Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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 It would be wrong to say that Roe has been overturned, but it is beyond dispute to say that its protections are no longer in effect in Texas.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleaning the air

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

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

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

Direct air capture is a way to make it right.

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

More clean energy faster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Its basic tenets can be summed up as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Why are abortion attitudes so stable?

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

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

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

And from the take-aways slide:

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

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

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

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Freddie de Boer on expertise:

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

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

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

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

2) Chait on silly charges of political hypocrisy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning the facts changed Republicans’ attitudes about taxing the rich

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words matter.

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

Such decisions carry weight. They have power.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13) NYT on air quality:

Is bad indoor air dulling your brain?

How healthy is the air in your workplace?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14) 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Matt Grossman interview Ryan Burge and John Green on religion and American politics.  The most interesting parts to me where the growing non-religious, how to measure that, and what it means:

Matt Grossmann: Church attendance declines are even larger than non-affiliation, but non-belief is still rare.

Ryan Burge: In the religion and politics space, we talk about the three Bs, behavior, belief, and belonging. The one we talk about, we talk about here a lot is belonging, which is saying you have no religious affiliation, you identify or affiliate with that tradition of having no religious affiliation. The other two are behavior. Behavior in this context is almost always measured as church attendance or religious service attendance because that’s one that surveys almost always have as part of their battery, so we can do it in more surveys and it’s easier to do.

What we know is that religious behavior is actually a leading indicator of religious belonging going away. For instance, 40% of Americans today say they never go to church, which is the highest its ever been, so if you look at the Nones through that lens, it’s actually way higher than 25% or 30%. It’s closer to 40%, and amongst the youngest generations, it’s about 50% of people say they seldom or never attend church. If you’re a None, you love hearing that statistic because it makes your group look like it’s bigger and it’s growing and it’s a huge part of American population, but if you look at belief, and the GSS has been asking a religious belief question since 1988, they ask you what do you believe about God. The answers are I believe in God without a doubt on one end, and the other response option is I don’t believe in God at all.

The share of Americans who express and atheist or agnostic belief in God today is only about 10%, so 90% of Americans still believe in God at some level, 40% never go to church, and about 25% or 30% say they have no religious affiliation. The answer when people ask me how many Nones there are, I almost want to say, well, what’s your prism, what’s the lens that you want to look at the world through? If you lay all three of those on top each other, only about 6% of Americans don’t believe, don’t belong, and don’t behave.

In that context, the Nones are only about 6% of the population, not 40% or 25% or 30% or 10%, so it’s just all in what prism you want to use to think about the Nones because religion is incredibly diverse. It’s not just one thing or another, and no two people practice religion in the exact same way. To put a category on that is difficult and overly reductive, I’ll be the first admit that, but at some level, we have to generalize as social scientists, or we can’t do our work. When we talk about the Nones, 10% don’t believe, about 25% to 30% don’t belong, and about 40% don’t behave, so the answer is somewhere between those three numbers…

Matt Grossmann: There’s been a broad decline in religiosity, but not all these trends go together.

John C. Green: We can say that over the last two or three decades there has been a steady decline in the net religiosity in the United States, but it’s occurred in different ways and the different measures of religion do not necessarily overlap completely. For instance, when you think of the Nones, we’re thinking about people who don’t identify or affiliate with a religious community. Some of the people, however, who affiliate with a religious community, are not particular in terms of their regular attendance, they’re not very active. On the other hand, there are people who never darken of the door of a church or a synagogue or a mosque, but nonetheless very strong religious beliefs.

We see a great deal of diversity. We’re not seeing a uniform decline in religiosity, but overall, the decline is clearly evident. Into that space, if you will, have emerged a growing and large secularist population, people who approach many of the same issues that religious people do, but from a distinctive secular perspective…

Matt Grossmann: Green says religion and politics both cause each other.

John C. Green: As a relationship between religion and politics is reciprocal, it is certainly the case that for many people in particular, in context, their religion leads them to a particular kind of politics, but it’s also the case, particularly after a little bit longer term, that people’s politics can lead them to a particular kind of religion and maybe out of religion completely. That’s one of the fascinating things about studying the religio-secular world and politics because that is very dynamic, and we have [inaudible 00:23:19] on both fronts simultaneously. We have people that are adjusting their religion to meet their politics, but there are people who are adjusting their politics to match their religion.

2) Excellent thread on better masks.  It all totally makes sense.  Alas, much like widescale deployment of rapid tests this is just a super-sensible ship that has sailed without us properly taking advantage as a society.  

3) Sarah Chayes on Afghanistan is really, really good.  Maybe the best thing I’ve read so far:

From that standpoint — speaking as an American, as an adoptive Kandahari, and as a former senior U.S. government official — here are the key factors I see in today’s climax of a two-decade long fiasco:

Afghan government corruption, and the U.S. role enabling and reinforcing it. The last speaker of the Afghan parliament, Rahman Rahmani, I recently learned, is a multimillionaire, thanks to monopoly contracts to provide fuel and security to U.S. forces at their main base, Bagram. Is this the type of government people are likely to risk their lives to defend?

Two decades ago, young people in Kandahar were telling me how the proxy militias American forces had armed and provided with U.S. fatigues were shaking them down at checkpoints. By 2007, delegations of elders would visit me — the only American whose door was open and who spoke Pashtu so there would be no intermediaries to distort or report their words. Over candied almonds and glasses of green tea, they would get to some version of this: “The Taliban hit us on this cheek, and the government hits us on that cheek.” The old man serving as the group’s spokesman would physically smack himself in the face.

I and too many other people to count spent years of our lives trying to convince U.S. decision-makers that Afghans could not be expected to take risks on behalf of a government that was as hostile to their interests as the Taliban were. Note: it took me a while, and plenty of my own mistakes, to come to that realization. But I did.

For two decades, American leadership on the ground and in Washington proved unable to take in this simple message. I finally stopped trying to get it across when, in 2011, an interagency process reached the decision that the U.S. would not address corruption in Afghanistan. It was now explicit policy to ignore one of the two factors that would determine the fate of all our efforts. That’s when I knew today was inevitable.

Americans like to think of ourselves as having valiantly tried to bring democracy to Afghanistan. Afghans, so the narrative goes, just weren’t ready for it, or didn’t care enough about democracy to bother defending it. Or we’ll repeat the cliche that Afghans have always rejected foreign intervention; we’re just the latest in a long line.

I was there. Afghans did not reject us. They looked to us as exemplars of democracy and the rule of law. They thought that’s what we stood for.

And what did we stand for? What flourished on our watch? Cronyism, rampant corruption, a Ponzi scheme disguised as a banking system, designed by U.S. finance specialists during the very years that other U.S. finance specialists were incubating the crash of 2008. A government system where billionaires get to write the rules.

Is that American democracy?

Well…?

Pakistan. The involvement of that country’s government — in particular its top military brass — in its neighbor’s affairs is the second factor that would determine the fate of the U.S. mission.

You may have heard that the Taliban first emerged in the early 1990s, in Kandahar. That is incorrect. I conducted dozens of conversations and interviews over the course of years, both with actors in the drama and ordinary people who watched events unfold in Kandahar and in Quetta, Pakistan. All of them said the Taliban first emerged in Pakistan.

The Taliban were a strategic project of the Pakistani military intelligence agency, the ISI. It even conducted market surveys in the villages around Kandahar, to test the label and the messaging. “Taliban” worked well. The image evoked was of the young students who apprenticed themselves to village religious leaders. They were known as sober, studious, and gentle. These Taliban, according to the ISI messaging, had no interest in government. They just wanted to get the militiamen who infested the city to stop extorting people at every turn in the road.

Both label and message were lies.

Within a few years, Usama bin Laden found his home with the Taliban, in their de facto capital, Kandahar, hardly an hour’s drive from Quetta. Then he organized the 9/11 attacks. Then he fled to Pakistan, where we finally found him, living in a safe house in Abbottabad, practically on the grounds of the Pakistani military academy. Even knowing what I knew, I was shocked. I never expected the ISI to be that brazen.

Meanwhile, ever since 2002, the ISI had been re-configuring the Taliban: helping it regroup, training and equipping units, developing military strategy, saving key operatives when U.S. personnel identified and targeted them. That’s why the Pakistani government got no advance warning of the Bin Laden raid. U.S. officials feared the ISI would warn him.

By 2011, my boss, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Taliban were a “virtual arm of the ISI.”

And now this.

Do we really suppose the Taliban, a rag-tag, disjointed militia hiding out in the hills, as we’ve so long been told, was able to execute such a sophisticated campaign plan with no international backing? Where do we suppose that campaign plan came from? Who gave the orders? Where did all those men, all that materiel, the endless supply of money to buy off local Afghan army and police commanders, come from? How is it that new officials were appointed in Kandahar within a day of the city’s fall? The new governor, mayor, director of education, and chief of police all speak with a Kandahari accent. But no one I know has ever heard of them. I speak with a Kandahari accent, too. Quetta is full of Pashtuns — the main ethic group in Afghanistan — and people of Afghan descent and their children. Who are these new officials?

