Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Bernstein on expanding the Supreme Court.  As you may recall, I’m totally behind this idea in principle.  As for April 2021 politics, it’s a bad idea:

On Wednesday we saw that in a new congressional bill to expand the Supreme Court by four justices  — in other words, the number needed to give Democratic-appointed members a 7-6 majority. 

Democrats, to be sure, have a reasonable complaint about Republicans’ refusal to allow then President Barack Obama to fill a vacancy in 2016, especially after the Senate’s GOP majority rapidly filled a Supreme Court vacancy in late 2020. If the current court acts in purely partisan ways — and dictates unpopular Republican policies that could not have been enacted through the elected branches — there may be serious grass-roots enthusiasm for Congress to fight back against it. Expanding the number of seats, a perfectly constitutional option, would be a fair threat for Democrats to raise.

But right now, that grass-roots enthusiasm barely exists. Nor can Democrats claim overwhelming popular support. Yes, they won last November. But even if we adjust for the ways elections are tilted somewhat against Democrats, the 2020 outcome wasn’t an overwhelming landslide.

Maybe that’s a subjective judgment, but objectively there’s no way that majorities in Congress — let alone a supermajority in the Senate — are going to add four Supreme Court justices. Perhaps — I doubt it but perhaps — they might have had a chance to add former Obama nominee Merrick Garland as a temporary 10th justice until he retired or died, but he’s busy now being attorney general in the Joe Biden administration.

Not surprisingly, President Biden has dealt with the issue with more political acumen than the members of Congress have. His commission on court reform doesn’t appear designed to do much, but it’s at least possible it will put together a consensus on some things — perhaps even a plan to impose term limits on the high court and create regularly scheduled vacancies, a nonpartisan idea that has some merit.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress would be better off finding a way to add new judges below the Supreme Court level, something that has been needed for some time to keep up with the expanding workload. That too could yield partisan benefits for Democrats, if more modest ones. It might be easier to find support for such a measure if the new vacancies were stretched out over time so that future presidents and Senates would be responsible for filling many of the new positions. 

As for the push by congressional Democrats to add four justices now, it’s hard to see the point. Their threat to play constitutional hardball just as viciously as Republican leader Mitch McConnell isn’t going to impress anyone if those Democrats don’t have anywhere close to the votes to back up their threat. Nor is it likely that seeking four new justices will increase pressure to compromise and, say, expand the court by one or two slots.

The effort is far more likely to backfire, giving Republicans an easy target to rile themselves up over, while only frustrating any Democrats who think there’s any serious chance they can succeed. Sure, they aren’t the first members of Congress to do a little grandstanding, but there are far better causes available for that.

2) I know that pessimism feels better to a lot of people and that it certainly gets the clicks.  But we really are making meaningful progress on criminal justice reform.  Here’s the latest bipartisan reform in NC:

North Carolina legislators filed three criminal justice reform bills with bipartisan support this week, as momentum grows for changes to policing.

Groups that advocate for the state’s police chiefs and sheriffs are largely on board with the reforms, too.

House Bill 536 would create a statewide “duty to intervene” for police who witness a fellow officer using excessive force on someone.

“That one’s designed to state in the law what officers should already know,” said Eddie Caldwell, the lobbyist for the N.C. Sheriff’s Association. “That if one officer is using unreasonable force then, if possible, they have to intervene.”

The two others — House Bill 547 and House Bill 548 — seek to crack down on bad cops who currently can hide their unsavory pasts by jumping from department to department.

One would target cops who have been caught lying under oath in court but are currently able to sweep it under the rug by getting a new job in a different county. The other would target cops who were banned from law enforcement in another state but then apply for a job here.

Fred Baggett, the lobbyist for the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, said they support those as well as the duty to intervene bill.

All three bills were sponsored by Fayetteville Republican Rep. John Szoka, along with Rep. Kristin Baker, a Republican from Cabarrus County outside Charlotte, and Rep. Howard Hunter, a Democrat from Hertford County in the northeast.

The bills came out of a criminal justice reform committee that Szoka asked GOP leaders to create last year, as Black Lives Matter protests were gaining steam across the state and the country. He said it seems that bad cops are very rare, but it’s hard to know exactly. The state keeps little to no data on topics like how often police get reported for abusing people, how often they’re caught lying in court, and more.

These bills would change that — in addition to trying to stop such behavior in the future.

3) This is not new.  We know. We’ve known.  “A year into the pandemic, it’s even more clear that it’s safer to be outside.”  As I put it on twitter: Few things more anti-science than closing outdoor spaces in response to Covid-19. Might as well be pushing hydroxychloroquine while doing it.  Also, if you actually bore down into the research they are classifying a lot of the “outdoor” spread on sketchy information that is not at all clear the spread was outside (e.g., landscaping workers often travel in shared vehicles) and the estimates of really low outdoor spread are almost surely over-estimates.  

4) Ummm, so for years I’ve had a computer with a master and slave hard drive (and I’ve been sleeping in a master bedroom).  So, I’m racist?  Maybe I’m just a bitter old white guy, but its not like these words haven’t been with us for thousands of years of history across time and culture.   Not the biggest fan of person-first language either.  Like, a person who is in prison is, you know, a “prisoner” and I’m not quite sure what’s wrong with saying that.  Any, yes, my son who has intellectual disabilities is also intellectually disabled.  Let’s do stuff to make the world a better place for all sorts of marginalized and struggling people and less language policing.  Now get off my lawn.

5) A nice dive into various theories to explain the blood-clotting issue.  Seems to me its got to be, on some level, related to the adenovirus vector.  For now, it is a fascinating (and fortunately, super-rare) medical mystery.  

6a) This is great from Mark Joseph Stern, “The Myth of the Dangerous Traffic Stop Is Killing Black Men in America”

Racism surely plays a role here, but there is another reason so many appalling police shootings involve motorists: Law enforcement officers are taught that routine traffic stops pose extreme danger to their own lives. Courts have seized upon this idea to water down the constitutional rights of drivers, justifying police brutality on the grounds that officers must act quickly to protect themselves against the random violence that always lurks just around the corner.

This theory has pervaded American law and law enforcement for decades. It is also untrue. In a 2019 article published in the Michigan Law Review, Jordan Blair Woods demonstrated that violence during traffic stops is, in fact, extremely rare. Woods, a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law, also found that it is officers, not drivers, who frequently escalate those few stops that lead to actual violence. In a forthcoming article in the Stanford Law Review, Woods proposes removing police from traffic enforcement altogether to prevent more violence against motorists, especially Black civilians, during traffic stops. On Thursday, we spoke about his articles, which are tragically topical in light of Wright’s killing. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Mark Joseph Stern: What’s the “danger narrative” about traffic stops, and where did it originate?

Jordan Blair Woods: Traffic stops are the most common way that people come into contact with police. The Supreme Court has traditionally deferred to the authority of police to order people out of vehicles, the authority of police to take action without questioning their judgment. And a lot of that is grounded in this narrative, this myth, that routine traffic stops are especially dangerous settings for the police. That narrative dates back to a study that Allen Bristow published in 1963 which put out the figure that one in every three police killings involves a traffic stop. The Supreme Court credited that study in a 1977 case called Pennsylvania v. Mimms. Justice John Paul Stevens dissented, and was one of the voices that called attention to some of the problems with the data that the Supreme Court was relying on. His basic point was that the data was being used in a way that didn’t support the conclusions that the court was coming to. And I think he was right. Bristow’s research has been distorted to perpetuate these danger narratives.

What happened after the Supreme Court blessed this “danger narrative”?

Over the next few decades, there were a lot of cases where the Supreme Court cited cases like Mimms to put forth the general idea that routine traffic stops are especially dangerous settings for police officers. Over time, the myth became a key justification for why the court will defer to officers’ decisions on the grounds of officer safety. Courts don’t want to second-guess these decisions, and instead say that officer safety is a justification that leans in favor of allowing police to do what they’re doing. And it becomes very difficult for stopped drivers and passengers to bring a Fourth Amendment claim when courts are deferring to what the officers are doing on officer safety grounds.

And as you write in your article, the narrative seeped into the culture of law enforcement, too.

This narrative has infiltrated law enforcement departments and culture. One of the ways we see this happening is with regard to officer training. Now it is very common that when officers are going through training, they see video clips of random traffic stops that look fairly routine, and drivers randomly shooting an officer or using random violence. And what agencies are trying to get across to officers is that if you’re hesitant to use force and you’re not aware at every second during a routine traffic stop, this is what the traffic stop will evolve into.

This training frames how you come to think about doing traffic stops yourself. You’re told that no traffic stop is routine and you never know who you’re stopping. That affects how you approach interacting with stopped drivers and passengers. It might mean you’re too quick to take aggressive actions that escalate the situation. What I’ve tried to do in my research is point out the ways in which framing routine traffic stops as especially dangerous actually fuels escalation.

6b) In the middle of writing these, I came across a similar piece from 2014.  

6c) John McWhorter argues that it’s not so much racism, actually, and that we’re ignoring all the white and Hispanic people who get shot this way, too.  Personally, I think it is both, but it more exactly what Stern is talking about above in terms of the culture of how traffic stops are approached.  And, yes, I think they are more likely to be approached that way when a black man is driving.

7) Good stuff from Will Wilkinson on the Big Lie:

I’ve been trying to keep my cool, but the right’s defense of new Republican-authored laws regulating elections, such as the one recently established in Georgia, is so dishonest it’s hard to stay on an even keel. But I’m trying, man. I’m trying. It’s important to articulate what Republicans are up to and repeat it ad nauseam because they’re trying like hell to bury the truth with bluster, umbrage, and witlessly complicit both-sides horserace political coverage. They’ll get away with it, too, if we let their relentless mendacity wear us out.

Here are the main beats of the Republican playbook for selling their election-rigging agenda, as I see it:

  1. Pretend that no one has noticed that the GOP’s election reform proposals are based entirely on Donald Trump’s transparent lies about the election — the same lies that led directly to a violent, seditious Republican assault on the U.S. Capitol to prevent Congress from certifying the election.

    Now, it’s not a great look for the Grand Old Party that its flood of new election regulations are premised on the same disinformation and propaganda that inspired the most shocking act of political terrorism in modern American history. But once you’ve bought in to wall-to-wall disinformation as a political strategy, the solution is obvious and easy: more disinformation!


  2. Recast the January 6th insurrection — a deadly Republican assault on the Capitol that scattered a joint session of Congress as it tallied electoral votes! — as a peaceful protest of legitimately concerned citizens that got a little rowdy.

  3. Treat those inclined to take direct, violent attacks on the U.S. government at all seriously as paranoid, ax-grinding partisan nuts out to “cancel” Congressional Republicans who did nothing but voice the concerns of their partisan constituents.

  4. Of course, what these Republican members of Congress were really doing was enthusiastically repeating blatant lies that animated an insurrection whose explicitpurpose was to overturn a legitimate Democratic election victory. Should someone point this out, the plain truth must be reframed as slanderous disinformation!Take umbrage! Be indignant! Treat honest people as though they’re crazy and hateful for believing what they saw with their own eyes in real time on TV.

  5. Simply ignore the fact that Republican votes on January 6th to reject the election results from Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania just were votes for the mass disenfranchisement of Democrats. How could this possibly be relevant to Republican “voter integrity” bills!?

  6. Insist that new election regulations are needed to “restore the confidence of voters,” while playing dumb about the fact that Republicans undermined it in the first place by spreading lies based on the viciously anti-democratic premise that Democratic political participation (especially by non-white voters) is inherently suspect, if not entirely illegitimate.

    Obviously, if Republican distrust in the electoral system is ultimately based on the assumption that Democratic votes are illegitimate, the only way you can restore Republican confidence in the system is through measures that stymie or invalidate Democratic voting. Naturally, that’s what these Republican election reform bills aim to do. But this is not a legally acceptable basis for election reform and bad messaging to boot. Therefore, if anyone points this out…

  7. Scream bloody murder!

  8. Generally and especially, treat your fellow citizens as though they’re idiots who fell off the turnip truck they were born on yesterday…

But most of us aren’t actually stupid. We recognize that the “problem” Georgia’s new elections laws are meant to address is that Joe Biden beat Donald Trump and the GOP lost both its Senate seats to Democrats, neither of whom are both Christian and white, in a clean election run by Republicans according to Republican-authored rules that were meant to prevent this very outcome.

You don’t need to be a Democratic partisan to grasp that Republicans felt an urgent need to revise these rules not because they facilitated fraud — Georgia’s Republican election administrators found none — but because they didn’t “work” as intended. You just need to be awake. And we all know what it means for the law to “work,” don’t we?

8) Adam Jentleson, “How to Stop the Minority-Rule Doom Loop: The next two years might be America’s last chance to protect the basic democratic principle of majority rule.”

The doom loop consists of four interlocking components. Candidates who represent white conservatives—Republicans, in our ideologically sorted era—begin every election cycle buoyed by a sluice of voter suppression and gerrymandering (what I call electoral welfare), which makes it easier for them to win. Then antidemocratic features of the American system that have always existed but never benefited one party over the other in any systematic way help those same candidates take control of institutions such as the White House and the Senate, despite winning fewer votes and representing fewer people than their opponents. Once in control of these institutions, these newly elected officials use them to entrench their power beyond the reach of voters. If they are eventually voted out of power, they retain a veto over the agenda of the majority, which they use to block change and feed the conservative case that the government is “broken.” This hastens their return to power—along the very path they greased with voter suppression…

The loop starts at the ballot box, where Republicans are making it harder than at any time in recent history for those who are unlikely to vote for them to vote at all. According to Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida and one of the nation’s foremost experts on voting laws, “We are witnessing the greatest rollback of voting rights in this country since the Jim Crow era.” The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder unleashed a new wave of voter suppression targeted at reliably Democratic constituencies such as nonwhite voters and young people. The pace of suppression has only increased since the November election. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voter-suppression efforts across the country, 47 states have seen 361 bills aimed at restricting voting rights since the beginning of the year.

Republicans don’t just have an easier time winning elections; they have an easier time piecing together individual election wins to gain control of the institutions that govern American life. Here, too, the doom loop gives a big boost to candidates who represent predominantly white conservatives. Over the past half century, demographic shifts have rendered the antidemocratic features of American government newly vulnerable to exploitation, but especially by candidates who represent white conservatives.

The clearest—and most powerful—demonstration of this is the role of the Electoral College in American politics. Throughout the 20th century, the antidemocratic potential of the Electoral College remained dormant. After 1888 until 2000, every president who won the White House won both the popular vote and the Electoral College. Even when the popular vote was close, the Electoral College only accentuated the margin of the victor. In 1960, it augmented John F. Kennedy’s narrow popular victory with a 303–219 Electoral College win. Eight years later, it converted Richard Nixon’s .7 percent popular-vote win over Hubert Humphrey into a 301–191 electoral-vote victory. A swing of thousands of votes in either election could have caused the popular vote and Electoral College results to diverge. But it didn’t happen, and so for the entire 20th century, America never had to contend with a president who had won fewer votes than his opponent…

Republicans owe their newfound Electoral College advantage to a recent shift in white voters’ preferences. As the analyst David Shor has found, that advantage exists “because white voters without a college degree *in large midwestern states* switched their votes en-masse from Obama to Trump in 2016.” According to FiveThirtyEight, the effect of this shift is that a Democratic presidential candidate now has to run at least 3.5 percentage points ahead of their Republican opponent in the popular vote to win the White House—the largest advantage either party has held in more than 70 years, and the first time any advantage has helped a party overcome a popular-vote deficit.

Republicans enjoy the same kind of structural welfare when it comes to the Senate, where they have to win fewer votes than Democrats to control the chamber. Although it was always theoretically possible for a party to control a majority in the Senate despite representing a minority of the population, it did not happen with any frequency in the 20th century. By contrast, in the 21st century, every time Republicans have controlled the Senate, they have represented a minority of the population.

Like the Electoral College, the antidemocratic nature of the Senate has always existed, but it did not favor one party over the other in any systematic way until recently.

9) If you think this “stay in your lane” from Holden Thorpe annoyed me, you’d be right.  He’s actually got plenty of good points, but you really need to be far more nuanced about this than most people are.  Zeynep Tufekci who arguably strayed far from her narrowly-defined lane, has probably had more benefit for public health than any almost any academic.  

10) One hell of a local headline, “Popular NC teacher killed trying to rob Mexican drug cartel member, sheriff says”

11) Leonhardt on how the vaccination map is increasing looking red v. blue.

In the early weeks of Covid-19 vaccinations, the shining examples of success were all places with politically conservative leaders. Globally, the countries with the largest share of vaccinated people were Britain, Israel and the United Arab Emirates. In the U.S., the states that got off to the fastest starts were Alaska and West Virginia.

This pattern made me wonder whether many progressive-led governments were spending so much effort designing fair-seeming processes that they were failing at the most basic goal of a mass vaccination program: getting shots into arms. That error has held down vaccination rates across much of continental Europe. And it appeared to be an early problem in California and New York.

But it has not turned out to be much of an issue in the U.S. Instead, the states with the highest vaccination rates are now mostly Democratic-leaning, and the states with the lowest rates are deeply conservative.

“The parts of the U.S. that are excelling and those that are struggling with vaccinations are starting to look like the nation’s political map: deeply divided between red and blue states,” Russ Bynum of The Associated Press wrote this week…

Why? There seem to be two main reasons.

1. The party of government

Democrats believe more strongly than Republicans in the power of government. Compare, for example, the chaos of the Trump administration’s virus response to the Biden administration’s. Democrats’ belief in the power of government certainly doesn’t ensure they will manage it competently, but it may improve the odds.

In the most successful state programs, one theme is what you might call centralized simplicity. In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont gave priority to older residents, including people in their 50s, rather than creating an intricate list of medical conditions and job categories that qualified people for shots (and that more privileged families often figure out how to game).

In New Mexico — which has the country’s highest rate of fully vaccinated people, despite also having a high poverty rate — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has overseen the creation of a centralized sign-up system. The state has one vaccine portal that all residents can use to sign up for shots, rather than the piecemeal, confusing systems in many other states, my colleague Simon Romero reports from Albuquerque.

South Dakota, the red state with the highest share of vaccinated residents, has also taken a centralized approach, NPR’s Ailsa Chang points out.

2. Vaccine skepticism

Vaccine hesitancy has declined substantially, polls show. But it is still notably high among registered Republicans.


12) Local mall to be demolished and everything is up for auction.  Have you ever wanted a food court trash can?  Now’s your chance.

13) Good stuff from Ryan Burge and Perry Bacon Jr,  “It’s Not Just Young White Liberals Who Are Leaving Religion”

Only 47 percent of American adults said they were members of a church, mosque or synagogue, according to recently released polling that was conducted by Gallup throughout last year. It marked the first time that a majority of Americans said they were not members of a church, mosque or synagogue since Gallup first started asking Americans about their religious membership in the 1930s. Indeed, Gallup’s finding was a kind of watershed moment in the long-chronicled shift of Americans away from organized religion.1

What’s driving this shift? In part, it’s about people who still identify with a religious tradition opting not to be a member of a particular congregation. Only 60 percent of Americans who consider themselves religious are part of a congregation, compared to 70 percent a decade ago, according to Gallup. But the bigger factor, Gallup said, is the surge of religiously unaffiliated Americans — people who are agnostics, atheists or simply say they are not affiliated with a religious tradition. The rise of this group — sometimes referred to as “nones” because they answer “none” when asked about their faith (and, you know, it’s a play on words) — isn’t new. But the Gallup survey is part of a growing body of new research on this bloc (that includes a recent book by one of us, Ryan’s “The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going”)…

People are leaving mainline Protestant churches and Catholicism in particular.

There are about as many evangelicals (22 percent of American adults), Jewish Americans (2 percent), Black Protestants (6 percent) and members of smaller religions in the U.S. like Islam and Hinduism (6 percent) as there were a decade ago, according to GSS data. It’s really two groups in particular that are declining: mainline Protestants (think Episcopalians or Methodists) and Catholics.

Part of that decline is about young people — elderly members of these denominations who die are not being replaced by a younger cohort. But older people are now increasingly shifting from Christian to unaffiliated too — particularly older people who lean left politically. As a result, mainline Christianity is not only declining but becoming more conservative. Between 2008 and 2018, three of the largest mainline traditions (the United Methodists, the Episcopalians and the United Church of Christ) all became more Republican

Nones aren’t just leaving religion because of the Christian right.

People who leave Christianity often cite the politics of the Christian right turning them off. But some of the evidence here suggests that probably isn’t the only explanation. There is a general disengagement of Americans from organized religion — people who are religious no longer identifying as members of congregations. Republicans are becoming less religious, but they seem just fine voting for candidates who court the Christian right. And the people leaving Christianity aren’t usually members of conservative evangelical congregations in the first place. 

So what else is going on? Well, nations with fairly high per capita GDPs (such as Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom) tend to have fairly low levels of religiosity. The U.S. has long been an outlier: a high-income, highly religious nation. But America may have always been destined to grow less religious. 

14) Damn, I just love everything David Epstein writes.  “You’re fooling yourself, which is great for your endurance”

Alex Hutchinson, a.k.a. @sweatscience, is basically the taller Canadian version of me: we’re close in age, and he was also a national level middle-distance runner who transitioned from science into writing. Except, unlike me, he actually finished his Ph.D. program (in physics), and made his national team.

Far from making him my annoying professional doppelgänger, it has made him one of my favorite writers. His bestselling book, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, is, quite frankly, a book I wanted to write. I’m glad Alex did, though, because I can’t imagine anyone having done it better.

The paperback is just out, with a new afterword, so I invited Alex to chat about human limits and the mind-body connection.

DE: How did you decide to take on this topic?

AH: The initial spark was some research by a South African scientist named Tim Noakes, who proposed that we have a “central governor” in our brains that slams on the brakes before we reach our true physical limits. As a long-time runner, I was fascinated by the idea that it’s my brain, rather than my lungs or my legs, that holds me back. And as a journalist, of course, I’m a sucker for “Everyone always assumed X, but it’s actually Y” stories.

DE: Ok but you’re also clear on the fact that this doesn’t just mean “It’s all in your head,” in the sense that physiology doesn’t matter. My read of your work is that it’s more like a racecar, in that the machine definitely matters, but in focusing our research on the machine, we’ve often overlooked the driver — i.e. the brain. 

AH:Exactly — it’s not all in your head, any more than it’s all in your muscles. It’s 100 percent both — kind of like the nature/nurture debate you tackled in The Sports Gene. The big mistake is thinking that you can understand the body without including the brain’s input, or vice versa. As a classic study from the early 1960s put it, “psychology is a special case of brain physiology.” (That’s the study where they tested maximum strength after scaring the crap out of subjects by sneaking up behind them and firing a starter’s pistol in their ear. Fear increased strength. But I digress!)…

DE: An overall sense I get from your book is that our brain acts as an integrator; it’s collecting data from inside our body, and from the environment (how hot and bright it is, things like that), and spitting out a sort of composite, which is how tired you feel — sometimes called your “rating of perceived exertion” in studies. And that RPE is very much not a function only of your physical limitations, but also of things like the conditions around you, and even how much you care about whatever you’re trying to do. Is that a reasonable understanding?

AH: Yeah, that’s a hugely important point. Your subjective sense of effort acts as a sort of “master switch” that determines whether you can keep going: if it feels too hard, you’ll slow down or stop. It’s almost tautological. That feeling is not arbitrary: if you speed up or lift a heavier weight or don’t eat enough, it will definitely feel harder. But it’s not entirely deterministic, either: the exact same workout, under identical conditions, might feel harder this week than it did last week because you’re under a lot of stress at work.

15) This sounds great for when I have to get my first colonoscopy at age 50 next year, “This AI Could Help Wipe Out Colon Cancer: Medtronic’s GI Genius, recently cleared by the FDA, will help doctors identify precancerous polyps.”

16) My much-younger little sister with generally great taste in TV recommend I try, a Formula-1 reality show.  I was skeptical, but 3 episodes in, I really like it.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) I think this might be an over-estimate.  Seriously.  “Outdoor transmission accounts for 0.1% of State’s Covid-19 cases”

The HPSC data, provided in response to a query from The Irish Times, was based on “locations which are primarily associated with outdoor activities, ie outdoor sports and construction sites, or outbreaks that specifically mention in comments that an outdoor location or activity was involved”. The HSPC said, however, that it “cannot determine where transmission occurred”.

Sports often use indoor locker rooms and construction workers regularly share automobiles, so, yeah, probably an over-estimate.

2) Thanks to my third-born for sharing this video of a monkey playing pong with just his mind (and a cool neural link).

3) A professor (admittedly a nutty Trump supporter) pushed back with some seemingly reasonable arguments, though unsurprisingly, rudely presented, against white fragility training at her community college.  The college investigated her for 9 months.  I’ll say right here that I think diversity training based on “white fragility” is a bad idea.  Hopefully, NC State will not decide I’m a problem. 

4) Really loved this Yglesias post, “Andrew Yang versus the unrepresentative activists”

The author of the piece, James Walsh, writes that “for many in New York’s Asian communities, his prescription — more police funding — reads like a glib response to a deep-seated societal ill,” and that the NYPD’s Asian Hate Crime Task Force is “contradictory to the nascent defund-the-police movement, which has been gaining momentum since the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.”..

But the whole tone and structure of the article suggest its purpose is to criticize Yang for blowing off these activist groups. However, I think a more important point about Yang versus the activists here is that it reveals — and not for the first time — that progressive identity-oriented activist organizations often have very little connection to the groups they purport to represent. You can listen to these groups if you want to. But if your purpose in listening to them is to understand how certain communities are thinking about specific issues, you’re barking up the wrong tree…

Andrew Yang, similarly, has become the frontrunner in the New York City mayoral election, not despite criticism from activist groups, but precisely because he has adopted normal popular opinions like “groups suffering from rising crime need more police protection.”

He’s not just in first place overall, but he has a commanding lead with Asians and a sizable one with Hispanics as well…

Now is Andrew Yang a good choice for mayor? I have my doubts! He has no public sector experience, doesn’t strike me as having any particularly big ideas for solving New York’s big problems, and I all-around continue to feel comfortable thinking that the lesser-known Kathryn Garcia would be a better choice.

But what’s striking about Yang is how effortlessly the combination of “he’s well-known” and “he avoids toxically unpopular left-wing ideas” has let him leapfrog past people like Scott Stringer and Maya Wiley who’ve spent years (if not decades) trying to climb the greasy pole of progressive niche politics.

And the thing about this is we are talking about a primary election in New York City, not a statewide race in Pennsylvania or North Carolina or Florida. If this style of politics doesn’t have purchase there, where does it have purchase? 

5) And Noah Smith recently reshared his good take on “defund the police” from December:

Stone concludes that cops have been on a two-decade “riot against the republic”. Watching the hundreds of videos of police brutality from around the country during the George Floyd protests this summer, it’s hard to disagree…

But while the two-decade police riot in America needs to be put down somehow, abolishing the police is not the way to go about it. The reason is that police serve essential functions in society — deterring crime and preserving public order. If we abolished the police, someone else would start performing those functions. And it would probably not be someone we liked…

More generally, every complex society on the planet has some form of cops. Japan has cops. India has cops. Ghana has cops. Venezuela has the Policía Nacional Bolivariana (PNB).

When the PNB was set up, their wages were three times as high as police wages had been before; it was thought that this would help make the police more professional and less brutal.

The U.S. doesn’t have nearly as many cops per person as many European countries, in fact — 238 per 100,000 people in 2018, compared to 429 in France, 388 in Germany, and 295 in the Netherlands (though we do have more than Sweden, Denmark, or Canada!).

