right balance between full employment and price stability. But they were dealt a difficult hand, and were likely to preside over economic discontent no matter how they chose to play it. At the same time, cable news has done far more to spotlight the Democrats’ failure to reduce inflation than to inform the public of the GOP’s (heinously unpopular) plans for restoring price stability.

Separately, mainstream news outlets aim to reach the broadest possible audience. And in a country closely divided between Democrats and Republicans, this often compels such outlets to elide the reality that only one of America’s major parties is committed to the basic tenets of liberal democracy.

But none of this means that CNN and the New York Times boast primary responsibility for the electorate’s frustration with the economy or its complacency about the threat to U.S. democracy.

7) No you don’t actually need to read past the headline of “Climate Protester Glues His Head to ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ Painting.”  OMG these people are absolutely moronic!  Could ExxonMobil even come up with a better strategy for undermining climate goals?!

8) And, damn, no better take on skewering these morons than Jeff Maurer.  I laughed out loud multiple times while reading this, “If You’re Not Hot-Gluing Your Scrotum to the Venus de Milo, Then I Don’t Believe You Really Care About Climate Justice”

Let’s not mince words: These protesters are idiots. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows that you won’t solve climate change by gluing your face to “The Girl With the Pearl Earring”. For starters: It’s not even Vermeer’s best work. This list ranks it as his eighth-best; “View of Delft” is clearly superior in both composition and theme. And frankly, I’m skeptical that the challenge of finding alternate energy sources will be solved by gluing ourselves to anything less than classical masterpieces. I’m talking ancient works — the pediments of the Parthenon, or Tutankhamun’s burial mask, for example. Only when I open the paper and see some brave climate warrior permanently attached to “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” will I start to believe that solutions might be nigh.

Also: Only an amateur glues his face to something. Once you’ve been around for a while, you know that a more sensitive body part = more justice. That’s why we need to use our brains and get our ball sacks involved. At the risk of being gender-exclusive, nothing generates political capital quite like a glued nutsack — it’s a benefit that stems from the organ’s unique sensitivity. In a pinch, a labia will do, as will a clitoris (despite the obvious logistical challenges), and I applaud women who use these organs to their advantage. But at the end of the day, nothing wins people over quite like gluing your balls to something — it’s how Lincoln passed the 13th Amendment! …

Shame on these milquetoast protesters! Let’s see some fucking commitment, assholes. Are you dodging the Louvre — where the Venus de Milo is kept — just because it’s a high-profile museum with advanced security? Well then I guess we’ll all burn alive because you can’t figure out how to get 8 ounces of Loctite Ultra Gel and a thermos of clam chowder past a security guard! Did these protesters think that solving climate change will be easy? It won’t be. As Max Weber said: “Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards.” Phrased another way: “If you’re not prepared to permanently attach your sack to a classical masterpiece, then you might as well stay home.”

National parks were established when John Muir stapled his dick to a Terracotta soldier. Erin Brockovich brought Pacific Gas & Electric to heel by epoxying both buttcheeks to Nefertiti’s burial mask. Acid rain was solved when an international coalition of leaders came together to rubber cement their taints to The Stele of Hammurabi. The recipe is clear: firm attachment + sensitive body part + classical work of art = environmental progress. That’s what it takes — that’s where solutions are found. We need brave climate warriors who are ready to make that commitment. If these protesters aren’t prepared to stand tall, drop trou, and firmly attach their fuzzy bean bag to a two thousand year-old Greek masterpiece, then I’m afraid I just can’t take them seriously.

9) So fascinating, “How the ‘Black Death’ Left Its Genetic Mark on Future Generations”

Many Europeans carry genetic mutations that protected their ancestors from the bubonic plague, scientists reported on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

When the Black Death struck Europe in 1348, the bacterial infection killed large swaths of people across the continent, driving the strongest pulse of natural selection yet measured in humans, the new study found.

It turns out that certain genetic variants made people far more likely to survive the plague. But this protection came with a price: People who inherit the plague-resistant mutations run a higher risk of immune disorders such as Crohn’s disease.

“These are the unfortunate side effects of long-term selection for protection,” said Hendrik Poinar, a geneticist at McMaster University in Canada and an author of the new study…

The idea makes basic evolutionary sense: When a lot of organisms die off, the survivors will pass down mutations that protected them from death. During the Industrial Revolution, for example, peppered moths changed from a light speckled coloring to dark. That shift was driven by the coal smoke that blackened the trees where the moths rested. Dark moths were better able to hide from birds and survived to pass on their genes.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Loved this from National Geographic on creativity and the default mode network.  I have come up with all my best ideas while in the shower or when running and I turn off podcasts:

If you’ve ever emerged from the shower or returned from walking your dog with a clever idea or a solution to a problem you’d been struggling with, it may not be a fluke.

Rather than constantly grinding away at a problem or desperately seeking a flash of inspiration, research from the last 15 years suggests that people may be more likely to have creative breakthroughs or epiphanies when they’re doing a habitual task that doesn’t require much thought—an activity in which you’re basically on autopilot. This lets your mind wander or engage in spontaneous cognition or “stream of consciousness” thinking, which experts believe helps retrieve unusual memories and generate new ideas.

“People always get surprised when they realize they get interesting, novel ideas at unexpected times because our cultural narrative tells us we should do it through hard work,” says Kalina Christoff, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “It’s a pretty universal human experience.”

Now we’re beginning to understand why these clever thoughts occur during more passive activities and what’s happening in the brain, says Christoff. The key, according to the latest research, is a pattern of brain activity—within what’s called the default mode network—that occurs while an individual is resting or performing habitual tasks that don’t require much attention.