Over those same years, by the way, the Pakistani military also provided nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea. But for two decades, while all this was going on, the United States insisted on considering Pakistan an ally. We still do.

4) When it comes to hosting a game show, Mike Richards did a really good job in his guest stint at Jeopardy.  And, honestly, I’m not sure how much I care about the personal moral failings of the hosts of the game shows I watch.  But, yeah, after reading this whole thing, I did not feel so good about Richards.  

5) Loved this Sean Illing interview with Bill Maher.  Agreed with almost everything Maher had to say in here.  And even though Vox really drives me crazy sometimes with the woke overkill, credit to them for supporting Illing’s heterodox (by Vox’s standards) work.

6) Speaking of tools we have insufficiently used to combat Covid…”Parents worried about Covid in schools have an easy weapon at hand, experts say — fresh air”

7) I’m a big fan of Jeremy Faust’s writings on Covid, so when writes against widespread use of 3rd shot boosters, I take him seriously.  But I’m still on team booster.  

he basis of this new policy appears to be concerns that protection provided by the vaccine wanes over time and that vaccine-derived antibodies are less effective against the Delta variant primarily in preventing mild and moderate illness. The belief is that a 3rd dose will address this. The data supporting this policy are that; 1) antibody levels fall over time; 2) higher antibody levels correlate to higher vaccine effectiveness; 3) higher antibody levels are needed to prevent illness caused by the Delta strain; and 4) 3rd doses of mRNA vaccines boost antibody titers by 10-fold or more.

All of that may be true. But it has yet to be shown to correlate to large changes in serious outcomes. Yes, preventing mild to moderate illness is something. But it’s not what we’ve been hammering home as the purpose of vaccinations for months now: that the vaccines prevent the terrible outcomes associated with this disease. Patients with mild and moderate disease do not require oxygen, for example. They do not require medications like steroids or other treatments that have been shown to improve outcomes. Mild and moderate Covid-19 illnesses can be profoundly uncomfortable and inconvenient. But in most cases, they do not represent true medical emergencies.

You may be asking, what’s the harm of boosting? Why not decrease mild and moderate illness and spread, if we have the resources to do so? If there were no potential harms, then yes, this would simply be a question of logistics and policy. But there are two categories of potential harm to consider that I fear have not been: individual and societal harms.

At the individual level, we need to know the side effect profile of a 3rd dose, especially in younger people. Until now, the benefits of vaccination have far outweighed the potential side effects. That has even been true in children, who appear to be the most likely to have notable, if rare, risks from the vaccines while being the least likely to benefit from them. But what would a 3rd dose do for healthy young adults, for example? As in teens, a small but detectable number of young adults have developed an inflammatory condition of the heart called myocarditis after vaccination. So far, almost all pediatric cases and a majority of adult ones have been mild. Will that hold true with the 3rd dose? Will rates skyrocket? Will the cases that do occur be equally mild or will they be serious? We don’t know. What if a far worse variant comes along in the fall or winter and we need to vaccinate against that? Would a 4th dose be so harmful to me that it is not safe? We’re rolling the dice here, when both the upsides and downsides seem uncertain.

8) Good stuff from Binyamin Applebaum, “Break Up Big Chicken”

President Biden wants to lead a revival of antitrust enforcement, a campaign aimed most obviously at curbing the behavior of feral tech companies.

But Mr. Biden can’t achieve his goal of expanding fair competition in the United States solely by wrangling with Big Tech. To succeed, he’ll need to confront Big Chicken, too.

Most chicken that Americans eat is processed by a handful of big companies because, in recent decades, the government gave its blessing to the consolidation of poultry processing, along with a wide range of other industries. The unsurprising result: In recent years, the surviving companies took advantage of their market power to prop up the price of chicken, overcharging Americans by as much as 30 percent.

Evidence of the industry’s misconduct became so blatant — thanks in part to lawsuits filed by wholesale poultry buyers — that regulators were roused from complacency. Beginning in 2019, the government has filed a series of charges against the companies and their executives.

9) Good take on the failure of the Afghanistan army:

An army is a manifestation of a social structure, and can never be fully independent of that social structure.  The functioning of an army depends on an array of cultural and social priors. This cultural and social capital both limits and enables the army.  If it is ordered to perform missions for which it lacks social and cultural capital, it will fail just as readily as if it lacks technology or logistical support.

This is not to say that armies cannot innovate beyond the structures that spawn them; the Taliban successfully integrated a number of technologies that enabled it to move and concentrate force more effectively. It also mastered the use of communications technologies to make coordinated offensives more cohesive and lethal. Indeed, much of the ANA’s equipment is now under Taliban control, although most of it will be impossible to sustain in the long term…

In an important sense, the United States defense establishment seems to have been incapable of dealing with the problems afflicting the ANA. Fighting in a sustainable fashion would have meant accepting levels of effectiveness and vulnerability that were not acceptable to US forces. Instead, cooperation between Afghan and US forces involved heavy use of airpower and reconnaissance technology on the part of the latter, which left the ANA incapable of developing its own intrinsic capabilities in those areas. The ANA was not designed to be an independent, self-sustaining force, and few within it had much incentive to make the necessary, painful reforms….

A final collapse in confidence was decisive. Key elements of the Kabul government apparently never believed that the United States would actually leave, the actions of Presidents Trump and Biden notwithstanding.  This left them unprepared to make difficult, painful strategic decisions about how and what to defend. American officials, both diplomatic and military, undoubtedly abetted this. There is undoubtedly a degree of self-delusion in this, but self-delusion is often necessary to get an army to fight in unfavorable circumstances. A clear-eyed assessment of the situation might have resulted in an even more rapid collapse of the government, and an even more messy situation at the Kabul airport.

10) Among my greatest frustrations with wokeness is the whole “cultural appropriation” thing.  Freddie DeBoer really lets loose on the matter:

The famous Kerma daggers are based on an Egyptian proto­type fitted however with a peculiarly Kushite pommel of ivory and tortoise shell…. David O’Connor, 1971

This quote comes from an article that in fact argues that cultural exchange between the ancient Egyptians and the greater Nubian peoples was limited, owing to several factors, primarily geography. I was unaware that the Sahara had been less arid and more hospitable to travel earlier in the Egyptian era, but I suppose this is a reflection of the immense length of their reign. (Remember, homo sapiens who lived in much the same way as cavemen had 200,000 years earlier were still hunting the wooly mammoth when the Great Pyramid of Giza was built.) Despite the fact that the interactions between Egyptians and their southerly neighbors was constrained, however, there was a great deal of exchange; they traded art, technology, resources, even gods. The ivory pommel there, crafted by identifiably Black Africans from a distinct culture and using a form of craftsmanship uncommon to Egyptian society at that time? It’s covered with Egyptian hieroglyphics. That’s culture for you – it abhors boundaries.

Image
noodles and dumplings, famously specific and rare in world cuisine

It’s encouraging to see that a drive-by accusation of cultural appropriation was met with the mockery that it deserves. (I assure you that those 6,000+ quote tweets are not echoing the sentiment.) As I’ve said, as hegemonic as this particularly cruel strain of social justice politics has become, the worm has already begun to turn against it. While we’ll be signaling our social justice bona fides for the rest of our lives, the particularly aggressive and self-aggrandizing school of woke politics is bound to lose, as it’s profoundly unpleasant. It also asks us to do things that we cannot possible accomplish – like living without cultural appropriation. I think it’s really important to underscore this point. The point when rejecting the cultural appropriation discourse is not merely to say that we should be able to mix and match cultural products to produce something new and better, though of course we should. The bigger point is that there is no alternative. There is no such thing as cultural change that does not include cultural mixing and exchange. [emphasis mine]

The woke Völkisch movement is based on a completely impoverished notion of how human beings develop cultural products like food, literature, visual arts, and music. Principal among these misconceptions is that cultural production is chosen and conscious. When someone makes an accusation of cultural appropriation, they’re claiming that somebody else has made a deliberate choice to integrate a given cultural product into what they produce. “Aha,” says white artist, “let me steal from the cultures of the global south for my own enrichment!” But that’s nuts; it’s simply not how influence works. You go to an art gallery, you see things there that you find moving or challenging, you go home and paint a painting. I promise, some of what you just saw in that gallery will appear in your painting no matter how much you might try to stick to your “culture of origin,” whatever that could possibly mean. We are all the sum of everything we have done and seen and experienced. Can you really look at every aspect of your personality and ascribe each bit of it to some specific discrete event or influence, then trace them back to a given cultural frame of reference?