The problem is how American cops behave. Despite the fact that we have fewer police per capita than Germany, and a murder rate only about 5 times as high, our cops shoot civilians at a rate 25 times as high as cops in Germany…

To me, though, the most interesting reforms involve changing what functions the police are expected to perform in society. Many of the reforms involve taking cops out of schools. In Berkeley, cops will no longer handle traffic enforcement (an idea partly credited to the excellent activist Darrell Owens). San Francisco is taking police off of 911 calls involving mental health and drug addiction, and replacing them with unarmed responders.

To me, this seems like exactly the right thing to do. Time will tell, of course. But there seems to be no reason why armed police should be the people to issue traffic tickets or help calm down a mentally ill person. And cops in schools are just dystopian. By removing these functions from police departments, we reduce the chance for violent escalation, and thus remove opportunities for police violence. And hopefully police departments, chastened by this reduction in their duties, will work harder to crack down on brutality.

This is real police defunding, since the money that would pay police to perform these functions will now go to pay unarmed responders. It’s not police abolition (sorry anarchist friends!), but it is a partial de-policing of our society. Hopefully these programs will succeed and be emulated throughout the country. Joe Biden already thinks they’re a good idea.

So what should police do?

Police still need to arrest crime suspects. This is part of the essential deterrent function of cops, because people need to know that crime will be punished; there is plenty of evidence that the existence of police officers does deter crime.

But there’s probably another way for police to deter crime more peacefully, while also integrating themselves into the communities they serve — police boxes and foot patrols…

Even in June, while the George Floyd protests were still going strong, only 25% of Americans (and only 42% of Black Americans) favored cutting police budgets by even a little bit…

So police are here to stay. And because police are here to stay, it’s crucial to use a whole lot of different levers to make sure they protect and serve the community instead of beating it down. Defunding — by shifting police functions to unarmed responders — is one important lever. Changing police work from crisis response to foot patrol and community integration is another. Real change is possible.

6) Drum, “Everybody Wants More Police”

What do Black people think about crime and policing? According to a new Vox poll, they think:

  • Violent crime has been increasing.
  • Most police officers can’t be trusted.
  • Police are more likely to use force against African Americans.

And yet, there’s also this:

Everyone wants more police patrols. It’s true that white communities want them most of all, but 65% of Black respondents and 70% of Hispanic respondents want them too. They may think police can’t be trusted and are too quick to use force, but by a very large margin they still want them around.

Perhaps I’m misinterpreting this, but I’d say it speaks loudly for trying to reform the way police interact with the Black community rather than defunding them.

7) Apparently, not everybody actually thinks in words?!  For real.  Drum.

8) I found this from Gallup totally unsurprising, “Few Signs of a Catholic ‘Bump’ for Biden.”  As we’ve well-established here… PID > Jesus.  No reason to expect Catholicism to change that in any meaningful way.  

The answer, I believe, lies in the extraordinary power of partisanship in determining how Americans look at a president. Religious intensity and religious identity are highly correlated with party identification, and it appears that it is the latter variable that is the more powerful in determining views of a president. Trump’s personal religiosity and behavior did not seem to have a negative effect on the support he received from highly religious White Protestants, and Biden’s Catholicism doesn’t appear to be having a positive effect on the support he receives from Catholics. The most important factor is straightforward: Biden is a Democrat and Trump was a Republican, and it is difficult for other presidential characteristics, including religion, to alter the power of this core reality.

9) Kristoff, “How Do We Stop the Parade of Gun Deaths? :A first step: Biden should act urgently against untraceable “ghost guns.””

10) I don’t agree with everything Freddie deBoer writes in here, but it is a thorough and fascinating analysis of (overly) woke politics.  

Here are some basic observations.

  1. Social justice politics, like most political schools, is right about some things and wrong about others. The problem is that social justice politics also militate against criticizing people who express them thanks to ideas like standpoint theory; embedded in this school of politics is the notion that no one outside the movement (and few people inside) have standing to say that the movement is unhealthy. In a very basic sense this means that social justice politics lack the typical correction systems of other ideologies. When criticism becomes forbidden it is impossible to recognize and address serious internal problems. This meta-problem permeates everything that follows.

  2. This prohibition against criticism is enforced with the same instrument that the members of this community use to enforce everything: absolute social destruction. There is no probation in the eyes of the social justice world. The only penalty is the death penalty, the attempt to commit permanent character assassination. I suppose that some will call this claim inflammatory, but it seems to me to be far easier to find examples of people being forever shunned in the social justice world than to find examples of people who were gently educated and allowed to perform penance. This brutality is self-replicating: the executioners know that they could become the condemned with the slightest slipup. The most reliable way to prevent that is to be the most aggressive prosecutor you can. So the cycle actively rewards a never-ending escalation of vindictive punishment. This makes the social justice world, it’s fair to say, a somewhat unpleasant space.

  3. The desire to find fault in everyone and everything damages your basic perception of the world and make it harder to express your moral purpose. There are times when people are targeted for social exclusion because of perceived violation of social justice norms where many people react not with objection but with confusion; the alleged violation is premised on academic theories so complex and inscrutable that it’s hard for ordinary people to sort them out…
  4. An obvious conclusion one must draw from social justice politics is that most people are inherently bigoted, perhaps irredeemably so. It’s hard to see how someone could not derive that from the basic ideology. It is now perfectly common for people within that world to say that all white people are racist, in the interpersonal sense – that is, that all white people harbor animus and fear towards people of color. And those who do not go that far still see all white people as parts of a structurally racist system which they personally benefit from and uphold via their passive behavior at the very least. Similarly all cisgender people are assumed to perpetuate transphobia, again at least through participation in normal transphobic society and usually through active prejudice, patriarchy conditions the thoughts and behavior of all men and many unenlightened women, etc. Simply taking the basic texts and values of this tradition at face value leads you inevitably to the conclusion that almost everyone you encounter in contemporary society is a bad person.

  5. A consequence of the above item is profound fatalism. If these bigotries are so ubiquitous, so inevitable, and so pernicious, it becomes difficult to imagine how the world might ever become fixed. Social justice politics present themselves as revolutionary, but a minimum prerequisite of revolutions is a belief in the capacity for change.

  6. ..
  7. One problem with this fatalistic belief in the universality and inevitability of bigotry is that many or most people find it profoundly unattractive. The progenitors of this school of politics created the social expectation that racism is a uniquely pernicious evil, as it certainly is. But, for one thing, the more you generalize and universalize an accusation, the less it has meaning. Terms like “problematic” have become parodies of themselves because of their relentless application. More importantly, this dynamic makes it really hard to apply social justice politics in mass spaces…
  8. Social justice politics are obsessive about the linguistic, symbolic, cultural, discursive, and academic to the detriment of the material. The reasons for this are pretty plain: the parts of contemporary society that the social justice world controls are media, academia, the arts, nonprofits – in other words, the domains of ideas, the immaterial. The man with only a hammer seeing a world full of nails, etc. But this means that basic aspects of material suffering ultimately receive scant attention. I already mentioned above that Meghan Markle received vastly more press coverage in that news cycle than the Black-white wealth gap that touches the lives of every Black American. From the standpoint of promoting mass racial justice this makes no sense. But the wealth gap is a difficult problem that the cultural industries have no capacity to solve, and they don’t spend a lot of time reporting on poor Black people. Because the British royal family is sensitive to public perception they fixated on that problem which they thought they could change. Sadly for poor Black people the wealth gap does not have a public relations team, nor is entry into wealthy royal families a realistic path for most. The triumph of the linguistic overall the practical can be found all over this world. For example, consider the recent rigid policing of the term “person suffering from homelessness” over “homeless person.” The thinking is that the former stresses that homelessness happens to some people at some point while the latter defines them by that condition. I’m sympathetic to this reasoning; it makes sense to me. I’m also sure that if you polled a thousand homeless people you would not find a single one who would list this among their top ten problems. But when you’re a bookish arts kid language is everything, and anyway, social justice politics does not have anything substantial to offer the homeless in material terms. So language policing it is.

11) Apparently, it’s been deemed “transphobic” for a cis-gendered man to not have sexual interest in transwomen.  I’m quite comfortable with the “transwomen are women” formulation for most general applications, but, when it comes to romantic/sexual partners it does not seem unreasonable to claim “transwomen are transwomen.”  So, apparently, we’re now in this crazy place where some men are arguing that their sexual orientation is “super-straight” (preferring cis-gendered women only) and that we should not criticize them as we don’t criticize people for their orientation.  

12) More good stuff from Noah Smith with Bidenomics explained:

The Biden program is multifaceted — it includes things like support for unions, environmental protection, student debt cancellation, immigration, and a bunch of other stuff. But it would be wrong to characterize his program as merely a grab bag of long-time Democratic policy priorities. Three approaches stand out above the maelstrom:

  1. Cash benefits

  2. Care jobs

  3. Investment

Cash benefits were at the center of the COVID relief bill that already passed. In addition to the standard COVID relief items (quasi-universal $1400 checks, special unemployment benefits, housing and medical assistance, etc.) there was a very big program that is officially temporary but which will probably be made permanent: A child allowance. It’s very big in size — $3000 to $3600 per child. There’s no time limit and no work requirement. It’s basically a pilot universal basic income program for families.

The second pillar of Bidenomics is care jobs. The new “infrastructure” bill includes tens of billions of dollars a year for long-term in-home care for disabled and elderly people. Biden has made it explicit since early on that he intends to make caregiving jobs a pillar of his strategy for mass employment.

The third pillar of Bidenomics is investment — government investment, and measures to encourage private investment. The former includes tens of billions a year in new research spending, massive construction of new green energy infrastructure like electrical grids and charging stations, retrofits of existing infrastructure (e.g. lead removal from pipes), and repair of existing infrastructure like roads and bridges. This will help restore government investment as a fraction of GDP, which has been drifting downward for decades:…

Before I go on to discuss the justification for this new paradigm, I’d like to sum up all these “pillars” into one more-or-less cohesive vision of where I think Bidenomics is taking us. I think it’s aiming to create a two-track economy — a dynamic, internationally competitive innovation sector, and a domestically focused engine of mass employment and distributed prosperity.

I basically get this notion from Japan. In the 1970s and 1980s, Japan cultivated a world-beating export sector, based around all the companies you’ve heard of (Toyota, Panasonic, etc.). But this was only perhaps 20% of its economy, and the rest was a domestic-focused sector. Although some domestic-focused industries were highly productive (health care!), much of the domestic-focused sector — retail, finance, agriculture, utilities, and a few non-competitive manufacturing industries — was not very productive compared to the U.S. But those sectors did manage to employ a huge number of people; Japan has traditionally had very low unemployment, and that has not changed with the mass entry of women into the workforce since 2012. Japan in many ways built the most effective corporate welfare state in the world.

Biden and his people, I’m sure, do not want the domestic-focused sectors of the economy to be unproductive. But they want those sectors to do the heavy lifting in terms of giving most Americans a job, as they did in Japan. Those domestic sectors include the care economy, where Biden’s team believes much of future employment will come from.

13) I appreciate that John McWhorter, a Black Linguist, has taken to writing about the difficult it creates when a word like “racism” means dramatically different things, “Words Have Lost Their Common Meaning: The word racism, among others, has become maddeningly confusing in current usage.”

14) Jamelle Bouie, “The G.O.P. Has Some Voters It Likes and Some It Doesn’t”

This is what it looks like when a political party turns against democracy. It doesn’t just try to restrict the vote; it creates mechanisms to subvert the vote and attempts to purge officials who might stand in the way. Georgia is in the spotlight, for reasons past and present, but it is happening across the country wherever Republicans are in control.

Last Wednesday, for example, Republicans in Michigan introduced bills to limit use of ballot drop boxes, require photo ID for absentee ballots and allow partisan observers to monitor and record all precinct audits. “Senate Republicans are committed to making it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” the State Senate majority leader, Mike Shirkey, said in a statement. Shirkey, you may recall, was one of two Michigan Republican leaders who met with Trump at his behest after the election. He also described the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 as a “hoax.”

Republican lawmakers in Arizona, another swing state, have also introduced bills to limit absentee voting in accordance with the former president’s belief that greater access harmed his campaign. One proposal would require ID for mail-in ballots and shorten the window for mail-in voters to receive and return their ballots. Another bill would purge from the state’s list of those who are automatically sent a mail-in ballot any voter who failed to cast such a ballot in “both the primary election and the general election for two consecutive primary and general elections.”

One Arizona Republican, John Kavanagh, a state representative, gave a sense of the party’s intent when he told CNN, “Not everybody wants to vote, and if somebody is uninterested in voting, that probably means that they’re totally uninformed on the issues.” He continued: “Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.”

In other words, Republicans are using the former president’s failed attempt to overturn the election as a guide to how you would change the system to make it possible…

This fact pattern underscores a larger truth: The Republican Party is driving the nation’s democratic decline. A recent paper by Jacob M. Grumbach, a political scientist at the University of Washington, makes this plain. Using a new measure of state-level democratic performance in the United States from 2000 to 2018, Grumbach finds that Republican control of state government “consistently and profoundly reduces state democratic performance during this time period.” The nationalization of American politics and the coordination of parties across states means that “state governments controlled by the same party behave similarly when they take power.” Republican-controlled governments in states as different as Alabama and Wisconsin have “taken similar actions with respect to democratic institutions.”

The Republican Party’s turn against democratic participation and political equality is evident in more than just these bills and proposals. You can see it in how Florida Republicans promptly instituted difficult-to-pay fines and fees akin to a poll tax after a supermajority of the state’s voters approved a constitutional amendment to end the disenfranchisement of most ex-felons. You can see it in how Missouri Republicans simply ignored the results of a ballot initiative on Medicaid expansion.

Where does this all lead? Perhaps it just ends with a few new restrictions and new limits, enough, in conjunction with redistricting, to tilt the field in favor of the Republican Party in the next election cycle but not enough to substantially undermine American democracy. Looking at the 2020 election, however — and in particular at the 147 congressional Republicans who voted not to certify the Electoral College vote — it’s not hard to imagine how this escalates, especially if Trump and his allies are still in control of the party.

If Republicans are building the infrastructure to subvert an election — to make it possible to overturn results or keep Democrats from claiming electoral votes — then we have to expect that given a chance, they’ll use it.

15) Very cool interactive feature.  Also, not good.  “In the Atlantic Ocean, Subtle Shifts Hint at Dramatic Dangers: The warming atmosphere is causing an arm of the powerful Gulf Stream to weaken, some scientists fear.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) I’ve been a huge believer in index funds ever since I read John Bogle’s book in grad school and actually started index fund investing way back then.  Safe to say, a big part of my retirement portfolio is in index funds.  But Annie Lowery tells me they may be “worse than Marxism”?

Yet economists, policy makers, and investors are worried that American markets have become inert—the product of a decades-long trend, not a months-long one. For millions of Americans, getting into the market no longer means picking stocks or hiring a portfolio manager to pick them for you. It means pushing money into an index fund, as offered by financial giants such as Vanguard, BlackRock, and State Street, otherwise known as the Big Three.

With index funds, nobody’s behind the scenes, dumping bad investments and selecting good ones. Nobody’s making a bet on shorting Tesla or going long on Apple. Nobody’s hedging Europe and plowing money into Vietnam. Nobody is doing much of anything at all. These funds are “passively managed,” in investor-speak. They generally buy and sell stocks when those stocks enter or exit indices, such as the S&P 500, and size their holdings according to metrics such as market value. Index funds mirror the market, in other words, rather than trying to pick winners and losers within it…

This financial revolution has been unquestionably good for the people lucky enough to have money to invest: They’ve gotten better returns for lower fees, as index funds shunt billions of dollars away from financial middlemen and toward regular families. Yet it has also moved the country toward a peculiar kind of financial oligarchy, one that might not be good for the economy as a whole.

The problem in American finance right now is not that the public markets are overrun with failsons picking up stock tips on Reddit, investors gambling on art tokens, and rich people flooding cash into Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, or SPACs. The problem is that the public markets have been cornered by a group of investment managers small enough to fit at a lunch counter, dedicated to quiescence and inertia.

2) As you know, I’m a big vaccine mandate fan.  The case that, maybe, they could backfire:

A possible solution is a vaccine mandate. Omer and other public-health specialists were working on vaccine-requirement frameworks before the pandemic, particularly in connection with outbreaks of measles. In July, 2019, Omer and two of his collaborators—the social scientists Cornelia Betsch, of the University of Erfurt, in Germany, and Julie Leask, of the University of Sydney, both of whom work on medical communication—published an article in Nature urging caution in introducing compulsory vaccination. The authors warned that overly punitive or restrictive vaccine mandates could backfire. For example, when California eliminated nonmedical exemptions from childhood-vaccination requirements, many parents either secured medical exemptions or opted to homeschool their children. Omer told me that he thinks vaccine mandates should be an option in the fight against covid-19, but only following a concerted campaign for voluntary vaccination. “Mandates don’t get you from fifty-per-cent uptake to a hundred,” he said. “But they can be helpful in getting from seventy to ninety.”

Hotez is vaccine developer (he has a covid-19 vaccine currently in clinical trials) and also a longtime activist against vaccine disinformation. Last year, research to which he contributed showed that two groups without much overlap exhibited the highest levels of vaccine hesitancy: Black Americans and conservative Republicans. (Hesitancy among Black Americans has since lowered.) In response to these findings, Hotez became a regular on radio talk shows that would reach people least likely to trust the vaccines. What he discovered, he told me, was that conservative callers assumed that the government would institute a vaccine mandate—they were already in battle with this straw man. Requiring vaccination, Hotez told me, would be, at this stage, “poking the bear.” “Mandates may become necessary, but now I’d say, ‘Don’t push too hard,’ ” he said. “It may be counterproductive.” A mandate, he believes, would affirm the anti-big-government expectations of some of most vocal vaccine resisters, rather than change their minds.

3) The gender gap in public opinion on issues involving guns, military, etc., is interesting and pervasive.  My sometimes co-author Mary-Kate Lizotte (and some others) with some good stuff:

What factors influence an individual’s concern for personal security and safety? Prior research shows that women exhibit higher levels of fear, anxiety, and perceived threat. These differences in threat perceptions have important policy consequences, including the fact that women display lower support for military interventions, lower support for retaliation against terrorist groups, and lower levels of support for using torture. However, previous research has not fully investigated the origins of these differences in concern for safety and security, which we refer to as “personal security dispositions.” We ask if these differences are the result of lived experience, socialization, or both. Specifically, our analysis explores the extent to which personal security dispositions can be traced to parental warnings about safety and avoiding danger. Our findings indicate that both gender identity and parental socialization have an impact on security dispositions. We conclude the article with a discussion of avenues for further research and the policy implications of our findings, in particular with respect to public opinion on issues such as support for the international use of military force.

4) Yglesias on Georgia’s election law:

One thing is that they’ve made it less likely that people will vote absentee in Georgia — they narrowed the window during which ballots can be requested, they largely banned absentee dropboxes, and they made it illegal for local officials to adopt a policy of mailing ballots to all voters. Then they banned mobile voting centers.

The upshot is to funnel more people to normal in-person voting, which likely means longer lines. Yet they put restrictions on giving people food and water in line to encourage them to stick it out and vote. They made it harder to vote legally if you vote at the wrong polling place (perhaps deterred by long lines). And they made it harder to respond to long lines by extending voting hours.

This is all offset by a provision that expands early voting — but does so in a very particular way. Basically, it raises the floor for early voting rather than raising the ceiling. This means, in practice, that early voting should become more available in rural counties while staying the same in the high population Greater Atlanta counties. They are pretty clearly trying to make voting more burdensome and frustrating in metro Atlanta while keeping things the same or maybe even making it easier in the rural parts of the state. It’s an effort to halt the state’s leftward drift by manipulating the electorate rather than adapting to shifting opinion. It will also just make voting more annoying for the typical person, which is bad, albeit not exactly the return of Jim Crow…

After a lot of words, I think the key context on Georgia’s election changes is the ongoing claims by Donald Trump that the 2020 election was fraudulently stolen from him.

When he pushed these claims in the winter of 2020-21, the key Republicans with decision-making authority generally stood firmly against him. But a healthy minority of Republican senators backed him; most House Republicans backed him; and the general perception is that downballot GOP elected officials who did the right thing damaged their political fortunes. The Georgia restrictions represent a symbolic and practical healing of the intra-GOP divide, and they do so on Trump’s terms.

Making it harder for people to vote is bad per se, but unlikely to swing the 2024 election.

The risk is simply that in the future, GOP officials will do what Trump wanted and steal elections. The spectacular and alarming events of January 6 ended up creating what I think is an overstated sense in some people’s minds that the country is facing some kind of violent terrorist movement that might try to seize power. A much more plausible threat is just that a bunch of boring state legislators who are insulated from electoral accountability by gerrymandering will, through one means or another, assign their state’s electorate votes to the Republican candidate.

Back to Georgia, the election reform package also includes a great deal of centralization of power, further raising the risk that the GOP-dominated state legislature will try to invalidate the election…

Right now, the U.S. House of Representatives and a majority of the state legislatures in the country have badly skewed partisan gerrymanders. We just wrapped up a census last year and redistricting is imminent. Democrats have a once-in-a-decade chance to pass a tough anti-gerrymandering law that sets a partisan fairness standard. If they pass such a law, then if they win future elections 51-49 they will receive narrow governing majorities. If they do not pass such a law, then Republicans will continue to run states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin indefinitely and just laugh off the occasional 55-45 defeat.

Similarly, right now, the geographic skew of the Senate massively overrepresents non-college white voters while underrepresenting Black and Hispanic voters

This means that it is going to be very hard for Democrats to win future Senate majorities. The current 50-50 Senate is based on Democrats having held on to Senate seats in West Virginia, Montana, and Ohio back in 2018 when there was a Republican president, Democratic incumbents in each of those states, and a very favorable national political environment. That majority likely cannot be sustained past the 2022 and 2024 cycles, meaning the chance to enact reforms is slipping away very fast.

These big skews — gerrymandering and the Senate — matter much more than the marginal impact of tinkering with voter ID or absentee ballot rules. And right now, nothing at all other than timidity and paralysis is stopping Democrats from curtailing the filibuster, passing anti-gerrymandering rules, and creating a path for D.C. and U.S. territories to become states. Those would be good, highly effective, pro-democracy reforms with strong public legitimacy that would make it much harder to steal future elections. They deserve much more focus and urgency.

5) “What Bears Can Teach Us About Our Exercise Habits”

Accumulating research suggests that we humans, as a species, are apt to be physically lazy, with a hard-wired inclination to avoid activity. In a telling 2018 neurological study, for example, brain scans indicated that volunteers were far more attracted by images of people in chairs and hammocks than of people in motion.


But the extent to which we share this penchant for physical ease with other species and whether these predilections affect how we and they traverse the world has remained unclear.

So, cue grizzlies, particularly those living at the Washington State University Bear Center, the nation’s primary grizzly bear conservation and research center. University biologists affiliated with the center study how the animals live, eat and interact with humans…

Comparing the data, the scientists found that wild grizzlies, like us, seem born to laze. The researchers had expected the wild bears to move at their most efficient speed whenever possible, Mr. Carnahan says. But in reality, their average pace traveling through Yellowstone was a pokey and physiologically inefficient 1.4 miles per hour.

They also almost invariably chose the least-steep route to get anywhere, even when it required extra time. “They did a lot of side-hilling,” Mr. Carnahan says.

Taken as a whole, the findings suggest that the innate urge to avoid exertion plays a greater role in how all creatures, great and small, typically behave and navigate than we might imagine.

6) I always wash my hands after adding bird food to the feeders.  Going to be extra diligent about that now! “Salmonella Outbreak Is Linked to Wild Birds and Feeders, C.D.C. Says”

7) This is pretty damn good from Clearerthinking.org, “How to achieve self-control without “self-control””

8) Another excellent Ezra column, “Four Ways of Looking at the Radicalism of Joe Biden” in the NYT, well worth reading in full, but here’s the final section:

Biden is a politician, in the truest sense of the word. Biden sees his role, in part, as sensing what the country wants, intuiting what people will and won’t accept, and then working within those boundaries. In America, that’s often treated as a dirty business. We like the aesthetics of conviction, we believe leaders should follow their own counsel, we use “politician” as an epithet.

But Biden’s more traditional understanding of the politician’s job has given him the flexibility to change alongside the country. When the mood was more conservative, when the idea of big government frightened people and the virtues of private enterprise gleamed, Biden reflected those politics, calling for balanced budget amendments and warning of “welfare mothers driving luxury cars.” Then the country changed, and so did he.

A younger generation revived the American left, and Bernie Sanders’s two campaigns proved the potency of its politics. Republicans abandoned any pretense of fiscal conservatism, and Trump raised — but did not follow through on — the fearful possibility of a populist conservatism, one that would combine xenophobia and resentment with popular economic policies. Stagnating wages and a warming world and Hurricane Katrina and a pandemic virus proved that there were scarier words in the English language than “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,” as Ronald Reagan famously put it.

Even when Biden was running as the moderate in the Democratic primary, his agenda had moved well to the left of anything he’d supported before. But then he did something unusual: Rather than swinging to the center in the general election, he went further left. And the same happened after winning the election. He’s moved away from work requirements and complex targeting in policy design. He’s emphasizing the irresponsibility of allowing social and economic problems to fester, as opposed to the irresponsibility of spending money on social and economic problems. His administration is defined by the fear that the government isn’t doing enough, not that it’s doing too much. As the pseudonymous commentator James Medlock wrote on Twitter, “The era of ‘the era of big government is over’ is over.’”

9) Derek Thompson with a good take on the Georgia law.  It really is bad, but Democrats should be more honest about it.

Political hyperbole is neither sin nor modern invention. But suggesting that the Georgia provisions are a steroidal version of poll taxes, literacy tests, whites-only primaries, armed sheriffs patrolling voting lines, and outright domestic terrorism is not helpful. “There’s no doubt about it: This new law does not make it easier to vote,” Bullock said. “But I hear it being billed as Jim Crow 2.0, and it’s really not anywhere near that. This law does not compare to the cataclysms of the white primary or poll taxes.”…

As Delaware’s former senator, Biden would be on firmer ground excoriating Georgia for “Jim Crow 2.0” if he could hold up his home state as a model for voting rights. But Delaware has been a laggard on early voting, and its legislature is still trying to legalize no-excuse absentee voting, which allows any voter to request a mail-in ballot. Georgia, by contrast, permits many weeks of early voting and has allowed no-excuse absentee voting since 2005. Voting-rights activists may justifiably focus their outrage on a swing state like Georgia that, unlike Delaware, actually determines the balance of power. But “Jim Crow” rhetoric from northeastern politicians and media figures loses some bite when we consider that Georgia’s voting rights have long been more accommodating than those of deep-blue states including not only Delawarebut also Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York

This is what we’ve learned from the Georgia voting-rights fiasco: Corporations are still corporations, the White House’s metaphors are overheated, and the Georgia legislation is far worse. Democrats’ rhetorical embellishments pale in comparison to both the voting-fraud conspiracy theory that inspired Georgia Republicans and the needless provisions of the law itself. Lurking beneath all this confusion and incoherence is a basic partisan difference: GOP activism is about making it harder to vote; Democratic activism is about making it harder to make it harder to vote. If that is the choice before us, I for one know which box I’m prepared to check.

10) Good stuff from Sarah Zhang, “You Probably Have an Asymptomatic Infection Right Now: No, not COVID-19. Many, many viruses can infect humans without making us sick, and how they do that is one of biology’s deepest mysteries.”  I think I’m going to be boring people with anecdotes about human cytomegalovirus in my future.