Researchers have shown that the default mode network (DMN)—which connects more than a dozen regions of the brain—becomes more active during mind-wandering or passive tasks than when you’re doing something that demands focus. Simply put, the DMN is “the state the brain returns to when you’re not actively engaged,” explains Roger Beaty, a cognitive neuroscientist and director of the Cognitive Neuroscience of Creativity Lab at Penn State University. By contrast, when you’re mired in a demanding task, the brain’s executive control systems keep your thinking focused, analytical, and logical…

Marcus Raichle, a neurologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and his colleagues serendipitously discovered the default mode network in 2001 when they were using positron emission tomography (PET) to see how the brains of volunteers were functioning as they performed novel, attention-demanding tasks. The team then compared those images to ones made while the brain was in a resting state and noticed that specific brain regions were more active during passive tasks than engaging ones.

However, because the function of each brain region isn’t well characterized and because a specific brain area can do different things under different circumstances, neuroscientists prefer to talk about “networks of brain areas,” such as the default mode network, which function together during certain activities, according to John Kounios, a cognitive neuroscientist and director of the Creativity Research Lab at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Raichle named this network the “default” mode network because of its heightened activity during idle periods, says Randy L. Buckner, a neuroscientist at Harvard University. But it’s something of a misnomer because the default mode network is also active in other mental tasks, such as remembering past events or engaging in self-reflective thought.

The network is also “involved in the early stages of idea generation, drawing from past experiences and knowledge about the world,” explains Beaty. “When you’re not actively working on a problem, the brain keeps spinning and you can get restructuring of elements of the problem, pieces get reshuffled, and something clicks.” The DMN, he adds, “helps you combine information in different ways and simulate possibilities.”

2) Good stuff on “Stop the Steal”

“‘Stop the Steal’ is a metaphor,” Skocpol said, “for the country being taken away from the people who think they should rightfully be setting the tone.” More than a decade later, evidence remains secondary when what you’re really doing is questioning whose vote counts—and who counts as an American.

Elaine Godfrey: Tell me what connection you see between the Tea Party movement that you studied and the Trump-inspired Stop the Steal effort.

Theda Skocpol: There’s a definite line. Opinion polls tell us that people who participated in or sympathized with the Tea Party—some groups are still meeting—were disproportionately angry about immigration and the loss of America as they know it. They became core supporters of Trump. I’m quite certain that some organizations that were Tea Party–labeled helped organize Stop the Steal stuff.

Trump has expanded the appeal of an angry, resentful ethno-nationalist politics to younger whites. But it’s the same outlook.

Godfrey: So how do you interpret the broader Stop the Steal movement?

Skocpol: I don’t think Stop the Steal is about ballots at all. I don’t believe a lot of people really think that the votes weren’t counted correctly in 2020. They believe that urban people, metropolitan people—disproportionately young and minorities, to be sure, but frankly liberal whites—are an illegitimate brew that’s changing America in unrecognizable ways and taking it away from them. Stop the Steal is a way of saying that. Stop the Steal is a metaphor. And remember, they declared voting fraud before the election.

3) Really enjoyed this interview of Mike Judge.  Never really got into Beavis and Butthead, but I’m a huge fan of Office Space, Idiocracy, and Silicon Valley.

4) I could be wrong :-), but I feel like I’ve actually become pretty good at admitting when I’m wrong.  It’s definitely an important part of maturity.  Jane Coaston:

We live in a world in which being right — or, at least, being seen as being right by as many people as possible — is important cultural currency. And while that makes sense for “Jeopardy!” contestants and neurosurgeons, it’s detrimental for politicians, pundits and the rest of us, who interact with our neighbors, friends and loved ones and the occasional grocery store attendant who might remind us that “12 items or fewer” actually means something.


Refusing to admit you’re wrong may be intended as self-protection but is really self-deception, which hurts you and your community. Like any untruth, it destroys trust and harms relationships on every level. I believe that in some ways, this stubborn dishonesty is at the root of our country’s polarization — millions of Americans seemingly incapable of admitting fault, focused instead on the faults of others. It’s driving us all into a moral and social ditch.

And yet we remain committed to this path. Rather than admit to being wrong, some people double down. (I’m sure that for dedicated conspiracy theorists like QAnon followers, Hillary Clinton’s arrest should be taking place any day now.) Others, particularly public figures and politicians, prefer to act as if the missteps never even happened. They merely glide past their mistakes, misunderstandings and outright falsehoods.

Some seem to find strength in dishonesty, able to construct entire worldviews out of lies because the truth would be far too humiliating. But admitting to being wrong — whether it’s about the rules of a card game or about the results of an election — isn’t a weakness. It’s a powerful statement of vulnerability. I know from my efforts to be honest about myself how much strength that takes.

5) This is encouraging, “Why Abortion Has Become a Centerpiece of Democratic TV Ads in 2022”

6) Book review that is a fascinating tale of the legal development of “rape” in the early US.

But the real assist came from the 17th-century lawyer Sir Matthew Hale, whose jurisprudence dominated the trial. Sir William Blackstone’s “Commentaries” on English criminal law supplied the Colonies and later new country with a basic understanding of many crimes, and Blackstone incorporated Hale’s ideas of what renders a rape prosecution plausible. According to Sweet, Hale, who was deeply anxious about malicious women bringing false accusations against innocent men, believed “the question was not simply whether a woman had been forced to have sex against her will but also whether her reputation was good enough, whether she had resisted vigorously enough, whether she had cried out loudly enough, whether she had sustained sufficiently conspicuous physical injuries and whether she had reported the crime soon enough.” Nearly every defense attorney funneled his questions through the Hale framework. And when it was the judge’s turn to instruct the jury in advance of their deliberations, he declared Hale’s ideas “just” and thus, as Sweet writes, completed “the transformation of Hale’s commentaries from suggestions written by a retired jurist into rigid rules that defined the nature of settled law and that were binding on the jurors.”