11) I think Yglesias has been particularly good on Afghanistan this week.  Here’s his Slow Boring post on it: “Biden (and Trump) did the right thing on Afghanistan
The war was lost long ago — if it was ever winnable.”  Its a free post so you should just read it.

12) Good stuff from Adam Serwer (to be fair, that’s pretty much always the case with Serwer), “Demography Is Not Destiny: New numbers provide a reminder of the fluidity of American identity.”

The history of how America has defined who counts or identifies as “white” illustrates this reality, and reveals why drawing broad political conclusions from the census is impossible. As white Americans in the North and South retreated from the brief experiment with multiracial democracy after Reconstruction, the question of who was defined as “white” gained critical salience. Ian Haney López writes in White by Law that from 1878 to 1952, American courts struggled mightily to define the borders of American racial identity in legal terms. “A court in 1909 ruled that Armenians were White, even though their origins east of the Bosporus Strait, the official geographic line between Europe and Asia, made them at least geographically Asian,” Haney López observed. “More perplexing still, judges qualified Syrians as ‘white persons’ in 1909, 1910, and 1915, but not in 1913 or 1914; and Asian Indians were ‘white persons’ in 1910, 1913, 1919, and 1920, but not in 1909 or 1917, or after 1923.”

Reviewing a citizenship application from a Syrian immigrant, one exasperated federal judge complained that the term “white person” was “about as open to many constructions as it possibly could be.” Another wrote that such immigration laws existed because “the objection on the part of Congress is not due to color, as color, but only to color as an evidence of a type of civilization which it characterizes. The yellow or bronze racial color is the hallmark of Oriental despotisms.” That the American racial hierarchy he was adjudicating was itself a form of despotism did not occur to him…

The census may herald a more inclusive and harmonious future, or it may simply foreshadow yet another moment in American history when some borders shift while others remain closely guarded. But what the census cannot tell you is where lines of partisan identity will be drawn. It can tell you how Americans define themselves, but not how their politics flow from that definition. The census cannot tell Americans who they will become; that we must decide ourselves.

13) Love this headline, “University of Virginia disenrolls unvaccinated students ahead of fall semester”

14) Other things we get wrong.  So many people still have a misguided fear of fomites.  No, UNC continuing its annual tradition of students drinking from “The Old Well” water fountain on the first day of classes is not going to be a super-spreader event.  

15) Though, I was interested to learn that, in an experimental situation, yes, hamsters can get infected by Covid fomites (though far less so than via airborne).

16) Joseph Allen recently re-tweeted a thread on indoor air safety in classrooms

17) Science! “What If You Could Become Invisible to Mosquitoes? Using Crispr, scientists have taken the first step toward creating a mosquito that is blind to human hosts.”

18) This applies not just to disc golf, but, pretty much any sport, “Understanding your Brain can Improve Your Disc Golf Game”

19) This is really good from Alexis Madrigal. “The messiest phase of the pandemic yet: Coronavirus data have always been incomplete—but the situation in America is particularly murky now.”  If you are not an Atlantic subscriber, just use of your free articles on it.  

20 )From back in March, but, needless to say, very much relevant, “Your Immune System Evolves to Fight Coronavirus Variants: Antibodies can change to counter new forms of the shape-shifting virus, research hints”

This phenomenon can be explained by a process called “somatic hypermutation.” It is one of the reasons that your immune system can make up to one quintillion distinct antibodies despite the human genome only having 20,000 or so genes. For months and years after an infection, memory B cells hang out in the lymph nodes, and their genes that code for antibodies acquire mutations. The mutations result in a more diverse array of antibodies with slightly different configurations. Cells that make antibodies that are very good at neutralizing the original virus become the immune system’s main line of defense. But cells that make antibodies with slightly different shapes, ones that do not grip the invading pathogen so firmly, are kept around, too.

That kind of hoarding has long mystified immunologists. Why would your body hold on to second-rate B cells? Perhaps, Pepper says, it does so because the cells might be good at responding to closely related viral versions that could pop up. Viruses have been infecting hosts for millions of years, and variants are not a new phenomenon. To keep hosts alive, the immune system must have evolved a mechanism to keep up, and these corps of reserves—some producing antibodies that could be a better match for new viral versions—came in handy. Basically, in a struggle for life and death with a virus, it is good to have backups. Pepper has published results showing that people who recovered from COVID had evidence of increased mutation in their memory B cells after only three months.

Immunologist Shane Crotty of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology says the backup idea is a good one. “Memory B cells are your immune system’s attempt to make variants of its own as a countermeasure for potential viral variants in the future,” he says. In a study published in Science in February, Crotty and his colleagues showed that patients retained various degrees of immune reactions to the virus five to eight months after infection—and concluded that most people could have a durable response. “Your immune system is creating a library of memory B cells that aren’t all the same so that they can potentially recognize things that aren’t identical,” Crotty says.

Quick hits (part I)

1)Aaron Carroll is all about the coming vaccine mandates.  But it will a lot easier if the FDA actually gets its butt in gear on this.  

The U.S. experience with diseases for which vaccination isn’t mandated is also instructional: In those cases, vaccination rates have remained much lower than desired. The human papillomavirus vaccine approved in the United States, for example, protects against an extremely widespread and often asymptomatic sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cancer. Despite calls to mandate HPV vaccination, it is required for school only in a few states; Washington, D.C.; and Puerto Rico and has never been mandated outside the school environment, where it would do more good.

Although the vaccine was approved in 2006, only about half of teens are currently covered. What’s worse, only 22 percent of 18- to 26-year-olds, who are most at risk for infection, are fully vaccinated. Influenza vaccination is another that has rarely been mandated, and the United States has never achieved anywhere near the rates of protection that health experts would like, even during pandemics…

When vaccination is the default, most people will get vaccinated. Mandates still aren’t popular; few public health measures are. But they work.

2) This seems about right from Jeffrey Sachs, “Laws Aimed at Banning Critical Race Theory in K-12 Schools Are a Poorly Written, Misguided Mess: Even if you agree with the intention, these laws are a mistake.”  That seems pretty obvious and you should read it. My favorite part was his caveat:

It’s tempting to stop here. But instead, let me offer a concession to anti-CRT activists, as well as perhaps a few suggestions.

First, critics of CRT pedagogy (or whatever you wish to call it) have a legitimate gripe. There are real episodes where public school teachers have crossed the line. In Cupertino, third graders were instructed by their teacher to create an “identity map” with their race, ethnicity, and so forth, and then mark which of their identities “holds power and privilege.” An Oklahoma high school teacher told his students that “to be white is to be racist, period.” And at a public charter school in Las Vegas, students were taught that white, male, Christian, and heterosexual identities are inherently oppressive.

No one knows how common or representative these episodes are, but they’re real.

And that’s a problem. I am a parent. My daughter hasn’t begun grade school yet, but needless to say, I do not want her to feel guilt or shame on account of her racial identity. And while I believe it is important that she be taught about systemic racism at some point in K-12, it must be done at the right age and with great care. These episodes do not inspire confidence. They feel shallow, crude, and potentially harmful.

The “woke Left” (and here I broadly include myself) needs to do a much better job denouncing examples of bad antiracist pedagogy and elevating examples it thinks are good. There’s no use pretending the bad examples don’t exist. Clearly they do, and clearly people are going to talk about them. The least we can do is show that we are taking them seriously.

3) This has really stuck with me from Scott Alexander, “Drug Users Use A Lot Of Drugs”

When I first considered prescribing ketamine, the bladder injury stories scared me so much that I asked a bunch of veteran ketamine prescribers how I should monitor it. They all gave me weird non-commital answers like “I’ve prescribed ketamine to thousands of patients and never had a problem with this, so I guess don’t worry”. But why not? There are all these papers saying we should worry, and all these reports in the literature of ketamine-induced bladder injury!

A standard psychiatric dose of ketamine might be 0.5 mg/kg IV, 2x/week, for four weeks. So a 70 kg patient would get about 280 mg over the course of a month. This Chinese study and this UK study analyze recreational ketamine users, and both find they take about 3g daily, every day. That’s 90,000 mg over the course of a month. Again, that’s 280 mg for the psych patients and 90,000 mg for the recreational users (and you wouldn’t believe how many hoops the psych patients have to jump through to get their 280, or how terrified their doctors are that something could go wrong). Drug users use a lot of drugs! So why don’t psychiatric patients get bladder injuries? It’s because you get bladder injuries when you’re taking more like 90,000 mg of ketamine a month, and not when you’re taking 280 mg…

Every so often somebody realizes that there’s not much chemical difference between methamphetamine and Adderall. Then they freak out that we give ADHD kids Adderall all the time. Isn’t that like giving them crystal meth?