But for most of human existence, we didn’t know that viruses could infect us asymptomatically. We didn’t know how to look for them, or even that we should. The tools of modern science have slowly made the invisible visible: Antibody surveys that detect past infection, tests that find viral DNA or RNA even in asymptomatic people, and mathematical models all show that viruses are up to much more than making us sick. Scientists now think that for viruses, a wide range of disease severity is the norm rather than the exception.

A virus, after all, does not necessarily wish its host ill. A dead host is a dead end. The viruses best adapted to humans have co-evolved over millions of years to infect but rarely sicken us. Human cytomegalovirus is a prime example, a virus so innocuous that it lives in obscurity despite infecting most of the world’s population. (Odds are that you have it.) Infections with human cytomegalovirus are almost always asymptomatic because it has evolved a suite of tricks to evade the human immune system, which nevertheless tries its best to hunt the virus down. By the time humans reach old age, up to a quarter of our killer T cells are devoted to fighting human cytomegalovirus. Pathogens and immune systems are in constant battle, with one just barely keeping the other in check. In the rare instances when human cytomegalovirus turns deadly—usually in an immunocompromised patient—it’s because this equilibrium did not hold…

T cell responses also weaken with age, which may help explain why COVID-19 is dramatically more deadly for the elderly. Humans have a huge diversity of T cells, some of which are activated each time we encounter a pathogen. But as we age, our supply of unactivated T cells dwindles. Immunosenescence, or the gradual weakening of the immune system over time, is influenced by both age and the system’s previous battles. Human cytomegalovirus—that otherwise innocuous virus that infects much of the world’s population—seems to play a particular role in immunosenescence. So many of our T cells are devoted to suppressing this virus that we may become more vulnerable to new ones.

Unlike human cytomegalovirus, the coronavirus doesn’t seem capable of hiding inside our bodies in the same way for decades. Once it sneaks in, its goal is to replicate as quickly as possible—so that it can find another body before it kills its host, or its host eliminates it.

Now that this coronavirus has found humans, it will have a chance to hone its strategy, probing for more weaknesses in the human immune system. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will become more deadly; the four coronaviruses already circulating among humans cause only common colds, and the virus that causes COVID-19 could one day behave similarly. Variants of the virus are already exhibiting mutations that make them more transmissible and better able to evade existing antibodies. As the virus continues to infect humans over the coming years, decades, and maybe even millenia, it will keep changing—and our immune systems will keep learning new ways to fight back. We’re at the very beginning of our relationship with this coronavirus.

11) I really kind of love how much we don’t know about the world we live in– there’s also so much to learn.  This is fascinating! “A Tiny Particle’s Wobble Could Upend the Known Laws of Physics: Experiments with particles known as muons suggest that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science.”

Evidence is mounting that a tiny subatomic particle seems to be disobeying the known laws of physics, scientists announced on Wednesday, a finding that would open a vast and tantalizing hole in our understanding of the universe.

The result, physicists say, suggests that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science. The new work, they said, could eventually lead to breakthroughs more dramatic than the heralded discovery in 2012 of the Higgs boson, a particle that imbues other particles with mass.

“This is our Mars rover landing moment,” said Chris Polly, a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, in Batavia, Ill., who has been working toward this finding for most of his career.

The particle célèbre is the muon, which is akin to an electron but far heavier, and is an integral element of the cosmos. Dr. Polly and his colleagues — an international team of 200 physicists from seven countries — found that muons did not behave as predicted when shot through an intense magnetic field at Fermilab.

The aberrant behavior poses a firm challenge to the Standard Model, the suite of equations that enumerates the fundamental particles in the universe (17, at last count) and how they interact.

“This is strong evidence that the muon is sensitive to something that is not in our best theory,” said Renee Fatemi, a physicist at the University of Kentucky.

12) Gallup’s latest PID:

Bottom Line

It is not unprecedented for Democratic Party affiliation to rise after a Democratic candidate wins the presidential election. It is also not unprecedented to see more people shift to independent political status in a nonelection year, as has occurred. With more of the gain in independent identification coming from the Republican side of the ledger, the GOP is facing its smallest share of Republican identifiers since 2018 and its largest deficit to Democrats on party identification and leaning in nearly nine years.

Republicans did recover from their 2012-2013 deficits to make gains in the 2014 midterm elections and are hoping to duplicate that feat in 2022. Like in 2014, their hopes may rest largely on the popularity level of the incumbent Democratic president.

The GOP’s hopes of regaining control of the House and Senate it lost in the past two federal election cycles may also depend on how well the party appeals to independent voters, the largest bloc in the U.S., something the Republican Party struggled to do during the Trump administration.

13) This.  “Stop Freaking Out: You Probably Already Have Some Type Of Vaccine Passport
Schools, international travel, and military service — people in the US already have to prove they are vaccinated against many diseases.”

14) Sargent on Manchin, “Why filibuster reformers aren’t (quite) ready to give up on Joe Manchin”

So where are 10 Republican votes (the amount needed to overcome a GOP filibuster) going to come from to support even a narrow infrastructure bill?

If and when they don’t materialize, that will be strike one on the Joe Manchin test…

At some point, if Republicans keep failing the Joe Manchin test, he’ll have to admit that nothing will achieve the cooperation that can supposedly be achieved by senators simply rediscovering their inner civic virtue. And he’ll either have to revise his arguments, or reconsider his opposition to filibuster reform. You’d think, anyway.

15) G. Elliot Morris on survey response:

In the 1970s, more than 80% of people called by Gallup’s interviewers answered their phones and completed their interviews. In 1997, surveys run by the Pew Research Centre—another large pollster—had a response rate of 36%. By 2018, it was 6%. It is even lower today—around 2% or 3%, according to Pew. As response rates decrease, the chance that the people answering the phone are systematically different than those who aren’t increases. In recent years, the population of respondents has been more Democratic than the population as a whole, leading to large misses in pre-election surveys. What are pollsters doing about this?

Over the past decade, the survey methodologists at Pew have embarked on a full redesign of the way they conduct public-opinion polls. In 2014, they began surveys over the internet, via a panel of respondents who answer questions repeatedly over time. Their American Trends Panel currently has 13,600 people regularly taking surveys online—some on internet-enabled tablets that Pew sent them. Online surveys have higher response rates than phone polls, and have supplanted random-digit dialling as Pew’s primary mode of collecting public-opinion data in America.

But switching to online polling has not completely solved the differential-response problem. In a recent analysis, Pew has detailed a persistent source of partisan bias in their poll: new recruits. The political composition of people who agreed to join their panel, after receiving a call or postcard soliciting their participation, has grown less Republican each year (see chart). Pew is able to fix much of this bias by adjusting the data to match the political composition of the electorate. This increases the uncertainty of the poll, and is an incomplete fix during an election year; there is still a chance that Republicans answering the phone are different from the ones who aren’t. That is what happened in 2020 when Pew’s panel was weighted by party but still understated support for Donald Trump.

In an attempt to solve the problem and provide a high-quality, less biased estimate of how many Democrats and Republicans live in the country, Pew has begun fielding an annual survey via the postal system that asks people their religious and political attitudes, among other metrics. Crucially, the national survey lets respondents answer either online or by paper in a prepaid envelope. The response rate for the mail survey is 29%, harkening back to the high response rates of the 1990s and early 2000s. According to Courtney Kennedy, Pew’s director of survey research, providing this offline response option has made the survey more representative.

Ms Kennedy hopes that using these higher-quality benchmarks to adjust their online polls will make their taking of the pulse of democracy less susceptible to a mass of Republicans refusing to answer their phones. But the methodological fixes do not change the underlying pattern. For some reason, Republicans, especially conservatives, are less likely to feel comfortable telling a pollster how they feel on the issues of the day. Although some biases can be fixed by weighting, Ms Kennedy said, “we really can’t afford to have this get much worse.” The real fix is to convince conservatives that polls are worth taking part in.

16) Watched “The Founder” (the story of Ray Kroc, “founder” of McDonald’s) playing on Netflix this week.  Great job from Michael Keaton and I found the movie very entertaining and was fascinated by the origins of the restaurant and the modern fast-food business.  The movie was really accurate.  

17) Somebody at Gallup had fun with this headline, “Global Warming Attitudes Frozen Since 2016”

18) Yglesias on America’s secularization

Religion is getting more polarized

When I shared that image on Twitter, a lot of secular liberals who don’t like right-wing evangelical politics got excited and dunked on right-wing evangelicals.

But this doesn’t really seem to be the case. Ryan Burge, a religion scholar who makes lots of great charts on Twitter, shows that evangelical or “born again” identity is holding up very well.

The decline in membership instead has two causes. One is that a growing number of people who describe themselves as non-denominational Christians aren’t members of a congregation. The other is that, as documented in Burge’s new book, we’ve seen a big increase in the number of people who say they have no religious affiliation. In the 1972 General Social Survey, the “Nones” are 5% of the population, while today they are nearly a quarter of the population.

We’re essentially looking at a more polarized religious landscape, with normie Protestants and Catholics in decline but evangelicals holding their ground in the face of the Rise of the Nones…

The racial polarization of the American electorate steadily increased for decades until bottoming out in 2012. Then somewhat contrary to what you’d guess based on the tenor of the Trump-era takes, the gap between the white and non-white vote shrunk a bit in 2016 and then shrunk more in 2020.

There are a few different reasons for this.

But a political data person I spoke to says that secularization plays a role. He says that in his firm’s data, they see “a substantial effect of no longer identifying with a religion on change in partisanship,” but the impact varies by race. When a white person goes from Christian to non-affiliated, they are more likely to become a Democrat. But when a Black person makes the same switch, the correlation goes in the other direction.

The causation here, of course, is a bit hard to tease out. Michele Margolis’ book suggests that when people leave the GOP, they tend to leave their church, too, since they see right-wing politics as having become constitutive of the religion. Ismail White and Chryl Laird have a recent book which argues that Black Americans with moderate or even conservative views tend to be Democrats out of a sense of partisan loyalty that is inculcated in Black social institutions — with Black churches very high on that list. So secularization of the Black population leads to higher levels of GOP affiliation as Black conservatives (and some Black moderates) drift right in their voting behavior without the socializing influence of the church.

Burge’s data also sees religious disaffiliation moving Hispanics to the right…

Demographics to watch out for

To me, the most interesting thing about this is that the media and political universes seem to have overreacted to the declining political salience of religion by moving to ignoring it entirely. We used to hear a lot about segmenting the white population based on religious affiliation, and now we’ve shifted almost entirely to discussing educational attainment.

But it’s not like the religious influence on politics went away just because secularization forced Republicans to become a less-overtly Jesus-first kind of political coalition.

As I noted above, the secularization trend seems to be prompting a reduction in the racial polarization of the electorate. But it’s also worth saying that since white voters outnumber non-white ones, it’s not like this is a neutral change — falling religious affiliation helps Democrats. It’s also particularly important because the geographical skew of the Senate is a huge deal in contemporary politics, and that skew is driven in part by the great overrepresentation of white voters in the upper house. So a dynamic through which Democrats gain newly unchurched white voters in exchange for losing newly unchurched non-white ones is actually very unfavorable to the GOP.

19) Radley Balko, “The Chauvin trial underscores two very different approaches to policing”

At Derek Chauvin’s trial this week, the jury heard from Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, the city’s former training commander and expert witnesses, all of whom testified that Chauvin’s treatment of George Floyd violated widely accepted use of force standards as well as Minneapolis Police Department policy, which calls for commensurate force and requires respect for the “sanctity of life.” But despite those standards, Chauvin also had a history of kneeling on suspects’ necks for long periods of time, and none of those incidents resulted in discipline. It’s an apt illustration of how, for about the past 10 years, two contradictory philosophies have been at war in American policing.

On one side are the de-escalationists, a product of the criminal justice reform movement. They accept police brutality, systemic racism and excessive force as real problems in law enforcement, and call for more accountability, as well as training in areas like de-escalation and conflict resolution. De-escalationists believe police serve their communities by apprehending and detaining people who violate the rights and safety of others, but must also do so in a way that protects the rights of the accused.

The other side — let’s call them “no-hesitationists” — asserts that police officers aren’t aggressive enough and are too hesitant to use deadly force, which puts officers and others at risk. They see law enforcement officers as warriors, and American neighborhoods as battlefields, where officers vanquish the bad to protect the good. These are the self-identified “sheepdogs,” the cops who sport Punisher gear.

No-hesitationists are more prominent in sheriff’s offices and police union leadership, and among rank-and-file officers. They’re more populist and have been successful including their policies in union contracts, honing successful legal arguments for cops accused of excessive force and leveraging political power, both to elect police-friendly judges, prosecutors and lawmakers, and to shame and intimidate politicians deemed insufficiently pro-law enforcement.

The de-escalationists successfully worked their preferred practices into official policy. But the no-hesitationists prevented meaningful enforcement of those policies. One example played out in Los Angeles in 2015. After LAPD chief Charlie Beck announced a new “Preservation of Life” award, for officers who held their fire and peacefully resolved confrontations with potentially dangerous suspects, the police union objected, claiming the award valued the lives of suspected criminals over the lives of police officers.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Eric Topol and Abraham Verghese (who also wrote a helluva novel) with a great interview of Roberto Burioni :

The Future Is Up in the Air

Verghese: What do you see in the future? Looking into your crystal ball, what is the next year going to look like in Italy, the United States, and globally?

Burioni: It’s very difficult to make predictions in general when you talk about something that appeared in the world just 1 year ago. In this case, it’s even more difficult because the virus that appeared 1 year ago is changing. Today we have a virus that is different from the virus we had 6 months ago. We also see some differences in COVID symptoms. Viruses change, which is expected. The measles virus that appeared in the 11th century probably also developed many variants in the beginning, and then one variant, the best one, took over, and now we see only that variant.

Personally, I believe it will depend very much on vaccinations and whether we will be able to vaccinate the majority of people. At that point, we will need to see what happens to vaccinated people. There are two possibilities: The first is that some variant will cause a clinically relevant disease. This is not certain; we’ll have to see. I personally think it is unlikely because it’s not easy for a virus to escape such strong immunity. We don’t see any signs at the moment, but viruses can be unpredictable, so we have to be cautious.

Then we have to see what the current variants lead to in the vaccinated patients. If the majority of them will be almost asymptomatic, and if transmission is reduced, it’s likely that we will live in a world where, once everyone is vaccinated, this would be the fifth coronavirus causing a nondangerous respiratory disease. We’ll have COVID in a very mild form, children will get this very contagious virus as they get other respiratory viruses, and they will develop immunity or they will be vaccinated against it. I hope that this will become a mild respiratory disease, as it already appears to be in vaccinated people.

Topol: We share that optimism for sure. Now here’s a difficult question. The UK B.1.1.7 variant has spread throughout Europe, but the patterns are quite heterogeneous. Italy, the Netherlands, and now Germany and France are showing the signs of marked spread, whereas other countries, such as Denmark and Spain, show few signs of spread, even though this is dominant in all of these European countries. How would you explain this disparity in the pattern?

Burioni: One of the features of this virus, which is uncommon and is not shared by other viruses, is the deep heterogeneity of the infectivity between one person and another. Some patients are not infectious at all whereas others are extremely infectious, and if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, then that particular virus can spread extremely well. Unfortunately, we have learned from experience that when something happens in Europe, no more than 4-8 weeks later, it’s everywhere. The initial virus was in Italy at the beginning of March 2020, and then it spread through all of Europe. This was also the case for the wave that followed during the summer in France and Spain.

Here in Italy, we were seeing the Spanish strain, because many young people from Italy went on vacation in Spain and brought it back here. So this should not be a surprise given the fact that there are patients who are extremely infectious and others who are not infectious at all.

You can see family units where one person got infected and the infection did not spread to other members of the family. On the other hand, you also can see instances where one person was infectious, and that person went to a church or a theater and caused an outbreak. This disparity in infectiousness may be one reason for this difference between one country and another, or between states in the United States…

Right now, two numbers are the most important. The first is the efficacy against severe COVID-19 infection. That’s important because mild infection is not a problem. It’s a discomfort, but I wouldn’t say it is a medical problem. Severe infection is a medical problem, not only for the patient but also for the health system. So these are very important numbers.

The other important issue, which is more complicated, is the vaccine’s effect on transmission. We need to know if any given vaccine is able to stop transmission, because if a vaccine is preventing the disease but is not preventing the transmission, then it only protects the single person who is vaccinated. If another vaccine prevents the disease and also stops the transmission, with that one, we can protect the community.

From my experience as a virologist, I’ve never heard of a vaccine having a 95% effect on preventing disease that doesn’t have a profound effect on transmission. Not a single one that hasn’t been a huge obstacle to transmission. The latest data from Israel are showing that the Rt [rate of transmission] went down to 0.5, even in the presence of this terrible variant, which is almost too good to be true because this means that transmission is affected. Without a relevant animal reservoir, and if transmission is affected by the vaccination, we can get rid of this virus. That is the end of the story.

2) Really liked this from Yglesias:

Here’s a headline in The New York Times: “Can Vaccinated People Spread the Virus? We Don’t Know, Scientists Say.”

This sort of thing has been driving me crazy all pandemic. Back months before Pfizer and Moderna submitted their paperwork to the FDA, I asked some virologists and public health people some general questions about vaccines and they were all very clear — clinical trials are designed to test specific endpoints but in general, vaccines that are effective at blocking the development of serious symptoms also provide some “sterilizing immunity” against asymptomatic transmission. That’s a general attribute of human immune systems and disease transmission.

What’s also true is that in general, this usually isn’t perfect, so it’s still generally pro-social for a vaccinated person to behave somewhat cautiously.

Then once the vaccines were in hand, this very clear message — we don’t know exactly how much sterilizing immunity these vaccines provide but it would be bizarre if there wasn’t a significant impact — collapsed into a mush of fake ignorance and “we don’t know.” But again, delve into the text of the article and it’s clear that they actually do know:

“If Dr. Walensky had said most vaccinated people do not carry virus, we would not be having this discussion,” said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.

“What we know is the vaccines are very substantially effective against infection — there’s more and more data on that — but nothing is 100 percent,” he added. “It is an important public health message that needs to be gotten right.”

But I mean of course being vaccinated is not a 100% absolutely positive guarantee that you can’t transmit the virus; we already know that from the fact that the vaccines don’t prevent the development of symptoms in all cases. The vaccines are really good. Even really good vaccines aren’t perfect. We know this. The actual issue here is not a disagreement about vaccine science but a disagreement about social psychology. One group of people seems to think it’s important to try to encourage pro-social caution by discussing the risks that still exist post-vaccination, while another group thinks it’s important to try to encourage the pro-social behavior of getting vaccinated by emphasizing the positive. This is an interesting dispute. But it’s not a dispute about immunology at all, and it requires some other kind of evidence and probably a completely different body of scholarship.

3) Chait on bad conservative defenses of Georgia’s new voting law:

The right-wing defenses of these measures almost universally ignore the main dynamic that inspires them. Voting is not an activity that confers a direct benefit; it is something people do out of civic obligation. Increasing the hassle required to carry it out obviously deters people from doing it. And people with less money, more chaotic or stressful lives, and less education are systematically less equipped to overcome the hassle of acquiring the proper paperwork, finding the correct polling location, and arriving at the polls within the allotted time.

“Voter suppression doesn’t involve long lines, any more than long lines at Disneyland are ride suppression,” argues Shapiro. This is a bizarre comparison. If you’ve ever visited a theme park, you know that long lines actually are ride suppressors. When my kids were young, I took them to Disney World; if the lines were too long when they asked to go on certain rides, sometimes we wouldn’t go.

I don’t think I’m the only person who has made that calculation. And when the reward for your wait is not a roller-coaster ride your kids are begging to take but an “I voted” sticker and the statistically indistinguishable-from-zero chance of casting a deciding vote, then standing in a long line to vote is a fairly imposing deterrent. That’s all the more true when you’re not on holiday and you may be getting home from a long shift or rushing to make it to work or to pick up your kids from day care.

National Review editor Rich Lowry, parroting the official line from Georgia Republicans, insists, “It’s hard to believe that one real voter is going to be kept from voting by the new rules.” Really? Not one? In the 2020 election, nearly half of the 11,000 provisional ballots in Georgia were cast in the wrong precincts. (And that was with unusually high levels of mail voting, which the new law also curtails.) Presumably, at least some of those voters will be deterred by the requirement that, after waiting in line to vote and being told they have visited the wrong precinct, they go to find another precinct and stand in line again.

What makes the pious argument by the likes of Shapiro and Lowry so odd is that conservatives historically support the notion of using restrictive voting laws to winnow the electorate. This view dates back at least to the early 1960s, when William F. Buckley famously quipped, “What is wrong in Mississippi, sir, is not that not enough Negroes are voting but that too many white people are.” …

The Republican Party’s enthusiasm for vote suppression predates Trump, and it has become a core tenet of the party’s post-Trump-presidency identity. Vote suppression is an issue that brings together the Trump-adoring base and the elites who tolerated him as a necessary evil — if they don’t agree that Joe Biden stole the last election, they do agree on passing laws that will make it harder for Democrats to win the next one.

The fight over vote suppression also brings to the fore the party Establishment’s belief that whatever bad odor they acquired during the Trump years should immediately be dispelled. It was intolerable enough that large sectors of respectable corporate opinion shunned them over their support for a racist, authoritarian president. Now they expect to be treated as respectable again, not as a party still teeming with racist, authoritarian elements.

The problem is, this is exactly what they are.

4) Conor Friedersdorf with a fascinating interview, “‘The Narrative Is, “You Can’t Get Ahead”’ In Evanston, Illinois, a Black parent and school-board candidate takes on a curriculum meant to combat racism.”

Ndona Muboyayi wants to improve the education that public-school children, including her son and daughter, receive in Evanston, Illinois, where her mother’s family history goes back five generations.

As a candidate for the school board in District 65, which educates children up until eighth grade, she wants to close the academic-achievement gap separating Black and brown students from white ones, help children who need special education, and address what she sees as a lack of support for students whose first language isn’t English. That agenda would be ultra-progressive in many communities. In Evanston, however, Muboyayi is challenging not the right, but the left…

Muboyayi, 44, a member of the NAACP Evanston/North Shore Branch and the Congolese Community of Chicago, shares their concerns about the curriculum and is now among its most outspoken critics. She attributes her willingness to talk openly to the fact that she is self-employed. A business consultant and translator, Muboyayi attended public schools in Evanston as a child and then moved away. When she returned with children of her own in 2018, she anticipated that they would receive the empowering, racially inclusive education she remembered. Instead she was confronted with a curriculum she deems disempowering, divisive, and ill-suited to helping students of color succeed in school…

Ndona Muboyayi: I grew up in the Fifth Ward, a predominantly Black neighborhood. My mom is African-American and very Afrocentric. We had Black dolls. We had books about Africa. We had all of this imagery that was positive reinforcement for who we were. We did have white friends. But to be honest, our life didn’t revolve around white people. We had a kind of cushion of Black comfort, so to speak, where we were allowed to be children and whatever prejudices that might have existed, we weren’t aware of them.

So I had a very good childhood. One teacher, who was not white, thought in first grade that I needed to be in special education, because I was active and talked a lot. In third grade, my teacher couldn’t pronounce my name. But those are the only issues I remember. Evanston to me was almost a utopia. Which is why I told my children, while we were living outside Toronto, “When we move back to the States, let’s move to Evanston.” I gave my children and my husband, who grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, this idea that it would be a place of both Black unity and people working together across color lines. But when we got here in 2018, within the first year, my children were being taught about white supremacy and white privilege and that all white people were rich and racist. My son and daughter came home like, What is this?

Friedersdorf: What was the problem with those lessons, beyond your children not liking them?

Mboyayi: My children have always been so proud of who they are. Then all of a sudden they started to question themselves because of what they were taught after arriving here. My son has wanted to be a lawyer since he was 11. Then one day he came home and told me, “But Mommy, there are these systems put in place that prevent Black people from accomplishing anything.” That’s what they’re teaching Black kids: that all of this time for the past 400 years, this is what [white people have] done to you and your people. The narrative is, “You can’t get ahead.”

Of course I want my children to know about slavery and Jim Crow. But I want it to be balanced out with the rest of the truth. They’re not taught about Black people who accomplished things in spite of white supremacy; or about the Black people today who got ahead, built things, achieved things; and those who had opportunities that their ancestors fought for.

5) Hey, I’m no psychiatrist, but the guy who just killed the Capitol police officer seems like an absolutely classic case of paranoid schizophrenia.  Bizarre to me that this article about his complete mental collapse and break with reality would make no mention of that possibility and be just as likely to pin it on drug problems.  

6) I don’t have a problem at all with Nate Cohn doing an analysis and summarizing literature that Georgia’s new laws, actually, probably won’t have that dramatic an effect on turnout.  But G. Elliott Morris has a great rejoinder to taking this approach without proper contextualization, “Electoral math obscures the bigger story on voting rights: Attempts to restrict the franchise are normatively bad, regardless of their effects. Coverage should reflect that.”

This is a fair representation of the orthodoxy in political science, as far as I can tell. I have written similar pieces on the subject over the past couple of years, and covered the Stanford study Cohn refers to. He also posits some theories as to why a decrease in the convenience of voting might not decrease turnout, on average. They are worth reading.

In my view, Cohn’s factual discussion is all fine and unobjectionable on empirical grounds, except for one caveat. The study of absentee voters in Texas has actually caused a bit of grumbling among political scientists. The study worked by comparing absentee voting among treatment and a control groups — voters on either side of the 65-year age cutoff for eligibility in Texas. But, as Charlotte Hill, a PhD candidate in voting and elections at Berkeley points out, the control group is already made up of high-propensity voters. This creates a ceiling on the turnout effect you’d find among those voters, compared to the residual effects of increasing turnout that you might find with lower propensity voters. Charlotte goes into a few other examples of contrary evidence that doesn’t get mentioned in the piece here.

Aside from this, there are two broader issues that I want to raise. First, I think it is improper (or at least very messy) to project these conclusions onto the voting restrictions in Georgia. And second, I think the context, in this case, matters more than the factual debate over voting mechanisms. Republicans, after losing an election in Georgia due in large part to the mobilization of black voters, are now passing voting restrictions that could plausibly have a disproportionate impact on their ability to vote in the future. The fact that a discussion of this context is missing from Cohn’s piece is a rather error of journalism.

7) I know my wife would laugh out loud at the idea that I really try to have intellectual humility, but I do.  Not quite sure why I had this tab open on the matter from 2019, but it’s good:

Humility is a relative newcomer to social and personality psychology, at least as a trait or behavior to be studied on its own. It arrived as part of the effort, beginning in the 1990s, to build a “positive” psychology: a more complete understanding of sustaining qualities such as pride, forgiveness, grit and contentment. More recently, humility has found a foothold in the most widely used measure of personality traits, the five- factor questionnaire. The wallflower is attracting some attention, and so far appears to be absorbing it well.

In one series of experiments, Elizabeth Krumrei Mancuso of Pepperdine University scored volunteers on a measure of what she called intellectual humility — an awareness of how incomplete and fallible their views on political and social issues were. This kind of humility was not related to I.Q. measures or political affiliation, she found; it was strongly linked to curiosity, reflection and open-mindedness.

In another, ongoing study, Dr. Krumrei Mancuso had 587 American adults complete questionnaires intended to measure levels of intellectual humility. The participants rated how much they agreed with various statements, including “I feel small when others disagree with me on topics that are close to my heart,” and “For the most part, others have more to learn from me than I have to learn from them.” [Okay– sorry, for me to say yes to this one would just be false modesty.  But, part of me knowing a helluva lot is actually recognizing how much I don’t know– but, yeah, definitely more than your average bear] Those who scored highly on humility — not that they’d boast about it — also scored lower on measures of political and ideological polarization, whether conservative or liberal.