7) I had no idea that HBO had spent $30 million on a pilot for a Game of Thrones prequel and declared it unworthy before moving onto House of the Dragon.  Was also really interesting to see the role of George R.R. Martin in all this.

8) Big if true:

A new report from the Constructive Dialogue Institute, which was founded in 2017 by scholars Jonathan Haidt and Caroline Mehl, finds that students who completed an online learning course on navigating difficult conversations showed significant improvements in affective polarization (or a tendency to distrust those with different political views), intellectual humility and conflict resolution skills. This is relative to a control group, as established via 755-student study that involved three colleges and universities.

The free online course, called Perspectives, was developed by the institute (formally known as OpenMind) and includes eight online lessons based on psychological concepts and interactive scenarios. A peer-to-peer conversation guide is optional. According to the institute, Perspectives students “develop a robust toolkit of evidence-based practices to challenge cognitive biases, engage in nuanced thinking and communicate more effectively with others about sensitive and divisive topics.”

The report says that the results “demonstrate that our deep divisions are not inevitable. There are scalable, evidence-based tools that can be used to break our toxic polarization and prepare students for democratic citizenship.”

9) As somebody who has had more than a few beach umbrellas blow away, this is scary, “A beachgoer was killed after being struck by an umbrella” That said, this year we switched over the highly wind-resistant cool cabana an it helped so much. 

10) Rather concerning rom David Wallace-Wells, “Europe’s Energy Crisis May Get a Lot Worse”

I don’t think many Americans appreciate just how tense and tenuous, how very touch and go the energy situation in Europe is right now.

For months, as news of the Ukraine war receded a bit, it was possible to follow the energy story unfolding across the Atlantic and still assume an uncomfortable but familiar-enough winter in Europe, characterized primarily by high prices.

In recent weeks, the prospects have begun to look darker. In early August the European Union approved a request that member states reduce gas consumption by 15 percent — quite a large request and one that several initially balked at. In Spain, facing record-breaking heat wave after record-breaking heat wave at the height of the country’s tourist season, the government announced restrictions on commercial air-conditioning, which may not be set below 27 degrees Celsius, or about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In France, an Associated Press article said, “urban guerrillas” are taking to the streets, shutting off storefront lights to reduce energy consumption. In the Netherlands a campaign called Flip the Switch is asking residents to limit showers to five minutes and to drop air-conditioning and clothes dryers entirely. Belgium has reversed plans to retire nuclear power plants, and Germany, having ruled out the possibility of such a turnabout in June, is now considering it as well…

Walk me through that worst case. How would we get to that kind of crisis?

I think you would see Russia continue to restrict gas exports and maybe cut them off completely to Europe — and a very cold winter. I think a combination of those two things would mean sky-high energy prices. But there’s a lot of other sources of uncertainty and risk. It’s not just high prices. There comes a certain point where there’s just not enough molecules to do all the work that gas needs to do. And governments will have to ration energy supplies and decide what’s important.

10) Pretty fascinating read on the schism within the United Methodist Church over homosexuality. 

11) OMG HOA’s are the worst!  I will never live somewhere with an HOA.  NC residents had to fight to the state supreme court to get solar panels installed over HOA objections. 

12) Greenhouse on Alito:

Barely a month after handing down the majority opinion that erased the right to abortion, Justice Samuel Alito traveled to Rome to give a keynote address at a “religious liberty summit” convened by the Religious Liberty Initiative of the University of Notre Dame’s law school. As the video that Notre Dame posted of the bearded justice delivering his remarks made clear, this was a victory lap.

The press coverage of that speech last month mainly focused on his snarky comments about world leaders who had the effrontery to criticize what the Supreme Court had done in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. “One of these was former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but he paid the price,” Justice Alito deadpanned as laughter filled the majestic Galleria Colonna.

One can debate the degree of bad taste displayed by such a remark, but that’s not my concern. What interests me about his talk was its substance: a call to arms on behalf of religion…

“The challenge for those who want to protect religious liberty in the United States, Europe and other similar places,” Justice Alito said, “is to convince people who are not religious that religious liberty is worth special protection.”


On one level, there is nothing surprising about such a declaration from Justice Alito. We know where he stands on religion. He is the author of a long string of opinions that have elevated the free exercise of religion above civil society’s other values, including the right not to be discriminated against and the right to enjoy benefits intended for all. He wrote a concurring opinion in June’s astonishing decision that permitted a high school football coach to commandeer the 50-yard line after games for his personal prayers over the public school district’s objection…

So yes, we know all that. But Justice Alito’s Notre Dame speech still merits close examination for what it reveals about the assumptions built into his worldview. What does it mean, for example, to assert that it is “people who are not religious” who need to be persuaded that religion is worthy of special treatment? Do all religiously observant people naturally believe that religion merits more protections than other values? There’s scant evidence for that; in any event, that has not been our law, at least not until recently. Still on the books is a 1990 decision, Employment Division v. Smith, which provides that the Constitution’s free exercise clause offers no special religious exemption from a “neutral” law that is “generally applicable.” That decision’s author was Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the more overtly religious people to sit on the Supreme Court in modern times…

In Rome, more clearly than in the past, Justice Alito provided his own definition of religious liberty, an expansive definition that mirrored the court’s holding in this summer’s praying coach case. In that case, the school district in Bremerton, Wash., had offered the coach an alternate place where he could pray after the games. But the coach insisted that he felt religiously compelled to pray in public in full view of the spectator stands. The court, which in the past was notably stingy when it came to the free speech rights of public employees, endorsed this expression of militant Christianity.