See eg Shoblock et al:

Despite the repeated claims of METH being more addictive or preferred than AMPH, proven differences between METH and AMPH in addiction liability and in reward efficacy have evaded researchers. Animals self-administer METH and AMPH at comparable rates (Balster and Schuster 1973) and humans prefer similar doses (Martin et al. 1971). Also, neither humans nor animals discriminate between equal doses of METH and AMPH (Huang and Ho 1974; Kuhn et al. 1974; Lamb and Henningfield 1994). Furthermore, while METH is commonly believed to be a more potent central psychostimulant than AMPH, no direct comparison on the potency of the two drugs to stimulate central processes have been verified. In addition, no previous study has directly compared the acute effects of the two drugs on locomotor activity, an important central process that contributes tothe definition of psychostimulant. Moreover, there are no known neurobiological differences in action between METH and AMPH that would account for the putatively greater addictive, rewarding, or psychomotor properties of METH.

So should we be less concerned about methamphetamine? More concerned about Adderall? Or what?

The average crystal meth addict uses about 500 mg a day. And they snort it, which probably produces about double the peak plasma level as taking it orally. So they’re getting the equivalent of 1000 mg oral amphetamine daily. The average Adderall patient takes 20 mg. The most important reason meth makes your teeth fall out and ruins your life but Adderall just makes you study a little harder is that the meth users are taking 50x higher doses (yeah, okay, there are also some pharmacokinetic differences, but those are less important). Drug users really do use a lot of drugs!

I recently had a patient stop their Adderall after reading this paper on how amphetamines appear to accelerate cardiovascular aging. The study was done on polysubstance abusers who were probably taking 50x higher doses than they were. This Reuters article on the study actually gets this exactly right, and has an interview with an expert saying the doses are so high that it can’t be extended to clinical practice. I don’t want to claim total victory here, because nobody’s done a study on clinical users proving they don’t get accelerated aging. But given the high doses necessary to produce the small effects found in the original paper, I’m not losing sleep.

4) I was vaguely aware of the “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” controversy when it happened and how it was yet again wokeness/cancellation amok.  Emily VanderWerf with, actually, a pretty nuanced take on all this.  Which led to Jesse Singal making free his take from when it first happened.  It’s really good.  

But nowhere in this almost 1,400-word-long statement will you find a clear explanation of exactly what is wrong with the story. That’s because the only accurate answer to that question is something like “Some people have very superficial but dearly held ideas about what gender is, and because this story took a more complicated and fraught and creative approach to its theories of gender — one which challenged those ideas — those people became deeply offended.” That’s why a story in a major sci-fi outlet had to be unpublished. I guess the alternative, by Clarke’s logic, would be to tell or imply to some people that their interpretation of the story isn’t ‘valid.’ Can you imagine that? Dealing with the pain of someone telling you your interpretation of a work of art isn’t valid??? I’d be in bed for weeks.

I wrote a lot about the YA unpublishings and the surrounding culture of online fear in this newsletter. I don’t want to jump back into this subject. But I found this entire turn of events so profoundly depressing. We are building a world of cowardly, shallow, masturbatory art. The ideology pushing things in this direction is completely incoherent, because it really is just built on visceral feelings. Look at the above excerpt: Clarke’s notes claims that 1) trans people did read this story beforehand, and therefore (by implication) must have been okay-enough with it that he was confident enough to publish it; and 2) that he (reluctantly) now thinks he should have noted the author was trans.

So: Do trans voices matter or not? Do trans opinions matter or not? Which ones? What about when they disagree? If I read the exact same fictional text once with the belief it was written by a cisgender person, and then again with the believe it was written by a transgender person, should my interpretation of it differ wildly?

Of course, in the long run this only punishes the bravest and most creative people. Neil Clarke will not feel any compunction about running the next Clarkesworld story about cyborgs and aliens and pew-pew-pew space battles. No. But he will think extra long and extra hard about publishing anything with even the faintest whiff of genuine thematic danger do it, anything that actually touches on the jagged edges of real human life. Which is too bad, because danger is an absolutely vital component of some of the best, most memorable art.

It’s too bad so many people in different areas of fiction publishing are cowards, opportunists, or both. It would be better if they could get a bit more organized and stand up for the creative values that should be underpinning this whole “writing and editing and publishing fiction” thing. Instead, over and over and over, gatekeepers are caving to loud, angry, thoughtless people who often haven’t read the stuff they’re criticizing, and who don’t actually care about art at all. They just want their own fragile beliefs stroked at every turn, which is poison to genuine creativity. Neil Clarke had an opportunity, and like so many others, he failed; like so many others, he empowered people at whom he should have been flipping a middle finger.

He also links to the original short story.  I didn’t read the whole thing, but… its good!!  And its good whether the author is trans, cis, white, black, or Australian Aborigine.  It’s just good!

5) I liked this from Jordan Ellenberg, “Want kids to learn math? Level with them that it’s hard.: It’s only easy once you’ve mastered the concepts. Telling students otherwise can backfire.”

These questions are vexed, but I’ve got one suggestion for how we can improve. We can tell students that math is very, very hard.

It’s the truth. The techniques of algebra, geometry and calculus were hard to create, and they’re hard to learn. But saying so forthrightly doesn’t come naturally to a lot of teachers — or to commenters on education. “Math Is Not Hard: A Simple Method That Is Changing The World,” reads a headline in HuffPost, extolling an approach that aims to help ease kids into the subject. I embraced rhetoric like this when I was an apprentice college instructor. I was constantly telling students, at the outset of a computation, “Now this is pretty simple” — encouraging them, or so I thought. My mentor, the master teacher Robin Gottlieb, now a professor at Harvard, set me straight. When we say a lesson is “easy” or “simple,” and it manifestly isn’t, we are telling students that the difficulty isn’t with the mathematics, it’s with them. And they will believe us. They won’t think, “I’ve been lied to,” they’ll think, “I’m dumb and I should quit.”

This applies to parents, too. I’ve been teaching math for two decades, and I still find myself telling my kids that a math concept they’re struggling with is “not that hard.” That’s not encouragement — that’s evidence of my frustration with watching them struggle, and it’s not part of teaching.  

6) Jesse Singal again, “What the media gets wrong on gender reassignment: The media is guilty of gross negligence on gender reassignment reporting.”  TL;DR Gender reassignment, especially among adolescents, is complex and complicated.  The media do the public no favors by just bowing to angry and loud ideology that pretends it’s not.

7) Ezra, “The Rest of the World Is Worried About America”

This weekend, American skies will be aflame with fireworks celebrating our legacy of freedom and democracy, even as Republican legislature after Republican legislature constricts the franchise and national Republicans have filibustered the expansive For The People Act. It will be a strange spectacle.

It is hard to view your own country objectively. There is too much cant and myth, too many stories and rituals. So over the past week, I’ve been asking foreign scholars of democracy how the fights over the American political system look to them. These conversations have been, for the most part, grim.

“I’m positive that American democracy is not what Americans think it is,” David Altman, a political scientist in Chile, told me. “There is a cognitive dissonance between what American citizens believe their institutions are and what they actually are.”

“The thing that makes me really worried is how similar what’s going on in the U.S. looks to a series of countries in the world where democracy has really taken a big toll and, in many cases, died,” Staffan Lindberg, a Swedish political scientist who directs the Varieties of Democracy Institute, said. “I’m talking about countries like Hungary under Orban, Turkey in the early days of Erdogan’s rule, Modi in India, and I can go down the line.”

Perhaps perversely, I was cheered by Lindberg’s list. America defies those examples in a consequential, and often ignored, way. In most cases of democratic collapse, a dominant party deploys its power and popularity to tighten its control. But there is more possibility in America than that. Democrats have a slim governing majority, at least nationally, and they are not fighting for the status quo. Even Senator Joe Manchin’s compromise proposal — to ban partisan gerrymandering, pass automatic voter registration, ensure 15 days of early voting, reinvigorate the Voting Rights Act and make Election Day a holiday, to name just a few provisions — would be a striking expansion of American democracy, bigger by far than anything passed since the 1960s.

8) Marty Makary in the Post, “Los Angeles’s masking guidance is not only excessive. It undermines vaccination efforts.”  I found this part about testing most compelling:

One factor driving the fearmongering is that public health officials are staring at case numbers on their computers, oblivious to our new over-testing problem that is inflating case numbers. Specifically, the United States and Britain are routinely testing vaccinated people who are asymptomatic. This is ignoring CDC guidelines that say fully vaccinated people who have no symptoms do not need to get tested. This is based on the recognition that immune people who are asymptomatic might have a detectable virus particle in their nose, but it does not represent a transmission risk and does not cause illness.