Other research has found that people who score high for humility are less aggressive and less judgmental toward members of other religious groups than are less-humble people, even and especially after being challenged about their own religious views.

“These kinds of findings may account for the fact that people high in intellectual humility are not easily manipulated with regard to their views,” Dr. Krumrei Mancuso said. The findings, she added, may also “help us understand how humility can be associated with holding convictions.”

In the new review paper, Dr. Van Tongeren and his colleagues proposed several explanations for why humility, intellectual or otherwise, is such a valuable facet of personality. A humble disposition can be critical to sustaining a committed relationship. It may also nourish mental health more broadly, providing a psychological resource to shake off grudges, suffer fools patiently and forgive oneself.

8) I remember the good old days when I thought monoclonal antibodies were going to be our ticket out of this well before vaccines (though, I still think there’s a non trivial chance that Molnupiravir/EIDD 2801 ultimately proves amazing).  But, damn, even though the monoclonal antibodies do work, if not game-changer level, turns out we’re doing a horrible job at getting them to the patients who most stand to benefit.    

On Monday, one of my patients called me to say she had tested positive for the coronavirus. The patient, who has sickle cell anemia and has had a bone-marrow transplant, lives several hours away from the hospital where I work in New York City. Because she is at extreme risk for complications from Covid-19, I began trying to secure the best medicine for preventing severe disease: monoclonal antibodies.

Monoclonal antibodies are made in the laboratory and are designed to mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off invaders like viruses. Different monoclonal antibodies are used to treat numerous illnesses. They have been found effective in treating people at a high risk of complications from Covid-19, and last fall the Food and Drug Administration approved their emergency use to treat the disease. But right now it’s too hard for patients to obtain this treatment.

After calls to several hospitals near my patient’s home, I found one that could administer monoclonal antibodies. She went to the hospital and remained in the emergency room for more than 24 hours, untreated because the doctors did not feel her condition warranted the medication. While she waited, she developed a sickle cell pain crisis that was doubtlessly provoked by her panic over the test result and the uncertainty about whether she would receive the treatment I recommended. By Tuesday night, she had a fever and a cough, and her treatment finally began.

As a clinical hematologist caring for people with compromised immune systems, I have watched in horror as Covid-19 has ravaged my patients. I have lost three colleagues and more than 20 patients to the disease. I contracted Covid-19 last March, before any useful treatment had been identified. Despite progress in vaccinations, the coronavirus remains a persistent and even growing problem in New York City, where about 4,000 new cases of Covid-19 are being identified every day, and thousands of people remain hospitalized.
9) Happy Easter!

Quick hits (part I)

1) Great stuff from Jamelle Bouie, “I’m Not Actually Interested in Mitch McConnell’s Hypocrisy: To make his case for the filibuster, he has essentially rewritten the history of the Senate.”

On Tuesday, Mitch McConnell, now the Senate minority leader, spoke in defense of the legislative filibuster.

“When it comes to lawmaking, the framers’ vision and our history are clear. The Senate exists to require deliberation and cooperation,” McConnell declared. “James Madison said the Senate’s job was to provide a ‘complicated check’ against ‘improper acts of legislation.’ We ensure that laws earn enough buy-in to receive the lasting consent of the governed. We stop bad ideas, improve good ideas and keep laws from swinging wildly with every election.”

He went on: “More than any other feature, it is the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to end debate on legislation that achieves this.”

It’s hard to take any of this seriously. None of McConnell’s stated concern for the “lasting consent of the governed” was on display when Senate Republicans, under his leadership, tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act by majority vote. Nor was there any interest in “deliberation and cooperation” when Republicans wanted a new round of corporate and upper-income tax cuts.

If anything, the filibuster stymies that deliberation and cooperation by destroying the will to legislate at all. It makes bipartisanship less likely by erasing any incentive to build novel coalitions for particular issues. If, under the filibuster, there’s no difference between 51 votes for immigration reform and 56 votes (or even 59), then what’s the point of even trying? Why reach out to the other side if there’s almost no way you’ll reach the threshold to take action? And on the other side, why tinker with legislation if you know it’s not going to pass? When there’s no reason to do otherwise, why not act as a rigid, unyielding partisan?

It’s obvious that McConnell’s commitment to the filibuster is instrumental…

The truth is that the filibuster was an accident; an extra-constitutional innovation that lay dormant for a generation after its unintentional creation during the Jefferson administration. For most of the Senate’s history after the Civil War, filibusters were rare, deployed as the Southern weapon of choice against civil rights legislation, and an occasional tool of partisan obstruction.

Far from necessary, the filibuster is extraneous. Everything it is said to encourage — debate, deliberation, consensus building — is already accomplished by the structure of the chamber itself, insofar as it happens at all.

In the form it takes today, the filibuster doesn’t make the Senate work the way the framers intended. Instead, it makes the Senate a nearly insurmountable obstacle to most legislative business. And that, in turn, has made Congress inert and dysfunctional to the point of disrupting the constitutional balance of power. Legislation that deserves a debate never reaches the floor; coalitions that could form never get off the ground.

2) This is fabulous.  Such a little-appreciated but important issue.  The police can brazenly lie to suspects to coerce false confessions.  And the Supreme Court is good with that.  

Most Americans don’t know this, but police officers in the United States are permitted by law to outright lie about evidence to suspects they interrogate in pursuit of a confession. Of all forms of subterfuge they deploy — like feigning sympathy and suggesting that a suspect’s confession might bring leniency — this one is particularly dangerous.

In Frazier v. Cupp (1969), the Supreme Court made it lawful for the police to present false evidence. “The victim’s blood was found on your pillow,” “You failed the polygraph,” “Your fingerprints were on the knife” and “Your friend said she wasn’t with you like you said” are some common but brazen lies told. There is almost no limit to the type or magnitude of deception permitted — one lie or many; small lies and whoppers; lies aimed at adults or anxious and unwary teenagers.

In the United States and elsewhere, confession evidence serves an important function in the administration of criminal justice. Yet the history of wrongful convictions points to countless innocent people induced to confess to crimes they did not commit.

bill awaiting legislative action in New York, Senate Bill S324, would finally put a stop to this in the state. It would bar police deception in the interrogation room and require courts to evaluate the reliability of confession evidence before allowing it to be used.

In the database of the Innocence Project, false confessions contributed to the convictions in 29 percent of its 375 DNA exonerations. Over all, 8.26 percent of these wrongful convictions originated in New York State; 45 percent of these New York cases involved false confessions.

Historically, New York City has been something of a hot spot. On Aug. 28, 1963, two young professional women on the Upper East Side were killed. Eight months later, with these “career-girl murders” still unsolved, homicide detectives interrogated George Whitmore, a 19-year-old African-American man and produced an exquisitely detailed 61-page confession to those murders and other crimes.

Whitmore signed the statement attributed to him but then later recanted. It turned out that he had a solid if not ironic alibi: He had been with friends on the South Jersey shore watching the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech televised from the Lincoln Memorial. After spending nine years in and out of prison, he was finally exonerated of all charges. His false confession was notable. In Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Supreme Court cited the Whitmore case as the “most recent conspicuous example” of police coercion in the interrogation room.

Twenty-five years later, the Central Park jogger case elicited five false confessions, four on videotape for everyone to see — five in a single investigation, in the spotlight of Manhattan, while the world watched.

3) Great stuff from Julia Marcus, “Vaccinated People Are Going to Hug Each Other: The vaccines are phenomenal. Belaboring their imperfections—and telling people who receive them never to let down their guard—carries its own risks.”

But in the United States, the prevailing message is that, because vaccines aren’t perfect, people who have received them shouldn’t let down their guard in any way—not even at gatherings with just a few other vaccinated people. “Based on science and how vaccines work, it certainly is likely that [such a gathering] will end up being lower-risk,” a pharmacologist from Johns Hopkins University told The Washington Post. “But right now, we just don’t know.” Government officials are no more upbeat. In response to the question of whether a vaccinated person needs to continue taking precautions, the CDC states that “not enough information is currently available” to say when—or even if—it will stop recommending the use of masks and distancing.

The message that vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective in preventing disease, and that the data are still out on how much they reduce transmission, is an accurate and important one. Risk-mitigation strategies are needed in public spaces, particularly indoors, until more people are vaccinated and infections wane. But not all human interactions take place in public. Advising people that they must do nothing differently after vaccination—not even in the privacy of their homes—creates the misimpression that vaccines offer little benefit at all. Vaccines provide a true reduction of risk, not a false sense of security. And trying to eliminate even the lowest-risk changes in behavior both underestimates people’s need to be close to one another and discourages the very thing that will get everyone out of this mess: vaccine uptake.

As for me, I’m happy to hug anybody who is vaccinated (and hopefully they’ll be willing to hug me and my J&J 72% efficacy).

4) NC’s (truly nuts) Lieutenant Governor believes that US history is not racist because we had a black president and he is a black Lieutenant Governor.  Sure, it’s possible to go overboard in teaching the sorry and sordid history of the US with regard to race.  But, that’s not exactly the problem we’ve had up until this point:

Republican State Board of Education members charged Wednesday that proposed social studies standards are “anti-American” and will teach North Carolina public school students that the nation is oppressive and racist.

The board on Wednesday reviewed new K-12 social studies standards that include language such as having teachers discuss racism, discrimination and the perspectives of marginalized groups. Multiple GOP board members argued that the new standards are divisive and have a leftist political agenda.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican, said that the standards would inaccurately teach that the United States is a racist nation.

“The system of government that we have in this nation is not systematically racist,” Robinson said. “In fact, it is not racist at all.”

Robinson noted how he’s the state’s first Black lieutenant governor and that the United States previously had elected a Black president.

State board member Amy White said North Carolina social studies teachers should be telling students that America is the greatest nation on Earth. She blamed the news media for promoting an anti-American viewpoint.

“While I think some of the revisions have been helpful, I still see an agenda that is anti-American, anti-capitalism, anti-democracy,” said White, who was appointed by former GOP Gov. Pat McCrory. She is a former social studies teacher.

5) I endorse this from Derek Thompson, “The Truth About Kids, School, and COVID-19: We’ve known for months that young children are less susceptible to serious infection and less likely to transmit the coronavirus. Let’s act like it.

I think a fair reading of the evidence is that the costs of keeping elementary school kids out of school substantially outweighs the benefits of letting them back in school.  For older grades, it’s a tough calculation and a tougher discussion.  But not having the elementary school kids in does not strike me as a rational weighing of policy.  

6) Jonathan Last lets loose and it’s damn good:

The lockdown of the Capitol makes me sad.

I’ve been drifting away from my love affair with Washington for a long time. I got married. I had kids. I moved to the suburbs and no longer had time to spend my nights reading books on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, even if I still lived five minutes away.

Washington changed. Cities are always changing, but the pace of Washington’s transformation in the early ’00s was fast and the direction was not great. The city simultaneously became both more glamorous and less interesting. The intellectual energy began to dissipate, replaced by the same sort of naked rapaciousness for status and money that you see in Manhattan.

So over the last decade or so, Washington was more like a lover I’d lost touch with, a romance from a different part of my life. And when you see something you once loved have something terrible happen to it, it makes you sad. Even if that thing is no longer the thing you loved.

But it also makes me angry. And I want to explain why:

Our government has two ways to make the Capitol more secure.

The first is to explain to Americans that Joe Biden is the fairly elected president of the United States. That his victory was quite large. That the former president and many of his enablers lied about the outcome of the election.

In so doing, this would leach the poison out of our political life and remove the impetus for mobs to attack the Capitol.

The second option is to put fences and razor wire around the Capitol to discourage people whose minds have been poisoned from attacking it again.

Faced with these alternatives, our government chose the latter.

The Republican party did this.

They lied to America for months about the 2020 election. They are still lyingright now.

And they would rather perpetuate this lie than try to explain to their voters what the truth is. Because the lie brings them nearer to power and the truth would repel the people they most need to vote for them.

Even if the price is insurrection. Even if the lie costs people their lives. Even if it means turning our Capitol into Fort Knox.

Because Republicans would rather lose freedom than tell the truth.

7) Really enjoyed this interview with Fauci on surviving the Trump administration.

8) OMG I hate this.  “San Francisco Scraps 44 School Names, Citing Reckoning With Racism: The school board said the move would shed homages to figures including Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Dianne Feinstein.” We’re not exactly talking schools named after Jefferson Davis or Nathan Bedford Forrest!  

The commission had decided that schools named after figures who fit the following criteria would be renamed: “engaged in the subjugation and enslavement of human beings; or who oppressed women, inhibiting societal progress; or whose actions led to genocide; or who otherwise significantly diminished the opportunities of those amongst us to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

By the criteria here, you probably cannot name much of anything after almost any white American who lived before 1950. It’s just so intellectually dishonest to judge people by the standards or our time; not theirs.

9) I mean this is definitely good from Brownstein, but again too much “Democrats…” and not acknowledging, really “Manchin (and Sinema)…”, “The Decision That Will Define Democrats for a Decade: Will they get rid of the filibuster if it means passing their voting-rights and election-reform agenda?”  Whether M&S are truly up for this approach seems key:

Still, passing the bill, and perhaps the new VRA, will almost certainly require every Senate Democrat agreeing to end the filibuster in some fashion—and at least two of them, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, have been adamantly opposed to that action. Merkley’s strategy for convincing Democrats to reconsider—at least for the democracy-reform legislation—is to encourage an extended debate on the bill, both within the committee and on the Senate floor, and to allow any senator to offer amendments. If Republicans still block final passage with a filibuster after that process, Democrats could either vote to “carve out” election-reform legislation from the filibuster, or require Republicans blocking the bill to actually filibuster in person, he told me. Democrats could change the rules to tell Republicans “you better be here day and night, because we are going to go for weeks and if you are not here, we are going to a final vote on the bill.”

10) Damn I always love reading Arthur Brooks on happiness and the meaning of life.  I love this take on looking at it through the lens of two ancient Greek philosophers Epicurus and Epictetus (especially since I literally started reading a book about living life by Stoic philosophy yesterday).  (I feel like DJC and I need to have a future conversation about this one).

For epicurus, unhappiness came from negative thoughts, including needless guilt, fear of things we can’t control, and a focus on the inevitable unpleasant parts of life. The solution was to banish them from the mind. To this end, he proposed a “four-part cure”: Don’t fear God; don’t worry about death; what is good is easy to get (by lowering our expectations for what we need to be happy); what is terrible is easy to endure (by concentrating on pleasant things even in the midst of suffering). This is made all the easier when we surround ourselves with friendly people in a peaceful environment.

Epicurus promoted hedonia, from which we derive the word hedonism. However, he would not have recognized our current usage of the term. The secret to banishing negative thoughts, according to Epicurus, is not mindless debauchery—despite the baseless rumors that he led wild parties and orgies, he taught that thoughtlessly grabbing easy worldly pleasures is a mistake, because ultimately they don’t satisfy. Instead, reason was Epicurus’s best weapon against the blues. For example, here is the mantra he suggests we tell ourselves when the fear of death strikes: “Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.”

Moralism is the principle that moral virtue is to be defined and followed for its own sake. “Tell yourself, first of all, what kind of man you want to be,” Epictetus wrote in his Discourses, “and then go ahead with what you are doing.” In other words, create a code of virtuous conduct for yourself and live by it, with no loopholes for convenience.

Epicureans and Stoics are encouraged to focus their attention on different aspects of life—and death. Epicurus’s philosophy suggested that we should think intently about happiness, while for Stoics, the paradox of happiness is that to attain it, we must forget about it; with luck, happiness will come as we pursue life’s purpose. Meanwhile, Epicurus encourages us to disregard death while we are alive, and Epictetus insists that we confront it and ponder it regularly, much like the maranasati meditation in Buddhism, in which monks contemplate their own deaths and stages of decay…


Finally, it is important to pursue life goals in which each happiness approach reinforces the other. That portfolio is simple, and I have written about it before: Make sure your life includes faith, family, friendship, and work in which you earn your success and serve others. Each of these elements flexes both the Stoic and the Epicurean muscles: All four require that we be fully present in an Epicurean sense and that we also work hard and adhere to strong commitments in a Stoic sense.

11) Very similar to #8.  The beloved Cameron Village shopping center in Raleigh is changing it’s name to drop the Cameron because, apparently, the Cameron family had slaves 160 years ago.  

“There are so many beautiful words in our vocabulary. Why use one that is a tinder box?” Goode asked, noting that there are African Americans today who can find the names of their ancestors among the Cameron family slave inventories.

“The shopping center might never have been named for Duncan Cameron,” Goode said. “But his descendants are still living off the wealth that he gained off of slavery.”

Tinder Box?  Oh, I’m guessing that a miniscule fraction of Raleigh residents, including Black residents, have any idea about what the Cameron family did in the 1850’s.  I mean find real ways to do something about racial inequality in this country.

12) I really don’t have a strong opinion on whether Pit Bulls are actually more violent or not.  What I do know is that when they are, they are far more dangerous.  I mean, yeah, a small handgun and an AK-47 are both guns and deadly, but not exactly the same thing when someone is coming after you with one.  The seriously injured person and dog in this first-person account would have been much less injured with a different breed. 

13) EJ Dionne on Biden and America’s Catholic bishops:

Instead, President Biden’s rise has underscored deep divisions within the U.S. church: the emergence of an increasingly hard right within the U.S. hierarchy now being met by a more vocal progressive Catholicism represented by Pope Francis and the cardinals and bishops he has appointed.

The day of Biden’s inauguration brought a dramatic confrontation between the two forces…

The conflict — called a “functional schism” by the Catholic writer Michael Sean Winters — encompasses more than a half-century of Catholic history. Biden embodies the Catholicism of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, a period when the American Catholic imagination was shaped by the “two Johns,” in the writer Garry Wills’s evocative phrase, Pope John XXIII and John F. Kennedy.

But a more conservative leadership appointed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI coincided with a Reagan-era push by intellectuals and activists on the church’s right to ally with the White evangelical political movement in opposition to abortion and advances in LGBTQ rights. The effect was to play down the church’s social justice teachings and to create what Cathleen Kaveny, a Boston College theologian, called “an American fusion of Catholicism with certain conservative and nationalist forms of evangelical Protestantism.”

Now the tables have turned again with Francis. He sharply shifted the church’s public witness toward a crusade against poverty, social injustice and climate change. Francis regularly speaks against abortion, but he has repeatedly criticized those who cast abortion as, in the phrase Gomez invoked, the church’s “preeminent priority.” Francis, like the more liberal bishops of the 1970s and 1980s, regularly links abortion to his broader agenda.

Biden did not run for president to transform the politics of the Catholic Church. But the devout kid from Scranton, Pa., is already having that effect.

As for those who think the Church should be focusing more on abortion and LGBTQ issues I suggest they familiarize themselves with something called the New Testament, or heck, just the Sermon on the Mount.

14) This Eric Levitz article on the current and future Democratic Party is terrific.  I should summarize it in its own post, but, really, just read it.

The basic problem facing the Democratic Party is simple: Barring an extraordinary change to America’s political landscape, it will lose control of Congress in 2022 and have a difficult time regaining control for a decade thereafter.

To be sure, the assumption that existing political trends will continue indefinitely has been leading pundits astray since the advent of our loathsome profession. And in certain respects, the future of our politics looks more uncertain than at any time in recent memory. For example, the fact that a critical mass of Republican voters now belong to the personality cult of a narcissistic con man — who has no real investment in the conservative movement’s well-being — makes the prospect of the GOP fracturing more thinkable than it’s been in about a century.

This said, the trends bedeviling Democrats have been in motion for decades and are rooted in America’s most durable political divides. To summarize the party’s predicament: As a result of 19th-century efforts to gerrymander the Senate, the middle of our country is chock full of heavily white, low-population, rural states. This has always been a problem for the party of urban America — by boasting stronger support in rural areas, Republicans have long punched above their weight in the race for control of state governments and the Senate. But for most of the 20th century, this advantage was mitigated by the Democrats’ (1) vestigial support in the post-Confederate South and (2) ability to render local issues more salient than national ones in Senate elections. Over the past two decades, however, urban-rural polarization in U.S. politics has reached unprecedented heights, while the collapse of local journalism and rise of the internet has made all politics national. Voters have never been less likely to split their tickets, and white rural areas have never been more likely to vote for Republicans. This is plausibly because the (irreversible, internet-induced) nationalization of politics has increased rural white voters’ awareness of the myriad ways that urban, college-educated Democrats differ from them culturally. If this is the case, then the Democratic Party may have only a limited ability to reverse urban-rural polarization in the near-term future.

It took a series of minor miracles for the party to eke out its current 50-vote majority. By coincidence, Democrats happened to have their most vulnerable incumbent senators on the ballot two years ago, when the party rode anti-Trump fervor to one of the largest midterm landslides in American history. And yet: Winning the House popular vote by 8.6 percent was not sufficient to prevent the party from losing Senate seats. And although Jon Tester and Joe Manchin won reelection in their deep-red states, both underperformed the national environment: In a year when the nation as a whole favored Democrats by more than eight points, both Democratic incumbents won their races by a bit over three points. Which is to say, had those senators been on the ballot last year instead, when the national environment favored Democrats by “only” 4.4 percent, they likely would have lost. Or, to put the matter more pointedly: Unless the Democratic nominee orchestrates an extraordinary landslide in 2024, Manchin and Tester will likely return to the private sector by mid-decade.

Meanwhile, attempts to mint new “Joe Manchins” – i.e., idiosyncratic Democrats whose strong local ties overwhelm the taint of the party’s brand in white rural America — have invariably failed in the post-Trump era. Two years after Tester won reelection in Montana, the state’s Democratic governor didn’t come within ten points of winning his Senate race in 2020.

The party’s outlook in the House of Representatives isn’t much better. The abundance of predominantly white rural states doesn’t just give Republicans an advantage in the Senate; it also gives them an advantage in fights over redistricting. Since there are more solidly red states than there are solidly blue ones, Republicans have more opportunities to gerrymander House maps than Democrats do. What’s more, even in the absence of gerrymandering, the convention of drawing geographically compact districts naturally underrepresents Democrats, since their support is more geographically concentrated in urban centers than the GOP’s support is in low-density areas.

This is one reason why Democrats lost House seats in the 2020 election. Now, with the new Census set to empower the GOP to produce an even more biased House map before 2022, Republicans have an excellent chance of retaking the House two years from now.

Graphic: FiveThirtyEight/Brookings Institution

Making matters even more dire: (1) The Electoral College now has a four-point pro-GOP bias, meaning that if Biden wins the two-way popular vote by “only” 3.9 percent in 2024, he will have a less than 50 percent chance of winning reelection, and (2) the Republican Party has grown more openly contemptuous of democracy since Donald Trump’s defeat. If the GOP does gain full control of the federal government in 2024, there is a significant risk it will further entrench its structural advantages through anti-democratic measures, so as to insulate right-wing minority rule against the threat of demographic change.


15) This is cool, “Understanding Human Cognitive Uniqueness”

Humanity has regarded itself as intellectually superior to other species for millennia, yet human cognitive uniqueness remains poorly understood. Here, we evaluate candidate traits plausibly underlying our distinctive cognition (including mental time travel, tool use, problem solving, social cognition, and communication) as well as domain generality, and we consider how human cognitive uniqueness may have evolved. We conclude that there are no traits present in humans and absent in other animals that in isolation explain our species’ superior cognitive performance; rather, there are many cognitive domains in which humans possess unusually potent capabilities compared to those found in other species. Humans are flexible cognitive all-rounders, whose proficiency arises through interactions and reinforcement between cognitive domains at multiple scales.

16) Really looking forward to reading Daniel Lieberman’s new book on exercise.  Sounds like I’m doing pretty good with my approach:

For example: Is sitting the new smoking? Not really. Of course 150 years of machines assisting humans in everything from walking upstairs to opening doors has meant we burn fewer calories in a day, but the act of sitting is not nearly as lethal as that of inhaling burning tar into your lungs. On the flip side, standing desks won’t save us. Instead, fidgeting, which burns calories and promotes blood flow to arms and legs, may help.

Another example: Should we really work out to look like our caveman ancestors? Not if you know what they actually looked like. They certainly didn’t resemble bodybuilders, because that wouldn’t have made any sense. “The ability to lift above your head something twice or more your body weight is a bizarre, dangerous feat that probably had little practical value in the Stone Age,” Lieberman writes. Instead, cavemen probably looked more like the current Hadza hunter-gatherer tribe, based in Tanzania, a tribe that Lieberman has studied extensively and lived among himself. They’re strong but lean so as not to waste calories on activities that do not contribute to acquiring food. Fueling glamour muscles would never make the cut. Strike those paleo diets too, which he calls illogical…

So what works? It’s not especially complicated, and Lieberman outlines the science behind his prescription of a mix of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, strength training and high-intensity interval training. This is probably the best bet for most of us. 

17) I was not actually surprised to learn that attending an elite high school is over-rated.  

“The major advantage of selective schools is that they provide a more desirable school environment,” the paper explains. “Students are more likely to feel positive about their high school experiences at selective schools.”

Still, that didn’t translate into higher high school graduation, college attendance, or college completion rates. Students from low-income neighborhoods actually ended up at less-selective colleges, on average, as a result of going to a top high school.

“Schools can look like they have a large effect on student outcomes, while these apparent successes should actually be attributed to the students themselves,” the Chicago researchers say.

We can’t say for sure whether the results would look the same today, though, or if the schools’ selection criteria were changed.

18) This is pretty good, ““Anti-Racist” Education Is Neither”

Take, for instance, the anti-racist materials that schools are using to train their K-12 teachers. The materials used by the Denver Public Schools teach educators that “the belief that there is such a thing as being objective,” distinguishing between “good/bad” and “right/wrong,” and valuing an “emphasis on being polite” are all distinctive characteristics of white culture. The same is true of the “individualist” mindset that “if something is going to get done right, I have to do it.” In Loudoun County, Virginia, one of the nation’s wealthiest counties, the Dismantling Racism Workbook used to train teachers this summer highlighted “15 Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture,” including a weird admixture of positive and negative stereotypes, including “perfectionism,” “progress is bigger, more,” “right to comfort,” and “defensiveness.”

Anti-racists also want to end traditional grading practices, which they deem “profoundly discriminatory.” Cornelius Minor, a leading “Grading Equity Advocate,” is an author and speaker who has worked with Columbia Teachers College and the International Literacy Association. He seeks to dismantle “pernicious” grading practices, such as teachers reserving A’s for students who demonstrate understanding of the subject matter. This, he explains, is because one “cannot separate grading practices” from “the history of classism, sexism, racism, and ableism in the United States.” To Minor, a teacher’s inability to perceive a student’s knowledge is evidence of the teacher’s racism, not the student’s ignorance. While Minor is fuzzy regarding the remedies, he is sure that teachers must abandon problematic ideologies such as expecting that students “should know” things.

When it comes to facilitating tough discussions about race, a favored practice among anti-racist educators is, ironically, to sort students and staff by race. These “affinity groups” typically involve one group for black participants, a second for “non-black people of color,” and a third for white participants. Such racially determined groupings are regularly utilized at universities, by Teach For America, and even in high schools. Without a hint of irony, Teach For America makes this exercise in apartheid part of its “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” training for new teachers. Absent is any acknowledgment by these self-avowed anti-racists that they’re resurrecting practices that would’ve been applauded in the Jim Crow south.