In his Rome speech, Justice Alito did not refer explicitly to that case, but his definition of religious liberty underscored and explained the court’s remarkable departure. Religious liberty must mean more than simply “freedom of worship,” he said. “Freedom of worship means freedom to do these things that you like to do in the privacy of your home, or in your church or your synagogue or your mosque or your temple. But when you step outside into the public square, in the light of day, you had better behave yourself like a good secular citizen.” And he added, “That’s the problem that we face.”

13) The real problem in the Breonna Taylor shooting was not mostly the cops who performed the raid, but the whole system that led to this misguided raid.  Glad to see the prosecutions reflecting this:

Former Louisville detective Kelly Goodlett intends to plead guilty this month to federal charges in connection to the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor, in what would be the first conviction in a case that sparked months of racial justice protests in that city and across the country.

Goodlett and her attorney, Brandon Marshall, along with Mike Songer, an attorney representing the Justice Department, confirmed her plea agreement during an online court hearing Friday before Magistrate Judge Regina S. Edwards in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Kentucky. Edwards set an in-person hearing Aug. 22 to entertain that plea and released Goodlett on a $10,000 bond, ordering her to relinquish her passport and remove all firearms from her home…

The federal government is trying a different approach, charging current and former Louisville police in connection withwhat court filings allege as an overzealous and imperious narcotics investigations unit that used reckless tactics and knowingly put local residents in danger with no legal justification.

Hankison is charged with violating the civil rights of Taylor, her boyfriend and their neighbors when he allegedly fired several shots through a bedroom window and through a sliding-glass door — both of which were covered with blinds and a curtain.

14) Gallup, “Average American Remains OK With Higher Taxes on Rich”

This question was first asked by Fortune back in 1939 — at the tail end of the depression. At that point, there were record rates of unemployment and poverty. One might suppose that Americans would have been very happy to agree that the rich should be heavily taxed. But they actually weren’t. In that 1939 poll, despite the challenging economic conditions, just 35% of Americans approved of the idea, while 54% disapproved.

When Gallup asked the question again in 1998, a slim majority of 51% disapproved. In the nine times the question has been asked since then, positive reactions to this idea of “heavy taxes on the rich” have been generally higher, although variable. In 2008 and 2011, the public disapproved by slight margins. But in surveys conducted in 2013, 2015, 2016 and in July of this year, slim majorities approved of the idea of heavy taxes on the rich in order to redistribute wealth. The latest results are 52% approve, 47% disapprove.

In short, the question confirms the well-documented finding noted above. Americans tend to agree with the idea that those with more money should pay even more in taxes than they do now…

As is often the case, American public opinion on taxing the rich varies depending on how the policy is explained. And it is not constant across all population segments.

For one thing, not surprisingly, Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to favor heavy taxes on the rich. This partisan gap has been significant and consistent over the years.

About seven in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have supported heavier taxes on the rich each time the classic Gallup question has been asked since October 2008. That compares to a consistent third or less of Republicans. In July’s update, 79% of Democrats support the idea of heavy taxes on the rich; 24% of Republicans agree. The partisan gap seen since October 2008 is slightly larger than it was in 2007 and April 2008…

Bottom Line

How valued resources are distributed across all members of a society is among the most important challenges a society faces. No social system distributes resources equally. This leaves the inevitable reality of “inequality” where some end up with more than others. Dealing with this inequality has been one of society’s most significant challenges throughout history. And it remains so today.

The people of the United States have addressed inequality in many ways throughout the nation’s history. In particular, the government has for over a century carried out a progressive tax system that extracts higher percentages of taxes from those with the most income.

The American public, taken as a whole, approves of this progressive system. The majority of the public would like to see taxes become even more progressive. But today’s political realities don’t appear conducive to an agreement on new taxes on the rich. Rank-and-file Republicans, and their leaders in Congress, remain strongly opposed to new taxes. And, as evidenced by the new Inflation Reduction Act about to become law, Democratic leadership has, in the end, decided to proceed without arguing or attempting to change the fundamentals of the individual tax system. What might happen in the future, of course, remains to be seen.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This was really interesting from Rory Smith on whether we are seeing the beginning of the end of headers in soccer and how that would change the game:

It would be futile to predict when, precisely, it will come. It is not possible, from the vantage point of now, of here, to identify a specific point, or an exact date, or even a broad time frame. All that can be said is that it will come, sooner or later. The days of heading, in soccer, are numbered…

This is not an attempt to introduce an absolute prohibition of heading, of course. It is simply an application to banish deliberate heading — presumably as opposed to accidental heading — from children’s soccer.

Once players hit their teens, heading would still be gradually introduced to their repertoire of skills, albeit in a limited way: Since 2020, the F.A.’s guidelines have recommended that all players, including professionals, should be exposed to a maximum of 10 high-force headers a week in training. Heading would not be abolished, not officially.

And yet that would, inevitably, be the effect. Young players nurtured without any exposure to or expertise in heading would be unlikely to place much emphasis on it, overnight, once it was permitted. They would have learned the game without it; there would be no real incentive to favor it. The skill would gradually fall into obsolescence, and then drift inexorably toward extinction.

From a health perspective, that would not be a bad thing. In public, the F.A.’s line is that it wants to impose the moratorium while further research is done into links between heading and both Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (C.T.E.) and dementia. In private, it must surely recognize that it is not difficult to discern the general direction of travel…

The same would be true of a soccer devoid of heading. It is not just that the way corners and free kicks are defended would be changed beyond recognition — no more crowding as many bodies as possible in or near the box — but the way that fullbacks deal with wide players, the positions that defensive lines take on the field, the whole structure of the game.