9) Interesting perspective, “Conspiracy theories are a mental health crisis: No one’s talking about the complex relationship between disinformation and mental health. That changes now.”

Studies have shown that conspiracy theories appeal to people with unmet psychological needs. They crave knowledge, desire safety and security, and need to maintain positive self-esteem. Conspiracy theories, which may sometimes be true, help explain the unknown, giving people a deep sense of satisfaction. That relief, however, can be temporary. Past research shows conspiracy theories are associated with anxietysocial isolation, and negative emotions. Now a new wave of research conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic suggests a plausible connection between uncertainty, anxiety, and depression and an increased likelihood of believing conspiracy theories.

Perhaps with so much beyond understanding, people looked for answers wherever such revelations might be found. Insight was plentiful on YouTubeFacebookTelegramTwitter, and other media platforms where grifters, hucksters, and conspiracy theorists peddled the truth as they saw it to people who wanted what few could offer: certainty. That confidence became an antidote to the misery of not knowing what might come next.

10) Frank Bruni:

Joe Biden is only the second Catholic president in American history. You would think that the church’s leaders in the United States would look kindly and proudly on him.

You would be wrong. They’re going farther out of their way to admonish him than they ever did to reprimand Donald Trump.

As you probably know, Roman Catholic bishops in the United States have taken steps toward possibly denying communion to Biden, who pays them the compliment of regular attendance at Mass. His sin? Support for abortion rights.

That support indeed contradicts Catholic teaching. The bishops have every right to be displeased with and even heartsick over it and to make those feelings known. I respect their principles in this regard, just as I respect the principles of the tens of millions of Americans who oppose abortion rights. Although I am passionately pro-choice, I understand how if you believe to your core that human life begins at conception, you cannot easily let the matter of abortion go.

 

In an astute essay in The Week, Peter Weber noted the extreme harshness of the punishment for Biden that bishops are proposing, writing: “Deploying what amounts to the Catholic nuclear option only on abortion signals that abortion is the only issue the Catholic Church really cares about.”

An abortion monomania is the only explanation for why Biden is coming in for greater condemnation than Trump received. For many Catholic leaders as well as many leaders of other Christian denominations, Trump’s promotion of anti-abortion judges and measures often served as a get-out-of-jail-free card — and it shouldn’t have.

I concede that Trump isn’t Catholic and that he wasn’t going to Catholic services (or, on a regular basis, to any worship services whatsoever). Catholic leaders had less cause in that sense to weigh in on his degree of adherence to their strictures.

But they purport to care about the welfare of all humanity. That’s kind of their raison d’être. Along those lines, they had ample invitation to upbraid Trump.

 

Pope Francis gets it. He understands that his church and its followers shouldn’t be reduced to any one issue. Indeed, the Vatican tried to nudge the American bishops away from this course and has conspicuously not endorsed it. The bishops are marching to the beat of their own pious drummer. They no doubt consider themselves brave. Arrogant is as apt a descriptor.

Foolish, too. They’re not going to change Biden’s mind about abortion. And the sternness that they’re projecting — the imperiousness — makes it less likely that they’ll change anyone else’s.

That imperiousness is what Francis has been striving to move the church away from. He’s trying to put a friendlier, more accessible face on its hierarchy. He’s trying to modernize its image. He knows that you can’t preach to people effectively if your voice and your language feel utterly alien to them.

And you can’t win them over if your animating impulse is a punitive rather than exalting one.

11) Drum, “Liberals Need To Have the Courage to Call Out Our Own Nutcases”

On the left, which is what I care about, this is a big issue, and it’s a big issue for one specific reason: it scares off people who might vote for us. Go ahead and ask your moderate conservative friends why they’re afraid to vote for Democrats even though they admit that Trump has turned the Republican Party into a clown show. The answer is almost always going to be a litany of complaints about the most extreme progressive policies out there. They’re afraid Democrats want to spend another $6 trillion because one guy proposed it. They’re afraid Democrats want to open the border with Mexico because a small clique approves of it. They’re afraid Democrats want to get rid of the police because three or four people suggested it. They’re afraid Democrats want to pack the Supreme Court even though this is a distinctly limited view.

I could go on, but you get the idea. These kinds of things are killers for a party that wants to win more votes, but everyone is afraid to publicly denounce them hard and fast for fear of being branded racist/sexist/transphobic/etc. by a few extremists. And that’s all the opening that Fox News and others need to make it seem as if this stuff might really be the goal of mainstream liberals.

Mainstream liberals should not be afraid to make a distinction between proposals that are merely to our left and proposals that are batshit crazy. The former we can oppose in a normal way (and vice versa), but the latter should be swatted down with extreme prejudice. It doesn’t matter if the folks proposing the crazy ideas are white or Black, young or old, or men or women. Have the guts to call them nutcases if that’s what they are and to accept the inevitable accusations of racism, sexism, ageism, or whatever. Just tell the truth. If something is crazy, call it crazy.

After all, you want to win, don’t you?

12) This was really good.  I keep meaning to do this more with my wife. “The Most Effective Way to Thank Your Significant Other: One fact of long-term relationships is that humans often take their partner for granted. Think of gratitude as a buffer against that.”

It’s so simple that it can be easy to overlook: In the commotion of daily life, people forget to thank their partner for the myriad things they do. During the pandemic, significant others have made even more sacrifices, picked up the slack, or gone outside their comfort zone, putting plenty of romantic relationships through the wringer. Now could be the ideal moment to step back and reassess how you show gratitude for it all.

Yet when partners acknowledge and appreciate each other, it appears to create a protective effect, according to Barton’s research, that can help buffer couples from negative communication patterns such as being overly critical or conflict-avoidant. Even if couples struggle to communicate, their marital stability can be just as high as partners who navigate conflict well—as long as they maintain high levels of appreciation. In a 2015 study, Barton and a team of researchers found that showing gratitude for your spouse was highly linked to marital quality.

13) Generally not a big fan of Bari Weiss, but some of her anti-cancel culture/anti-woke takes are definitely on.  Like this guest post from Abigail Schrier about book banning to enforce a pro-trans orthodoxy.  Again, to be clear, I know, like, and respect multiple trans people and want them to be treated with decency and respect.  But, the idea that we cannot even be exposed to other ideas?

14) This seems… not great.  “Amazon destroying millions of items of unsold stock in one of its UK warehouses every year, ITV News investigation finds”

15) Drum’s take on the CRT controversy, “Critical Race Theory Is Just the Latest Hysteria About Black People From Fox News”

Out of nowhere, Fox News suddenly starts putting critical race theory in heavy rotation starting in March. Six weeks later, everyone else is following suit.

Among conservatives, this is nothing surprising. Fox News has built its brand since the beginning on stoking white fear of black (and brown) people. Conservatives have never objected to this—in fact, most of them won’t even admit it—so it’s perfectly natural that they’re along for the ride.

But there are also well-meaning moderates and liberals out there who have gotten on the “let’s hear them out” bandwagon. These are people who would insist that they aren’t influenced by right-wing agitprop, but they are. It goes like this: Fox keeps up the noise long enough; a few Republican legislatures propose performative laws to “ban CRT”; the mainstream media takes notice; and now we’re all talking about it.

But why? Are there a few schoolrooms where teachers have taken wokeness farther than they should? Sure. There are a couple of million schoolrooms in the United States and it would be shocking if there weren’t a few of them doing stupid stuff. Even if that number is a minuscule 0.1%, that’s 2,000 schoolrooms, more than enough to generate a couple of shocking stories per week.

But wait. How many schoolrooms are there who have taken wokeness to ridiculous levels? What’s that? You don’t know? And Fox News doesn’t know? Then knock off the crap until you do.

As long as you’re worried about this based solely on the highly orchestrated daily anecdotes of Fox News, you’re a sucker just like everyone else. This is the power of Fox News and you ignore it at your peril.

16) Jack Shafer, “Why Has Local News Collapsed? Blame Readers.”

So, why is local news collapsing, a trend spotted over the past two years by everybody from the New York Times to the Brookings Institution to the Harvard Business Review? The blame is often placed on rapacious publishers like Alden Global Capital or online advertising giants like Facebook and Google. Yes, they’ve contributed to local news’ declining fortunes, but the best explanation might be that publishers and editors have ignored the underlying cause. Despite all the impassioned calls from academics and journalists to salvage it, local news’ most vital constituency—readers—have withheld their affections.

In 2009, just as the apocalypse befell the newspaper industry but while local news was still in relative abundance, many readers gave it an apathetic shrug. A Pew Research Center survey from that year found that an astonishing 42 percent said they would miss their paper “not much” or “not at all” if it vanished. They said this even though 74 percent conceded that civic life would suffer “a lot” or “some” if their local newspaper died. Their apathy ultimately expressed itself in financial terms. Weekday newspaper circulation has dropped from about 55.8 million households to about 28.6 million in the past two decades. More than 2,000 newspapers have vanished since 2004 (most of them weeklies), creating what some call “news deserts.” And revenues have just about halved in the past decade, as has newsroom size, making it harder to report local news. Readers keep shrugging, too. A more recent Pew survey (2018) found that only 14 percent of respondents had paid for local news in the previous year.