19) Interesting research:

Scholarly journals are often blamed for a gender gap in publication rates, but it is unclear whether peer review and editorial processes contribute to it. This article examines gender bias in peer review with data for 145 journals in various fields of research, including about 1.7 million authors and 740,000 referees. We reconstructed three possible sources of bias, i.e., the editorial selection of referees, referee recommendations, and editorial decisions, and examined all their possible relationships. Results showed that manuscripts written by women as solo authors or coauthored by women were treated even more favorably by referees and editors. Although there were some differences between fields of research, our findings suggest that peer review and editorial processes do not penalize manuscripts by women. However, increasing gender diversity in editorial teams and referee pools could help journals inform potential authors about their attention to these factors and so stimulate participation by women.


Quick hits (part I)

1) Brian Beutler:

But what we’re seeing from Republicans is the real life manifestation of what many of us warned would happen the moment Biden announced his candidacy promising to heal the country by working cooperatively with Republicans. It made securing Republican buy-in a measure of his success, which gave his opponents the straightforward power to turn him into a failure or a promise-breaker. They have begun, as predicted, to oppose his every move, and then to wield their own opposition as a rhetorical brickbat, hammering Biden for not serving up the unifying mitzvah of doing only things Republicans want.  

Tedious as they are, their antics don’t really matter unless they have persuasive force among Democrats or the public, and by making a farce of their own ploy, Republicans will hopefully hasten the point at which Democrats grow impatient and stop seeking bipartisan cover to use their power. If Democrats say they’re done with malarkey, this is malarkey in its chemically purest form.

2) Yes, we definitely need automatic stabilizers in our economic policy and should use the current opportuity to make it happen:

Democrats generally cheered Mr. Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion package, while Republicans peppered Ms. Yellen with questions about whether that level of spending might be overkill. The price tag is indeed big — as it should be. This moment of crisis demands it.

But members of Congress should carefully consider the necessary levels of spending, particularly amid so much uncertainty.

Many lawmakers seem to be asking, “How much is enough?” while “When have we done enough?” is the better question. When those 10 million jobs still missing are back, when the half of families who have lost income from work are made whole and when those who had to leave their jobs because of extra parenting burdens begin to return — that’s when relief should turn off.

A broad cross-section of research shows that auto stabilizers will help us do enough without doingtoo much.

3) Turns out Dire Wolves were more genetically distinct from grey wolves than previously thought:

In the search for fossils that could provide ancient dire wolf DNA, Dr. Perri joined forces with a number of other researchers around the world, including Kieren Mitchell, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Adelaide; Alice Mouton, a geneticist at the University of Los Angeles; and Sandra Álvarez-Carretero, a genomics doctoral student at Queen Mary University of London.

They combed museums to find 46 bone samples that might have usable DNA. Five did. “We got really lucky,” Dr. Perri said. “And we found a lot of things we didn’t really expect.”

The findings were surprising because dire wolf skeletons are similar to gray wolf skeletons, and because DNA was not available. Xiaoming Wang, a paleontologist at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, who published a review of the fossil evidence in 2009 that placed the dire wolf squarely in the genus Canis, called the new paper a “milestone,” adding that “morphology is not foolproof.”

As to why the dire wolf went extinct and wolves survived, the authors speculated that its long genetic isolation and lack of interbreeding with other species may have made it less able to adapt to the disappearance of its main prey species. More promiscuous species like gray wolves and coyotes were acquiring potentially useful genes from other species.

4) I so love the cave art of ancient humans.  Now scientists have found what is currently the oldest known cave painting– about 45,000 years old.

Human skeletal remains as old as the painting have never been found in Sulawesi, so it is not clear that the artists were anatomically modern humans.

5) Eric Levitz on how lucky we are that it didn’t end up so much worse under Trump:

And yet: For all of the mass death and democratic backsliding we’ve suffered these past four years, America is in far better shape than it might have been. Entrusting an authoritarian con man with the world’s most powerful elective office brought the United States catastrophe, but it has also left us with a historic opportunity for democratic renewal.

We are lucky that Donald Trump started no major wars (thanks, in no small part, to Iranian restraint). We’re lucky that Republicans came a few votes short of throwing millions off of Medicaid. We’re lucky that the GOP’s internal divisions on immigration prevented Trump from inscribing his most xenophobic policies into legislative statute, and, thus, that his nativist legacy is almost entirely revocable by executive fiat. Above all, we are lucky that Trump did not win reelection and that the incoming Democratic government will actually have the power to implement reform.

These last points are worth emphasizing. What Trump’s 2020 coalition lacked in size, it nearly made up for in geographic efficiency. Joe Biden’s 4.4-point margin in the popular vote — and narrow victories in historically red Arizona and Georgia — has obscured just how close the president came to winning a second term. In November, Biden won the tipping-point state of Wisconsin by 0.6 percent, or a little over 20,000 votes. Which means that, had the Democrat won the national vote by “only” 3.7 points, Trump quite likely would have won reelection.

Graphic: @davidshor/Twitter

That Biden will actually be able to implement a legislative agenda is even more fortuitous. Thanks to Trump’s consolidation of the white rural vote, the median U.S. state is now roughly 6.6 percent more Republican than the nation as a whole, which gives the GOP a massive advantage in the battle for Senate control. It took one of the largest midterm landslides in history to keep Democrats in contention for the upper chamber this year. In 2018, the party won the House popular vote by over 8 percent, yet lost seats in the Senate, while longtime red-state incumbents like Joe Manchin and Jon Tester barely eked out reelection on the strength of the national environment. Even after salvaging these seats in hostile territory, it took a minor miracle for the party to secure a bare majority in 2020: Had David Perdue received 0.3 percent more votes against Jon Ossoff in November, he would have won more than 50 percent of the vote and thereby averted the runoff that his Democratic challenger won in Georgia earlier this month…

All of which is to say: The American republic would have been in a precarious place by November 2016, even if Trump had remained in the private sector. By winning the GOP nomination — and thereby putting the ugliest possible face on the conservative project — Trump may have ultimately undermined the far right’s long-term prospects. Mainstream news outlets and moderate suburbanites were willing to overlook the GOP’s extremism when the party’s standard-bearers were still buttoned-up country-club worthies well versed in middle-class decorum. Trump made what the party actually stood for impossible for these power centers to ignore. Meanwhile, his celebrity and singular gift for generating sensational controversies helped fuel record-setting Democrat turnout in both 2018 and 2020. Had an authoritarian egotist with a similar feel for the GOP base’s id — but with better manners and self-discipline — conquered the party in 2016, a radically right-wing, anti-democratic party might well boast full control of the federal government today.

My point in raising this counterfactual is not to minimize the unique harms that Trump introduced to our polity, of which there are many (the above considerations notwithstanding, if I had the power to go back in time and make Marco Rubio the 2016 GOP nominee, I would). Rather, the point is that (1) the Republican Party was a threat to multiracial democracy in the U.S. before Trump took office and will remain so after he leaves, and (2) we are very lucky that the mogul’s unique gift for demagoguery, and uniquely shameless contempt for liberal democracy, were paired with equally superlative political liabilities.

6) Damn if the US Conference of Catholic Bishops isn’t just the worst.  The idea that they do the things they do in the name of Jesus and Catholic teachings is just stomach-turning.  Michael Sean Winters:

Wednesday, Jan. 20, was a very Catholic day. It began with the president-elect bringing the political leadership of the nation to Mass. Joe Biden walked into my old parish, the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, followed by the vice president-elect, the speaker of the House, and the majority and minority leaders of both chambers of Congress. After four years of a president incapable of not patting himself on the back in every public moment, it was a welcome change to see a president who is not afraid to go to Mass, where we begin by begging pardon and finish by receiving the gift of eucharistic grace.

The night before, Mr. Biden led the country in a short but poignant ritual of remembrance for those killed by the COVID-19 virus. Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Biden’s new pastor, offered a beautiful prayer to begin the ceremony. He prayed, in part, “Let us, with one heart, commend those who have died from this virus and all of their loved ones to the providential care of the One who is the ultimate source of peace, unity and concord.” After what the country has witnessed in the past few weeks, how refreshing to be reminded that God offers “peace, unity and concord.”…

Once he had taken the oath of office, the new president gave a speech that was heavy on themes found on every page of Catholic social teaching: the dignity of the human person, the commission to serve the common good as the first justification of government, the value of democracy in protecting human dignity and both requiring and evidencing equality, the virtue of solidarity. How different from the dystopian inaugural address we heard four years ago, to say nothing of the speech that incited the mob to storm the U.S. Capitol two weeks prior.

And Biden quoted St. Augustine! …

I am sure the leadership at the bishops’ conference would be treating any Democrat shabbily. But I think what makes them really crazy is the fact that they realize, at some deep unconscious level, Biden did more in 24 hours to remind the American people that the Catholic Church can be a force for good in our country than the bishops’ conference has done in 10 years. His memorial service for COVID-19 victims was more pastoral than their repugnant statement. Biden’s inaugural address was a better articulation of Catholic ideas about governance than any recent document from the conference. He cited Augustine to help unite our brutally divided country. They turn to citations that exacerbate the divide. Biden has allowed himself to be enriched by the faith of others, Catholic and non-Catholic. Gomez seems stuck in his Opus Dei playbook.

7) Now that I’m into air quality, I recently found this great feature on PM2.5 air pollution.  It’s really worth checking out.  Damn is this something we need to do a lot better on.

8) Planet Money, “Why Nations Fail, America Edition”

“I don’t think Jan. 6 was a singular day of failure,” says Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Daron Acemoglu, who co-authored the book with University of Chicago economist James Robinson. “What surprises me is why it took until Jan. 6.”

Drawing on decades of economic research, Why Nations Fail argues that political institutions — not culture, natural resources or geography — explain why some nations have gotten rich while others remain poor. A good example is North Korea and South Korea. Eighty years ago, the two were virtually indistinguishable. But after a civil war, North Korea turned to communism, while South Korea embraced markets and, eventually, democracy. The authors argue that South Korea’s institutions are the clear reason that it has grown insanely more rich than North Korea.

When Acemoglu and Robinson wrote Why Nations Fail almost a decade ago, they used the United States as an institutional success story. They acknowledge the nation has a dark side: slavery, genocide of Native Americans, the Civil War. But it’s also a creature of the Enlightenment, a place with free and fair elections and world-renowned universities; a haven for immigrants, new ideas and new business models; and a country responsive to social movements for greater equality. Lucky for America — and its economy — its inclusive institutions have had a helluva run.

So, almost 10 years later, how do Acemoglu and Robinson feel about American institutions? “U.S. institutions are really coming apart at the seams — and we have an amazingly difficult task of rebuilding them ahead of us,” Acemoglu says. “This is a perilous time.”

Acemoglu and Robinson see the rising tide against liberal democracy in America as a reaction to our political failure to deal with festering economic problems. In their view, our institutions have become less inclusive, and our economic growth now benefits a smaller fraction of the population. Some of the best economic research over the last couple of decades confirms this. Wage growth for most has stagnated. Social mobility has plummeted. Our labor market has been splitting into two, where the college educated thrive and those without a degree watch their opportunities shrivel, after automation and trade with China destroyed millions of jobs that once gave them good wages and dignity.

Acemoglu and Robinson believe that while factors like the transformation of our media landscape play a role, these economic changes and our political institutions’ failure to grapple with them are the primary cause of our growing cultural and political divides. “As opposed to some of the left, who think this is all just the influence of big money or deluded masses, I think there is a set of true grievances that are justified,” Acemoglu says. “Working-class people in the United States have been left out, both economically and culturally.”

“Trump understood these grievances in a way the traditional parties did not,” Robinson says. “But I don’t think he has a solution to any of them. We saw something similar with the populist experiences in Latin America, where having solutions was not necessary for populist political success. Did Hugo Chávez or Juan Perón have a solution to these problems? No, but they exploited the problems brilliantly for political ends.”

9) Adam Jentleson on the Democrats urgent need to kill the filibuster (to save democracy).  Please, please, please let this get through to Joe Manchin.

10) Speaking of which, I had missed this Norm Ornstein piece from the Fall on how to basically defang the filibuster without outright killing it.  I honestly think that’s the path forward.  Kind of how John Roberts has used the court so gut key legislation without actually explicitly overturning it.  

The answer is to return the filibuster to its original intention—something to be used rarely, when a minority (not necessarily a partisan one, by the way) feels so strongly about an issue of great national significance that it will make enormous sacrifices to delay a bill. There is a simple way to do this—and, in the meantime, keep Rule XXII and mollify Manchin et al. while also providing an opening for Biden and his Democrats to get big things done. That is to flip the numbers: Instead of 60 votes required to end debate, the procedure should require 40 votes to continue it. If at any time the minority cannot muster 40 votes, debate ends, cloture is invoked, and the bill can be passed by the votes of a simple majority.

This change will preserve a unique feature of the Senate, preventing it from becoming just a smaller House of Representatives. It will not allow Democrats to pass everything they want. But it will stop the filibuster from standing in the way of necessary, broadly popular initiatives. If, for example, Democrats introduced a sweeping package of democracy reforms and Republicans filibustered them, the majority could keep the Senate in session around the clock for days or weeks and require nearly all the Republicans to be present constantly, sleeping near the Senate floor and ready on a moment’s notice to jump up and get to the floor to vote—including those who are quite advanced in years, such as Jim Inhofe, Richard Shelby, Charles Grassley, and Mitch McConnell. It would require a huge, sustained commitment on the part of Republicans, not the minor gesture now required. The drama, and the attention, would also give Democrats a chance to explain their reforms and perhaps get more public support—and eventually, they would get a law. A bolder option would be to raise the minority threshold to 45 votes required to continue debate, instead of 40.

The destruction caused by Donald Trump and his Republican allies in Congress, to our health, environment, economy, and political system, is unprecedented. Undoing it will not be easy no matter the rules or the political composition of Congress. But changing the rules in the Senate is a necessary, if not sufficient, requirement to making progress. Fortunately, there are options besides complete elimination of the filibuster rule.

11) Maybe wolves became dogs because ancient humans gave them leftover lean protein?

Dr. Lahtinen and her colleagues take competition out of the equation. In winter, ice age humans would have had to forego plants, depending on hunting. But people can’t survive on protein alone. Eventually they starve or get protein poisoning. They need fat, so they would have eaten primarily the fatty parts of prey, with some lean meat left over. Wolves, with different digestive systems, can live for quite a while on pure protein.

The researchers say in their paper that among human Arctic hunters, animal protein could have provided up to 45 percent of the calories needed in the winter. They also calculated the amount of protein in the prey available to wolves in the ice age, showing that they have protein “over the limits that humans can consume.” People and wolves hunt similar species, so if humans were consuming the same animals they would have excess protein from their kills.

Humans, including modern hunter-gatherers, have an odd habit of feeding other animals and keeping them, at least for a while. So the authors lean toward the idea of various human bands occasionally snatching a wolf puppy. Eventually, the two species grew closer together and the new dog-wolves became useful. Many thousands of years later, we have pandemic puppies.

The hypothesis is just that, an idea about what might have happened, not a demonstration of what did happen. But Naomi Sykes, a zoo-archaeologist at the University of Exeter in Britain, who reviewed the paper for publication, said she thought the researchers made two important points. “The first is their suggestion that there would have been minimal dietary competition between humans and wolves.” The second, she said, was that their hypothesis “flips the idea of domestication” to people feeding animals rather than raising them to eat.

She said archaeological finds indicate that the domestication of chickens, rabbits, horses and other animals may have begun with the animals being deliberately fed. In some of the earliest discoveries, she said, the ancient bones show that the animals were “being maintained, looked after and even worshiped rather than eaten.”

12) We thought we could keeps snakes from slithering up trees in Guam in order to protect birds.  Snakes: check this out!

13) The perceived decline of white political power and influence is indisputably between so much of what is wrong on the right.  And, yet, I think Yglesias makes a good case in arguing that the January 6 Capitol Riot should not be reduced to primarily the racial aspect:

I don’t want to be Racism Court lawyer for these psychos. There is nothing about them or their actions that I believe deserves a defense.

But I do think to label all right-wing politics as white supremacist is indicative of two problematic trends in progressive thought.

One is a tendency to think of racism as an argument-stopping trump card. I imagine this as having arisen from dorm room culture. If you’re hanging around the common room and another student insists on adhering to a political position that you find to be infuriating, stupid, and harmful to human welfare, then the RA is going to tell you that’s life and you need to deal with it. But if another student insists on saying something that’s racist, then the RA is going to tell him he needs to shut the fuck up. Which is to say that in the campus environment, if you can convince the higher authorities that your adversaries are racist, they lose the argument.

Electoral politics isn’t like that. There’s no RA. There’s just the voters. And most of them are white. If you convince everyone that deep down Candidate X is maybe gonna favor white folks’ interest, it’s not obvious that’s even bad for Candidate X at all. That doesn’t mean you should never call out racism — sometimes telling the truth is its own reward, and stigmatizing the most egregious forms of misconduct (such as being done with Confederate iconography) can improve the climate over time.

However, in ambiguous situations there’s no particular reason to think that calling in the RA to rule your opponents Officially Racist will have any power.

The demographic spider hole

The other problem is belief in demographic determinism. If you point out that there are Black and Hispanic and Asian Trump supporters, people on the left will give you sophisticated explanations of how non-white people can nonetheless participate in politics inflected by white supremacy. And that’s fine. I get that. But I think it’s clear that the habit of casually discussing right-wing politics in racialized terms leads, in practice, to neglecting the existence of swing voters in all ethnic groups in the United States.

14) But, to be clear, there is undoubtedly a substantial racial component to all this.  Eric Foner put it in the historical context in an interview:

[Question:] For a long time, the story of Reconstruction was taught in a lot of history books and was popularly understood as a period of “Northern aggression,” to use a loaded phrase, but you know what I’m talking about. And we still have an evolving understanding of it. What I’m interested in is the mistakes that were made about teaching Reconstruction, and why it’s so important to understand what happened on Wednesday and to understand it clearly, considering how poorly Reconstruction was taught.

First of all, I think how we think about history is very important. So, as a historian, I do believe that strongly. The mythology, I’d have to say, about Reconstruction was not just a question of teaching it wrongly. It was an ideological part of the notion of the Lost Cause, that Reconstruction was a vindictive effort by Northerners to punish white Southerners, that Black people were incapable of taking part intelligently in a democratic government. And therefore, the overthrow of Reconstruction was legitimate, according to this view. It was correct because those governments were so bad. This was part of the intellectual edifice of the Jim Crow system, that if you gave the right to vote back to Black people—and it had been taken away by the turn of the century—you would have the horrors of Reconstruction again. This image of Reconstruction, as the lowest point in the saga of American history, was very much a vindication and a legitimation of the Jim Crow system in the South, which lasted from the eighteen-nineties down into the nineteen-sixties.

So history was part of that legitimation. The motto of the historian is generally, “It’s too soon to tell.” But I do think eventually people will have to see January 6th, I hope will see it, as really a very serious violation of the norms of democratic government. It was not a fly-by-night operation. It was not a misguided group who got a little out of hand or something like that. It was really an attempt to completely subvert the democratic process by violence. And I think that the lesson, if we want to get a lesson out of it, is the fragility of democratic culture. I don’t know how many there were, but the thousands who stormed the Capitol do not believe in political democracy when they lose. They believe in it when they win, but that’s not democracy. So I think we have to be aware of this strand in our history, which is perhaps, what can I say, less worthy than the strands we tend to talk about more, the notion of equality, the notion of opportunity, the notion of liberty, democracy. You get a lot of talk about that in our history classes. You don’t get a lot of talk about the antidemocratic strands in American history, which have always been with us. And this is an exemplification of it.

So I think January 6th was an interesting day from a historical point of view, because it began, if you remember, with people talking about the victory of these two candidates in Georgia, a Black man and a Jewish man, and realizing that’s an amazing thing for Georgia. Georgia has a very long history of racism and anti-Semitism. That’s how it began. Four or six hours later, you have an armed mob seizing the Capitol building. You have these two themes of American history in juxtaposition to each other. That’s my point. And both of them are part of the American tradition, and we have to be aware of both of them, not just the more honorable parts.

15) Study on the ability of mask-fitters to dramatically improve the filtration efficiency of surgical masks.  Alas, “fix the mask” was so damn uncomfortable, but I am intrigued by the Badger Seal.  

16) Chait, “Trump Wanted to Erase Obama’s Legacy. He Failed.”

17) McKay Coppins, “The Coming Republican Amnesia: How will the GOP recover from the Trump era? Pretend it never happened.”

18) Ezra, “Biden’s Covid-19 Plan Is Maddeningly Obvious: It is infuriating that the Trump administration left so many of these things undone.”

The Trump administration seemed to believe a vaccine would solve the coronavirus problem, freeing President Trump and his advisers of the pesky work of governance. But vaccines don’t save people; vaccinations do. And vaccinating more than 300 million people, at breakneck speed, is a challenge that only the federal government has the resources to meet. The Trump administration, in other words, had it backward. The development of the vaccines meant merely that the most logistically daunting phase of the crisis, in terms of the federal government’s role, could finally begin…

Most elements of the plan are surprising only because they are not already happening. Biden’s team members intend to use the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up thousands of vaccination sites in gyms, sports stadiums and community centers, and to deploy mobile vaccination options to reach those who can’t travel or who live in remote places. They want to mobilize the National Guard to staff the effort and ensure that strapped states don’t have to bear the cost. They want to expand who can deliver the vaccine and call up retired medical personnel to aid the campaign. They want to launch a massive public education blitz, aimed at communities skeptical of the vaccine. They’re evaluating how to eke out more doses from the existing supply — there is, for instance, a particular syringe that will get you six doses out of a given quantity of Pfizer’s vaccine rather than five, and they are looking at whether the Defense Production Act could accelerate production of that particular syringe and other, similarly useful goods.

19) Paul Waldman, “Twitter’s Trump ban is even more important than you thought”

But the magnitude of that decision still hasn’t been fully appreciated. The fact that this one social media company decided to shut down this one account might have completely reshaped American politics for the coming few years.

Until 10 days ago, nearly everyone assumed that Trump would be in a unique place for a defeated ex-president, retaining a hold on his party’s base that would make him the axis around which the Republican world revolved.

His opinions would shape the party’s approach to Biden’s presidency. He would make or break Republican officeholders, depending on their loyalty to him. Everyone within the party — especially those who want to run for president themselves in 2024 — would have to grovel before him, just as they have for so long. The GOP would still be Trump’s party, in nearly every sense.

But not anymore.

As much as we’ve talked about Trump’s tweets for all these years, if anything we might have underestimated how central Twitter was to his power. Without it — especially as an ex-president — he’ll be like Samson without his hair, all his strength taken from him.

Twitter was so important to Trump, according to Shannon McGregor, an assistant professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media of the University of North Carolina, because of a few critical features of the platform itself and who uses it.

First, “Twitter is the space for political and media elites,” McGregor told me. Facebook has many more users, but journalists are on Twitter constantly, which means that when Trump spoke there, he was speaking to them…

Second, the platform provided him a place to speak uncontested. He could say whatever he wanted without being challenged, at least in the moment.

Third, his Twitter presence enabled him to constantly reinforce an affinity between himself and his supporters by speaking to them not only about politics but also about plenty of other topics.

20) Let’s close it off with a Slow Boring roll.  First, relative inflation:

And in this case it’s a fake example. But here are some real facts about how relative prices have changed:

This chart is telling you the plain truth, which is that if you took a healthy, childless person from 2000 and teleported them to 2020 and showed them Spotify and Netflix on an iPad Pro their mind would be totally blown. And an iPad Pro plus a magic keyboard costs less in nominal terms than an iBook did in 1999. Your guy would be extremely impressed with the IT revolution and the information superhighway.

But then if you bring forward another guy who’s got three kids — ages 4, 2, and six months — and tell him what his new child care costs are going to be, he’s gonna be really sad.

And, yeah, the oldest is going to be in public kindergarten soon. But school only runs until 3:30 PM; it takes months off in the summer; and there are lots of random days off. The skyrocketing cost of “child care” is not limited to the formal child care sector — it largely extends to aftercare and after-school programming, to summer camp, and even to babysitters. There are various specific things at work in all of these subsectors, but the basic story is the same — watching kids and taking care of sick people are labor- intensive so Baumol’s Cost Disease ensures that as technology and productivity improve in other sectors of the economy, the costs rise in the less-productive sectors.

In a more banal example, it’s gotten more expensive to hire a live band to play at your party but it’s also become incredibly cheap to gain access to almost any song in the world via the streaming music service of your choice. In the music example it’s just entertainment. But the relative shift toward cheaper stuff but more expensive childcare and health care is a big change for society.

21) The case for vaccine challenge trials:

Instead, in a Phase 3 clinical trial, you give a bunch of people a vaccine candidate and a bunch of other people a placebo and then tell them to go about their business as usual. Over time, you track both populations and if many more infections occur in the placebo group than in the vaccine group, that tells you the vaccine works.

Compared to the challenge trial, the non-challenge model has several downsides:

  • It’s slower, since instead of exposing everyone at once, you need to wait for exposures to trickle in over time.

  • It requires more subjects, since lots of people in both groups actually end up not being exposed at all, so you need a huge sample to get reliable information.

  • The experiment itself has somewhat undetermined scope. Since you can’t know when people will be exposed, you can’t know when you’ll have your data or necessarily even define the terms of success in advance.

But most of all, a non-challenge trial isn’t just slower. It specifically requires large numbers of people outside the experiment to get sick and die.

Is this ethics?

The problem with a challenge trial (allegedly) is ethics because it is (allegedly) problematic to deliberately expose people to a virus you don’t have a cure for.

But even in the non-challenge trial, members of the control group becoming sick are how you know the treatment is working on the treatment group. The interesting thing Hextall skips in the movie is the placebo check. Doing it her way is considered bad science. Once you accept the need to test the candidate against a placebo, there’s no way to avoid the fact that your trial isn’t done until a bunch of people vaccinated with a placebo get sick.

The difference is that in the non-challenge model, everyone is supposed to behave normally rather than deliberately get exposed. But for the trial to succeed, a bunch of people with the placebo need to get sick. Which in turn means a much larger number of people in the general population need to get sick, since the people in the experiment aren’t supposed to be doing anything different.

I confess to a lack of imagination here, but I sincerely cannot understand why the scenario that involves giving people a placebo and then waiting for them (and millions of others) to get sick is “more ethical” than the scenario where we give people a placebo and then get them sick quickly in order to spare others.

If anything, the ethical question here seems to me to be about placebos, not about challenge trials. Giving someone a fake vaccine for science feels a little dodgy, but it’s perhaps a necessary evil. Certainly with a non-challenge trial, it’s necessary because without sick people in the placebo group, you can’t tell whether thepeoplewith a lack of sickness in the vaccinated group is because of the vaccine or just good luck. In a challenge trial, there might be less need for placebossince you know the treatment group has been exposed. But I don’t know. I’m not here to question the medical science of placebo effects.

I am here to say that this vision of ethics doesn’t make sense. And in broader public health terms, it’s particularly bad because it involves planning to fail.

22) And, lastly, on raising the minimum wage:

And that’s over and above the fact that empirical studies of minimum wage increases are very slightly more likely to show job losses than job gains.

If you’re a casual consumer of the news, you may be under the impression that there is a heated research battle over the employment impact of the minimum wage. But I think it’s important to see that this isn’t really true. Instead there’s a heated battle between people who on the one hand say, “there’s no reason to believe a minimum wage hike will substantially reduce employment” and people who on the other hand say, “the bulk of the literature says a minimum wage hike will reduce employment.”

Those are very different ways to characterize that chart, but they are completely compatible statements. My view is that the right way to look at this chart is that we should raise the minimum wage…

Minimum wage increases are really popular.