Those changes, in the sense of soccer as a sporting spectacle, are unlikely to be positive. Players may not head the ball as much as they used to, now, but they know they might have to head the ball just as much as their predecessors from a less civilized era. They cannot discount it, so they have to behave in such a way as to counteract it. The threat itself has value. Soccer is defined, still, by all the crosses that do not come.

Removing that — either by edict or by lost habit — would have the effect of removing possibility from the game. It would reduce the theoretical options available to an attacking team, and in doing so it would make the sport more predictable, more one-dimensional. It would tilt the balance in favor of those who seeks to destroy, rather than those who try to create. Clough did not quite have it right. Soccer has always been a sport of air, just as much as earth.

If heading is found — as seems likely — to endanger the long-term health of the players, of course, then that will have to change, and it would only be right to do so. No spectacle is worth such a terrible cost to those who provide it. The gains would outweigh the losses, a millionfold. But that is not the same as saying that nothing would be lost.


2) Catherine Rampell, “Texan politicians won’t say this, but solar is saving their tushies right now”

The heat waves searing the United States and Europe have generated huge demand for energy, as air conditioners work overtime. Texas, for instance, has busted records for energy demand at least 11times this summer. Europe is simultaneously attempting to wean itself off Russian-produced natural gas, increasing demand for other fuel sources.

Solar power, meanwhile, has been heroically filling in the gaps.

That’s because there has been an enormous ramp-up in solar investment in recent years. This has been driven by multiple factors, including government incentives, customer demand and especially technological advancements that have made solar astonishingly cheap. Sun-drenched Texas — not exactly known for its bleeding-heart liberals — has nearly triple the solar capacity this summer than it had last summer.

3) Jessica Grose, “Calendar management is a frustratingly difficult task to equalize”

Sonya Bonczek wanted to make sure she was inviting all of her son’s favorite kids to his 4th birthday party, which is in August. But she quickly realized she didn’t have all of their parents’ email addresses, and her son’s preschool doesn’t give them out. When she saw one of these parents at pickup, she flagged him down and asked for his contact info for an Evite. “Let me give you my wife’s,” he said.

“I didn’t even think about it,” Bonczek told me. Until the next day, when the same thing happened again. She saw a dad at the local pool in their Chapel Hill, N.C., neighborhood, and asked for his email — he gave out his wife’s instead. When this happened a third time in a single week, Bonczek, who works at the University of North Carolina Press, tweeted, “Been running into dads of my 3yo’s classmates and asking for their emails for his birthday party and so far 3 out of 3 dads have proceeded to give me their wives’ emails instead. This is now a social experiment.”

The tweet went viral, and the replies to it are like answers to a wild Rorschach test, revealing all kinds of intimate and specific interactions among parents. Some dads responded that their wives are just better at scheduling kid activities, and many people pushed back that moms are better at it because dads aren’t really trying and women have been socialized to manage their children’s schedules. Others responded that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving a “strange” woman their email, because they’d be concerned it was inappropriate. Dads in families without moms expressed that they’re often left out of kid socializing because it takes place in female social circles…

What these varying responses tell me is that, despite all of the progress American dads have made in the past several decades in terms of active involvement with their children, scheduling remains one of the frustratingly difficult aspects to equalize in heterosexual couples. Even in couples where both parents work full time, 54 percent of parents say the mother does more managing of children’s schedules and activities, according to a 2015 Pew Research survey.

Interestingly, Pew notes that mothers are more likely to say they do more of every activity, while fathers are more likely to say that many activities are shared equally. “For example, 64 percent of mothers in two-parent households say that they do more than their spouse or partner when it comes to managing their children’s schedule and activities. And while many fathers (53 percent) concede that the mom in their household does more of this than they do, dads are much more likely than moms to say this responsibility is shared equally (41 percent vs. 31 percent of moms).” This reminds me of an epic Claire Cain Miller headline from early in the pandemic: “Nearly Half of Men Say They Do Most of the Home Schooling. 3 Percent of Women Agree.

4) Who knew the Opossum was so interesting:

First, let’s get a few things straight. Opossums do, in fact, play dead when threatened; they do not hang upside down by their tails. Dozens of different opossum species can be found in the Western Hemisphere, but only one lives here in America. This is Didelphis virginiana—given name, Virginia opossum. Possums, sans O, do exist; furrier and slightly more squirrel-like than opossums, they live in Australia and were once thought to be the same as our Virginia opossum. They are not—but they are both marsupials. Experts believe that early relatives of the Virginia opossum waltzed over to Australia way back when the continents were joined, millions of years ago.

Today, the Virginia opossum can be found basically all over North America: in cities and suburbs, fields and forests. One interloping opossum was recently tossed out of a Brooklyn bar. She thrives alongside humans, and she thrives without them, too. In his 2016 essay titled “Everything What’s Wrong of Possums,” the writer Daniel M. Lavery wondered what, exactly, an opossum eats: “IS IT FRUIT? IS IT … NIGHT DIRT? IS IT OTHER RATS?” The answer is yes. The opossum shovels up all of those things like the Dyson of the natural world. She savors carrion, cockroaches, earthworms, and insect exoskeletons. She feasts on small mice, and ticks that attach themselves to her hide. In cities she gobbles down rotten vegetables, bones, and greasy paper from your garbage. She scavenges—she cleans the streets! Opossums “have their own job,” Donna Holmes Parks, a biology professor at the University of Idaho, told me. And for all that hard work, she added, “they deserve to be admired.”