For all the praise directed at local news and the importance of preserving it, the dirty secret of today’s newspapers is that there’s not all that much local news coverage to save anymore. A 2018 Duke University study of 16,000 local news outlets (including broadcasters) in 100 communities deemed only about 17 percent of articles as truly local (i.e., they took place in or were about the local municipality), and just over half were hard news. Another 2018 finding by Pew revealed that only 16 percent of Americans get their news “often” from a newspaper, further lowering the status of the press. Another marker of how scarce local news has become: Last year, when Facebook went prospecting for local news to include in a new section called “Today In,” it found that one in three of its users lived in places where there wasn’t enough local news published to sustain the section. “New Jersey was the worst place for finding local news on Facebook, with 58 percent of users unable to do so on any day in the last month,” Recode reported. Maybe what the Pew respondents were really saying is you can’t miss what’s already gone.

Where did all the local news go? A couple of decades ago, publishers collected so much revenue that they invented new sections, including local news, to spend the loot. Many metro newspapers ran weekly sections about computers and tech, weekly TV program guides, free-standing business sections filled with page after page of stock prices, Sunday magazines, pull-out book review sections and weekly tabloids about suburban counties. The Washington Post once ran a weekly section called “Sunday Source,” designed to hook young readers, and column after column of police blotter in its “District Weekly” section. Newspapers were cash machines, even in regional markets like Buffalo, N.Y. In her book Ghosting the NewsWashington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan writes that her old paper, the Buffalo News, was once so flush that, for many years, “the News would send a million dollars a week” to its owner, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. But after the Internet destroyed the advertising moat that had protected newspaper revenues for more than a century, editors and publishers stripped down the old newspaper, including local sections, to a more basic package to cut costs.

For what it’s worth, I love all the state and local coverage I get nowhere else but the N&O.  I mean, everything you could possible want to know about the zebra cobra this week.

17) Science! “Immune Cells Are More Paranoid Than We Thought: Healthy birds watched their friends get sick with a bacterial disease. Their immune cells freaked out.”

18) Onion FTW:

The idea that she has to miss the Olympics over marijuana is just so profoundly stupid.

19) J&J vaccine seems to be holding up well against Delta.  That’s great news.  Everybody compares J&J to AZ since they are both adenovirus vector vaccines.  But AZ was the only major vaccine not to stabilize the prefusion form of the spike protein and that could well be responsible for their under-performance against certain variants.  I really feel like science types should be talking about that more.  

20) Terrific, terrific piece from Emily Bazelon.  Read it. “I Write About the Law. But Could I Really Help Free a Prisoner? For years as a journalist, I’ve covered attempts to exonerate incarcerated people. But a letter from Yutico Briley led to a different kind of story.”

Writing about legal issues for 25 years, I’ve been frustrated by a stubborn truth: When science exposes a weakness in how criminal cases are conducted or how a jury determines the truth, it takes a long time for the practice in police precincts and courtrooms to catch up with the expert consensus. Research points the way, for example, on how to conduct interrogations with less risk of eliciting false confessions. New findings upend previous certainty about the medical diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome. Similar doubts emerge about the reliability of forensic analysis of a variety of physical evidence, including hair, fiber, bite marks, burn patterns and blood spatters. But many investigations and prosecutions grind on, impervious to the latest studies.

When science makes it harder to prove guilt, police officers, prosecutors and judges may see it as an impediment. They keep doing their jobs much as they always have.

As I read Briley’s case file alongside the research on eyewitness IDs, I thought I might have a story after all. It would be different from any I had written before, because of my own involvement, but I was starting to see Briley’s case as emblematic of something larger — of how flaws in the criminal-justice system can cascade, one after the next. The very ordinariness of his case was the story. Everyone can deflect responsibility, and someone like Briley can spend the rest of his life in prison.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Good stuff from Chait– Democrats need to tax rich people more (I think a big part of the problem is that so many Democratic financial supporters are now rich people who love gay rights, anti-racism, abortion rights, etc., but also low taxes).  Anyway, Chait:

When the Biden administration rolled out proposals to increase taxes on corporations and wealthy stockholders, the targets of the increases laughed them off. “Corporate executives and lobbyists in Washington, New York and around the country say they are confident they can kill almost all of these tax hikes by pressuring moderate Democrats in the House and Senate,” reported Politico last month.

It seems those haughty fat cats, so confident they could easily work their will in Congress … were absolutely correct. The pushback has operated largely behind the scenes, but evidence of its effectiveness has popped up primarily in reports targeted at the inside-Washington audience. Farm-state Democrats in the House are openly protesting Biden’s measure to close a huge capital-gains-tax loophole. Biden’s plan “seems like a rather high rate to me,” said Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. The pushback includes Democratic moderates in both houses of Congress — and not only those fighting off strong 2022 challenges.

The front pages have been consumed with Biden’s struggles to keep his party together on infrastructure and democracy protection. But the quiet Congressional revolt against his tax hikes poses the most serious threat to his agenda.

The reason is that Congressional budget rules mandates that any permanent increase in the deficit be fully financed. A temporary outlay — for coronavirus relief, or building infrastructure — does not require any offset. But the most ambitious measures Biden proposes to reshape government — expanding health-care coverage, a more generous child tax credit, universal pre-kindergarten and community college — all need an ongoing source of financing.

Taxing the rich is Biden’s solution. There’s a lot of money in the bank accounts of the affluent, especially after several decades of rising inequality and a big fat Trump-era tax cut for the wealthy. But every dollar Congressional Democrats shave off Biden’s proposal for taxing the rich means one less dollar that can be spent on his social programs.

Why are Democrats so skittish about Biden’s proposal they’re willing to put his domestic legacy at risk? They — or the rich people lobbying them — cite a mix of political and policy reasons. “You are talking about tax hikes that could hit millions of small businesses across the country and taxes that could kill investment,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce tells Politico, “From a raw political perspective, it would be a really funky decision for these moderates to say they would be willing to put this much of a wet blanket on an economy that is really poised to take off.” A “senior financial services industry lobbyist” adds that if Democrats pass anything more than a watered-down version of Biden’s plan, “Democrats are just going to get killed over it.”

While both these concerns probably sound serious over a comped steak dinner, neither is remotely supported by the data. 

2) Loved this essay from Freddie de Boer taking down a misleading, revisionist account of Vietnam Veterans’ experiences:

The veterans and servicemen who made these papers were overwhelmingly white. That is not surprising; the US military presence in Vietnam was overwhelmingly white. It is true, as has been pointed out repeatedly in art and journalism, that there were racial inequities at play in the drafting of conscripts in the latter half of the war, and among all draftees Black soldiers exceeded their percentage of their overall population by about 5%. It is also true, though, that despite what you may have heard most of the fighting in Vietnam was conducted by enlisted men, not those conscripted, and they were white in dominant majorities. One might say that all of this is besides the point; many of the soldiers in Vietnam were coerced or conned into going, and they suffered then and suffered when they came home, white or Black. But today I’m afraid we must place demographics above all else. Who am I to blow against the wind? …

The offending piece is a review of a book called How White Men Won the Culture Wars by someone called Joseph Darda, a minor academic who I must congratulate for making such a naked stab for relevance with his book and its title. Its argument, according to Lehmann, is that the anguished fight for recognition, respect, medical treatment, and mental health care waged by veterans coming home from the war in Vietnam was, in fact, simply white male grievance politics. Legless 23 year olds who had been put through a meat grinder by a rapacious and indifferent military machine were, to Lehmann and Darda, no different from the angry white guys who own Ford dealerships that powered Donald Trump’s campaign. Their demands for recognition and access to basic social services can now be safely derided as the special pleading of the privileged; you know, the privilege of being crippled both literally and metaphorically. I urge you to read Lehmann’s piece to see how unbroken and shameless his contempt for these wounded and hopeless victims of empire really is. There is no “to be sure” paragraph here. Lehmann and Darda are committed to the bit…

Darda, it is worth noting, has just so happened to release a book about why white men are bad at precisely the right time, riding the wave of what’s politically fashionable among those who write takes and buy books. Lehmann, too, has had a political evolution recently, suddenly injecting clumsy waves at antiracism into his doddering leftish scribblings for places like The Baffler, that bland stew of vague and toothless post-capitalism. Darda and Lehmann are, of course, both white men themselves, and the product they sell is the reassurance to other white men that all white men are bad, save them, the writer and readers; they tell the white men who are undoubtedly the large majority of their audience that there is, in the sea of evil that their own race and gender connote, a tiny elect who get it. Darda and Lehmann believe that they are the good ones, and they are willing to sell that status to whichever white men will buy.