They’ve passed in ballot initiatives in Florida and Missouri. The $15/hour idea polls in the high 60s in most results I’ve seen. You can push those numbers down a little bit by providing negative messaging, but it doesn’t budge that much since this is a widely debated idea that people are generally familiar with. Elected officials have good reason to want to try to identify popular ways of helping people. Under the circumstances, the right question to ask about a minimum wage increase is not “is it optimal?” or “does it have some downsides?” but “is it actually bad?” …

Progressives looking to win tough races should embrace a higher minimum wage enthusiastically. Republicans looking to co-opt populist energy without hopping on the anti-trade bandwagon should consider this a far superior alternative. Free marketers who strongly favor deregulation should find something more important to focus on. And people who think the real answer is a wage subsidy scheme (does the restaurant-backed Employment Policies Institute ever actually advocate for a more generous EITC or just bring it up as a talking point?) should do the legwork of building the coalition for that rather than just standing in the way.

Jesus would not have worn a mask!

Protect others from a deadly virus he might be unwittingly spreading?  Not Jesus.  Hell no!  He understand the value of freedom and not being a sheep.  Check this out from the Pastor at my former Catholic parish:

This brings us back to my comment at the beginning that the anger we see on the national stage is affecting our parish as well. To give just one example, many would be shocked to hear the way our Hospitality Ministers are sometimes disrespected, insulted, or flatly ignored when they gently remind people to correctly wear their mask, or please be seated at a distance. That people of good will might disagree on the details of such policies is understandable, to express that disagreement in aggressive, unchristian, and disrespectful ways is not.

Now those people following Jesus’ clear example who will not be cowed by this liberal hoax, they are they real Christians.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) So much controversy in the epidemiology community between Great Barrington declaration and the John Snow (not that John Snow) response.  Good take from Tyler Cowen:

Even if you disagree with that judgment, the critics who emphasize lockdowns are setting up a straw man. What they’re trying to do is talk us into something more dangerous than what we ought to accept. The truth is that lockdowns are extremely unpopular, and while they may have to be reimposed in extreme circumstances, they are not the main alternative on the table in the U.S. right now.

The declaration also notes the value of reopening schools. It is an inarguable point, and Sweden seems to have made it work. But schools cannot and should not be reopened unconditionally. Amid high levels of Covid-19, a successful reopening very often will require social distancing, masks and a good system for testing and tracing. It would be better to focus on what needs to be done to make school reopenings work. Reopened schools in Israel, for instance, seem to have contributed to a significant second wave of Covid-19.

A broader worry about the declaration is that, for all the talk of science, it fails to emphasize data. The declaration is a series of static recommendations, yet the situation on the ground is evolving all the time. The best policies today are not the same as the best policies two months ago, and won’t necessarily be the best policies two months from now. This reader is also struck by the document’s frequent use of the passive voice — as if there is no choice but to let a series of inevitable events slowly unfold, albeit in a minimally painless way, and to allow the pandemic to finish its work.

2) Greg Sargent, “Surprise! Huge early vote bodes well for avoiding electoral disaster.”

But, in a surprise, we’re seeing an enormous outpouring of early voting right now that sets up at least the possibility of averting any serious disasters on and just after Election Day.

And at least to some degree, we may have Trump’s threats to thank for it.

The Post has a new piece that vividly details the extraordinary scope of early voting we’re seeing:

With less than three weeks to go before Nov. 3, roughly 15 million Americans have already voted in the fall election, reflecting an extraordinary level of participation despite barriers erected by the coronavirus pandemic — and setting a trajectory that could result in the majority of voters casting ballots before Election Day for the first time in U.S. history.

Indeed, Michael McDonald, who runs the United States Elections Project, estimates that we could be up to as many as 40 million people having voted by the end of next week.

What’s critical is that this makes it less likely that Trump can get away with any of his planned shenanigans.

For one thing, Trump’s efforts to intimidate Democrats out of voting are failing. The lies about vote-by-mail being fraudulent were in part about getting Democrats to give up on it, in hopes that they’d also refrain from in-person voting amid a pandemic. For another, Trump has repeatedly told his army to watch the polls for fake fraud very carefully — that is, to engage in voter intimidation. Obviously both are failing.

And so many people voting early will ease the late crush that many feared due to enormous expected demand for vote-by-mail. “That’s going to help elections officials,” McDonald told me.

Above all, the more voting happens earlier, the harder it will be for Trump to play corrupt games around late-arriving ballots.

As McDonald told me, in swing states such as Florida, North Carolina and Arizona, elections officials are very likely to be able to count the mail votes quickly, in part because of their vote-counting rules, and in part because so many voters will have gotten in their ballots earlier than expected.

3) Really enjoyed this piece on the prediction models war between Nate Silver and G. Elliot Morris.  Truth is, they are both super-bright guys who just have slightly different perspectives.  

4) Great stuff on why the Supreme Court matters so much in the latest Brian Beutler newsletter:

I’ve never hoped to have misread a situation more than I hope I’ve misread this one. But my strong sense is that there are many Democratic operatives and members of Congress who somewhat hazily equate a 6-3 GOP Supreme Court with a threat to Roe vs. Wade and the Affordable Care Act, but are also squeamish about expanding the courts, and just hope cooler heads prevail. I’d encourage anyone who fits that description to spend just a couple hours researching the conservative legal movement, because as bad as overturning Roe and gutting the ACA would be, it’d actually be the least of it. 

I’d start with this article by Julian Davis Mortenson and Nicholas Bagley, which is about how the right-wing legal establishment has spun up a completely baseless legal theory holding that the Constitution prohibits Congress from instructing the executive branch to flesh out regulatory laws. The intellectual history of “Originalism” is one of conservative legal activists reverse engineering cribbed interpretive methods that allow them to claim that the Constitution prohibits progressive policy. The so-called “nondelegation doctrine” is perhaps the bluntest instrument of judicial power their movement has produced. When implemented it will wreck decades’ worth of state capacity. 

Delegation is how we assure that our air and water are clean, that the financial industry can’t pillage and wreck the economy, that workers are protected from rapacious bosses. Congress lacks the subject-matter expertise to dictate all the regulatory steps the executive branch must take to advance these goals, so it sets up processes that allow the executive branch—with some discretion, but subject to oversight—to write rules themselves. Nullify all that and the rules go away, a dysfunctional and unmanned Congress will be unable to fill the void, and the titans of industry will become self-regulating, with all the horrifying consequences we know to expect from that. 

And that’s just one of their theories (or “theories”). Dissenting to the 5-4 decision in Janus vs. AFSCME that prohibited public-sector unions from collecting dues from non-members, Justice Elena Kagan warned that conservative justices had built a foundation for “weaponizing the First Amendment…to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.” If that sounds like Lochner by other means, it is. In 2014 I wrote this lengthy article about the faction of the conservative legal movement that openly seeks to rehabilitate Lochner-era jurisprudence, but will happily torture any party of the Constitution to undo the post-New Deal social contract. It has sadly held up well, and will only ripen under a 6-3 court.

The situation is so dire that it’s hard to imagine any Democrat who fully understood the threat would oppose court expansion. My sense is that the liberals most upset with Democrats for not more loudly opposing Barrett’s confirmation view their unwillingness to raise the temperature as evidence that they don’t fully understand the threat. God help us all if they’re right about that. 

5) Been working my way through Simpsons on Disney+ every night with my family.  Finally made it to “Marge versus the Monorail” tonight.  Simpsons season 4 is just amazingly good.  Just one of the best seasons of TV ever.  Also, got to see my favorite little snippet that I always think of when I talk about my friend Amanda.

6) David Hopkins celebrates five-years of blogging.  This part really resonates with me:

Blogging is much less fashionable than it used to be, and that’s a shame. The social media platforms that have mostly supplanted it are an inferior replacement in many respects except the ability to trade quick interactions with friends in other places. Social media too often encourages hit-and-run hot takes or cheap shots at the expense of developing a nuanced line of thought, it rewards trite pandering to partisan or ideological claques, and it has fostered a distinctively adolescent prevailing culture of behavior that is alienating to anyone who prefers a drier, less dramatic style of expression. As its consciously retro and amateurish visual design scheme symbolizes, Honest Graft is a bit of a throwback, but it’s still been a lot of fun. I would recommend blogging to anyone who’s considered it—especially academics looking for a way to apply their knowledge and skills to topics of contemporary interest.

7) Good rundown in 1619 Project controversies.  It really should not be hard to say… the overall aims and scope of the project are important, worthy, and a necessary corrective to a lot of how we interpret our history, and, yet, in places it lets ideology drive its history, rather than the other way around.  

8) Young people always vote less than older people.  It’s just a matter of trying to make this gap smaller.  Good stuff here in the Upshot.  The nations that have the best youth voting (i.e., smallest gaps) tend to be the nations that have the best participation overall.  And that’s largely a matter of policy choices.  

Medium term: Work to reduce systemic barriers, especially to registration. The strong association between youth and overall turnout suggests that measures aimed at increasing voting for everyone will bring out young voters, too — and maybe even bring their participation rates closer to the general population’s.

In her book about voter turnout, Meredith Rolfe of the University of Massachusetts points out that in U.S. elections, turnout is higher in states that make it easier to register to vote, for example by permitting it right up to an election, having registration offices that are open evenings and weekends and allowing absentee registration.

And Anthony Fowler of the University of Chicago found that permitting future voters to preregister at age 16 or 17, making them automatically registered on their 18th birthday, increases both registration and turnout by 2.1 percentage points.

In an Op-Ed for The New York Times last year, Charlotte Hill and Jacob Grumbach wrote that same-day registrationcan increase turnout for every age group — and especially for younger voters.

And an even more comprehensive approach, automatic voter registration — in which all citizens of voting age are added to the voter rolls without having to take any action — could have an additional benefit for young people, several scholars noted. Politicians “don’t have to mobilize and pay too much attention to youth, these days, because they know they’re not going to show up much at the polls, right?” Professor Leighley said. “If you get everyone registered, it has to change their calculations.”

9) Michael Gerson is exactly right in his conservative case for Biden:

But are there positive reasons for a moderate conservative to cast his or her vote for Biden?

One reason is merely strategic, but not unimportant. Because of the terrible damage Trump has done to the Republican Party, it is not enough for him to lose. He must lose in a fashion that constitutes repudiation. For the voter, this means that staying home on Election Day, or writing in Mitt Romney’s name, is not enough. She or he needs to vote in a manner that encourages a decisive Biden win. This theory also requires voting against all the elected Republicans who have enabled Trump (which is nearly all elected Republicans). A comprehensive Republican loss is the only way to hasten party reform. Those who love the GOP must (temporarily) leave it and ensure it is thoroughly defeated in its current form.

10) My teen has done well in quarantine.  Seems like he’s not alone.  Jean Twenge, “Teens Did Surprisingly Well in Quarantine: More sleep and family time—and less social media—may have made the difference.”

So why was teen mental health stable, or even better, during the pandemic?

First, teens have been sleeping more during the pandemic, and teens who are sleep deprived are significantly more likely to suffer from depression. In 2018, only 55 percent of teens said they usually slept seven or more hours a night. During the pandemic, this jumped to 84 percent among those for whom school was still in session. With teens going to school online during the pandemic, they were likely able to sleep later in the morning than usual. When school is held in person, the large majority of middle and high schools begin classes before 8:30 a.m., and some as early as 7, requiring many students to get up very early to commute to school. This creates a mismatch between school schedules and the shift to a later circadian rhythm that occurs during biological puberty, when teens find it difficult to fall asleep earlier. Teens who were able to sleep later during the early months of the pandemic might have improved their mental health.

With many parents working from home and most outside activities canceled for both parents and teens, the majority of teens reported increased family time. With positive family relationships linked to better mental health, more family time might have mitigated any negative mental-health effects of the pandemic. Fifty-six percent of teens said they were spending more time talking with their parents than they had before the pandemic, and 54 percent said their families now ate dinner together more often. Forty-six percent reported spending more time with their siblings. Perhaps most striking, 68 percent of teens said their families had become closer during the pandemic. Family closeness was associated with mental health: Only 15 percent who said their families had become closer during the pandemic were depressed, compared with 27 percent of those who did not believe their families had become closer.

Also, please, please, please can we have high school start later?  It’s particularly ridiculous that on-line high school is still starting at 7:25 when all the ostensible reasons for that (largely transportation and after-school activities) basically do not exist.  

11) Brian Resnick with an interesting take on the replication crisis and how we are getting better:

The replication crisis has led a few researchers to ask: Is there a way to guess if a paper will replicate? A growing body of research has found that guessing which papers will hold up and which won’t is often just a matter of looking at the same simple, straightforward factors.

A 2019paper by AdamAltmejd, Anna Dreber, and others identifies some simple factors that are highly predictive: Did the study have a reasonable sample size? Did the researchers squeeze out a result barely below the significance threshold of p = 0.05? (A paper can often claim a “significant” result if this “p”threshold is met, and many use various statistical tricks to push their paper across that line.) Did the study find an effect across the whole study population, or an “interaction effect” (such as an effect only in a smaller segment of the population) that is much less likely to replicate?

12) As the owner of some prodigiously-shedding dogs in my lifetime I so believe this, “Man’s Best Friend Once Made Nice Wool Blankets, Too: Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest once bred dogs in large numbers and sheared them for wool.”

13) Fair take, “I’m a pro-life evangelical. In supporting Trump, my movement sold its soul.”

14) The number of families with 3 children has stayed quite stable.  Really interesting chart (and article):

There has been much fretting in recent years about falling fertility in the United States — most recently because of a new economics paper showing that stricter car seat laws may cause people to have fewer children.

In states that have raised the age when children can stop riding in car seats, the chance that parents have a third child decreases. The reason? Since most sedans don’t fit three car seats in the back seat, buying a minivan or SUV could be a deterrent, researchers suggest.

While this is surely a consideration for some families, minivans probably aren’t the determining factor. (The additional child care is far more expensive than a car upgrade). Rather, cars are just another part of the increased burden of having babies. American parents spend more money and time on their children than ever — and that was true before the pandemic made raising children even more demanding

“People look at all these things going wrong and just feel very uncertain,” said Karen Benjamin Guzzo, a sociologist studying fertility at Bowling Green State University. “It’s just this perfect storm of a little too much right now, so lots of people think it’s not the right time to have a baby.”

Researchers who worry about the declining number of babies born each year say it could weaken the American economy and government safety net and leave older people without enough support. They also say it’s problematic if women end up having fewer children than they want to.

Yet many social scientists say that while it seems as if fertility will decline slightly for women who end their childbearing years in the next decade, the average woman will still have two children — and about a fifth will probably have three.

15) Just about finished reading Yglesias’ One Billion Americans.  It’s a thought-provoking, engaging, but easy read.  Among the most interesting sections for me was where he talks about the fact that Americans want as many children as ever, but are actually choosing to have fewer children.  And what we can do about that from a policy perspective.  Felix Salmon’s NYT review is a little harsh, I think, but also reasonably fair.  In large part, a successful tour of Yglesias’ policy interests and good ideas for how to address them:

Why, then, write a book about an impossible policy goal that few people want? The answer, in this case, seems to be that the “one billion Americans” conceit is a kind of holdall into which Yglesias, a co-founder of Vox and longtime economics journalist, can throw an otherwise random assortment of his favorite center-left policy prescriptions…

Many economics books devote themselves to cataloging the world’s ills, and then end with a curiously short “solutions” chapter that doesn’t really solve most of the problems in the book. “One Billion Americans” is a novel twist on this model. It starts with one curiously short and unconvincing chapter on the problem of having less than one billion Americans, and then dives into a long catalog of solutions. Most of them are very good ideas. But none of them solve the problem.

16) Good piece from Nate Cohn earlier this week on how persuasion– voters switching from Trump to Biden– is a key to Biden’s polling lead:

In the years after her defeat, Democrats agonized over whether their best path to the presidency was to lure back the white, working-class voters who’d defected to the president, or to increase turnout among Democratic voters who may have stayed home or supported minor-party candidates like Jill Stein. The Times/Siena surveys suggest that Mr. Biden is succeeding on both fronts, by at once peeling off a modest but crucial sliver of the president’s former supporters and benefiting from a significant advantage among voters who either backed a minor-party candidate four years ago or didn’t vote at all…

People who have switched sides since 2016 make up less than 4 percent of registered voters. But they effectively pack twice the punch of other voters, as they have both deducted a vote from their former preferred candidate and added one to the candidate they now support. Alone, these switches would be enough to give Mr. Biden a fairly comfortable victory, even without any change in the composition of the electorate or in the attitudes of voters who back a minor-party candidate.

17) This is fair from Waldman, “Amy Coney Barrett’s hearing is a disgusting spectacle of GOP dishonesty”

Unlike Republicans, Democrats had no need to conceal their policy intentions or their hopes and fears about the court. The ACA has never been more popular, and if the GOP lawsuit — supported by nearly every Republican-run state government and the Trump administration — succeeds, the result will be nothing short of a health-care cataclysm, with an estimated 23 million Americans losing health coverage and all of us losing protections for preexisting conditions.

So Democrats adorned the hearing room with posters of individual Americans who could lose their coverage if Barrett does what Republicans ask of her and votes to strike down the ACA. One after another told the heartbreaking stories of their constituents whose futures are at stake.

Republicans knew this was coming, and their strategy is familiar to anyone who watched the confirmation hearing for any Republican nominee in the past few decades. It’s pretty much the only response available to a party that 1) is eager to install judicial activists on the bench who will advance its policy agenda, but 2) knows that agenda is extraordinarily unpopular.

What it requires is a series of lies: lies about how the judiciary works, about what Republicans know and believe, and what they fervently hope that Barrett and all Republican-appointed judges will do once they’re on the bench.

The most overarching lie Republicans told is that they want judges who understand that politics have no role in judging. They lamented the fact that we no longer simply accept that if a judge is qualified, no matter their political beliefs, they should be confirmed (Merrick Garland can testify to how sincere Republicans are about that).

Lying about stuff they don’t believe for political gain.  The epitome of bad faith.  More on that coming this weekend.

18) I’m kind of fascinated about the seeming success of modern Vietnam, but no pretty much nothing about it.  This was really interesting: “Is Vietnam the Next ‘Asian Miracle’?
The country is making autocratic capitalism work unusually well.”

19) Follow the polls at all?  Then read this. It’s really, really good from the folks at 538: “What Pollsters Have Changed Since 2016 — And What Still Worries Them About 2020”


Quick hits (part II)

1) Loved this profile of and conversation with Rupert Murdoch’s son, James, who broke away from the evil empire. (He’s never watched Succession, but plenty of good references here).

2) To the surprise of many, Disney World has, apparently, not been a major source for Covid spread. I’m actually not all that surprised, as regimented as Disney is, I suspect they enforce indoor masks pretty tightly. And when it comes to major sources of spread, it really does seem to be unmasked, indoors.

3) Harry Enten on how Biden is actually a good politician:

Biden, though, seems to be winning in part because he’s actually a fairly popular politician in an era in which those don’t really exist on the national stage.

His favorability rating is above his unfavorable rating in almost all of the polls. In our CNN poll, his net favorability (favorable – unfavorable) has stood at +16 points among likely voters. The average of all the recent high quality live interview polls puts Biden’s net favorability rating at +9 points.

You might think it’s easy to get a positive net favorability when you’re standing next to Trump, who has been quite unpopular throughout his term in office. His net favorability among likely voters in our last poll was -18 points…

Indeed, another big reason Biden has been beating Trump is voters don’t think he’s ideologically extreme. The perceived ideology of candidates matters less than it used to, but we see evidence from races up and down the ballot that voters reward perceived moderation.

In 2016, Trump was seen as fairly moderate compared to other recent Republican nominees. Clinton was seen as more ideologically extreme. Recent polling indicates that voters are more likely to see Biden as moderate than either Trump or Sanders (the most likely Democratic nominee if Biden had fallen short).

4) Among other crazy things in politics is that somehow we need to have fact checks on tax breaks for Cal Cunningham’s “butler’s pantry” (old school term for part of a kitchen) because apparently Tillis wants you to think Cunningham has a butler.  More problematic is if he used it for sexual assignations.

5) George Packer takes on the growing anti-democratic strain among Republicans who are, apparently, going all-in on minority rule, “Republicans Are Suddenly Afraid of Democracy: In a series of tweets, Senator Mike Lee laid the groundwork to contest the results or block an elected majority from governing”

My guess is that Lee wasn’t just being pedantic. Worried about an election in which the people can express their will, Lee was laying the groundwork to contest the results or block an elected majority from governing.

The Trump administration is using the last weeks of the campaign to soften up the country for a repudiation of democracy itself. This project will take some doing. Getting rid of checks on presidential power in the form of inspectors general, congressional committees, special counsels, and nonpartisan judges might drive pundits and experts crazy, but such moves don’t hit home for many citizens. The post-Watergate norms established to preserve the Justice Department’s integrity are not widely understood. But voting is something else. Your vote is your most tangible connection to the idea of democratic government. It’s the only form of political power most Americans possess. It’s proof that government of, by, and for the people hasn’t yet perished from the Earth. Your vote is personal. For a president to throw it out would be an audacious undertaking.

Trump keeps promising to try. Every time he talks about “massive fraud” and sending the election to a Supreme Court with a conservative majority, he’s preparing you to have your vote taken away—to make that shocking prospect a little more normal, even inevitable. Each new controversy, each norm broken, each authoritarian pose makes Trump’s intention to nullify the election results clear.

In just the past two weeks, Trump’s children, his entourage, and the president himself engaged in ostentatious rule-breaking at the presidential debate. The president refused to condemn white supremacists or promise a peaceful transfer of power. Vice President Mike Pence engaged in less aggressive but more persistent interruptions and lies in Wednesday’s debate, and gave his own nonanswer to a question about accepting election results. Trump’s contempt for health protocols at a White House event introducing his new Supreme Court nominee led to the viral contagion of his staff and much of the executive branch’s senior leadership. The president’s flight back from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Marine One ended with a climb up the White House steps and a dramatically lit self-unmasking and salute, like a winded Mussolini. Attorney General William Barr rescinded Justice Department rules in order to be able to investigate supposed vote fraud just before an election. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe released tricked-up evidence of a Barack Obama–Joe Biden–Hillary Clinton conspiracy against the Trump campaign in 2016. Trump expressed annoyance with both Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for taking too long to produce more “evidence” that could undermine Biden in the election’s final days. When the FBI broke up a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer by right-wing extremists of the kind the president won’t renounce, Trump hurled insults at their intended target…

Having chained their party to Trump, Republicans will follow him in his frantic effort to delegitimize the coming election. But I don’t think it will work. The vote remains too powerful an idea in the minds of Americans. They are already standing in long lines to cast the ballots that Trump claims are fraudulent. The word democracy might not be found in the Constitution, but Senator Lee is right to be frightened by it.

6) This.  Meanwhile journalists are completely obsessed with getting Biden on the record on expanding the Court.  Meanwhile, we’re trying to have a democracy here.

7) Man, are liberals on twitter letting loose on Brett Stephens” take on the 1619 Project.  On the whole, I think what the project does is great work and super-important in forcing us to confront the reality of our history versus what we tell ourselves.  That said, you still have to get the history right.  And, there’s clearly a few places where the ideological goals came before the history.  It didn’t make it right before and it doesn’t make it right now.

8) Great summary in Nature of the value of face masks in limiting Covid transmission.  

9) The technophile in me was initially very intrigued by the idea of using sophisticated monitoring software to proctor on-line tests.  The more I thought about it, though, the less I wanted to subject my students to this.  Rather than reward those who cheat, my tests are now open book/note and I’ve made my test questions even more applied and analytical and apply harder grading standards for getting basic information wrong that should be in your notes. I definitely made the right call.  NYT, “How It Feels When Software Watches You Take Tests: Students say that monitoring programs like Proctorio and ExamSoft discourage them in the moments they’re trying to prove themselves.”

10) Not all millionaires are obsessed with their taxes.  In fact, the richer you are, the less you should be obsessed with the absolute value of your taxes.  So, yeah, the smarter millionaires will just pay more in taxes and live in good places and around loved ones.  NYT, “Why These Millionaires Are Staying Put Despite a New Tax on Them: The reason has little to do with money. Family and community ties keep them from leaving their state.”

Ken Schapiro, president of Condor Capital Wealth Management and a member of Tiger 21, an investment group whose members need to be worth tens of millions of dollars, said it would take more than higher taxes for him to leave New Jersey.

“It wouldn’t be higher taxes,” he said. “I have too many business ties. I own a tennis club here. I have friends and family here. Look, if they double the taxes I might do it.”

Still, Mr. Schapiro, an avid skier, said that he planned to work more from the home he has in Colorado, where the tax rate is half New Jersey’s, and that the increase might accelerate the decisions of some clients who prefer one of the states without an income tax, like Florida or Texas.

“The difference between 10.75 percent and 8.75 percent won’t necessarily pay for a second home, but the whole number will for sure,” he said, citing the new and old rates for millionaires in New Jersey. “But in general, I usually tell people to make decisions based on goals and objectives and worry about the taxes secondary.”

Leslie Quick III, one of the founders of the discount brokerage Quick & Reilly, which Fleet Financial bought in 1997 for $1.6 billion, has lived in New Jersey since 1980. He has children and grandchildren in the state and said he would be hard pressed to get his wife to move to Florida for six months and a day to avoid the tax increase.

11) I did not realize sneaky underhanded serves in tennis were a thing.  Part of me really does not like it; but part of me sees it as pretty akin to a drop shot.  I don’t know.  Alas, no tennis of any sort for me to try this out for at least half a year.

12) Good stuff from law professor Nicholas Bagley, “A Warning From Michigan: The state previews how far Republican judges will go to obstruct Democrats in office.”

As in other states, lawsuits challenging the governor’s executive orders came fast. Republican judges proved receptive, even when the legal arguments were appallingly thin. Three months into the pandemic, for example, a federal judge in Grand Rapids declared that the governor’s statewide closure of gyms was so irrational as to be unconstitutional: “At this point, the bare assertion that gyms are dangerous is not enough to demonstrate a ‘real or substantial’ connection to public health, nor is it a set of facts establishing rational basis to justify their continued closure.” The judge’s decision was so far out of line that it earned him a swift, unanimous rebuke from an appeals court.

Another example was a 13-page concurring opinion from a Republican judge excoriating Whitmer for her COVID-19 emergency orders—in a case that had nothing to do with the pandemic (at issue was an emergency rule prohibiting the sale of flavored nicotine pods for e-cigarettes). “Totalitarianism,” the judge intoned, “has no place in America.”

The judge’s rhetoric was so extreme, it bordered on parody: “Will we live under the thumb of autocrats in the hope that they will keep us safe? The world of our children and grandchildren hangs in the balance.” But the paranoid suspicion of government should be recognizable to anyone familiar with the conservative legal movement. As Chief Justice John Roberts has warned darkly, “The danger posed by the grow­ing power of the administrative state cannot be dismissed.”

The michigan supreme Court’s decision last week marks the apotheosis of this “totalitarian” line of thinking. Criticizing the Emergency Powers of Governor Act for giving Whitmer “concentrated and standardless power to regulate the lives of our people,” the Republican majority held that the law was unconstitutional because it violated the so-called nondelegation doctrine.

The doctrine ostensibly prohibits legislatures from passing laws that delegate too much power, or power of the wrong kind, to the executive branch. But the doctrine has never done meaningful work in U.S. constitutional law. It has not been used to strike down an act of Congress since 1935. It has never been used to strike down a Michigan state law, much less an emergency law that has been on the books for three-quarters of a century.