The Virginia opossum alone is known for all sorts of fascinating behaviors. Baby opossums, which are born the size of an ant, somehow manage to travel from the birth canal into their mother’s pouch. Those that survive the journey stay there for months, latching on to the mother’s teat with their tough palates. Grown, these opossums may not hang by their tails—but they do use them to carry around leaves in the winter. They make smacking sounds with their lips to communicate. Sometimes, they shuffle their back feet in a dance that Parks described to me as “a lot like the mashed potato.” Opossums are also immune to most snake venom. They literally eat pit vipers such as rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and copperheads for lunch. “They’re just so astounding!” Mason Fidino, who studies opossums at the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute, told me. “I’ve got mad respect for them and their little bare toes.” Opossums “get a bum rap as being ugly, overgrown, ratlike things that have no brains,” Steven Austad, a biology professor at the University of Alabama, told me. Their brains are pretty small. But what they lack in brain size they make up for in olfactory power and memory. “If they eat something that’s bad, they remember that better than dogs or cats or pigs,” Austad said.

5) So much this “The Covid Virus Keeps Evolving. Why Haven’t Vaccines?”

6) Thought this was a really interesting take in the N&O, “As college football evolves, lessons can be learned from NASCAR’s rapid growth, decline”

In the crumbling speedways and long-faded echoes of the roars that once gave rise to a national sporting phenomenon, there are now lessons and quiet whispers that a different regional pastime would be wise to heed: There’s a mighty cost in abandoning one’s roots.

There was a time, throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, when NASCAR was considered America’s fastest-growing sport. The likes of Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon became household names in those days, and those in charge might’ve thought the future to be boundless.

And so the businesspeople believed it wise to expand, to take races from places that had given birth to stock car racing, and from people and communities that had nurtured it to civilization from its moonshine-running roots, and move them somewhere else.

Phoenix. New Hampshire. Texas. California. NASCAR, suddenly too big and too corporate for places like North Wilkesboro and Rockingham and Darlington, South Carolina, went national.

It made more money, for a while. More people watched, for a while. The sport grew, for a while. Now, more than 15 years after the most-watched Daytona 500 ever, NASCAR’s premier race comes and goes with much less interest than it used to. More than 19.3 million people tuned into Fox to watch it in 2006, according to Fewer than half that many watched it earlier this year.

7) Harrowing account, “Inside a Uvalde Classroom: A Taunting Gunman and 78 Minutes of Terror”

8) Really appreciated Jesse Singal taking on this awful form of argumentation that’s become all too common among many liberals, “On Rashida Tlaib And Chase Strangio’s Ridiculous, Bad-Faith Attack On The New York Times (Updated): “Bad people could use your words to do bad things” is, in most cases, a nonsensical argument”

9) This is long overdue, especially know in light of Dobbs, “F.D.A. to Weigh Over-the-Counter Sale of Contraceptive Pills”

10) Good stuff from David French, “The Constitution Isn’t Working” 

What does any of this have to do with the Founders? How do these cases reflect a challenge to American democracy? The problem is simply this: Congress was intended to be the most potent branch of government. It is now the most dysfunctional. And it’s dysfunctional in part because the Founders did not properly predict the power of partisanship over institutional responsibility.

Even worse, Congress’s dysfunction radiates to other branches of government. Both the presidency and the judiciary assume more power than they should, escalating the stakes of presidential elections and the intensity of judicial confirmations.

Describing the branches of government as “co-equal,” as many people do, is simply wrong. Read the Constitution and you’ll quickly see that Congress has more theoretical power than any other branch. It can fire the president. It can fire any member of the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court. It can define the jurisdiction of federal courts and the numbers of judges and justices. Its powers are enumerated in the first article of the Constitution for a reason. It’s not equal. It’s preeminent.

Only Congress can declare war. Only Congress can authorize public spending. And for all the talk of the Founders’ suspicion of democracy, they gave these significant powers to the most democratic branch of government.

In reality, however, this independent congressional power depends a great deal on its willingness to uphold its institutional responsibility, to see itself as a separate branch of government that is jealous of its own power and prerogatives. The constitutional theory isn’t that, say, Democrats will check Republicans but that Congress will check the presidency.

Substitute an overriding partisan purpose for institutional responsibility, and the system starts to falter. We see this most plainly in the impeachment context. Congress has quite clearly tended to view impeachment primarily through a partisan lens. When Mitt Romney voted to convict Donald Trump during Trump’s first impeachment trial in 2019, he was the first senator in American history to cross partisan lines to vote to convict a president.

Congress is now less an independent branch of government and much more a collection of partisan foot soldiers supporting or opposing the sitting president’s agenda. Combine this partisan purpose with a closely divided country and you have a formula for deadlock, and worse.

Politics abhors a power vacuum, and Congress’s absence has been filled by the presidency. As Congress shrinks, the presidency grows. On a bipartisan basis, presidents now choose to act whenever Congress “fails.”

So now it is presidents who, in effect, declare war. Time and again, they initiate military hostilities without congressional approval. Their administrative agencies write laws of great consequence. They draft executive orders that are even designed to redirect funds appropriated by Congress to new presidential priorities. And the quirks of the Electoral College mean we now face a system where most Americans (who live in safe red or blue states) don’t cast truly meaningful votes for the one person who holds all this power. This reality breeds instability, and that instability is amplified each time a president is elected in spite of losing the popular vote.

And this brings us back to the Supreme Court. An emerging Court majority is now highly skeptical of presidential power. Through a series of technical rulings grounded in both the Administrative Procedure Act and in the Constitution itself, the Court is imposing intense scrutiny on executive actions—such as the Trump administration’s attempt to repeal DACA and add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, the Biden administration’s OSHA vaccine mandate, and the Obama-era clean-power rule.

On a pragmatic basis, a dangerous game is afoot. The Supreme Court is telling Congress, “If you want something done, you’ll have to do it yourself.” But what if Congress simply doesn’t do anything? What if it continues to place partisan imperatives over its institutional responsibilities? The Supreme Court can deny the president additional power, but it cannot force Congress to do its work.

11) Nice summary of key public opinion from 538, “How Americans Feel About Abortion And Contraception”

12) As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, I do an oral daily gratitude journal with my kids.  This is some great guidelines for gratitude from Eric Barker, who’s book, Plays well with others, I’ve really been enjoying:

Here’s how to be more grateful:

  1. The Right Way To Keep A Gratitude Journal: Vary what you write about. It’s the searching for ideas that matters in the end. Don’t say, “I can’t think of anything.” Did you just get back from a chemotherapy appointment? No? Then you have something to be grateful for.
  2. Remember The Bad: Reflecting on how much worse life was reminds you how much better it is now.
  3. Get A Gratitude Buddy: People nag you at work. People might nag you to do things around the house. Do yourself the favor of getting someone to nag you to live a happy life.
  4. Hey! Watch Your Language!: Your Inner Critic does not get the last word. Change how you talk to yourself and you’ll change how you feel. “But does that really work, Eric?” Yes, Inner Critic, it does.

13) Jonathan Weiler, “Depraved Indifference: The senseless cruelty of rejecting Medicaid expansion”

Every individual who holds significant political office has the power and burden of making life or death decisions (so, you’re off the hook if you’re the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska :)). Politics involves tradeoffs. When you allocate resources here, you draw them from there. In favoring some groups, policies and priorities, you are disfavoring others. If you agreed to a certain level of health funding, the difference between what you settled for and the higher amount you might have fought for can be statistically inferred to result in increased mortality. While having inescapable real world consequences, these choices typically exist in a moral gray zone. Maybe you wanted to do more, but were blocked from doing so. Maybe other urgent priorities required your attention. And you have to make these choices in the face of the ultimately finite resources available to you. In any event, there is no such thing as a perfectly crafted policy that can enhance and optimize the well-being of every single potentially affected person. We are fallen.

In some cases, though, the tradeoffs are so lopsided in favor of basic well-being that choosing otherwise isn’t just the normal, inescapable to and fro of politics. Choosing otherwise amounts instead to calloused, pointless cruelty that deserves to be called senseless killing.

This is how we ought to be thinking about the ongoing obstruction of Republican leaders in a dozen states to accepting Medicaid expansion.

14) Business Insider, “The only demographic in America that reliably opposes abortion access is older men”

15) James Fallows, “How to Rein in an Out-of-Control Judiciary”

Yesterday a group called Fix the Court released proposed legislation with a Plan A / Plan B structure.

—The main effect of the law, Plan A, would be to enact 18-year fixed terms for Supreme Court Justices, as many groups (including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and several U.S. Representatives) have proposed, and is long overdue.

—The innovation of the law is its “contingency” provision. The Constitutional validity of any term-limit rules might ultimately be appealed to the same Supreme Court whose members would be affected. And suppose they ruled against it? To keep themselves in their seats?

If that happened, according to this provision, Plan B would kick in: the Court would automatically be expanded, from nine members to 13. The logic of this approach was laid out by G. Michael Parsons, of NYU’s law school, in a detailed law-review article and an op-ed last year.

Parsons summed up the argument this way:

Popular plans [to reform the Court] get watered down to preempt legal concerns, while controversial policies dominate the debate based on their constitutional pedigree. For example, Fix The Court’s plan would require justices to take senior status after 18 years (a widely popular approach), but the plan exempts sitting justices to avoid potential legal issues. Take Back the Court, meanwhile, argues that packing the court is the only viable option because anything else might be invalidated.

But what if this choice between popularity and predictability is a false one? Rather than settling on one plan, Congress instead should use a rare legislative tool known as “backup law” to layer its policy preferences from most politically desirable to most constitutionally secure. If the court holds the first preference unconstitutional, the second will automatically take its place. 

16) Unsurprisingly, I really enjoyed this, “The coaching and parenting lessons I learned coaching my son’s pee-wee football team”

17) I’m here all day long for taking right-wing Christians to task for consistently ignoring Jesus’ core message of concern for the poor:

Let’s talk about the culture war we should be fighting. When we think of what’s important to the “religious right” or to “white evangelicals,” the focus tends to be on social issues: abortion, the role of religion in public life, conflicts around sexual orientation and gender identity, and lately, controversy over critical race theory.

Social issues determine which corporations conservative Christians deem moral or immoral, good or bad. There have been calls to boycott Disney for its seemingly pro-L.G.B.T. stance. Disney also angered conservatives by pledging to help employees travel to other states to obtain abortions. On the other hand, Hobby Lobby is viewed as a “Christian” company because of its stance on contraception, its “Jesus Saves, Bro” coffee mugs and its commitment to print “full-page ads celebrating the real meaning of Christmas, Easter and Independence Day.” One Christian legal nonprofit puts corporations on a “nice” or “naughty” list each year based on their use of the term “Christmas” versus the more general “holiday” celebration. There was even a minor dust-up in a niche corner of Christian Twitter about “Whole Foods Christians” versus “Cracker Barrel Christians.” This is the stuff that the culture wars feed on. It’s the fodder for trending hashtags, outrage and denunciations.

But the people who debate the morality (or lack thereof) of Disney or Hobby Lobby rarely discuss how much paid time off these companies provide employees or whether they pay a living wage or what the wealth disparity is between their top and bottom earners or whether they have adequate maternity leave policies or how much a corporation financially gives back to a community.

Meanwhile, economic disparity continues to widen. In 2020, Pew reported that the middle class has been shrinking since the early 1970s. Since the 1980s the biggest spike in income has occurred for the top 5 percent of earners in America. The report concludes that over the past five decades — the whole course of our lives for many of us — there’s been a “long and steady rise in income inequality.” Still, despite the popularity of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 Democratic primary, a Pew report from the same year said that while a majority of Americans think there is “too much economic inequality” in the nation, fewer than half view this as a top political priority. The report also said that Republicans are likely to blame individuals rather than systemic forces for economic inequality, citing lifestyle choices or that “some people work harder than others.”


But how would our contemporary understanding of politics change if economic justice is in fact a “traditional value”? The indifference Christians on the right often show about wealth disparity flies in the face of thousands of years of Christian teachings. While Christians throughout church history cared deeply about sexual and personal morality, the linchpin of a Christian vision of the social order was the flourishing of the economically disadvantaged. When church leaders across the ages cited evidence of social disorder, they consistently pointed to vast economic inequality.

It’s not news that Christianity, like many other religions, values care for the poor. Throw a dart at the Bible and you are likely to hit a verse about the need to aid the vulnerable, to care for orphans and widows, to love the “least of these.” And most conservative Christians today would affirm the value of individual charity. But what strikes me as I listen to voices across history is not just that Christian leaders called for charity toward the poor but that they also emphasized economic justice. The poor were not simply those masses that we must patronizingly remember in our Christmas giving; they were entitled to material well-being. The rich were denounced as being in grave spiritual danger. Beyond that, the church proclaimed that society — including the government — had a responsibility to rein in greed and to ensure just distribution of wealth.

18) This is wild. 

An explanation here.

Abortion and “the life of the mother”

I’ve been thinking a lot about “life of the mother” exceptions in abortion statutes because pregnancy can be really dangerous!  I think it is almost a certainty that some of the harsher laws in many states will literally lead to the deaths of pregnant women. And that, of course, is awful.  Where these draconian laws exist, the only reasonable course is to have exceptions for not just “the life of the mother” but also the “health of the mother.”  You don’t have to be a physician to recognize that there’s a huge number of medical conditions where a threat to health gone wrong can become a threat to life.  It’s also obvious that in so many cases there is a health/life gray area.  What if there was a condition affecting a pregnant woman with a 95% likelihood she would pull through and be fine without an abortion?  I don’t know about you, but I would not be interested in taking the 5% chance at the death of a loved one.  Similarly, what if there were a condition with a 99% chance of survival, but a 50/50 chance of some sort of permanent disability?  Should a pregnant women have to undertake that risk?  And, yes, these are hypotheticals, but if you’ve been around the medical world at all, you know that situations like this come up all the time.  The idea that we can just allow the “emergency abortion now!” (as many state legislatures would have it) when the mother’s life is at imminent risk elides so many very serious issues potentially affecting a woman’s health during pregnancy.  

So, even states that have an exemption to protect the mother’s life will almost surely cause situations that lead to the mother’s death.  The only way to do that is to have a robust exemption for life and health (obviously, we need more than that, but we’re talking laws we’ll see in Mississippi, Texas, etc.).  A great article on just this problem in the Catholic Jesuit publication, America:

Meanwhile, many pro-life Catholic thinkers have insisted that none of these laws endanger women in any way: They argue that these laws can be written in ways that will restrict abortion while allowing exceptions to handle miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and dangers to women’s lives in reasonable, commonsense ways.

But it is not at all obvious that this is true. Nor is it at all obvious that there is consensus about how to handle these situations in reasonable, commonsense ways, even within the church.

Take S.B. 8, the Texas law, which creates an exemption from liability for abortions “necessary due to a medical emergency.” What does that “necessary” mean? The law does not say. Is an abortion that would avert a 5 percent chance of death “necessary,” or must a doctor wait until the risk increases to a 25 percent chance? Is it enough to know that a mother will have a high chance of death tomorrow if the pregnancy continues?

And what if the medical emergency she is facing is not death but some permanent impairment or disability? What is the threshold then? Who determines and adjudicates these thresholds? How much deference do we ask juries and judges to accord to a doctor’s judgment in the moment of pressure?

Under both the Texas and Oklahoma laws, medical professionals who are fully confident in their diagnosis of a medical emergency and whose decisions would stand up to anyone’s moral scrutiny can still face legal liability. [emphases mine] Because these laws allow plaintiffs, but not defendants, to recover legal costs, doctors and hospitals may be exposed to exorbitant costs defending their medical judgment against bad-faith lawsuits. It may even risk their freedom and livelihoods. Come September, if all goes according to the state’s plan, doctors in Oklahoma who are accused of performing an abortion that wasn’t sufficiently medically warranted might not just face a lawsuit but also a homicide charge…

Hospital legal teams will balance these liabilities and weigh the costs against the benefits…

How long after abortion is criminalized in Oklahoma will it take before a situation arises in which not a single doctor is available to perform a necessary, life-saving abortion for a woman who is too sick, or too poor, to travel elsewhere for it?

We cannot write laws that incentivize doctors to err on the side of allowing the woman to die and ignore the outcome that will result. If there are steep penalties for performing abortions that are later determined to have been unnecessary without strong mandates for doctors and hospitals to perform necessary abortions—which the church surely wants to avoid for religious liberty reasons—women will die. 

This is the post-Roe reality that Americans are not ready for.  It’s not so much about the botched coat-hangar abortions of the old days.  It’s about pregnant women dying because they could not obtain a needed abortion. There’s your modern “pro-life.”  

p.s. Just after I queued this up, I saw this tweet:


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. 

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