I call these kinds of opportunistically woke white men “crabs in a bucket.” They jostle and scrape for a little glimpse at sunlight, convinced that one day they will emerge on top, and a beautiful Black angel will descend from above and place on their heads a crown that reads “The Only Good White Man.” To Lehmann these veterans are just white men because that perspective is monetizable. He sees nothing of experience, only of demographics, a stance that might leave you wondering how he himself is deserving of his station as “Editor-at-Large” (lol). These are not opinions that Lehmann developed organically, like a tumor growing on his face. Instead I think that this disdain for all things white and male was a calculation. Greying old white men in this industry have collectively decided that ceaselessly complaining about “white men,” an abstraction that they excuse themselves from with every ham-handed denunciation they write, will keep the old career going until they can enter their shuffleboard-playing years. It’s a living, in the sense that necrotizing fasciitis is alive.

Hard to capture the whole flavor… really worth reading the whole thing.

3) I usually find David von Drehle fairly anodyne, but this was quite perceptive, “The religious freedom bomb may be about to detonate”

The 2015 Supreme Court decision extending the right to marry to same-sex adult couples contained a ticking time bomb. Six years later, the noise is getting loud.

The explosive material has to do with religious freedom. While polls clearly show that a growing majority of Americans support marriage equality, a significant number of religious people continue to believe that same-sex marriage and other evolving understandings of gender and sexuality are transgressions against God’s law.

But how can their dissent be lawfully expressed? The five-vote majority in 2015 papered over this question by insisting that the ruling applied only to civil marriage — and thus posed no burden on the right of religions to choose which marriages to bless. As we’ve learned since, however, sanctifying marriages is not the only way religion enters this picture.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court again dodged the problem of religious freedom vs. discrimination. This time, the question was whether the city of Philadelphia could force Catholic Social Services to include qualified same-sex couples as prospective foster parents. Seizing on the fact that Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination law allows for certain exemptions, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that fairness required an exemption be considered for CSS…

Beneath the unanimity, however, lay a splintered court, with a number of justices saying the bomb must finally detonate. Either religious freedom protects those who treat same-sex couples unequally in public life, or it doesn’t.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, in a concurring opinion, counted the cost of dodging this uncomfortable question: “Individuals and groups across the country will pay the price” of endless litigation over the unsettled question, “in dollars, in time, and in continued uncertainty about their religious liberties.”

Religious liberty or freedom from discrimination: Advocates on both sides insist the question is simple. In fact, it is very difficult. Two bedrock principles of the Constitution are brought into direct conflict. Americans have a right in their public lives to be free from discrimination based on who they are. This right finds expression in laws requiring businesses and agencies that serve the public to do so without discrimination.

Americans also have a protected freedom of belief and expression. They cannot be compelled by the government to express or reject any religious views or political opinions.

No case puts the matter more sharply in relief than the matter of the baker and his cakes, which may well be headed back to the Supreme Court for round two. A transgender individual has asked Phillips to create a celebratory cake. When Phillips refused, a state district judge levied a fine without any of the gratuitous commentary that previously gave the justices their wiggle room.

The fact that these bedrock principles have collided inside a bag of cake frosting does not make them frivolous. Either the baker’s freedom of belief allows him to sell customized cakes only to those people whose identities and conduct comport with his religious beliefs, or the would-be cake buyers of Lakewood have a right to decide what Phillips will write on cakes as long as he operates a public business.

4) Damn I love that Abigail Disney is a super-rich heiress who actually had the courage to look at her life and recognize what was wrong with all her wealth,  This is good, “I Was Taught From a Young Age to Protect My Dynastic Wealth: A common ideology underlies the practices of many ultra-wealthy people: The government can’t be trusted with money.”

5) And good stuff in Noah Smith’s substack, “America’s scarcity mindset: Is our society turning into a zero-sum competition for survival?”

I’ve been reading Rick Perlstein’s Reaganland: America’s Right Turn 1976-1980. Like all Perlstein books, it’s excellent and you should read it. Anyway, one of the things that really jumps out about the Carter years is the way scarcity and pessimism (which is just anticipation of future scarcity) made the country more selfish. The oil crises of the 70s created absolute chaos, with gunfights at gas stations and violent trucker strikes. It’s not hard to see how that era led to the every-man-for-himself attitude of the conservative 1980s.

But the crazy thing is that America seems to be falling back into this scarcity mindset. Only this time, the shortages are almost entirely of our own creation.

Stephen Covey, the self-help author who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, coined the terms “abundance mindset” and “scarcity mindset”. Basically he means that some people going around thinking of the world as a set of positive-sum, win-win situations, while other people go around thinking of everything as a zero-sum competition where you’re either a winner or a loser.

Meanwhile, the political scientist Ronald Inglehart came up with the related idea of “self-expression values” vs. “survival values”. Survival values, which supposedly come about because of economic scarcity, include ethnocentrism, xenophobia, fear of disease, and a hunger for authoritarianism. Sounds a lot like Trumpism, but I think you can also see echoes of this in various leftist ideologies and spaces.

The World Values Survey keeps track of these values, and it’s interesting to see how the U.S. has evolved over time. Here’s the map of countries from 2008:

You can see that while we were more traditionalist than most other rich countries, we were also very high on the “self-expression” end of the scale — about the same as Australia, New Zealand, or Denmark. This is basically the classic view of the U.S. — a bit religious, but a very open and tolerant society. Now check out the map for 2020:

The difference is striking. It’s not clear what the absolute change has been (it looks like the variables might have had some renormalization between 2008 and 2020), but the relative position tells the story. The U.S. is way to the left of other English-speaking countries, having shifted strongly toward survival values and away from self-expression.

6) This was good stuff from Gallup: “Changing One’s Gender Is Sharply Contentious Moral Issue”America's Views of Moral Acceptability of Issues

7) File under, I had no idea… “Trouble in Los Angeles County: Too Many Peacocks: Some residents admire their beauty. Others complain about the noise, the aggression and the droppings. Now, officials are considering an ordinance to stop people from feeding peafowl.”

8) Dogs are really good at detecting Covid infections by smell and we can potentially use that to our benefit.  But talk about the devil is in the details:

og noses are great Covid-19 detectors, according to numerous laboratory studies, and Covid sniffing dogs have already started working in airports in other countries and at a few events in the United States, like a Miami Heat basketball game.

But some experts in public health and in training scent dogs say that more information and planning are needed to be certain they are accurate in real life situations.

“There are no national standards” for scent dogs, according to Cynthia M. Otto, director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and one of the authors of a new paper on scent dog use in Covid detection.

And although private groups certify drug-sniffing and bomb and rescue dogs, similar programs for medical detection do not exist, according to the new paper in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness.

Lois Privor-Dumm, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins University and the senior author of the paper, said there was no question that dogs have great potential in medical fields. But she wants to explore how they could be deployed on a large scale, such as by the government.

“What are all the ethical considerations? What are the regulatory considerations? How practical is this?” she asked. Not only the quality of detection but logistics and cost would be central to any widespread application, as with any public health intervention.

Quality control is a first step, and a large one. Medical scent detection is more complicated than drug or bomb detection, Dr. Otto said. A dog working an airport for drugs or explosive detection has a consistent context and a fairly straightforward target odor. In Covid detection, researchers know that the dogs can distinguish an infected person’s sweat or urine. But they don’t know what chemicals the dog is identifying.

Because human scents vary, medical detection dogs have to be trained on many different people. “We have all of the ethnicities and ages and diets and all of these things that make human smell,” Dr. Otto said.

9) Always read David Hopkins, “The ACA Survives, in One More Victory for Boring Old Liberalism”

Plain vanilla American liberalism hasn’t been particularly fashionable for a long time, and it certainly isn’t now. Anyone who regularly consumes high-status media like NPR or the Wall Street Journal, or who spends any time at all in the Twitterverse, could well conclude that today’s politics is mostly defined by a battle between a highly intellectualized, social identity-oriented, self-consciously “anti-establishment” left wing on one side and an array of conservative critics, both Trumpist and anti-Trumpist, on the other.

But when we shift our attention to what the government is actually doing, we see a policy-making apparatus that continues to be dominated by a familiar pragmatic liberal tradition representing the historical legacy of the New Deal and Great Society. The Affordable Care Act is one of this tradition’s most important recent achievements, if it’s appropriate to refer to a law passed more than a decade ago as “recent.” And the Supreme Court’s 7–2 decision, announced Thursday, upholding the ACA against what may well be the last in a series of major legal challenges only confirms the resilience of the center-left policy state in the face of dissatisfaction on both ideological sides.