13) Yes, be concerned and vigilant, but, “6 Reasons Not to Panic About the Election.”

14) And, more taxes, “The American Dream Is Tax Reform’s Biggest Obstacle: The federal tax code aligns the interests of the middle class with the ultrawealthy. But the alliance may be breaking up.”

Much of the commentary on the fresh revelations about President Trump’s tax returns has focused on how they illustrate the vulnerability of the federal tax system to exploitation by the ultrarich. This is for good reason: Mr. Trump aggressively used a set of tax breaks popular with real estate developers to pay no taxes in 11 out of the previous 18 years, and just $750 for both 2016 and 2017.

But the most expensive subsidies in the federal tax code are not used by real estate developers, energy chief executives or bankers. They are used by upper-middle-class households under the guise of earned economic security. The main obstacle to reforming the tax code is not Mr. Trump, but rather the upper-middle-class American voter.

There are close to 300 subsidies in the tax code that, in total, cost the federal government over a trillion dollars each year. According to the Congressional Budget Office, in 2019 more money was lost to the federal government through the nation’s regressive tax breaks than was spent combined on Medicare and Medicaid.

And six out of 10 of the most expensive federal tax subsidies — including the exclusion for employment-based health insurance, benefits for company pensions and the charitable contribution deduction — are commonly used by wealthier suburban families. In sum, they drain close to $680 billion annually from the U.S. Treasury.

These subsidies are sold as providing necessary assistance — affordable housing, health care and higher education — to middle-class families. But they also apply a veneer of political legitimacy to a system that shovels billions of taxpayer dollars every year to the wealthiest families and corporations in America. For example, the top 1 percent receive benefits from their tax claims that equate to nearly 10 percent of their income and account for nearly a quarter of the total tax benefits distributed to households. In comparison, the middle class claim tax benefits that corresponds to 5.5 percent of their annual incomes and account for only 11 percent of total tax benefits distributed by the federal government.

So why does the public support regressive tax subsidies that primarily benefit the rich? After all, it’s not as if the rich are popular with the American public: A majority of survey respondents report resentment toward the rich, fueled by the perception that the rich abuse the tax system for their personal gain in ways that exacerbate inequality. At least two-thirds of the public have consistently reported that the rich and corporations do not pay their fair share of federal taxes.

But while the majority of Americans may report dissatisfaction with an overly complex and unfair tax system that’s prone to exploitation by the wealthy, their resentment is purely abstract: Americans love the very provisions that create this complexity and inequity.

In a forthcoming book on public opinion toward the tax system, co-written with the political scientist Christopher Ellis, we argue that federal tax subsidies, even those that provide the most benefits to the top 1 percent, are wildly popular with the public. It is the peculiar political nature of the American masses that creates strong incentives for policymakers to use the tax code to finance popular social goals. This is the manifestation of a phenomena described by studies for more than 50 years: A large segment of the electorate can be described as “symbolically conservative but operationally liberal.” They report hating government while favoring federal assistance for more affordable health care insurance, old-age pensions and child care.

15) Pretty happy with my commentary on the NC Governor’s race here

16) And, if you want to see me on TV, ruptured Achilles and all.  

17) Clarence Thomas is the worst.  But, I don’t think many people appreciate just how bad Alito is, too.  Now the both of them are openly clamoring to overturn same-sex marriage.  

“Due to Obergefell, those with sincerely held religious beliefs concerning marriage will find it increasingly difficult to participate in society,” Justice Thomas wrote, adding that the decision had stigmatized people of faith.

“Obergefell enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots, making their religious liberty concerns that much easier to dismiss,” Justice Thomas wrote, adding, “In other words, Obergefell was read to suggest that being a public official with traditional Christian values was legally tantamount to invidious discrimination toward homosexuals.”

“Since Obergefell,” he wrote, “parties have continually attempted to label people of good will as bigots merely for refusing to alter their religious beliefs in the wake of prevailing orthodoxy.”

The Obergefell case was decided by a 5-to-4 vote. The other two dissenters were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who did not join Justice Thomas’s opinion on Monday, and Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016.

Yeah, yeah, gimme a break.  Nobody is asking them to alter their beliefs.  Just do their damn jobs as government officials.  

18) I generally am not a fan of most American political dramas (though, I do love “Veep”) because I cannot get past how unrealistic they are.  The Danish political drama Borgen has finally come to Netflix and I love it.  I’m guessing I would not if I were a Dane, but I’m an American.  Totally love their dramatically different multi-party parliamentary system and how all the coalition politics elements play out.  I’ll also admit to quite a soft-spot for Sidse Babett Knudsen.  

19) And, we’ll close with good and scary stuff from Rick Hasen, “Trump’s New Supreme Court Is Coming for the Next Dozen Elections”

In short, a Barrett confirmation would make it more likely we will see a significant undermining of the already weakened Voting Rights Act — the Court said on Friday it will hear a case involving the law. A 6-3 conservative Court might allow unlimited undisclosed money in political campaigns; give more latitude to states to suppress votes, especially those of minorities; protect partisan gerrymandering from reform efforts; and strengthen the representation of rural white areas, which would favor Republicans…

The real concern about Barrett and elections requires looking ahead to the next five to ten years. When the Court was split 5-4 on ideological lines, the liberal justices could always try to pick off one of the conservatives in a voting case, like when Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with them in a 2015 case upholding the use of Arizona’s nonpartisan redistricting commissions to draw congressional districts and reduce partisan gerrymandering. Another time, Chief Justice Roberts sided with the liberals in a 2015 case upholding rules barring candidates for judgeships from personally soliciting campaign contributions, which was an important step in recognizing that judicial candidates can be subject to more restrictions on their campaign activities than other candidates to preserve public confidence in their impartiality on the bench.

The task for liberals becomes so much harder with a conservative 6-3 Court. Keep in mind that even on a more closely divided Court, conservatives prevailed in major voting cases: the 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC holding that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited sums supporting or opposing candidates for office; the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case striking down a part of the Voting Rights Act requiring jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get federal approval before making voting changes; the 2008 decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board upholding Indiana’s strict voter-identification law, despite any proof that such laws prevent voter fraud…

And as Republican legislatures continue to pass laws — in the name of preventing phantom voter fraud — that have the practical effect of making it harder to register and vote, some courts have pushed back. The pushback has come in the form of holding these laws unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause or other parts of the Constitution. A 6-3 conservative Court is likely to see it differently and uphold more of these laws, perhaps even draconian laws allowing states to require people to produce a birth certificate or naturalization certificate before registering to vote.

There’s going to be a lot of attention paid in the next few weeks on how a Justice Barrett in theory could decide the 2020 election. We should be far more worried about the rules that would apply in dozens of elections after 2020.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Seth Masket on how the presidential race is unlikely to, but could, change.  We’ll be hearing a lot about the SC this week, so:

The Supreme Court Nomination

A final matter which could affect the race is last week’s passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’ll be at least a few more days before we know if this had an effect on the race. This does have the potential to change this contest, although in which direction is difficult to say.

Each of Trump’s Court nominations so far have been highly dramatic and norm-shattering events. This one promises to be no different. Traditionally, Supreme Court nominations have been considered better drivers of Republican voter turnout than Democratic voter turnout – this was part of the reason Republicans in the Senate held open the Supreme Court seat in 2016 – but that’s not obviously true today. The Kavanaugh confirmation fight was likely a net benefit to Democratic turnout efforts in 2018. Also, Ginsburg was a popular icon on the political left, and her replacement by a conservative justice puts a lot of longstanding Democratic accomplishments, including legal abortion and the Affordable Care Act, in jeopardy.

What this nomination fight does have the power to do is shift the focus of the election away from the coronavirus, on which Trump is very unpopular, to an area where he is somewhat more competitive. If the presidential election is very close and contested and ends up in court, as the 2000 presidential election did, Trump would be on better legal footing with his third nominee on the Supreme Court, giving conservatives a 6-3 majority there. Of course, it will be difficult to steer voters’ attention away from the virus that has affected so many of their lives in very direct and personal ways, but this nomination will surely capture a great deal of attention, and will be at the fore of many voters’ minds.

In sum, I think we’re looking at a bunch of game-samers, to borrow Lynn Vavreck’s term. Combine that with the effect that people are already voting, and it really blunts the idea that the overall state of the race is going to be altered.

2) Even though my Civil War history professor was an older Southern gentleman, he got it right on what he taught us with the latest scholarship and not the Lost Cause.  But, somehow, I had not realized just how wrong Ken Burns‘ Civil War (which I did not watch until 1995) got things.

3) I’ve read a lot, of course, on efforts to develop rapid antigen-based diagnostic Covid tests.  I didn’t even know that a home-based PCR could be a thing.  It’s not yet, but one may may get us there.

4) Given that I’m in a profession where we would desperately like to hire more Black PhD’s to teach political science, but there just aren’t nearly enough of them, I sympathize with the sentiments for which the Wells Fargo CEO had to apologize:

Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf apologized Wednesday for a remark he made in June about the talent pool of senior Black banking executives that set off a wave of criticism when the quote resurfaced Tuesday…

In the second bullet of the third line-item of the memo, Scharf made a remark about the issues he said the bank had seen in hiring Black leaders to the bank’s operating committee, a group of senior leaders that steer the bank’s direction.

While he wanted more diversity on this committee, Scharf said “while it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from with this specific experience as our industry does not have enough diversity in most senior roles.”

“I apologize for making an insensitive comment reflecting my own unconscious bias,” Scharf said, more than three months after he sent the first memo.

An inartful choice of words, but I don’t doubt that there’s not a lot of Black people with a lot of experience in banking.  The reasons that there’s not?  All sorts of systemic racism which we should work on.  But, that doesn’t change the fact that there really probably are not a lot of Black people with the experience that it takes to get on a bank’s operating committee.  As someone in an area with a definite pipeline problem, I’m really not a fan of those who would pretend the pipeline problem does not exist.  The key is to actually address all the reasons there’s a shortage in the pipeline (and really, we should!), rather than castigate those for admitting it exists.

5) And as long as I’m on race, Conor Friedersdorf on Princeton labeling itself as racist and the federal government taking them up on it:

The president of Princeton is in a pickle. This summer, Christopher L. Eisgruber received a letter from more than 300 faculty members at the university asserting “indifference to the effects of racism on this campus.” They called on him “to openly and publicly acknowledge the way that anti-Black racism, and racism of any stripe, continue to thrive” there and “to block the mechanisms that have allowed systemic racism to work, visibly and invisibly, in Princeton’s operations.”

Princeton graduate students made similar claims. At the architecture school, an open letter asserted the existence of “ongoing anti-Black racism” and “white supremacy.” At the public-affairs school, a different open letter said, “The presence of an overwhelmingly white faculty creates an environment where instances of racism within the classroom often go unaddressed.”

In response, President Eisgruber directed university leaders to spend the summer compiling reports on how to identify and combat “systemic racism.” And he declared in early September that while the institution long ago committed to being more inclusive, “racism and the damage it does to people of color nevertheless persist at Princeton as in our society, sometimes by conscious intention but more often through unexamined assumptions and stereotypes, ignorance or insensitivity, and the systemic legacy of past decisions and policies.”

Those words arguably met the faculty letter’s demand to publicly acknowledge anti-Black racism at Princeton. But the same language was then cited by the Trump administration as justification for a Department of Education probe into whether the university has violated federal law.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 declares that at institutions that receive federal funds, no person shall be subject to discrimination or denied the benefits of any activity on the basis of race.Princeton administrators have long affirmed that their institution is complying with those requirements. Given Eisgruber’s claims that racism persists at Princeton, that racist assumptions are embedded in its structures, and that systemic racism there damages the lives of Black people, the Department of Education says it wants to know if the university has been lying.

The government’s letter concludes with intrusive demands to interview Princeton employees under oath and generate sensitive documents, including a list of each Princetonian who has been discriminated against on the basis of race since 2015, as well as records related to Eisgruber’s claims about “systemic” or “embedded” racism.

The investigation is absurd. Princeton is highly sought after by Black applicants. In admissions it uses the race of minority applicants, who are admitted at higher rates, as a “plus” to achieve greater diversity in a way that very likely benefits Black applicants. It spends lavishly on “inclusion” efforts, holds events to celebrate (and name a building after) Black alumni, and dedicates resources to recruiting and hiring Black faculty and staff. No reasonable person deciding where federal officials should look for anti-Black civil-rights violations would probe the Ivy League University. But trolls waging a culture war against critical race theory might.

As far as I can tell, the strategy is to force Princeton to either admit to serious anti-Black discrimination, risking devastating financial penalties, or else mount an affirmative case that the institution is not guilty of “systemic” anti-Black discrimination, exposing the racism claims of many administrators, faculty, and students as hyperbole. In its absurdity, then, the probe exposes the performative nature of some anti-racist rhetoric at Princeton and other elite universities…

Academic stakeholders ought to eschew strategic hyperbole when doing the important work of diagnosing and remedying problems related to racial inequality on their campuses. If they keep inflating their claims, the term racism will lose whatever power it has to grab a community’s attention and prompt urgent remedies, even in the instances when racism is in fact operating.

I object to the entire witch hunt of an investigation, which Republicans would recognize as a flagrant abuse of federal power were it aimed at Liberty University. No reasonable person could conclude that an onerous probe of Princeton for anti-Black racism is the best use, or even a good use, of scarce resources to safeguard civil rights. The decision to grapple with racism should not trigger a federal investigation, whether or not that grappling is totally honest.

The Trump administration’s action has drawn wider attention to real rhetorical excesses. But if it doesn’t really believe that civil rights are being violated, then it is violating the First Amendment by misusing investigative power to punish speech. A president who weaponizes the administrative state against private institutions because he dislikes their public profile is a danger to the country.

6) And since I believe in reading/sharing those things which challenge what I’ve written, here’s, “I’m a former prosecutor. The charge in Breonna Taylor’s death is pathetically weak.”  He makes a good case that the cops actually should be charged with at least manslaughter.  I’m unsure, but open to that.  I would still argue, though, that this is overwhelmingly a failure far beyond the actions of the cops that actually served the warrant.

7) Noah Feldman has rightly been pilloried for his embrace of Amy Coney Barrett (especially as he completely elides the larger context of her appointment).  But I had to highlight the textualism of her legal approach that he describes:

Barrett, a textualist who was working for a textualist, Justice Antonin Scalia, had the ability to bring logic and order to disorder and complexity. You can’t be a good textualist without that, since textualism insists that the law can be understood without reference to legislative history or the aims and context of the statute.

That’s facially nonsense!!  But, this is what so many conservatives hang their intellectual hats on.  I’ve got a lot of mantras in my approach to life, but one is, “context, damnit!”  And, at it’s core an approach to understanding that intentionally ignores context strikes me as intellectually bankrupt.  Especially when it somehow almost always seems to result in decisions that favor modern conservatism.

8) DJC sent me this interview with Yglesias on his new book.  Little did he know, One Billion Americans is already sitting on my shelf (to be read after I finish the novel I’m on).

9) And SMOTUS again on the Republican Party and minority rule:

Before the end of the year, Amy Coney Barett will probably be sworn in as a Supreme Court justice — and she may serve for decades. She will have been appointed by an impeached president who lost the popular vote in 2016 and may well continue in office after losing it again in 2020. She will almost certainly be approved by senators representing less than 45 percent of the American population.

Our nation is moving even deeper into minority rule: The House aside, the U.S. government is controlled by the less popular party in a polarized two-party system. We may call this unfair, but that would trivialize the problem. It is entirely permissible under the Constitution, and it is dangerous. When the majority of a nation’s citizens can’t get its candidates elected or its preferred policies passed, the government’s legitimacy is compromised and destabilizing pressure begins to build.

The tendency toward minority rule in the United States, present since the founding, has become more acute. That’s certainly true in the Senate: California has 68 times as many residents that Wyoming has, but the same number of senators. The disparity in population size between the biggest and smallest states is far greater than anything the founders knew.

Residents of rural, sparsely populated states are vastly overrepresented in the Senate. And because the electoral college is based on the number of federal representatives, this rural-state overrepresentation plays out in the selection of presidents, as well. Former vice president Joe Biden could well win the popular vote by three or four percentage points, or even more, this fall and still not be elected.

The House, the most democratic institution in the three branches of government, has no role in selecting Supreme Court justices. That’s the purview of the president and the Senate, which means that the composition of the high court has a minoritarian, rural-state bias built into it as well. (According to a Washington Post-ABC News Poll, only 38 percent of Americans say the replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should be nominated by Trump and confirmed by the current Senate; 57 percent say the nomination should be left to the winner of the presidential election, and put to a Senate vote next year.) Should a Trump nominee be confirmed, the Supreme Court will consist of six justices appointed by Republicans, even though the party has won the popular presidential vote only once in the past seven elections (George W. Bush, in 2004).

On its own, a rural state bias in representation is potentially problematic but not invidious. Plenty of issues in rural states should receive national attention, of course. But the problems mount when one party dominates the rural areas and the other dominates the urban ones, which is where we stand today. Republicans essentially get bonus points: They can be the less popular party and still get to govern.

10) I was trying to explain about the Reichstag fire and parallels to today to my oldest son.  He should just read this from Dana Milbank, “This is not a drill. The Reichstag is burning.”

11) I love science.  “Nothing Eats Viruses, Right? Meet Some Hungry Protists

On the dinner plate that is planet Earth, there exists a veritable buffet of viruses — an amount of biomass that is the equivalent of about 25 billion human beings.

So perhaps it’s a bit baffling that scientists have yet to pinpoint a species that deliberately eats viruses for energy.

But mounting evidence suggests that at least one group of organisms might nosh on nutrient-rich viruses: protists, microscopic and often single-celled organisms that scientists have struggled to place on the tree of life. Like viruses, protists seethe in seawater by the billions and trillions — and some might slurp up marine viruses, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

If the findings pan out, they could help flip a centuries-old dogma on its head: Rather than acting only as disease-causing agents of chaos and snuffing out life, viruses might in some cases play a role in fueling and sustaining it.

“They are kind of eating everything,” Dr. Anderson said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if viruses were being consumed.”

A team led by Ramunas Stepanauskas, a microbial ecologist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine, started the project more than a decade ago. They initially intended to study the prey preferences of marine protists, many of which chow down on bacteria.

12) Oh, I wish I had known about this little brain test when my kids were under 7.  Try it with yours!

13) Some interesting social science on Covid response:

Context: Social distancing is an essential but economically painful measure to flatten the curve of emergent infectious diseases. As the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spread throughout the United States in early 2020, the federal government left to the states the difficult and consequential decisions about when to cancel events, close schools and businesses, and issue stay-at-home orders.

Methods: We present an original, detailed dataset of state-level social distancing policy responses to the epidemic, then apply event history analysis to study the timing of implementation of five social distancing policies across all fifty states.

Results: The most important predictor of when states adopted social distancing policies is political: All else equal, states led by Republican governors were slower to implement such policies during a critical window of early COVID-19 response.

Conclusions: Continuing actions driven by partisanship, rather than public health expertise and scientific recommendations, may exact greater tolls on health and broader society.

14) I love this post from a scientist who came around to understanding the role of aerosols and the role of the “aerosols = measles” fallacy.  Because I fell for that fallacy because I’m actually a political scientist and didn’t know any better.  But I soon learned from Linsey Marr and others.  What’s amazing is how long it has taken so many others who should know better to come around on this.

15) Of course Biden and Democrats winning the election would be better for the economy.  Don’t take it from me, take it from Moody’s (via Drum)

In every possible category, a Democratic sweep is better for the country than any other scenario. Moody’s even projects that Democrats would be better for the budget deficit than Republicans.

You can read the full report here, but it’s pretty easy to summarize. If Democrats win, they’ll spend money to stimulate the economy out of its COVID-19 funk and this will help everybody. The spending will largely be financed by taxing the rich, which has only a small negative effect on the economy. But if Republicans win, they’ll keep the purse strings closed and instead pursue yet more tax cuts for the rich and trade wars with China. Neither one is especially good for the economy. It’s so simple.

16) OMG this demographic swingometer is fun to play with.  Just try it.

17) Donald Ayer worked with Bill Barr under GHWB.  He tells us that Bill Barr is an unhinged fanatic .

The crucial point for Barr is his claim that the thinking of the Founders, and therefore “the American government” they created, “was predicated precisely on this Judeo-Christian system” of values handed down by God. According to Barr, “the greatest threat to free government, the Founders believed, was not governmental tyranny, but personal licentiousness—the abandonment of Judeo-Christian moral restraints in favor of the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites.”

To put it in polite terms, this is a complete misreading of the Founders’ views. Barr largely ignores many of the most central elements of the American founding—especially those concerning freedom of thought and speech, and the individual pursuit of happiness. Nor does he see as significant the fact that the members of the founding generation, although mostly self-described Christians, had also been greatly influenced by the secular and rationalist outlook of the Enlightenment, and rejected most of the supernatural elements of literal Christian doctrine.

18) I’ve been watching The Simpsons (mostly) from the beginning with my kids the past month.  I love how much they love it.  I love how much I remember (“wow, little meatloaf men!” from episodes that it’s been nearly 30 years since I’ve seen.  The writing by season 3 (which we are know on) is just consistently brilliant and holds up terrifically nearly three decades later.  The kids were real skeptics at the beginning due to the animation, but, damn if this isn’t proof of the power of great writing.

Quick hits (part I)

1) David Quammen is one of my favorite non-fiction authors (Song of the Dodo is one of my favorite non-fiction books ever) and he’s an expert on zoonotic diseases that spillover from animal to human populations.  Love this take, “The Pandemic, From the Virus’s Point of View: The career of the coronavirus so far is, in Darwinian terms, a great success story.”

Viruses have no malice against us. They have no purposes, no schemes. They follow the same simple Darwinian imperatives as do rats or any other creature driven by a genome: to extend themselves as much as possible in abundance, in geographical space and in time. Their primal instinct is to do just what God commanded to his newly created humans in Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.”

For an obscure virus, abiding within its reservoir host — a bat or a monkey in some remote region of Asia or Africa, or maybe a mouse in the American Southwest — spilling over into humans offers the opportunity to comply. Not every successful virus will “subdue” the planet, but some go a fair way toward subduing at least humans.

This is how the AIDS pandemic happened. A chimpanzee virus now known as SIVcpz passed from a single chimp into a single human, possibly by blood contact during mortal combat, and took hold in the human. Molecular evidence developed by two teams of scientists, one led by Dr. Beatrice H. Hahn, the other by Michael Worobey, tells us that this most likely happened more than a century ago, in the southeastern corner of Cameroon, in Central Africa, and that the virus took decades to attain proficiency at human-to-human transmission…

SARS-CoV-2 has done likewise, though its success has occurred much more quickly. It has now infected more than 30 million people, just under half as many as the number of people infected by H.I.V., and in 10 months rather than 10 decades. It’s not the most successful human-infecting virus on the planet — that distinction lies elsewhere, possibly with the Epstein-Barr virus, a very transmissible species of herpesvirus, which may reside within at least 90 percent of all humans, causing syndromes in some and lying latent in most. But SARS-CoV-2 is off to a roaring start…

Coronaviruses are an exceptionally dangerous group. The journal Cell recently published a paper on pandemic diseases and how Covid-19 has come upon us, by a scientist named Dr. David M. Morens and one co-author. Dr. Morens, a prolific author and keen commentator, serves as senior scientific adviser to the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci. His co-author on this paper is Dr. Fauci.

2) This is interesting, “Colds Nearly Vanished Under Lockdown. Now They’re Coming Back”

A question, however, is why the cold viruses appear to be spreading so quickly abroad now in spite of continued mask-wearing and social distancing. Europeans and Australians may be enjoying more of the finer things in life than Americans, but they’re still battling the same pandemic. The differing structures of the virus may play a role. The virus that causes Covid-19 is what’s called an “enveloped” virus, a ball of protein surrounded by a lipid layer. That fatty external structure is easier to destroy with soap and water, and it’s less likely to remain infectious for long on exposed surfaces. That’s one reason health officials now place more emphasis on masks and distancing to help prevent aerosol and droplet spread of SARS-CoV-2, and less on disinfecting grocery bags and doorknobs. Rhinoviruses, however, don’t have that envelope, and are thought to be hardier. “Kids will drag their hands through everything and be festy little carriers of the virus,” Mackay says.

Sebastian Johnston, a leading expert on rhinoviruses at Imperial College London, says that while that’s likely the case, he believes aerosols and droplets are probably still the main route for rhinoviruses to get around—same as SARS-CoV-2. That means masks and distancing help curb those viruses too. But the difficulty of getting kids to uniformly abide by those rules, plus children’s susceptibility to passing colds to each other, plus the viability of surfaces as an alternative route of transmission, are all likely coming together to fuel the current outbreaks. Kids are getting these viruses, somehow—just like any other school year—and then bringing them home with them.

3) Damn it’s tough out there for Hollywood these days.  The case of “Mulan.”

The simple fact is that no major studio has been nimble enough to get around the pandemic’s biggest obstacles. This is partly due to Hollywood’s increasing reliance on blockbusters. In decades past, Hollywood churned out plenty of cheaper movies that relied on word of mouth and could play for months on end, slowly racking up profits. But modern tentpole releases such as Mulan and Tenet are designed to have spectacular global rollouts, packing theaters and securing massive opening-weekend grosses. Think hundreds of millions of dollars rather than merely tens of millions.

4) Nice to see an article make a point I’ve been thinking for a long time, “If You Can Grocery Shop in Person, You Can Vote in Person: Experts now say the health risk of casting an in-person ballot is relatively low. Will Democrats tell their voters that?”

5) Chait with an excellent piece on Trump and authoritarianism:

There is an important difference between these maneuvers and what Putin accomplished: Trump’s strong-arm plays have failed more than they have succeeded. Bezos has refused to sell off or crack down on the Post, the Trump cards did not materialize, and the $5 billion patriotic education fund seems unlikely. But his poor record of success should provide only modest comfort. Trump’s approval ratings have hovered in the low 40s throughout his entire term, and his corporate counterparties have operated under the assumption that he is likely to leave after a single term. Their cold business incentive leans toward resisting his pressure and not implicating themselves in a widely detested criminal regime that is likely to leave in disgrace.

But if Trump wins a second term, those incentives will change. Maybe Big Pharma will go along with the Trump cards, and have less fear of what retribution a Democratic administration would enact. Maybe Jeff Bezos will conclude that financing the Post does not justify the tens of billions of dollars in lost federal contracts. And perhaps all the other business tycoons will come to see that the Deripaska bargain — accepting Trump’s protection in return for allowing him to exploit whatever political leverage he can gain from their market power — is now the smart move. When you’re a tsar, they let you do it.

6) Sadly, this sounds about right to me “Geoengineering Is the Only Solution to Our Climate Calamities.”  On the bright side, this article makes the case for actually being able to pull it off.

7) Great column from EJ Dionne, “The Supreme Court struggle is about democracy”

The battle over the Supreme Court seat opened by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not about “partisanship,” or even Republican hypocrisy, although the GOP has displayed bad faith in abundance. It is, finally, a struggle over whether our constitutional republic will also be democratic.

Allowing President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to complete a judicial coup and install a 6-to-3 conservative majority will be, in both form and substance, a triumph for anti-democratic forces and anti-democratic thinking.

This is why we must reject the fake moderation of those who pretend that both sides in this fight are equally partisan, equally stubborn and equally at fault. No. It’s the American Right that has been willing to abuse power again and again to achieve its goal of imposing a radical approach to jurisprudence that would undercut democracy itself.