The ACA is complicated. It’s inelegant and kludgy. It was designed to patch up the most urgent perceived flaws in the existing health care system rather than to tear it down completely and construct a more efficient and coherent successor. It is easy for its strongest detractors to hate, but hard for even its strongest defenders to love.

And yet the ACA remains a representative model of policy-making because it had two critically valuable qualities: enough initial support to be enacted in the first place and a big enough constituency to protect it from subsequent retrenchment. For all of the well-argued critiques directed its way by dissenters on the left and right, neither side has demonstrated the ability to transform a purer ideological vision into achievable and sustainable policy. Decades of progressive attempts to replace the current health care system with a universal single-payer alternative have yet to bear fruit. Conservatives’ philosophical opposition to government involvement in health care provision has historically been a politically potent force when working to block liberal reform proposals before they passed, as in 1994, or when mobilizing an electoral backlash immediately after enactment, as in 2010. But after Republicans gained full policy-making power in 2017, general anti-government sentiment turned out to be insufficiently strong to persuade enough politicians within the party to rescind the ACA’s specific benefits once they had actually started flowing to the public…

Traditional pragmatic liberalism is a perennial rhetorical target for people who think of themselves as committed to loftier ideals. On the right, social conservatives like Ross Douthat criticize it for lacking “a clear sense of moral purpose,” suggesting that in our time it has become “somewhat exhausted.” Purist activists on the left echo these themes, speaking of an age marked by the supposedly catastrophic failures of “neoliberalism” and representing the onset of “late capitalism”—implying that a non-capitalist future is surely soon to arrive.

But old-fashioned half-a-loaf liberalism has proven tough to replace. It’s not just that revolutionary change is difficult to achieve in the American political system, though it is. There are also plenty of important constituencies invested in conventional liberal policy-making—classes of credentialed work-within-the-system subject matter experts, institutionalized interest groups that prize partial victories over none at all, and a large number of regular voters who hold moderately left-of-center views on domestic affairs and are wary of socialism and laissez-faire-ism alike. While critics on all sides yawn with impatience for the era of boring old liberalism to end, the boring old liberal ACA has just further entrenched itself, boring old liberals Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer are working to enact more boring old technocratic incrementalist liberal policies, and boring old liberalism just keeps muddling through to prevail once again.

10) I love playing with my kids because I enjoy playing with my kids.  But, I’m also hugely in favor of them having their own, independent, kid lives.  Like everything, it’s a balance.  But, as somebody who still appreciates the old-school parenting of all the kids on my cul-de-sac just running wild and unsupervised in the 1970’s and 80’s, I quite appreciate this perspective, “Don’t Play With Your Kids. Seriously.”

My daughter was born a year after that. She is shy and moody, and she has been content to play on her own since she could crawl. I’ve never met a more self-​possessed child — she used to tell me when she needed a nap. She has never liked the sorts of games her brother prefers, and play between them has always been a negotiation. The games they’ve created combine his love of fantasy and drama with her need for realism; when they set up their pretend yak farm with pillows and stuffed animals, she enjoys an imagined sunset, while her brother worries about predators who have yet to grace this earthly plane.

In the past, if they couldn’t agree on a game’s direction, I would try to help, only to make it worse: I was a reality-TV host, watching helplessly as my contestants swapped insults at a show reunion. When Mom is there to listen, they turn defensive and mean; when I say, “Figure it out,” they do. I know I’m lucky they have each other to play with, and so I’ve taught myself to hold back. I tell myself they’re learning about compromise and boundaries. As am I. I’m distracted by work (and life). I have a bad temper. I can be critical. And I don’t like to play, especially pretend, or anything with dolls or figures, or any games that ask me to hide or wield a Nerf gun. My motto is “Moms don’t play.” (The other context also applies: I do not play.) Our third child joined the family with this system in place, and he is, as most third children are, remarkably independent.

I can’t say that my approach is right for everyone. I know that it resonates for me in part because of how I was raised. I have no memories of my parents playing with me. I can remember reading together and their swimming with me in the ocean, but they weren’t involved in the fashion shows I filmed with my sisters, and they didn’t help me make my magazine, Kid Stuff, either. Not once did they dine at my fictional restaurant.

This isn’t a complaint; it’s gratitude. They may not be a part of these memories, but they weren’t absent either. They were on the edges — there but not there. My parents allowed me private worlds of my own creation, and they respected them. I imagine they felt the same joy I do when I watch my children playing without me; my daughter opens a bakery as her older brother bounces on a giant rubber ball. The baby fills his garbage truck with blocks. Each of us enters his or her own separate sphere. This, I’ve realized, is my favorite part of mothering. My looking away and then observing.

11) Quite the essay from a teacher, “I Taught Online School This Year. It Was a Disgrace.”

12) Really enjoyed this interview with Adam Serwer: “The news is what you have forgotten”

ANAND: You cite two different definitions of what the news is early in the book. One of them is, “The news is what is new,” which is an old saying that you and I and every other journalist hears at some point. But you also quote a contrary saying from an old editor of yours, David Corn: “The news is also what people have forgotten.”

Can you talk about each of those understandings of what the news is, and how your grappling with those two shapes your particular and quite distinct method of journalism?

ADAM: As journalists, we are ideologically predisposed to think that something that is new is important, and that’s the thing that we should be talking about. But the truth is that we sometimes take for granted that our readers have the same information and context that we have to make sense of something. Part of journalism is figuring out what that context is, and what it should be. Because of that bias towards novelty, we sometimes forget the longer historical lens.

David Corn, who was my editor at Mother Jones, used to say, “The news is what people have forgotten,” because he was encouraging us to dig, and not just assume that, because someone had been in the public eye for a long time, the public knew everything about them that they needed to know.

This, for me, evolved into trying to put a historical lens on what was happening, in part because the response to Trump was so historically myopic. It was just like, “We had a Black president. How could this guy be winning?”

The answer is, because he is manipulating forces that have been part of American politics since the founding, for generations, and that we had sort of naively assumed that we had conquered. I’m using “we,” in the sort of collective American sense, because there are obviously plenty of Americans who did not believe that we had conquered those things.

To the extent that that belief was overrepresented in the media, it prevented journalists from putting Trump in his proper historical context as a product of those historical forces, rather than just sort of this goofy reality-show star — like, “How could this ever happen?”

13) Years and years ago I remember a student telling me I’d really enjoy “Adam Ruins Everything” if I watched it.  Many years later and… he was right.  Even when I don’t learn anything (I’m kind of like Adam myself), the show is really well written and very funny.  It is now the standing Saturday morning entertainment for the Greene family (on HBO Max).  I really enjoyed this essay on what makes the show good, “Adam Ruins Everything Shows Us the Right Way to Be Wrong: In every episode, the character whose misconceptions are corrected actually grows from the experience”

Today many people are wrong about important facts, and they need to be corrected. But they need to be corrected in a manner that leads to acceptance, not resistance. This is a hard task we all need help with. Luckily, one show is providing a blueprint for success.

In every episode of the ever-more-popular show Adam Ruins Everything, the titular host, Adam Conover, appears seemingly out of thin air to correct a character who has a misconception on a social, health, tech, historical, business or other topic.

What it is important to glean from this show is that while Adam arrives to correct or “ruin,” what he is really arriving to do is help others learn and grow. And, in every episode, the corrected person grows.

That is an incredibly important point that it is worth repeating: the person who is corrected actually changes. While so many other shows in modern times demonize and make fun of those who are wrong, this show makes those who are wrong the positive protagonists of the story. Because on this show, what is presented as most wrong is the belief that one is always right. And, what is presented as most right is knowing how to recognize when you are wrong and move forward.

So, while each episode of Adam has educational facts about different topics, the show as a whole is a thesis statement on the process of learning. In this way, the show can teach us all how to better correct others, whether we are scientists, activists, or someone just having Thanksgiving dinner with the family.

I’ll admit it… I love being right.  And I think people assume that goes along with hating to be wrong.  But, in my case, certainly not so.  I don’t always like being wrong, but in many cases I do, because that actually means I’m learning.  That’s also, of course, very much the idea in Julia Galef’s “Scout Mindset” I’ve briefly written about.  Anyway, as long as you are learning from being wrong, being wrong is okay.

14) Another family entertainment my family has discovered is Mark Rober videos.  He had a squirrel obstacle course video that went viral last year that you may well have seen, but there’s a lot more really good stuff that’s almost always both fascinating and engaging.  For example, we watched this on “devil’s toothpaste” last night and were super entertained.  

15) This, this, this!!!  The FDA needs to grant full licensure to the vaccines, already!

 

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!

    So…

  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…

3. BUILD A HAPPINESS PORTFOLIO THAT USES BOTH APPROACHES.

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.

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