There is no liberal analogue to the Shelby County and Citizens United decisions, which changed the rules of the game in anti-democratic ways; no liberal analogue to the Merrick Garland blockade; and no liberal analogue to the lawlessness of Bush v. Gore.

So let’s understand how the words “court-packing” should be used. The real court-packers are McConnell, Trump and conservatives who draw inspiration from what some of them call a “Constitution in exile.”

They are expressing nostalgia for the glory days of pre-New Deal judging that gave us separate-but-equal rulings on civil rights and eviscerated the ability of the democratically elected branches of government to protect workers, consumers and the environment.

If the court-packers succeed in forcing another conservative onto the court regardless of the outcome of the 2020 election, enlarging the court would be a democratic necessity, not payback.

8) A Republican-led Senate committee came out with a damning report on Trump and Russia and nobody even cared.9) And one of Mueller’s deputies has a book out about how they screwed up.  George Packer summarizes:

By abdicating the role of prosecutor, Mueller cleared the way for Barr to take it on himself. Mueller and Barr were old friends. Several weeks before submitting the report, Weissmann writes, Mueller informed Barr of his intent to omit any legal recommendation. Barr didn’t object. Without telling Mueller, he saw a chance to disfigure the report into an exoneration of the president and thereby make its damning truths disappear. “Barr,” Weissmann writes, “had betrayed both friend and country.”

And Mueller? He was incapable of navigating the world remade by Trump. He conducted himself with scrupulous integrity and allowed his team to be intimidated by people who had no scruples at all. His deep aversion to publicity silenced him when the public badly needed clarity about the special counsel’s dense, ambiguous, at times unreadable report. His sense of fairness surrendered the facts of presidential criminality to an administration that was at war with facts. He trusted his friend Barr to play it straight, not realizing that Barr had gone crooked. He left the job of holding the president accountable to a Congress that had shown itself to be Trump’s willing accomplice. He wanted, above all, to warn the American people about foreign subversion of our democracy, while the greater subversion gathered force here at home.

In our interview, I asked Weissmann if Mueller had let the American people down. “Absolutely, yep,” Weissmann said, before quickly adding: “I wouldn’t phrase it as just Mueller. I would say ‘the office.’ There are a lot of things we did well, and a lot of things we could have done better, to be diplomatic about it.”

And the investigation—was it a historic missed opportunity?

Weissmann’s reply was terse. “That’s fair.”

With the end of the Special Counsel’s Office, the one real check on Trump’s unfettered power was gone, until the next election. Now it’s upon us, and the president remains free to repeat what worked for him in the last one.

10) Good question, “Why Are 2 Million People Still Getting Netflix DVDs by Mail?”  I cannot speak for others, but as for me, as soon as Amazon and others let me do a digital rental for more than 24-48 hours, I’ll drop my DVD rentals.  The whole reason Netflix trounced Blockbuster in the first place was the late fees.

11) So, this, “The United States is backsliding into autocracy under Trump, scholars warn.”  And this relevant tweet.

12) This was some interesting social science I just stumbled across:

In this paper I expand on the current literature regarding how women are perceived by surname choice with a vignette experiment conducted in a diverse sample (N = 1243) of the U.S. and ordered logistic regression to evaluate (1) how committed respondents think a woman is as a wife by her last name choice and (2) whether a woman’s last name choice causes individuals to hold her to different standards (a backlash effect). I describe the woman’s behavior in marriage in order to see if surname choice matters beyond information on how the woman is “performing.” In addition, I examine whether name change varies depending on the educational attainment and gender of the evaluator. While overall, last name choice appears to have little impact on how women are viewed among women and highly educated men, I find that men of low education view women who retain their surnames in marriage as less committed wives. These men also think women who retain their surnames should be held to higher standards than women with their husbands’ last names. My results follow scholarship that finds that men of lower education are more protective of overt instances of the gender hierarchy, of which surname practices are an important example.

13) I’m fascinated by how Rachel Bitecofer has gone from a nobody at a largely-unknown university to a political scientist on twitter with over a hundred thousand followers and regular spots on MSNBC.  But, damn, did she sure blow it with her election prediction model.

14) Jill Lepore on “The Last Time Democracy Almost Died” (the 1930’s).

15) And this Ezra Klein piece is terrific.  If you click through and read but a single quick hit, make it this one.  “When did good governance become an “armageddon option”? The price for Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat can’t be democracy itself.”

16) Ryan Burge, “What Turned the Tide on Gay Marriage?”

If I were to describe how the shift happened on same sex marriage it would be gradually among some, but also all at once among others. It’s clearly an issue that evolved in an entirely different way from other issues as captured in survey data. Why? Well, I’m partial to the contact hypothesis. Succinctly stated, those who have positive contact with members of a minority group feel more warmly toward that group. In this case, as it has become more socially acceptable to be LGBT and more people felt comfortable to come out, which means that lots of Americans suddenly found themselves with a relative or close friend who was personally impacted by prohibitions against same sex marriage. It became a personal issue for many, and when that happened, opinions began to shift.

I think it’s fair to say that the culture war surrounding gay marriage is essentially over. Consider Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. When it became national news, very few rose up in her defense. Even Republicans running in the presidential primary refused to support her. Donald Trump said, “the decision’s been made, and that’s the law of the land.” She also found no support among Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, or Lindsey Graham. She served five days in jail for contempt (Mike Huckabee offered to go in her place) and then was defeated in the county clerk’s election in 2018. Since her electoral defeat, she’s almost completely retreated from public life, along with the issue that gave her fifteen minutes of fame.

It’s fair to say that we may never see another issue move so quickly, across so many parts of American society, as same sex marriage. A centerpiece of the culture war now seems like a fight from a bygone era. And, while support began to emerge among the young, it quickly spread to even the oldest American Christians. If people believe that the population of the United States is loathe to change its mind, this is the clearest counterfactual that exists.

17) Have I mentioned that the CDC finally admitted airborne transmission is happening.  But then pulled the guidance!  It is literally almost incomprehensible how much Donald Trump is screwing up the pandemic response.

18) This is cool, “Crows possess higher intelligence long thought a primarily human attribute”

19) This is sure true, “Breonna Taylor Is Another Victim of the War on Drugs”

The Drug War killed Breonna Taylor. Former Detective Brett Hankinson, Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly, and Detective Myles Cosgrove may have pulled the trigger, but they carried out this raid because of our misguided, ineffective, and racist drug laws. Since President Nixon first declared a “War on Drugs” in 1971, Black Americans have been arrested, jailed, and killed for frequently minor or nonviolent drug offenses. No‐​knock raids, in which police are authorized to enter a property without notifying the residents, have become a favorite tool of law enforcement, with tens of thousands executed each year…

Regardless, the warrant was executed in the early hours of the morning as Ms. Taylor and her boyfriend slept; reacting defensively to heavily armed intruders breaking down doors in the middle of the night is a reasonable response. Using violent shock and awe tactics on people suspected of nonviolent offenses is not.

What many of these violent raids have in common is that they target low‐​level drug offenders. Dozens of raids have ended in injury or death since 2010. The aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws may be as dangerous as the drug itself.

Ending the War on Drugs will not eliminate police misuse of deadly force, but it will limit the ability of law enforcement agencies to use the pretext of “public safety” to commit violence. The Drug War must end; it has already claimed too many victims.

20) It really is amazing the medical applications of dogs’ astonishing sense of smell.  How cool is this?” Helsinki airport uses sniffer dogs to detect Covid
Researchers running Helsinki pilot scheme say dogs can identify virus in seconds”

21) Krugman on Trump’s Stalinist approach to science:

Lately I’ve found myself thinking about Trofim Lysenko.

Who? Lysenko was a Soviet agronomist who decided that modern genetics was all wrong, indeed contrary to Marxist-Leninist principles. He even denied that genes existed, while insisting that long-discredited views about evolution were actually right. Real scientists marveled at his ignorance.

But Joseph Stalin liked him, so Lysenko’s views became official doctrine, and scientists who refused to endorse them were sent to labor camps or executed. Lysenkoism became the basis for much of the Soviet Union’s agricultural policy, eventually contributing to the disastrous famines of the 1930s.

Does all of this sound a bit familiar given recent events in America?

Those worried about a crisis of democracy in the United States — which means everyone paying attention — usually compare Donald Trump to strongmen like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, not Stalin. Indeed, if the G.O.P. has become an extremist, anti-democratic party — and it has — it’s an extremism of the right.

 But while nobody would accuse Trump of being a leftist, his political style always reminds me of Stalinism. Like Stalin, he sees vast, implausible conspiracies everywhere — anarchists somehow in control of major cities, radical leftists somehow controlling Joe Biden, secret anti-Trump cabals throughout the federal government. It’s also notable that those who work for Trump, like Stalinist officials, consistently end up being cast out and vilified — although not sent to gulags, at least not yet.

And Trumpism, like Stalinism, seems to inspire special disdain for expertise and a fondness for quacks…

Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance to the effect that people exposed to the coronavirus but not having Covid-19 symptoms didn’t need to get tested — contrary to the recommendations of just about every independent epidemiologist. Subsequent reporting revealed that the new guidance was prepared by political appointees and skipped the scientific review process.

More recently, the C.D.C. warned about airborne transmission of the coronavirus — this time matching what experts are saying — only to suddenly pull the guidance from its website a few days later. We don’t know exactly what happened, but it’s hard not to notice that the retracted guidance would have made it clear that recent Trump rallies, which involve large indoor crowds with few people wearing masks, create major public health risks.

I had heard of Lysenkoism, but didn’t really know much about it.  I think this is going into my regular vocabulary when discussing Trump and Covid.

22) I mean, seriously, what does it say about a political party where it seen as a good thing to compare your ideology to Attila the Hun?  Seriously?  Pesca was great on this.  Really worth a listen.  Also, Alexandra Petri:

“She’s more conservative than Attila the Hun.”

— Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s (R-Ga.) own commercial

It has been clear for a while that the Republican Party of President Trump has tossed aside such conservatives as Edmund Burke (too constraining) and Ronald Reagan (too Hollywood) as the icons in whose image they wanted to mold themselves. But you must forgive me for not realizing that they already had a new icon in mind: Attila the Hun.

I suppose the selection of Attila as a new conservative lodestar gave me pause, because I thought conservatism had something to do with conserving and less to do with hearing the lamentations of your enemies mount while you pillaged and brutalized whatever you could lay hands on in a storm of fire and blood. I will not make that mistake again.

How to characterize Attila the Hun’s conservatism?

Old conservatism was about preserving things. New conservatism is about laying waste to them with fire and horse. Old conservatism thought you ought to protect the old and tried from the new and untried. New conservatism is about extorting enormous gold tributes from your geopolitical rivals lest you devastate even more of their languishing cities. Old conservatism fought for institutions. New conservatism is about ensuring travelers to your lands camp far away from the river because the field near the bank is too full of human bones. A powerful role model!

23) This was pretty interesting and disturbing how a QAnon-connected person tried to infiltrate (unsuccessfully, in the end) liberal groups in NC.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I keep reading how exposure to ordinary common cold coronaviruses may be related to “cross-reactive” immunity that may be protecting people from severe cases of Covid.  What I’ve yet to see, though, is any suggestion that we purposefully start infecting people with coronavirus colds.  Why not?!  Far as I know, nobody ever died from a cold and this sure seems worth investigating.

2) Great interview with Bill Gates in Wired:

Let’s talk vaccines, which your foundation is investing in. Is there anything that’s shaping up relatively quickly that could be safe and effective?

Before the epidemic came, we saw huge potential in the RNA vaccines—ModernaPfizer/BioNTech, and CureVac. Right now, because of the way you manufacture them, and the difficulty of scaling up, they are more likely—if they are helpful—to help in the rich countries. They won’t be the low-cost, scalable solution for the world at large. There you’d look more at AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson. This disease, from both the animal data and the phase 1 data, seems to be very vaccine preventable. There are questions still. It will take us awhile to figure out the duration [of protection], and the efficacy in elderly, although we think that’s going to be quite good. Are there any side effects, which you really have to get out in those large phase 3 groups and even after that through lots of monitoring to see if there are any autoimmune diseases or conditions that the vaccine could interact with in a deleterious fashion.

Are you concerned that in our rush to get a vaccine we are going to approve something that isn’t safe and effective?

Yeah. In China and Russia they are moving full speed ahead. I bet there’ll be some vaccines that will get out to lots of patients without the full regulatory review somewhere in the world. We probably need three or four months, no matter what, of phase 3 data, just to look for side effects. The FDA, to their credit, at least so far, is sticking to requiring proof of efficacy. So far they have behaved very professionally despite the political pressure. There may be pressure, but people are saying no, make sure that that’s not allowed. The irony is that this is a president who is a vaccine skeptic. Every meeting I have with him he is like, “Hey, I don’t know about vaccines, and you have to meet with this guy Robert Kennedy Jr. who hates vaccines and spreads crazy stuff about them.”…

You helped fund a Covid diagnostic testing program in Seattle that got quicker results, and it wasn’t so intrusive. The FDA put it on pause. What happened?

There’s this thing where the health worker jams the deep turbinate, in the back of your nose, which actually hurts and makes you sneeze on the healthy worker. We showed that the quality of the results can be equivalent if you just put a self-test in the tip of your nose with a cotton swab. The FDA made us jump through some hoops to prove that you didn’t need to refrigerate the result, that it could go back in a dry plastic bag, and so on. So the delay there was just normal double checking, maybe overly careful but not based on some political angle. Because of what we have done at FDA, you can buy these cheaper swabs that are available by the billions. So anybody who’s using the deep turbinate now is just out of date. It’s a mistake, because it slows things down.

3) Norm Ornstein on the decline of the Republican Party:

I have been immersed in national politics in Washington for five decades. Over my time here, as an academic, a congressional staffer, a think tanker, and a commentator and public figure, I have gotten to know and worked with a wide range of key actors in politics and policy. I have seen up close the changes in our politics and culture. Nothing has been more striking or significant than the transformation of the Republican Party, from a moderately conservative party to a very conservative party to something else entirely…

Few of the dozens of Republicans in high office I have known and admired over five decades—in a party not my own and holding views that, in many cases, I did not share—would be represented in the Republican Party of today. While some of my friends and mentors were and are moderates, others were proud conservatives, who genuinely believed in fiscal discipline but also valued government, albeit in a limited form. But the radical and unconservative idea that all government should be disdained, that tax cuts that blow up the debt are just fine, would be anathema to them…

The Republican Party’s slide away from those values preceded Donald Trump, providing the conditions for his rise. In recent years, the GOP has thrown away its guiding values and embraced its darkest instincts. It has blown up long-standing norms in the Senate, creating divisions that outstrip anything I have seen before; done nothing about rank corruption in the White House and the Cabinet; accepted the politicization of the Justice Department and lies from the attorney general; avoided any meaningful oversight of misconduct; and failed to curb attacks on the independence of inspectors general.

The GOP now distinguishes itself by inaction. It has stood and watched as this administration separated children from their parents at the border, mistreated asylum seekers, botched its response to a hurricane in Puerto Rico, attacked science, and opened new avenues for toxic materials in our air and water. It said and did nothing about Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and is actively blocking efforts to combat a recurrence in 2020. It has refused to pass a new Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder eviscerated the legislation, which, reflecting the GOP of the past, had passed the House unanimously. It has refused to deal in any fashion with urgent problems such as climate change, immigration, global competition, hunger, and poverty. It confirmed nominees who lied to the Senate, who inflated résumés, and who failed to meet minimum qualifications for the job. It confirmed judges who were unanimously rated unqualified by the American Bar Association.

4) Gallup’s latest on mask usage.  Nice to see the partisan gap narrowing:


5) For my fellow indoor air quality and Covid geeks, this set of powerpoints from the expert at U of Colorado is terrific.

6) For the longest time, I was really curious as to how much transmission was going on from people who were truly asymptomatic (as opposed to pre-symptomatic, who are clearly a huge portion of the spread).  I gave up on getting an answer, but it’s there, and it appears that these people really are probably responsible for a decent amount of transmission based on viral loads being pretty much the same as people with symptoms: “Even Asymptomatic People Carry the Coronavirus in High Amounts: Researchers in South Korea found that roughly 30 percent of those infected never develop symptoms yet probably spread the virus.”

7) This is sadly true and we really should change the way our system works so that it is not, “The Police Lie. All the Time. Can Anything Stop Them? Would the criminal justice system collapse if cops were forced to tell the truth?”

Defense attorneys around the country believe the practice is ubiquitous; while that belief might seem self-serving, it is borne out by footage captured on smartphones and surveillance cameras. Yet those best positioned to crack down on testilying, police chiefs and prosecutors, have done little or nothing to stop it in most of the country. Prosecutors rely on officer testimony, true or not, to secure convictions, and merely acknowledging the problem would require the government to admit that there is almost never real punishment for police perjury.

Officers have a litany of incentives to lie, but there are two especially powerful motivators. First, most evidence obtained from an illegal search may not be used against the defendant at trial under the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule; thus, officers routinely provide false justifications for searching or arresting a civilian. Second, when police break the law, they can (in theory) suffer real consequences, including suspension, dismissal, and civil lawsuits. In many notorious testilying cases, including Parham’s, officers blame the victim for their own violent behavior in a bid to justify disproportionate use of force. And departments will reward officers whose arrests lead to convictions with promotions…

When NYPD officers are accused of illegal behavior, the department itself usually investigates, then conceals its findings and imposes, at worst, a slap on the wrist, like brief paid leave. Prosecutors could separately investigate, but they have little incentive to question an officer’s story: If they know an officer is lying, they cannot legally rely on his testimony; if they remain in the dark, they can still use his perjury to clinch a conviction. Moreover, prosecutors and police work together to put defendants behind bars, developing a team mentality that prevents prosecutors from scrutinizing officers’ testimony with appropriate skepticism. As long as officers’ lies cannot be proved false, prosecutors have little reason to question their account of events. As a New York assistant district attorney told the Mollen Commission: “Taking money is considered dirty, but perjury for the sake of an arrest is accepted. It’s become more casual.”

8) The electoral college is just so wrong (and I’ve been ranting against it since 1998).  And honestly, the more you learn about it, the more it is simply indefensible.  Good stuff here from a Historian, “How Has the Electoral College Survived for This Long? Resistance to eliminating it has long been connected to the idea of white supremacy.”

What is far less known, or recognized, is that long after the abolition of slavery, Southern political leaders continued to resist any attempts to replace the Electoral College with a national popular vote. (They sometimes supported other reforms, like the proportional division of each state’s electoral votes, but those are different strands of a multifaceted tale.) The reasoning behind this opposition was straightforward, if disturbing. After Reconstruction, the white “Redeemer” governments that came to power in Southern states became the political beneficiaries of what amounted to a “five-fifths” clause: African-Americans counted fully toward representation (and thus electoral votes), but they were again disenfranchised — despite the formal protections outlined in the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, which stated that the right to vote could not be denied “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” White Southerners consequently derived an even greater benefit from the Electoral College than they had before the Civil War.

9) Alan Abramowitz’s electoral forecast model, “It’s the Pandemic, Stupid! A Simplified Model for Forecasting the 2020 Presidential Election”

n 2016, Donald Trump won a majority of votes in the Electoral College while losing the national poplar vote by more than two percentage points. The huge discrepancy between this popular and electoral vote margins was due to his very narrow victories in several swing states including Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida. However, based on the results presented in this article, Trump’s chances of repeating this feat in 2020 appear to be slim.

When an incumbent president is running for a second term, the election is always largely a referendum on the president’s record during his first term. Normally, an important component of that record is the performance of the U.S. economy, especially during the first half of the election year. In 2020, however, due to the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on American society and on the economy, it appears likely that the presidential election will turn much more on the president’s handling of that pandemic. By the summer of 2020, the public’s assessment of the president’s handling of the pandemic had turned decidedly negative.

It also appears unlikely that President Trump will enjoy the electoral advantage that normally accrues to first-term incumbents. Partisan polarization has drastically reduced the ability of incumbent office-holders at all levels to appeal to voters across party lines. Moreover, unlike previous incumbents, Trump has made little effort to expand his base of support during his time in office.

Based on these considerations, I have presented a simple incumbent referendum model for forecasting the outcome of the 2020 electoral vote. The president’s net approval rating of -15 percent in late June yields a forecast of a decisive 319-219 vote victory by Joe Biden in the Electoral College. Yet the model still gives Trump about a 30% chance of winning the election due to uncertainty about what will transpire between June and November. However, if Trump’s approval rating remains at -15 in late October, the model predicts an even more overwhelming defeat with 361 electoral votes for Joe Biden to only 177 for the president. At that point, Trump would have only a 9% chance of winning the election according to the model.

10) And Natalie Jackson, “Poll-Based Election Forecasts Will Always Struggle With Uncertainty”

After my forecast, which gave Hillary Clinton a 98% chance of winning on Election Day, collided with the fact of Trump’s victory, I spent a lot of time considering what went wrong and the impact of my work. I have concluded that marketing probabilistic poll-based forecasts to the general public is at best a disservice to the audience, and at worst could impact voter turnout and outcomes.

This conclusion is based on two interconnected issues. The first is that we do not really know how to measure all the different sources of uncertainty in any given poll. That’s particularly true of election polls that are trying to survey a population — the voters in a future election — that does not yet exist. Moreover, the sources of uncertainty shift with changes in polling methods.

That leads directly to the second problem. The challenge of developing models that account for both known and unknown uncertainty is catnip for political data analysts. There’s nothing wrong with trying to solve the puzzle. The problem is marketing those attempts to solve it to the general public in the form of a seemingly simple probability or odds statement that the public lacks the tools and context to appropriately interpret.

11) What do Black Americans want from the police?  Not less policing, but better policing.  Gallup:

  • Black Americans a bit more likely than most other groups to see police locally
  • Still, most (81%) want police to spend same amount of or more time in their area
  • Big racial gaps seen in views of police fairness, perceived bias

12) Social science on partisanship and masks:

Political polarization and competing narratives can undermine public policy implementation. Partisanship may play a particularly important role in shaping heterogeneous responses to collective risk during periods of crisis when political agents manipulate signals received by the public (i.e., alternative facts). We study these dynamics in the United States, focusing on how partisanship has influenced the use of face masks to stem the spread of COVID-19. Using a wealth of micro-level data, machine learning approaches, and a novel quasi-experimental design, we document four facts:

(1) mask use is robustly correlated with partisanship;

(2) the impact of partisanship on mask use is not offset by local policy interventions;

(3) partisanship is the single most important predictor of local mask use, not COVID severity or local policies;

(4) Trump’s unexpected mask use at Walter Reed on July 11, 2020 significantly increased social media engagement with and positive sentiment towards mask-related topics.

These results unmask how partisanship undermines effective public responses to collective risk and how messaging by political agents can increase public engagement with mask use.

13) David Plotz on the Census:

The National Weather Service just predicted that this will be an “extremely active” hurricane season, with 10 to 16 more named storms, adding to the 9 that have already formed. That’s huge, valuable news that will guide how cargo ships and planes are routed, how off-shore drilling rigs are staffed, when crops are harvested.

The very best meteorologists on the planet, trained at grand American universities and hired by the federal government, interpolated data from satellites launched at a cost of billions of dollars and weather stations and buoys and sensors distributed by the thousands. It’s a triumph of data, complexity, human capital, and public investment.

On the other hand, the Census, the most magnificent collection of data in the history of the world, will be a cruddy mess this year. Even though the pandemic has caused havoc in the Census, Trump officials have cut short the count by a month, declined to extend the data analysis till April, and actively discouraged immigrants from completing census forms. All of this means that tens of millions of households will likely be missed. This would help Trump and his allies politically, and would send fewer federal resources to poorer parts of the country.

But it also spoils one of the most valuable tools the US has. Businesses rely on accurate Census data to make decisions on how to staff, where to put stores, how much to pay, and what kind of products to market. Governments rely on it to decide where to build roads and schools, what to tax, and where to rezone. Making it census data worse to meet a short-term political end will cascade error through the system, making all of us poorer and more ignorant.

In their war against the nonexistent deep state, Trump and his allies have undermined and ruined one of America’s greatest strengths. The federal government gathers and analyzes mass data better than any organization that has ever existed, and that has helped make us all rich. Corrupting that will harm the rest of us long after Trump has left Washington

14) Greg Sargent, “How Trump’s corruption may doom any attempt at an ‘October surprise’”

When the full story of Donald Trump’s presidency is written, one Machiavellian lesson to be drawn will surely run as follows: If you spend much of your tenure openly subverting the nation’s interests to your own — while manipulating the levers of government in service of unabashedly corrupt and megalomaniacal ends — then voters will ultimately grow wise to the scam.

We are now learning, via an extraordinary new report in the New York Times, that many scientists fear that Trump will attempt the ultimate “October surprise.” These scientists — which include some inside the government — worry that Trump will thoroughly corrupt the process designed to ensure the safety and efficacy of any new vaccine against the coronavirus.

It is the perfect Trumpian paradox that his long record of just this sort of corruption underscores why this scenario should be entertained with deadly seriousness — but also why it will likely fail…

In the end, it’s likely that Trump’s long trail of deliberate uses of the government to bolster his deceptions, agitprop and corrupt designs will itself undo any vaccine Hail Mary. Even if Trump does manage to rush forward such an announcement, why would voters trust him to carry forward the long and complex process to follow in good faith or out of any meaningful conception of what’s in the national interest?

15) Listened to a great Fresh Air interview with PRRI’s Robert Jones.  Here, Jennifer Rubin writes about, “How white supremacy infected Christianity and the Republican Party”

Robert P. Jones, chief executive and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), is fast becoming the leading expert in the values, votes and mind-set of White Christians. His work has explained how loss of primacy in American society fueled a white-grievance mentality — the same mind-set President Trump so effectively read and manipulated.

His latest book, “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity,” is a masterful study documenting how white supremacy came to dominate not just Southern culture, but White Christianity. In it, he argues that “most white Christian churches have protected white supremacy by dressing it in theological garb, giving it a home in a respected institution, and calibrating it to local cultural sensibilities.” He also recounts ways in which White churches are moving to account for their past and explore their history with Black Americans.

Jones posits that it is not simply intermingling a celebration of the “Lost Cause” and religion that has led White Christians who do not think of themselves of racists to harbor views that reinforce racism; he also points to the theological worldview of White Christians, including “an individualist view of sin [which ignores institutional racism], an emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus, and the Bible as the protector of the status quo.” If you want to know why White Christian ideology is the best predictor of racist attitudes (a shocking revelation for the author and likely many readers), the book is essential reading.

16)I haven’t yet read Ed Yong’s Atlantic cover story on the virus (waiting for my hardcopy), but, according to pretty much everybody it’s terrific and required reading.  So, if you aren’t waiting for your hardcopy, get to it.  Until then, this paragraph:

Since the pandemic began, I have spoken with more than 100 experts in a variety of fields. I’ve learned that almost everything that went wrong with America’s response to the pandemic was predictable and preventable. A sluggish response by a government denuded of expertise allowed the coronavirus to gain a foothold. Chronic underfunding of public health neutered the nation’s ability to prevent the pathogen’s spread. A bloated, inefficient health-care system left hospitals ill-prepared for the ensuing wave of sickness. Racist policies that have endured since the days of colonization and slavery left Indigenous and Black Americans especially vulnerable to COVID‑19. The decades-long process of shredding the nation’s social safety net forced millions of essential workers in low-paying jobs to risk their life for their livelihood. The same social-media platforms that sowed partisanship and misinformation during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa and the 2016 U.S. election became vectors for conspiracy theories during the 2020 pandemic.

17) Currently through four episodes of “Succession” season 2 and it’s simply brilliant.  Season 1 was great and season 2 is even better.


%d bloggers like this: