Quick hits (part I)

1) Edsall on conservative calls for avowedly Christian nationalism:

On June 22, 75 supporters of the National Conservatism project issued a 10-part statement of principles. The signatories include Rod Dreher, senior editor of The American Conservative; Jim DeMint, a former senator from South Carolina and a former president of the Heritage Foundation; Mark Meadows, a former chief of staff to President Trump; Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute and the venture capitalist Peter Thiel.

The principles include a strong commitment to the infusion of religion into the operation of government: “No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment that are found in authentic religious tradition.” Thus the “Bible should be read as the first among the sources of a shared Western civilization in schools and universities, and as the rightful inheritance of believers and nonbelievers alike.”

Perhaps most strikingly, the principles declare that:

Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private. At the same time, Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected in the observance of their own traditions, in the free governance of their communal institutions, and in all matters pertaining to the rearing and education of their children. Adult individuals should be protected from religious or ideological coercion in their private lives and in their homes.

2) Some interesting stuff here and also some personality “science” that I’m not quite convinced is science, “Why do you like the music you like? Science weighs in.”

Many people tend to form their musical identity in adolescence, around the same time that they explore their social identity. Preferences may change over time, but research shows that people tend to be especially fond of music from their adolescent years and recall music from a specific age period — 10 to 30 years with a peak at 14 — more easily.

Musical taste is often identified by preferred genres, but a more accurate way of understanding preferences is by musical attributes, researchers say. One model outlines three dimensions of musical attributes: arousal, valence and depth.
“Arousal is linked to the amount of energy and intensity in the music,” says David M. Greenberg, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University and the University of Cambridge. Punk and heavy metal songs such as “White Knuckles” by Five Finger Death Punch were high on arousal, a study conducted by Greenberg and other researchers found…

“Valence is a spectrum,” from negative to positive emotions, he says. Lively rock and pop songs such as “Razzle Dazzle” by Bill Haley & His Comets were high on valence.

Depth indicates “both a level of emotional and intellectual complexity,” Greenberg says. “We found that rapper Pitbull’s music would be low on depth, [and] classical and jazz music could be high on depth.”

Also, musical attributes have interesting relationships with one another. “High depth is often correlated with lower valence, so sadness in music is also evoking a depth in it,” he says.

We prefer music from artists whose personalities we identify with. “When people listen to music, they’re being driven by how similar that artist is to themselves,” Greenberg says.

In his 2021 study, participants rated the personality traits of artists using the Big 5 model: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism (OCEAN). To the respondents, David Bowie displayed high Openness and Neuroticism; while Marvin Gaye displayed high Agreeableness.

“The match between the [personality of the] listener and the artist was predictive of the musical preferences for the artist beyond just the attributes from the music,” Greenberg says.

Personality traits may predict people’s musical taste, researchers say. In a 2022 study, Greenberg and his colleagues found that despite sociocultural differences, participants around the world displayed personality traits that were consistently correlated with their preference for certain genres of Western music. Extraversion, for example, was linked to a preference for upbeat contemporary music, and Openness was linked to a preference for sophisticated or cerebral styles.

Look at me with my upbeat, cerebral music preferences 🙂

3) Good stuff from Yglesias on policing:

Once you get past the fantasy that we can wish policing away or “reimagine” public safety in a way that doesn’t involve guys with uniforms and guns, you’re left with the fact that the policing status quo is bad and also hard to change.

Officers should be held accountable for misconduct — not just the most extreme forms of misconduct, but relatively minor kinds as well. Yet we see chiefs reluctant to fire officers, and officers who do get dismissed bouncing from department to department. And this is at least in part because in many cases it is genuinely not easy to fill vacancies. Meanwhile, many if not most departments seem to have a deeply ingrained warrior mentality that emphasizes dominance rather than service. Policing has become so politicized that the overwhelming majority of officers, even in very liberal areas, are right-wing and often seem to have barely disguised disdain for the citizens they nominally serve, and not-at-all disguised disdain for the politicians elected to run their cities. Over the course of 2020-21, we saw a massive national wave of shootings and murder that seems to have been caused at least in part by a de facto police strike, tacitly organized to (successfully) push back on momentum for reform.

That’s bad on its own terms, and it’s also a ticking time bomb for democracy more broadly…

Right now, very few people with progressive values or any qualms about the status quo in the criminal justice system are willing to consider a career in policing. But that dynamic is only going to make everything people worry about in policing even worse. We’re both exacerbating ideological selection into and out of policing, and also making general staffing problems harder. This only makes chiefs more reluctant to dismiss bad cops and more likely to accept retreats who’ve washed out for misconduct elsewhere.

If we accept that policing is important and that high-poverty, high-crime communities want to see policing improved rather than defunded, it would be more constructive to create a program that challenges people who believe policing can be done better to actually roll up their sleeves and do it.

There’s a good amount of evidence (most recently summed up in the Obama-era Task Force on 21st Century Policing) that better-educated police officers are better across a variety of dimensions — they use force less and engage in more “problem-oriented” policing. This is sometimes taken as a reason to encourage departments to require college degrees or create financial incentives for getting them. Realistically, though, creating a degree requirement is only going to make personnel shortages worse, and a crude financial incentive is going to lead to people enrolling in low-value programs just to get a raise.

Police for America would address the same issue from the opposite direction, creating a centralized mechanism for increasing the supply of educated officers available to work in high-poverty communities. I think it’s safe to assume that PFA cops, like TFA teachers, would have above-average rates of medium-term attrition. But the ones who don’t leave policing would be disproportionately likely to secure promotion. And many of the ones who do leave policing would still work in adjacent fields and would bring practical police experience to bear on careers in law, policy, journalism, and politics. You’d get cultural change inside police departments via the entry of different kinds of people, and also a criminal justice reform community that was operating across less of a conceptual void from the people doing police work…

I have some criticisms of PP trends (the inclination you see in some places to treat illegal gun possession as a non-violent crime unworthy of serious punishment seems like a big mistake to me), but the basic idea that reformers should actually take on criminal justice work and try to do it better is correct. The idea came to prosecutors first because lawyering is more of a high-prestige occupation than policing. But that’s why TFA seems like a promising model — you can really create prestige out of thin air with a little money, savvy, and media hype.

4) Paul Waldman on the awful Trump judge and the broader undermining of the rule of law:

The Supreme Court is facing a legitimacy crisis as its ongoing legal revolution becomes more and more alarming to a public unhappy about its recent rulings on abortion and gun rights. But there’s another legitimacy crisis brewing, one that can be seen vividly in Judge Aileen M. Cannon’s extraordinary rulings in the case involving Donald Trump’s hoarding of documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Cannon, who was appointed by Trump despite her thin experience, has been almost comically eager to help the former president. Her appointment of a special master to review documents seized in the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago was greeted with shock and ridicule on substantive grounds and was widely seen as a means of delaying the case as long as possible.

But Cannon’s latest intervention on Trump’s behalf is particularly disturbing. I want to focus on one part of the order she gave Thursday, because it speaks to how we believe courts are supposed to work and how those foundations of the justice system are being warped.

Trump, true to form, has been making fantastical claims about how victimized he has been at the hands of law enforcement. Among other things, he has said the FBI may have planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago to incriminate him.

So special master Raymond J. Dearie — who was suggested by Trump’s attorneys and agreed to by the government — essentially told the Trump team to put up or shut up. He instructed them to clarify whether they’re challenging the government’s inventory of documents collected at Mar-a-Lago. Would they make an official statement alleging documents were planted, or would they accept that the inventory is accurate?

This put them in an awkward position — the same awkward position Trump attorneys have been in before. Their client is the most notorious liar in the history of American politics. But in court, the rules are different than on Fox News or Truth Social.

In case after case after the 2020 election, Trump attorneys such as Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell rolled into court with rumors, speculation and hearsay about widespread election fraud. Again and again, they were shot down by judges telling them it wasn’t enough to say they heard about a guy whose cousin’s girlfriend’s neighbor said he saw a van with a Joe Biden bumper sticker idling behind the board of elections building. Without evidence, they lost.

But Cannon swooped in to save Trump’s lawyers from the embarrassment of contradicting their boss. She overruled Dearie, allowing the lawyers to avoid taking a position on whether the inventory is accurate. Given the chance to draw a bright line marking the integrity of what goes on in court, she did the opposite.

This may seem like a small thing. But it’s a direct assault on the idea that the courts are a venue where fairness prevails precisely because there are strict rules everyone has to follow, rules designed to get to the truth.

Almost two years after Trump left office, the poison he injected into the courts with the appointment of a long list of hack judges is becoming more clear. It’s increasingly difficult to look at important court cases of recent days and believe that whether you like the outcome, the procedures have been fair, the judges have worked to be objective and the integrity of the courts is intact.

Judges such as Cannon undermine a cornerstone of the legitimacy of the court system: the idea of “procedural fairness.” This topic has long been of interest to judges and lawyers, and research has found that people’s perceptions of whether they were treated fairly is often just as important as the outcome in determining their feelings about the process.

5) Really, really liked this from Jesse Singal, “It Isn’t Journalism’s Job To Hand-Hold People To The Correct Moral Conclusions”

One of the silliest ideas to infect mainstream journalism in recent years is the notion that when journalists produce work about a bad person, they must signpost that work, seemingly every moment, with explicit indicators that that person is bad. You need to hold readers’ hands tightly, because they are moral idiots, and the moment your grip slips, they’ll race off and return in a Klansman’s hood or something.

This is now a thoroughly mainstream view in journalism, and it is applied to coverage not just to actual fascists, but to an ever-growing variety of right-wing (or otherwise disfavored) figures…

When a journalist gets dragged on Twitter the way Harkinson did, it gets noticed by other journalists. One of Twitter’s main functions, after all, is to publiclydish out discipline to those deemed to have violated a given group’s norms, whether or not the accusation is valid.

Things have gotten a lot worse in mainstream journalism since Harkinson’s piece. I’m not the first to have ranted and written about the culture of stifling conformity, of jumping down the throats of anyone who argues for nuanced takes on hot-button issues, or who publicly disagrees with sacralized narratives. These tendencies have contributed to botched coverage of national news events over and over and over and over.

But there’s a more fundamental principle at stake here: respect for readers (and listeners). The ideas that readers will scurry off to fascism unless we keep them tightly leashed, that they can’t handle a little bit of uncertainty or nuance or a couple of unanswered questions — it’s all deeply condescending. Certain prescriptions for how journalism should be conducted — such as the idea that we should be awash in headlines like “Racist President Drones Racistly As Racist Group Howls With Racist Glee” — seem motivated by genuine contempt for readers.

When Damon Kiesow argues that an article about Chris Rufo was a terrible act because it included a prominent photo of Rufo as well as a somewhat in-depth interview with him, that’s because he doesn’t respect Times readers. “The path to not amplifying hate is to lead with a portait [sic] of the director of a local anti-hate group and have them describe the issue – and then dig into the details of the people pushing anti-civil rights legislation.” This is an utterly impoverished, impossibly bland concept of journalism in which we slap helmets on readers and then lead them by hand, via velvet ropes and padded walls, to their final, safe destination: On your left you’ll see a local civil rights leader. He is a hero. What a good man! In our next room you’ll meet today’s baddy, an eeeeeeeevil man named Chris Rufo. Do not listen to what he says, for he is a Deceiver.

I can’t write like this because I don’t hate my readers. And most journalists, to be fair, don’t hate their readers either — they want to produce interesting work. But the hysterical, moralizing view of journalism is winning, largely because of the social media shitstorm that engulfs anyone who insists on treating readers as compos mentis adults rather than kids in the under-10 section of a theme park. If you’re skeptical of my argument that views like Kiesow’s stem from contempt for readers, reflect, for a minute, on the claim that launched this whole article: that describing a hardened racist as “dapper” will cause people to be drawn to that racist and to embrace his ideas. The hypothetical seductee in this scenario is, full-stop, an idiot.

Any competent critique of 2022 needs to mention class, and this is indeed partly a class issue. Journalists are increasingly from privileged, liberal backgrounds like mine, and privileged, liberal people tend to have very strong, very set feelings about politics — feelings that only grew more intense during the Trump years. For the most part, journalists in my milieu are cut off, at least as far as close social and familial ties go, from the sorts of people who might be fans of Chris Rufo. That makes it harder to cover Rufo accurately, which is something you should want even if — especially if — you dislike Rufo and his project.

Journalism needs more Josh Harkinsons, is what it comes down to. There are all sorts of structural reasons why it’s harder than ever before to produce long, careful, rigorous works of magazine reporting — that such works are now shouted down and slandered by other journalists is an exceptionally foreboding development for an already teetering industry.

6) This Rolling Stone list of the 100 greatest TV shows got dunked on all over twitter.  But it’s really good!  Sopranos is #1 and Wired, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Simpsons, and Seinfeld are all top 10.  That’s a good list!

7) Heck, more Jesse Singal on a singularly (okay, it’s not, but couldn’t resist) Vox article.

8) Cathy Young with one of the best pieces I’ve read on Diversity training:

Let’s grant that DeSantis’s Trump-lite culture-warmongering is cynical and noxious, and the “Stop WOKE” law—which should be taken out and shot for its moniker alone—is a very real speech infringement, especially given the broad scope and the vagueness of its prohibitions. (For example, the law prohibits training or teaching that individuals “must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions . . . committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.” Does this apply only to instructing trainees that such reactions are required, or could any material that inspires employees to feel “psychological distress” or shame over racial inequities fall under suspicion?)

And let’s further grant that Rufo is a political hack who is upfront about his end-justifies-the-means approach to stopping “wokeness.”

But DEI training is also one of those issues on which the right and the left tend to get trapped in a mutual cycle of escalating culture-war follies. The right seizes on a real problem, blows it up into an imminent threat to Civilization As We Know It, and demands ham-handed—and often unconstitutional—action to root it out. The left circles the wagons and ferociously argues that whatever the right is complaining about is either nonexistent or actually a good thing. The right attacks even more forcefully. Rinse and repeat.

While Rufo’s dispatches from the culture-war front definitely need to be taken with a grain, or maybe a shaker-full, of salt—as I noted last year, he’s prone, at the very least, to exaggeration and cherry-picking—some of the corporate documents he has collected should give cause for concern.

For instance, the “Listen. Understand. Act.” program launched at AT&T in April 2021 describes “21-Day Racial Equity Habit Challenge” which invites the employee to “do one action to further your understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression, and equity” every day for 21 days. These actions include reading, watching, or listening to material on antiracism, gender issues and/or social justice from an ideologically uniform list that features Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Nikole Hannah-Jones. No alternative or critical point of view is listed—not, say, Kelefa Sanneh’s trenchant 2019 critique of Kendi and DiAngelo for the New Yorker, or the podcast discussions by Brown University economist Glenn Loury and Columbia University linguist John McWhorter, two black academics critical of the Kendi brand of antiracism.

Other recommended material includes a blog post arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has been good for anti-racism because living in the constant shadow of death allows white Americans to understand how black Americans feel all the time; a column that bluntly states, “White people, you are the problem”; a video titled “Not Everyone Is Your Friend,” in which a spoken-word poet warns that old friends who don’t support you on your social justice journey may not really be true friends; and a conversation with the author of a book arguing that the United States owes its economic power to slavery, with no mention of other work challenging his thesis. Participants are also encouraged to become involved in social and racial justice activism and to scrutinize their circle of friends, their reading and film- or TV-viewing habits, and even the artwork in their homes for racial balance…

Moreover, one need not endorse conspiracy theories about “woke” corporations and the left to be troubled by a trend of major employers expecting employees to declare allegiance to a particular political viewpoint. Nor does one need to endorse Trump-style white identity politics to believe that the DiAngelo-style identity politics of many DEI programs are, in fact, very bad. It’s everything from the messages decrying “whiteness” and badgering white employees to confess their “complicity” in racism to the fixation on seeing all interpersonal problems through the lens of identity, privilege, and oppression to the constant sleuthing for “microaggressions” and “harm.” It doesn’t help that for all the talk of “diversity,” many DEI programs are focused on the dynamics of black and white Americans while giving short shrift to other groups. The “Listen. Understand. Act.” materials include more than forty items that focus on the black American experience, but just two focused on Hispanics and one dealing with Asian Americans…

Another alternative DEI program is offered by Brooklyn-based African-American entrepreneur and writer Chloé Simone Valdary under the name “Theory of Enchantment.” (It’s based on the 2011 book Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by marketing guru Guy Kawasaki, who defines “enchantment” as winning people over by “delighting” them with a product or idea.) On the Theory of Enchantment website, Valdary describes her program, launched four years ago, as “a framework for compassionate antiracism that combines social-emotional learning (SEL), character development, and interpersonal growth,” based on three principles: “treat people like human beings, not political abstractions”; “criticize to uplift and empower, never to tear down or destroy”; “root everything you do in love and compassion.” Clients include the online food-delivery company GrubHub and the Hadassah Jewish women’s organization. The company currently has six part-time employees; Valdary told me that at least for now, she’s looking not to expand but to build sustainable systems. She also stresses that she approaches the issue “from an entrepreneurial perspective, not a culture-war perspective.”

Like Manji, Valdary is highly critical of the conventional DEI model, which her site describes as leading to “individuals being unfairly singled out, ostracized, and humiliated” and “animosity developing among coworkers.” But she also believes that the anti-woke crusaders—whether activists or politicians—end up becoming the very things they wage war against, and she thinks HB 7, with its focus on banning “harmful” concepts in workplace training, is a perfect example. “They’re imitating critical race theory, which also wants to ban certain uses of words,” she says. “It’s like, to a T, an imitation of their opponents.”

9) The story that dominated twitter for a day earlier this week, “More Trans Teens Are Choosing ‘Top Surgery’” Can we at least agree that doctors advertising for teenage patients for this on TikTok is bad?

10) Relatedly, semi-recent report on changes on all this in Europe, “The Beginning of the End of ‘Gender-Affirming Care’? Britain is closing the infamous Tavistock Centre. Finland and Sweden have radically revised their treatment guidelines. But American doctors are advertising surgeries to children on TikTok.”

The question is how Americans will react.

In a sign that they may be rethinking the “puberty blockers are safe and reversible” dogma, the Food and Drug Administration, also on Thursday, announced that it was slapping a new warning on puberty blockers. It turns out they may cause brain swelling and vision loss. But for now, the move among American medical associations, health officials and dozens of gender clinics is to double down on the affirmative approach, with the Biden administration recently asserting gender affirmation is “trauma-informed care.”

The American stance is at odds with a growing consensus in the West to exercise extreme caution when it comes to transitioning young people. Uber-progressive countries like Sweden and Finland have pushed back—firmly and unapologetically—against the affirmative approach of encouraging youth transition advocated by some transgender activists and gender clinicians.

Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare released new guidelines for treating young people with gender dysphoria earlier this year. The new guidelines state that the risks of these “gender-affirming” medical interventions “currently outweigh the possible benefits, and that the treatments should be offered only in exceptional cases.”

Finland’s Council for Choices in Health Care (COHERE) came to a similar conclusion a year earlier, noting: “The first-line intervention for gender variance during childhood and adolescent years is psychosocial support and, as necessary, gender-explorative therapy and treatment for comorbid psychiatric disorders.” And: “In light of available evidence, gender reassignment of minors is an experimental practice.” Gender reassignment medical interventions “must be done with a great deal of caution, and no irreversible treatment should be initiated.”

Both guidelines starkly contrast with those proffered by the Illinois-based World Professional Association of Transgender Health, an advocacy group made up of activists, academics, lawyers, and healthcare providers, which has set the standard when it comes to transgender care in the United States. WPATH will soon issue new standards that lower recommended ages for blockers, hormones and surgeries. (WPATH did not respond to a request for comment.)

WPATH’s position is in keeping with an array of U.S. medical associations and activist groups across the country that insist gender-affirming care is “life-saving.” Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, who is herself a transgender woman, recently asserted that there is a medical consensus as to its benefits. Some activists and gender clinicians in the U.S. feel that WPATH doesn’t go far enough, asserting that any child who wants puberty blockers should get them, for instance, or claiming that a teenager who later regrets having her breasts removed can just get new ones.

In Sweden and Finland, this issue has been primarily a question of health and medicine. Here in the U.S. it is a political football.

11) Paul Waldman, “Those GOP ‘tough on crime’ ads? They’re based on a very big lie.”

But the idea that crime rates in America will depend on which party controls Congress is ridiculous on its face. The truth — which in a better world would play some role in campaign debates — is that almost nothing Congress does will have any more than the smallest effect on crime.

As The Post reports, in the past month or so Republicans have made crime the primary focus of their campaigns. Apparently, inflation just didn’t provide the appropriate dose of fear and rage:

During the first three weeks of September, the Republican candidates and allies aired about 53,000 commercials on crime, according to AdImpact, which tracks political spots on network TV. That’s up from the 29,000 crime ads they aired in all of August. Nearly 50 percent of all Republican online ads in battleground states have focused on policing and safety since the start of the month, according to data from Priorities USA, a group focused on electing Democrats.

As Republicans know well — because they’ve run on this issue for decades — crime is both a real problem and a symbolic one. It can affect people’s lives in profound ways. But bringing it up can also activate fear, tribalistic distrust and oftentimes outright bigotry, emotions that override any rational assessment of problems and solutions.

But there is a truth in the general vicinity, which is that Republicans do in fact want to spend more on police than we do now; the essence of their position is that police budgets must always rise. In some states, they’ve even passed laws that would punish cities that cut their police budgets, no matter the reason. There is a real policy difference here: Republicans generally favor whatever sounds “tough” — more cops, longer sentences, less accountability for police misconduct — while Democrats tend to have a broader view of what government could do to reduce crime, while also often supporting more spending on police.

12) Always enjoy reading about research on apples, but so many of the new cultivars are just sweet with now balancing tartness– so frustrating.  Meanwhile, Braeburn is one of the best apples ever (and if you like Jazz, it’s Braeburn crossed with Gala) and you can’t even find it anywhere anymore.  “How About Them Apples? Research Orchards Chart a Fruit’s Future. Scientists working in research groves, like one in Nova Scotia, are developing your favorite new apple variety.”

13) Jessica Grose on kids’ sports, “‘The more parents spend on their kids’ sports, the less the kid enjoys it and the more pressure they feel’”

My daughters love to swim, and we’d exhausted the lessons at our local Y, so I thought I’d try to find them a swim team. They’re only 6 and 9, so what I was looking for was a local rec situation that offered a bit of low-stakes camaraderie and regular exercise. They’re strong swimmers but probably not future Olympians, and besides, I want a life: I have zero interest in shuttling them up and down the Eastern Seaboard every weekend to compete, as the parents whose children are on travel teams seem to do.
The kind of chill athletic experience I wanted for my kids barely seems to exist anymore. There wasn’t anything like the delightfully bumbling soccer league of my youth. All I could find were intense teams that had practices several times a week. The only other regular swimming option for my children is lessons, which are expensive, and you need to sign up on the first day of registration or you’re out of luck.
I thought it might be just a New York City thing — often there are wait lists for all kinds of kid activities because there is so much demand and not enough supply. But it seems to be a cross-country problem: When I tweeted in frustration, lots of folks replied describing similar experiences — including a woman who wryly suggested that one might have to sacrifice a baby goat to get kids into swimming lessons in Portland, Ore.
This saddens me for so many reasons. A big one is that sports were such an important part of my tween and teen years. I wasn’t good enough to play in college, but I played soccer and field hockey through my senior year of high school. It always felt like a respite from adolescent drama, and it provided structure and solace on even the worst days. Being part of a team taught me a lot of lessons, not least of which that showing up on time and ready to play has tangible benefits, no matter what happens in the game.
But as Linda Flanagan explains in her new book, “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports — and Why It Matters,” the problem is systemic. At its base, over the past several decades, “kids’ sports stopped being for kids.” There are fewer low-cost options, the time parents are spending on sports has ratcheted up and kids from lower-income families have less access to play. Instead, youth sports are about making adults money and fueling what some economists call the “rug rat race” — middle-class and upper-middle-class competition to get kids into colleges and secure their futures.

That sucks.  Too bad these parents don’t have access to NCFC Youth Rec soccer, where we totally get this right.

14) Did you hear about the “academic” paper last month which was some guy describing his diary of masturbating to pseudo-child porn?  Academics should not be defending this stuff– not all subjects are worthy of study and not all study expands are knowledge– but they do.

15) I saw an ad for Xyzal the other day, which is basically warmed over Zyrtec, but, of course, does not have a generic.  And, how does the efficacy compare?  Zyrtec is actually better.

16) More frustrating culture war battles.  This documentary sounds great and thoughtful.  But, alas, how dare a white woman make a documentary about Muslim men? “Sundance Liked Her Documentary on Terrorism, Until Muslim Critics Didn’t”

17) Loved this take from “History Boomer

“Stay in your lane” is one of the stupider phrases to emerge from lefty identity politics. It’s the crazy idea that certain topics should only be discussed or portrayed by people with the appropriate characteristics. It’s a smothering approach that would set limits on art based on skin color and background when the only limit to art should be the artist’s imagination.

Michael Powell over at the New York Times penned an important article on a film that has been unfairly attacked because it has the “wrong” views and its director the wrong cultural heritage. Meg Smaker directed Jihad Rehab, a documentary investigating the lives of four men who joined jihadist groups, were imprisoned and tortured at Guantanamo Bay, and finally began a move towards a different view of the world during a stay at a Saudi Arabian rehabilitation center. The film was widely praised (read this positive review at The Guardian) until it caught the eye and ire of activists who complained that Ms. Smaker was demonizing Muslims as terrorists and should not, as a white woman, be making such a film at all. Ms. Smaker had film festivals pull her documentary because of the controversy and she is facing career ruin.

For all the details, read Powell’s article, the Guardian’s review, an open letter from filmmakers (who mostly hadn’t seen it) condemning the film, and an open letter from the film’s executive director Abigail Disney, who had originally called the film “freaking brilliant,” but now condemned it because it “has landed like a truckload of hate on people whom I sincerely love and respect.”

For me, one quote jumped out:

“When I, a practicing Muslim woman, say that this film is problematic,” wrote Jude Chehab, a Lebanese American documentarian, “my voice should be stronger than a white woman saying that it isn’t. Point blank.”

Jude Chehab thinks she should be listened to because she is a Muslim Arab while Meg Smaker, as a white American, has a less valid point of view. This way of thinking stems from what is called “standpoint theory,”1 which argues we need to grant special authority to views expressed by those whose identity makes them more trustworthy narrators. (Smaker spent years living in Yemen, learning Arabic, and studying Muslim cultures.)

It’s darkly funny that this same emphasis on identity and authenticity has also been used to justify attacking the casting of non-white characters in Amazon’s The Rings of Power and a black mermaid in the live-action The Little Mermaid. Ms. Chehab wants only Muslim filmmakers to make films about Muslims and conservative critics want only white people to portray mermaids and elves…

The article has some nuance—Farah Fleurima says that sometimes fat suits can work, as with Christian Bale in the film Vice—but mostly pushes for the idea that actors should closely resemble the people they are portraying.

Who can forget the caramel-hued actress Zoe Saldaña playing the singer Nina Simone in a much-maligned biopic of the proudly dark-coffee-skinned performer?

“Caramel-hued,” “dark-coffee-skinned”? While the right complains about dark-skinned elves and black mermaids, the left thinks that Zoe Saldaña—who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage—isn’t dark enough? Should casting calls include Pantone color swatches to make sure each actor properly fits the role? Of course, we also need to examine your sex life to make sure only straight actors play straight characters, ditto your physical abilities if you want to play wheel-chair bound Stephen Hawking.

This way lies madness. Taken to its logical conclusion, “stay in your lane” thinking will result in filmmakers only making films about themselves and only Barack Obama will be acceptable to portray Barack Obama. We must fight the purity police on all sides who want to resegregate our culture. Meg Smaker has as much right to make a film about four Muslim men (assuming she approaches the subject with care and integrity) as a black filmmaker has to create her own vision of Romeo and Juliet. We are all citizens of this world, hungry students learning from her intertwined cultures.

18) Yglesias is right, “Beating climate change absolutely requires new technology: We have what we need to drastically cut emissions — but we’re going to need much more”

So how much does this cost? Well, not very much. Because the key thing about this scenario is that all my kilowatts of electricity get used. When I’m in surplus, that extra electricity goes “to the grid” where it substitutes for other sources of power, and I earn credits that offset my electricity usage during deficit periods. If I had to throw away my surplus kilowatts instead of selling them to the grid, my per-kilowatt cost would soar.

And if everyone had solar power, that’s the problem we would face. Who would we export the extra electricity to during surplus periods? At a small margin, we have the technology for this: instead of exporting power during the day and importing it at night, I could get a home battery and store daytime excess for use at night. That would raise my per-kilowatt cost, but only modestly since batteries aren’t that expensive. And you can add wind as well as solar to your grid so you have some resiliency against seasonal variations in sunlight.

The problem is that without fossil fuels for resilience, the cost per megawatt of renewables soars because redundancy is expensive.

Wasting electricity is costly

Seasonal variation is a big problem here, for example.

Let’s say you have enough solar panels to cover 100 percent of your electricity needs on an average December day. That means you’re going to have way more panels than you need on an average June day when the sun is shining for a much longer period of time. On a pure engineering basis, that’s fine — there are just some panels that in practice are only generating power for a few days per year in the dead of winter. But the cost per megawatt of those panels is going to be astronomical because a solar panel is almost 100 percent fixed costs.

The same is true of random fluctuations in weather. If you’re like Texas and rely on a mix of gas and wind, then wind is cheap — you add some turbines and that means you burn less gas. If there’s some freak day when there’s very little wind, then you burn an unusually large amount of gas. As long as you’re using almost all the wind power you generate, the cost per megawatt of your turbines is low. But if you try to build enough turbines to keep the lights on during low-wind days, you’re wasting wind on high-wind days. This means your cost per megawatt rises.

Because massively overbuilding renewables would not only cost a lot of money but wastefully consume vast tracts of land, it seems like a better idea would be to use long-term batteries. If you had really big batteries that stored electricity for a long time, you could simply store surplus power in the high season and unleash it in the low season.

In fact, if you are lucky enough to have large hydroelectric dams at your disposal, you can probably use them as a seasonal storage vehicle. You can let the water pile up when renewables are at maximum capacity and then run it through the dam when you need it. Not coincidentally, politicians from the Pacific Northwest — where there’s tons of hydro — tend to be huge climate hawks.

But for the rest of us, it’s Hypothetical Storage Technology to the rescue.

I’m not saying anything here that renewables proponents aren’t aware of. They write articles about seasonal electricity storage all the time. There are plenty of ideas here that could work, ranging from ideas on the technological cutting edge to brute force engineering concepts like using pumps to create extra hydro capacity. Another idea is that maybe you could replace a lot of current fossil fuel use with burning hydrogen, and then you could manufacture hydrogen using renewable electricity while accepting seasonal variation in the level of hydrogen output. It might work!

19) Relatedly, “What Many Progressives Misunderstand About Fighting Climate Change”

But this may not be enough for some environmentalists. Jamie Henn, an environmental activist and the director of Fossil Free Media, recently told Rolling Stone, “Look, I want to get carbon out of the atmosphere, but this is such an opportunity to remake our society. But if we just perpetuate the same harms in a clean-energy economy, and it’s just a world of Exxons and Elon Musks—oh, man, what a nightmare.” Many progressive commentators similarly believe that countering climate change requires a fundamental reordering of the West’s political and economic systems. “The level of disruption required to keep us at a temperature anywhere below ‘absolutely catastrophic’ is fundamentally, on a deep structural level, incompatible with the status quo,” the writer Phil McDuff has argued. The climate crisis, the Green New Deal advocate Naomi Klein has insisted, “could be the best argument progressives have ever had” to roll back corporate influence, tear up free-trade deals, and reinvest in public services and infrastructure.

Such comments raise a question: What is the real goal here—stopping climate change or abolishing capitalism? Taking climate change seriously as a global emergency requires an all-hands-on-deck attitude and a recognition that technological solutions (yes, often built and deployed by private firms) can deliver real progress on decarbonization before the proletariat has seized the means of production. A massive infusion of private investment, made not for charity but in the anticipation of future profits, is precisely what’s needed to accelerate the clean-energy transition—which, like all revolutions, will yield unpredictable results.

The belief that top-down decision makers can choreograph precisely how the clean-energy revolution will proceed runs deep in progressive circles. In the manifesto describing his version of the Green New Deal, Bernie Sanders declared, “To get to our goal of 100 percent sustainable energy, we will not rely on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators.” Many environmental groups share the Vermont senator’s aversion to these technologies. But the climate emergency demands we take a closer look at some of them before writing them off completely. In the face of uncertainty about the best path to decarbonization, policy makers should think like a venture capitalist—placing lots of bets in the expectation that some technologies will fail but the investment portfolio will succeed as a whole. The “false solutions” that Sanders decries may indeed prove unworkable. Nuclear energy might never be cost-competitive, and geoengineering may prove technically infeasible. But we can’t know in advance…

In a variety of other ways, Americans will have to choose between the perfect and the good. Some environmentalists are skeptical of geothermal energy, which requires extensive drilling. Yet it has high potential as a source of clean baseload power with a small geographical footprint that can, in theory, be deployed anywhere in the world (if you drill deep enough). One way to accelerate investment in geothermal energy would be to give this clean technology the same expedited permitting that oil and gas companies already receive for leases on federal land.

20) I cannot recall how I came across this, but, among other things, it’s got a nice replication of the Milgram experiment and it’s damn entertaining, Derren Brown’s, “The Heist

21) Special K for the win, “Nothing seemed to treat their depression. Then they tried ketamine.”

22) This is good, “How to Change Minds? A Study Makes the Case for Talking It Out. Researchers found that meaty conversations among several people can align beliefs and brain patterns — so long as the group is free of blowhards.” (Haven’t done a free NYT article in a while, so, here you go)

A few years ago, Dr. Sievers devised a study to improve understanding of how exactly a group of people achieves a consensus and how their individual brains change after such discussions. The results, recently published online but not yet peer-reviewed, showed that a robust conversation that results in consensus synchronizes the talkers’ brains — not only when thinking about the topic that was explicitly discussed, but related situations that were not.

The study also revealed at least one factor that makes it harder to reach accord: a group member whose strident opinions drown out everyone else.

“Conversation is our greatest tool to align minds,” said Thalia Wheatley, a social neuroscientist at Dartmouth College who advises Dr. Sievers. “We don’t think in a vacuum, but with other people.”

23) One of the most interesting things about Covid to me is how much it has brought attention to general features of disease that have long been ignored, “It’s Not Just Long COVID: Society has been underestimating the long-term consequences of viruses, bacterial infections, and parasites for ages.”

Despite the initial disbelief and remaining questions, the phenomenon behind long COVID isn’t entirely new. We’ve always lived with post-infection illnesses and underappreciated their consequences. A recent article in Nature Medicine lists 15 infectious agents—many of which are well-known viruses, bacteria, and parasites—that can cause these “post-acute infection syndromes.” Long COVID is unprecedented in terms of its scale—it has affected many millions of people in the U.S. alone—but we should try to understand and study it in the context of other long illnesses, not as something that emerged out of nowhere with no comparison or antecedents.

One of us—Hank Balfour—has spent decades studying the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which can have strikingly similar long-term patterns. EBV, named for two of the researchers who discovered it, is millions of years older than SARS-CoV-2, but its prolonged effects are only just beginning to be well understood. They’re elusive in part because the virus is so common. It infects at least 90 percent of adults, which makes establishing a clear control group and proving that EBV was the cause of a long illness very difficult.

Yet, new research is revealing more and more about the connection between EBV and chronic diseases. New studies suggest that multiple sclerosis is the result of an EBV infection, and we know for sure that EBV is the principal cause of infectious mononucleosis (mono). Most patients recover from mono in a few weeks, but some continue to have mono-like symptoms for years—or get over the initial illness only to suffer recurring bouts of sickness later on. This condition could be called “long mono/EBV” or “chronic mono.” Two prominent symptoms it shares with long COVID are brain fog and fatigue. And just as doctors didn’t believe long-COVID patients at first, chronic mono isn’t a widely accepted diagnosis among health-care professionals. That’s a shame. The similarities between long COVID and long mono/EBV, and the purported interactions between the two viruses during acute COVID or after COVID vaccination, demand further investigation…

Persistent postinfection symptoms are also found in influenza. Long influenza—which most people have never thought about, even though influenza is quite common—and its similarities to long COVID can teach us how both diseases cause brain fog. In the aftermath of the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic, scientists noticed that the infection can come with complications, including neurological disorders, that last longer than the acute respiratory illness. There is growing evidence that influenza viruses, much like SARS-CoV-2 and reactivated EBV, can trigger neuroinflammation by infecting white blood cells that then breach the blood-brain barrier and release proinflammatory small proteins called cytokines. Studies suggest that microglia, the brain’s resident immune cells, can also secrete these pro-inflammatory agents following viral assault and thus may be factors in the brain fog experienced as a delayed effect of both influenza and COVID. Animal studies and human-brain postmortems bolster this theory. Investigators recently found that both SARS-CoV-2 and H1N1 activate neuroinflammation through microglia, and they noted the similarity of what they observed to the “chemo fog” that patients experience following cancer chemotherapy.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I do some strength training, but, I suspect not enough for optimal benefit.  I need some study to tell me the minimum 🙂 “People Who Do Strength Training Live Longer — and Better
A consensus is building among experts that both strength training and cardio‌ are important for longevity.”

Regular physical activity has many known health benefits, one of which is that it might help you live longer. But what’s still being determined are the types and duration of exercise that offer the most protection.

In a new study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that while doing either aerobic exercise or strength training was associated with a lower risk of dying during the study’s time frame, regularly doing both — one to three hours a week of aerobic exercise and one to two weekly strength training sessions — was associated with an even lower mortality risk.

Switching from a sedentary lifestyle to a workout schedule is comparable to “smoking versus not smoking,” said Carver Coleman, a data scientist and one of the authors of the study.

 

The paper is the latest evidence in a trend showing the importance of strength training in longevity and overall health…

After adjusting for factors such as age, gender, income, education, marital status and whether they had chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer, researchers found that people who engaged in one hour of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity a week had a 15 percent lower mortality risk. Mortality risk was 27 percent lower for those who did three hours a week.

But those who also took part in one to two strength-training sessions per week had an even lower mortality risk — a full 40 percent lower than those who didn’t exercise at all. This was roughly the difference between a nonsmoker and someone with a half-a-pack-a-day habit.

2) This is really good.  More to come on this topic, “Richard Reeves on Why Men are Struggling
Yascha Mounk and Richard Reeves discuss the cultural and economic challenges facing boys and men and how to fix them.”

Mounk: It’s striking just how much of a gender gap there now is in American politics, and not always on the topics where people assume there is one. In broader questions like, “Do you prefer Democrats or Republicans,” and “how do you feel about Donald Trump?” and so on, there’s now a very strong gender divide, which I believe is actually stronger among young people. A few years ago, everyone was debating about Jordan Peterson, which some listeners may have strong feelings about. I always thought that he said some things that were sort of straightforwardly true, along with many things that I disagreed with. But there was a visceral moment of media panic about his rise. And that really was the fault of everybody on the center left, because we were not able to speak in clear and orienting ways to young people who may be trying to look for a path. It would have felt very strange for anybody in my sort of social milieu to say, “I’m going to write a book that tries to appeal not exclusively, but in some ways primarily, to young men who are a little bit lost in life, and tell them: here are some basic rules for how you should go about conceiving of a meaningful life.” If we’re not filling that space, it is unsurprising that somebody with whom I have some robust political disagreements, would end up becoming a star by moving into that empty space.

Reeves: It’s a vacuum. Anybody that doesn’t take seriously the appeal of people like Jordan Peterson, especially to young men, just isn’t paying attention. I treat some of his work in my book and have many criticisms of what he’s done, but I also have a great deal of admiration in some ways for the fact that he does make a lot of these young men feel listened to. He clearly has genuine compassion for them. I don’t like where his ideology goes, and he thinks out loud, so he’s bound to say something stupid or crazy. Every ten sentences are going to contain three horrific ones. But there is this reservoir of unmet questions and a sense of dislocation and disequilibrium which he has been able to exploit as a public intellectual, but which successful populists are also able to exploit. 

We have a Gender Policy Council now in the White House. They just put out a report, and there isn’t a single gender inequality it treats that goes the other way, not a single one. For me, that’s just a huge missed opportunity. Let’s say 90% of the things discussed were still about women, but it also talked a bit about deaths of despair, incarceration, how boys have fallen behind in education—just two or three issues. I think that would have paid massive political dividends. I don’t think that’s quite permissible on the left right now, and so it is leaving this gap, and I really do fear that it could get worse before it gets better. As we approach the midterms, I feel that the Democrats are doubling down in some ways on their current agenda, which I think may have the effect of worsening the gender divide even more than we’ve seen it in recent years.

3) It really seems amazing what psychedelic drugs are capable of when used therapeutically, “Psilocybin Therapy Sharply Reduces Excessive Drinking, Small Study Shows”

4) Really good piece from Jesse Singal on affirmative action in higher ed.  Its supporters need to 1) stop eliding how deeply unpopular it is with the American public, and 2) stop acting as if everyone who opposes it is “racist.”  And 3) come up with actual solutions.

I would question the utility of this framework in this particular setting. Yes, race-based affirmative action (let’s just call it RBAA so I don’t have to keep typing that) is likely to be dealt a crippling blow by a conservative-dominated Supreme Court set to hear a pivotal case on the subject this autumn, and yes, white people who feel racial resentment, and/or who are outright racists, are vehemently opposed to RBAA.

But these aren’t the only people who dislike RBAA. The fact is, it’s an unpopular policy, full stop. The racial group that most favors RBAA is black Americans, and even there, 59% say race should not be a factor in college admissions at allaccording to Pew polling from earlier this year:

Among all other racial groups, the numbers are significantly worse. This is a policy that enjoys no broad support among anyone, and that includes the groups most likely to benefit from it…

So even if RBAA didn’t face constitutional challenges, there’d still be the fact that, rightly or wrongly, people don’t like it. You’d think a column by two scholars very concerned about the potential extinction of this policy would make some reference to its durable unpopularity, and perhaps offer a strategy or two for convincing voters to feel more warmly toward it. They do neither: They present a flattened account in which supporting RBAA is supporting racial justice and opposing it is opposing racial justice. Never mind the fact that opponents of RBAA range from far-right white racists to… the average black voter…

There’s an ingrained breezy entitlement in some liberal intellectual spaces that mucks everything up. If people don’t agree with our preferred racial justice policies, it’s because they’re racist. Okay, whatever, they’re racist — what are you going to do about it? Ummmm, more ethnic studies? Wait, so your argument is that affirmative action is on its deathbed because society is too racist, but you think ethnic studies is part of the answer instead? Or what about if, like, rich universities gave money to poor kids? Okay, but isn’t that already a thing and don’t you worry that — Also: Let them catch up.

I don’t think this represents a very serious effort to address what is, in fact, a very serious problem.

5) Good stuff from Jeff Maurer, “What’s a “Progressive”, Anyway?

Progressivism makes sense to me as a continuation of the constant project of improving society. Liberalism arose mostly in response to government tyranny, which was a problem from the beginning of human history until…actually, it’s still a problem. It will likely be a problem forever — this is why I consider the negative rights at the core of liberalism to be fundamental. Progressives probably should have extolled those rights as essential instead of trashing them as insufficient. But even so, the creation of a new movement that responded to new problems was a good thing, and progressives got more right than they got wrong.

Bottom line: Gaining a better understanding of progressivism did not cause me to think that progressivism is, itself, a problem. I found progressivism to be completely compatible with liberalism. Authoritarian is not compatible with liberalism; it’s pretty much liberalism’s polar opposite. Same with Marxism; liberals balk at that level of government control, not to mention the monochromatic color scheme. But I see nothing inconsistent about a person calling themselves a “liberal progressive”. In fact, I think that would be a somewhat-accurate descriptor of what I am.

The problem — to the extent that there is a problem — is the absence liberal principles. I think that much intra-left tension these days is between progressives who don’t hold liberal principles and progressives who do. Those who don’t hold liberal principles are fine with things like steamrolling due process in the prosecution of sexual assault claims and the extreme narrowing of the bounds of acceptable speech. Those who do hold liberal principles are bothered by these things and have written many biting Twitter threads saying so. It may be true that the righteous tenor of progressive rhetoric attracts zealots, but as far as I’m concerned, the progressive label is a red herring. To me, the great political divide continues to be between liberals and everyone else, and the specific flavor of a person’s illiberalism doesn’t matter much.

6) Really good essay on how our blood plasma “donations” exploit the poor.  

7) Rod Graham on wokeness and post-materialism:

So what does the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map tell us about wokeness?

Countries composed of people that reject traditional life patterns and value self-expression, countries towards the upper right corner of the map, are more likely to develop ideas and movements that we see as woke. This is because people in those countries care about the quality of life (symbolic aspects) as opposed to the quantities of life (material aspects).

I’ll give three examples:

  1. The emphasis on language. The intolerance that is often levied at woke people is essentially an attempt to protect people from the negative impact of words. In woke nations, movements can arise to abolish words like “midget” because it is seen as a slur. The material benefits to using a different word are little to none, but there are symbolic benefits of restricting the use of that word. The word can be disrespectful or hurtful to the person it is directed at.

  2. The emphasis on diversity. Generally, all groups that have not been traditionally the focus – meaning not white, heterosexual, Christian, and male – are celebrated and platformed. The 1619 Project is about platforming the experiences related to black people in the United States. This emphasis on diversity also extends to nontraditional lifestyles like polyamory or jobs that have been stigmatized like sex work.

  3. The emphasis on thought patterns. Concepts like heteronormativity, toxic masculinity, and implicit bias are all about thinking differently. Sure, recognizing that hypermasculine behaviors can be damaging can lead to policy changes. But at its core, the idea is about changing how we think about masculinity. The same goes for ideas like white fragility, where white people are asked to think differently about how they engage in conversations about race…

So why is the West woke?

Well, it is not because of a few critical theorists in academia producing ideas about transphobia or systemic racism. Nor is it because white liberals have taken over our institutions.

Wokeness is likely a result of living in a wealthy, modern country. When people do not need tradition, are not religious, and have their material needs taken care of, they will focus on the quality of their lives. The West has had two generations of people who have lived in a world of relative comfort. We have had no major wars. With the end of the Cold War, we didn’t even have an enemy. Elections have been, for the most part, peaceful. Crime and violence are still a problem but have been steadily declining. Even with downturns and recessions, the standard of living in Western countries has been steadily improving.

In these conditions, people can focus on the quality of life. This is what has caused wokeness, and it is a good thing. Wokeness is an indicator of success.

8) David Brooks on the awfulness of open plan offices.

9) An electric car with a 600 mile range sounds great. “A New Approach to Car Batteries Is About to Transform EVs: Auto companies are designing ways to build a car’s fuel cells into its frame, making electric rides cheaper, roomier, and able to hit ranges of 620 miles.”

If you want to build an EV with better range, slapping in a larger battery to provide that range is not necessarily the solution. You would then have to increase the size of the brakes to make them capable of stopping the heavier car, and because of the bigger brakes you now need bigger wheels, and the weight of all those items would require a stronger structure. This is what car designers call the “weight spiral,” and the problem with batteries is that they require you to lug around dead weight just to power the vehicle.

But what if you could integrate the battery into the structure of the car so that the cells could serve the dual purpose of powering the vehicle and serving as its skeleton? That is exactly what Tesla and Chinese companies such as BYD and CATL are working on. The new structural designs coming out of these companies stand to not only change the way EVs are produced but increase vehicle ranges while decreasing manufacturing costs.

According to Euan McTurk, a consultant battery electrochemist at Plug Life Consulting, since technologies such as cell-to-pack, cell-to-body, and cell-to-chassis battery construction allow batteries to be more efficiently distributed inside the car, they get us much closer to a hypothetical perfect EV battery. “The ultimate battery pack would be one that consists of 100 percent active material. That is, every part of the battery pack stores and releases energy,” he says.

Traditionally, EV batteries have used cell modules that are then interconnected into packs. BYD pioneered cell-to-pack technology, which does away with the intermediate module stage and puts the cells directly into the pack. According to Richie Frost, the founder and CEO of Sprint Power, “standard modules may fit well within one pack but leave large areas of ‘wasted’ space in another pack. By removing the constraints of a module, the number of cells can be maximized within any enclosure.”

10) Humanities degrees are in freefall:

But something different has been happening with the humanities since the 2008 financial crisis. Five years ago, I argued that the humanities were still near long-term norms in their number of majors. But since then, I’ve been watching the numbers from the Department of Education, and every year, things look worse. Almost every humanities field has seen a rapid drop in majors: History is down about 45 percent from its 2007 peak, while the number of English majors has fallen by nearly half since the late 1990s. Student majors have dropped, rapidly, at a variety of types of institutions. Declines have hit almost every field in the humanities (with one interesting exception) and related social sciences, they have not stabilized with the economic recovery, and they appear to reflect a new set of student priorities, which are being formed even before they see the inside of a college classroom…

The most reliable indicators about the humanities in American colleges are reports that all colleges and universities make to the Department of Education. These run back to about 1950. Since then, the humanities have seen three eras. The first ran from 1955 to 1985. As normal schools around the country, set up to educate teachers, transformed into comprehensive universities, men and women alike poured into English and history majors; then, when the economy soured and the growth of higher education slowed in the 1970s, the boom turned to bust, and humanities majors collapsed nationwide. The second phase began around 1985 and ran to 2008. This was a long period of stability; majors in the four largest (and easiest to track over the long term) humanities majors held steady, with modest fluctuations. Since 2008, the crisis of the humanities has resumed, with percentage drops that are beginning to approach those of 40 years ago. Unlike the drops of the ’70s, though, there’s no preexisting bubble to deflate. And there’s no compelling demographic explanation. Five years ago, it was reasonable to look at these numbers and conclude that the long-term story is all about gender. Men majored in humanities fields at the same rate in the 1990s as they had in the 1950s, while women, seeing more options in the workforce, increasingly turned to majors in business fields. But the drops since the financial crisis can be seen among men and women, across racial groups, and in a wide variety of universities.

11) Good free Yglesias piece from a month ago, “We should expect more — and worse — pandemics to come”

People who like to follow Covid news have started paying attention to wastewater monitoring because it’s a great way to get broad-spectrum information in close to real time.

What we ought to be doing is setting more communities up with routine wastewater monitoring and building systems that don’t just check for a particular virus but all unusual DNA. That way you could find a virus you’re not already looking for. We should be investing in ventilation (which everyone says) but also basic testing of commercially available air purifiers. You should be able to find out easily which one is really the best at clearing out viruses, and that should become a basis for commercial competition.

Recent research indicates that far-ultraviolet light can kill viruses and make indoor space as safe as outdoor space. I’d want to run three or four more rigorous studies on that before I put far-UVC lights everywhere, but we should do that research and, if it pans out, put the lights everywhere. And we should be paying people lots of money to design new kinds of masks that are as effective as KN95s but more comfortable, or equally comfortable but more effective, or ideally both. There ought to be huge prizes for inventing masks like that and advanced purchase commitments to get them from manufacturers.

We also ought to have spacesuit-type supersuits lying around so that we can keep basic social infrastructure up and running in the event of a huge catastrophe.

And finally, we need to put the pedal to the metal on the universal coronavirus vaccine project and then work with equal alacrity on universal vaccines for the other families. Part of the power of the family-wide vaccine concept is it will offer protection against pathogens that don’t yet exist, which is far and away the best hope for getting ahead of engineered pathogens.

None of this — ventilation, special light, better PPE, better vaccines — is exactly existing science and technology. But it’s close, visibly within grasp, just as the possibility of simultaneously releasing dozens of separately engineered viruses is visibly within reach. In the race between the two, the bad actors’ advantage is they don’t need to follow the rules and protocols that slow things down. The good actors’ advantage is that developed world governments have at their disposal enormous financial resources. They just need to be persuaded to actually use them.

12) My teenage son and I have taken to watching pro wrestling as father-son bonding many evenings.  Entirely ironically, of course.  (I sometimes joke with him that his enjoyment sometimes seems to be lacking suitable levels of irony).  Anyway, I was interested to learn more about the new start-up AEW.  It really is just way more entertaining.  

13) Good stuff from Conor Friedersdorf, “What to Teach Young Kids About Gender: Schools should tell children to be themselves. But some districts say too much—and mistake progressive dogma for established fact.”

To better understand what is actually being taught—or what bans are prohibiting—I turned to Evanston/Skokie School District 65, a public-school system in the Chicago suburbs that is is laudably transparent about posting instructional material online. Last year, I reported on its Black Lives Matter at School curriculum. Its educators also post the lessons that they teach, starting in pre-kindergarten, during the district’s LGBTQ+ Equity Month. Gender identity is a major focus of the curriculum—which, I should note, is similar to curricula I’ve seen elsewhere from progressive educators.

The District 65 instructional materials reveal a basic problem. Although American society’s approach to matters of gender identity is clearly still in flux, and reasonable people disagree on how best to engage students on the subject, some educators are writing progressive activists’ views into detailed lessons for young children. An alternative approach might promote inclusion in the broadest, plainest possible terms and reassure children: There’s no wrong way to be you. Instead, District 65 and other systems err on the side of saying too much and mistaking dogma for established fact…

Other lessons in the curriculum stray from affirming the dignity of nonbinary and trans people to teaching contested and in some cases contradictory claims about the nature of gender. One kindergarten lesson calls for teachers to read I Am JazzMy Princess Boy; and Jack (Not Jackie)—all books about trans or genderqueer kids. The following day’s lesson introduces “another important flag that has just 3 colors: light blue, pink and white.” The ensuing script reads, “People who identify as TRANSGENDER have their own ways of dressing, playing & acting that might not be what you expect. They might look to you like a boy, but dress and act like a girl.”

But wait: How does a girl dress and act? By day five of the school district’s LGBTQ+ Equity Month, the kindergarteners have been taught that there are no such thing as boys’ toys and girls’ toys, or boys’ clothes and girls’ clothes—any boy can wear a dress and any girl can play with toy trucks. But then, when introducing terms such as trans and nonbinary, the curriculum relies on and arguably reaffirms gender stereotypes. For example, kindergarten students are shown a slide meant to represent a boy, a girl, and a nonbinary person. Its symbols are silhouettes of stereotypical male dress, stereotypical female dress, and a mash-up of the two:..

If you tell 5-year-olds that boys can wear dresses and play with dolls just as much as girls, but also that Michael feels like a girl, so from now on he’s going to wear dresses and play with dolls—act like a girl?—you’ve undercut the message that normative gender stereotypes are bogus.

14) I don’t doubt that these are very good ideas for parenting.  I’ve definitely come up short:

This is how to use ancient traditions to raise awesome kids:

  • To Raise Helpful Kids: Don’t shoo them away to the world of self-indulgent child distraction. Make them valued members of the team with communal activities that benefit the family.
  • To Teach Kids Emotional Regulation: Yes, you feel like you need to shout until your soul starts dribbling out your ears but all they’ll learn is that anger is the solution to life’s problems. Change your narrative, model calm behavior, trigger thought with questions, and touch them to let them know they’re loved.

Let’s step away from the ancient traditions and modern science for a second. I’ve read more books on parenting than any childless guy ever. What have I learned? It’s simple:

Almost all good parenting advice is good people advice.

Or, to put it bluntly: There are no grown-ups. None. Nowhere. Ever. We’re all muddling through. Sometimes we’re all selfish, emotional and out of control. It happens. And it’s okay.

If you apply parenting advice to all your relationships, you’ll be better off. Don’t try to control people. Treat them like adults – especially if they’re not acting like one. Bribes and punishments are not as effective as encouraging cooperation and making people feel like part of a team.

Anger usually just makes things worse with people. If they’re angry, you getting angry just escalates things. To stop being angry change the story in your head: they’re usually not evil, they’re just having a bad day. Encourage their thinky brain to take charge again and focus on a warm, positive connection where they feel supported.

When you stop trying to control or win with others you can focus on getting to that thing which is worth more than anything else is the universe…

Yes, printer ink.

Okay, maybe we should focus on the second most valuable thing in the universe: love. It’s not printer ink but it’s still pretty good.

15) I forget why I came across this, but the illusion of explanatory depth is such a great concept:

What is illusion of explanatory depth?

The illusion of explanatory depth (IOED) describes our belief that we understand more about the world than we actually do. It is often not until we are asked to actually explain a concept that we come face to face with our limited understanding of it.

Where this bias occurs

And yet, as the alien takes a seat to listen, you realize you can tell him what a house is, but you can’t explain much about them. How are they built? How did we as civilians come to live in houses? How are their prices determined? What are the laws surrounding them? How long have people lived in houses, and what did they live in before? Perhaps you can answer one or two of these specific questions, but surely the alien will have even more questions you can’t answer. To think that housing is such a simple concept, and that you actually know much less than you’d predicted puzzles you greatly. This is because of the illusion of explanatory depth: having to explain your knowledge brings you to the realization that you actually know much less than you thought you did.

16) Unless it’s going to kill me, I am not giving up my aspartame, damnit. “Personalized microbiome-driven effects of non-nutritive sweeteners on human glucose tolerance”

Summary

Non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) are commonly integrated into human diet and presumed to be inert; however, animal studies suggest that they may impact the microbiome and downstream glycemic responses. We causally assessed NNS impacts in humans and their microbiomes in a randomized-controlled trial encompassing 120 healthy adults, administered saccharinsucraloseaspartame, and stevia sachets for 2 weeks in doses lower than the acceptable daily intake, compared with controls receiving sachet-contained vehicle glucose or no supplement. As groups, each administered NNS distinctly altered stool and oral microbiome and plasma metabolome, whereas saccharin and sucralose significantly impaired glycemic responses. Importantly, gnotobiotic mice conventionalized with microbiomes from multiple top and bottom responders of each of the four NNS-supplemented groups featured glycemic responses largely reflecting those noted in respective human donors, which were preempted by distinct microbial signals, as exemplified by sucralose. Collectively, human NNS consumption may induce person-specific, microbiome-dependent glycemic alterations, necessitating future assessment of clinical implications.

17) Good stuff from Sean Illing and Zac Gershberg, “The Greatest Threat to Democracy Is a Feature of Democracy”

Far more than a bundle of laws, norms and institutions, democracy is an open culture of communication that affords people the right to think, speak and act and allows every possible means of persuasion. That makes every democratic society uniquely vulnerable to the consequences of communication. We may not like it, but something like Jan. 6 is always potentially in the offing.

We ought to avoid the naïveté of liberal fantasy, which imagines we can impose reliable guardrails against dangerous or deceptive speech. Indeed, there’s a whole genre of articles and books arguing that social media is destroying democracy. Because of changes to online platforms around a decade ago, wrote Jonathan Haidt recently, “People could spread rumors and half-truths more quickly, and they could more readily sort themselves into homogeneous tribes.”

But this is precisely what an unwieldy democratic culture looks like. Depending on the communications environment, a democracy can foster reliable, respectful norms, or it can devolve into outrageous propaganda, widespread cynicism and vitriolic partisanship.

And when communications devolve into propaganda and partisanship, a democracy can either end with breathtaking speed, as it did in Myanmar last year, when the military overthrew the democratically elected government, or descend more gradually into chaos and authoritarianism, as Russia did under Vladimir Putin.

Nothing forbids voters in a democracy to support an authoritarian or vote itself out of existence (as the ancient Athenian assembly famously did). The history of democracy is full of demagogues exploiting the openness of democratic cultures to turn people against the very system on which their freedom depends. In France, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte leveraged a celebrity name to run for president on a campaign of restoring order in 1848, only to end the Second Republic with a self-coup to become emperor when his term was up…

The paradox at the heart of this debate — the idea that democracy contains the ingredients for its own destruction — tells us that free expression and its sometimes troubling consequences are a feature, not a bug. What sometimes changes are novel forms of media, which come along and clear democratic space for all manner of persuasion. Patterns of bias and distortion and propaganda accompany each evolution.

What does your gut microbiome want anyway?

I saw this headline, “The best foods to feed your gut microbiome” and thought… let me guess, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains :-).  And this answer is… yes, of course!  But, the interesting wrinkle is that there seems to be some really benefit from mixing up the diversity of those health foods, e.g., the fact that I have two apples, a banana, mixed frozen berries, a carrot, romaine lettuce, and fresh strawberries pretty much every single day is actually not ideal.  More mangoes and green leaf lettuce, here I come– I guess.  Anyway, pretty interesting:

In general, scientists have found that the more diverse your diet, the more diverse your gut microbiome. Studies show that a high level of microbiome diversity correlates with good health and that low diversity is linked to higher rates of weight gain and obesity, diabetesrheumatoid arthritis and other chronic diseases.

Eating a wide variety of fiber-rich plants and nutrient-dense foods seems to be especially beneficial, said Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and the founder of the British Gut Project, a crowdsourced effort to map thousands of individual microbiomes.

Even if you already eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, Spector advises increasing the variety of plant foods you eat each week. One fast way to do this is to start using more herbs and spices. You can use a variety of leafy greens rather than one type of lettuce for your salads. Adding a variety of fruits to your breakfast, adding several different vegetables to your stir fry and eating more nuts, seeds, beans and grains is good for your microbiome…

Once you start increasing the variety of plant foods you eat every day, set a goal of trying to eat around 30 different plant foods a week, says Spector. That might sound like a lot, but you’re probably already eating a lot of these foods already…

Another way to nourish your gut microbiota is by eating fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir. The microbes in fermented foods, known as probiotics, produce vitamins, hormones and other nutrients. When you consume them, they can increase your gut microbiome diversity and boost your immune health, said Maria Marco, a professor of food science and technology who studies microbes and gut health at the University of California, Davis.

In a study published last year in the journal Cell, researchers at Stanford found that when they assigned people to eat fermented foods every day over a 10-week period, it increased their gut microbial diversity and lowered their levels of inflammation.

“We’re increasingly developing a very rich understanding of why microbes are so good for us,” said Marco.

I definitely need to up my fermented food intake.  

Unsurprisingly, of course, this also provides more data on how “junk” food is not good for you:

Another important measure of gut health is a person’s ratio of beneficial microbes to potentially harmful ones. In a study of 1,1oo people in the United States and Britain published last year in Nature Medicine, Spector and a team of scientists at Harvard, Stanford and other universities identified clusters of “good” gut microbes that protected people against cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. They also identified clusters of “bad” microbes that promoted inflammation, heart disease and poor metabolic health.

While it’s clear that eating lots of fiber is good for your microbiome, research shows that eating the wrong foods can tip the balance in your gut in favor of disease-promoting microbes.

The Nature study found that “bad” microbes were more common in people who ate a lot of highly processed foods that are low in fiber and high in additives such as sugar, salt and artificial ingredients. This includes soft drinks, white bread and white pasta, processed meats, and packaged snacks like cookies, candy bars and potato chips.

So, mostly reaffirms what we know about eating healthy, but I do find this a very interesting additional wrinkle about the value of diversity in one’s healthy foods.  

Just sit down (and move around)

Really not a fan of standing up unless I’m occupied doing something.  But just standing there– I really don’t like, so you won’t see me in a standing desk anytime soon.  Now, just sitting there for a long time not doing anything is almost surely not good, but, personally, I’d much rather sit nice and relaxed and doing a quick burst of exercise every 20 or 30 minutes.  

And, as for the science of using a standing desk?  It’s looking not so great (so, yes, more than ever I’ll happily sit as I type these posts and, you know… work).  Nice summary of recent research from Health Nerd (who I’ve come to follow for good Covid takes):

But as well as measuring how much time people spent standing, the authors also measured health, wellbeing, and productivity outcomes in their participants. For example, they looked to see whether people lost weight, had better sleep, reported better workplace productivity, were in pain, etc. And across literally dozens of secondary outcomes, the study found that there were no appreciable differences between people who took part in the standing intervention and got the standing desks, and those who didn’t.

The study found a big benefit in the surrogate outcome of standing, but no noticeable benefits in any of the key health and other outcomes that we actually care about.

Now, the issue with this piece of research — and much of the standing desk literature more broadly — is that it wasn’t really geared to prove anything about health outcomes in the first place. If you look at the studies conducted to look at whether standing desks help, they are all fairly similar — very small samplesprimarily aimed at proving that standing desks make people stand more, and only rarely examining health or productivity outcomes anyway. Even trials that did specifically look at health outcomes were often very small and unable to detect an effect. Some studies found benefits, others didn’t, but all were insufficient to establish whether standing really improved health.

In other words, it’s not so much that we have proven that standing desks and standing interventions are a waste of time, but that so far we haven’t conducted studies that would show us if they are or not. To look at these vitally important health and productivity outcomes, we’d need much bigger studies incorporating very large groups of people, which we just haven’t really done yet.

That being said, as far as I can tell the new BMJ paper is by far the biggest trial of these interventions to date, and there was no major difference in any outcome of importance between the intervention and control groups. There were insignificant improvements in a handful of things, but mostly it looked like standing more, and standing desks, had no benefit on health or wellbeing.

What this means is that if we do find benefits in a future large trial, they are likely to be fairly small. We can’t exclude standing desks improving health — the confidence intervals are too wide for that — but we can say that spending a great deal of time and money getting people in a workplace to stand for 60 minutes more every day for a year probably doesn’t have much of a benefit for things we really care about. Yes, it’ll make people stand more, but the $500-odd per person for the desks plus the additional cost of staff trainings and rewards to incentivize employees may not result in the sort of health benefits that are used to sell the product in the first place.

If you want to stand while you work more power to you.  But, if you just like being one with the sofa (as I am while I type this), that’s probably just fine so long as you make sure to get up and move around a bit on a regular basis.  I would love to see a study that compares this approach to actually standing.  But lacking that study and loving the comfort of my sofa and my office chair and the way I feel when I take that quick exercise break, I’m definitely sticking with this system.  

Quick hits (Part I)

1) I hate public (reply all) congratulatory emails.  Yes, congratulate somebody on a job well done, but do we all have to see it (thank goodness I discovered Gmail’s “mute” feature).  Anyway, loved this from deBoer, “Congratulations, Like Condolences, Should Be Private” (emphases in original)

I hate to borrow overused internet lingo, but nothing to me is as cringe as watching people in media tweet overwrought congratulations at each other over professional news. It’s nails-on-a-chalkboard stuff, and yet it’s like 12% of all tweets. “Big, big congrats to @SnarkDad420 on taking over as Vice Managing Copy Editor at Dipshit.com!” And the responses, if anything, are worse. “Thanks so much, @GhostOfTomChoad! Buy me a beer at Do or Dive, haha!” Kill me. Strike me dead. Flay my bones.

Here’s my little bit of advice for all of you: send neither public congratulations nor public condolences. Text, email, or (gasp) say it in person. If you don’t know the person well enough to contact them privately, you don’t know them well enough to congratulate or console them. Right? Answer this for me: if you don’t commend them or send them condolences after an event, will they notice? Will it hurt them? If yes, it matters enough to say in private, where it will always mean more. If no, then you don’t have anything to say at all. What are you accomplishing by sending congratulations to a stranger? And why should anyone not think that you’re doing it for self-interested reasons of social position and patronage?

2) I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again… the coming political fights over medical abortions are going to be huge.  The Post, “Most abortions are done at home. Antiabortion groups are taking aim.”

Two top antiabortion groups have crafted and successfully lobbied for state legislation to ban or further restrictthe predominant way pregnancies are ended in the United States — viadrugs taken at home, often facilitated by a network of abortion rights groups.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, 14states now ban or partially ban the use of those drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, which are used in more than half of all abortions.

But the drugs remain widely available, with multiple groups working to help provide them even to women in states with abortion bans. Students for Life of America and National Right to Life Committee, which have played leading roles in crafting antiabortion laws, hope to change that with newlegislation.

The groups are pursuing a variety of tactics, from bills that would ban the abortion-inducing drugs altogether to others that would allow family members to sue medication providers or attempt to shut down the nonprofit groups that help women obtain and safely use the drugs…

National Right to Life, meanwhile, released a “model law,” a week before the overturn of Roe v. Wade that seeks to outlaw a coalition of nonprofit groups that assist women with self-managed abortions. Last month, Republican lawmakers in South Carolina became the first to introduce the legislation.

The efforts illustrate how the antiabortion battlefront now reaches beyond traditional bills seeking criminal penalties for doctors who provide surgical abortions in hospitals or clinics, instead targeting organizations that assist women with mail-order abortion prescriptions and safety protocols for self-managed abortions.

3) A “good enough” life sounds plenty good to me.

In 1953, the british pediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott began writing about the idea of “good-enough” parenting—a term he coined, and one he’s still famous for today. According to Winnicott, after infancy, babies do not need tirelessly responsive or self-sacrificing parents. In fact, he wrote, it is developmentally key for parents to lessen their “active adaptation” to their children’s needs over time. In doing so, they teach their kids to “account for failure” and “tolerate the results of frustration”—both necessary skills at a very young age, as anyone who’s watched a baby learn to crawl knows.

In his recent book The Good-Enough Life, the scholar and writing lecturer Avram Alpert radically broadens Winnicott’s idea of good-enoughness, transforming it into a sweeping ideology. Alpert sees good-enoughness as a necessary alternative to “greatness thinking,” or the twin beliefs that everybody has the right to embark on “personal quests for greatness” and that the great few can uplift the mediocre many. Adam Smith’s invisible hand of capital is an example of greatness thinking; so is its latter-day analogue, trickle-down economics. So are many forms of ambition: wanting to win the National Book Award, to start a revolution that turns your divided and unequal country into a Marxist utopia, or to make a sex tape that catapults you to global fame.

Alpert does not ask his readers to abandon their goals completely, but he does ask us to acknowledge the unlikelihood of becoming the next Kim Kardashian or creating a workers’ paradise. He also argues that clinging too tightly to such dreams, at the expense of smaller or partial ones, sets us up for both practical and moral failure: To him, it’s selfish, especially on the political level, to strive exclusively for changes so large that they may be unattainable. Rather than aim for greatness, then, Alpert asks us to accept that frustration and limitation are inescapable—and sometimes beneficial or beautiful—parts of human life…

Many of alpert’s ideas about good-enough selves and good-enough relationships ask only that his readers be more patient and less selfish. Greatness thinking, he argues, teaches us to defend our own ideas, time, and convenience above all else; it suggests that anyone who wishes to excel must hoard their time and energy, ignoring all the little tasks, negotiations, and compromises that make up so much of daily life. (The writer Vladimir Nabokov, supposedly, didn’t even lick his own stamps.) On an interpersonal level, greatness thinking suggests that discord and friction are, like licking your own stamps and running your own errands, needless time sucks—or, worse, signs that a relationship is on the rocks. A great friendship, according to this line of thought, is one of unbroken companionship and total harmony, a lifelong version of Broad City’s Abbi and Ilana at their most intertwined. But even on Broad City, a show utterly devoted to the joys of friendship, Abbi and Ilana are at odds, if only briefly, on nearly every episode. Alpert would say that this is as it should be. Disagreement and compromise are crucial parts of friendship. They teach us openness, acceptance, and resilience. If we let them, they make us more whole.

4) Jamelle Bouie is right, “The Idea That Letting Trump Walk Will Heal America Is Ridiculous”

The main argument against prosecuting Donald Trump — or investigating him with an eye toward criminal prosecution — is that it will worsen an already volatile fracture in American society between Republicans and Democrats. If, before an indictment, we could contain the forces of political chaos and social dissolution, the argument goes, then in the aftermath of such a move, we would be at their mercy. American democracy might not survive the stress.

All of this might sound persuasive to a certain, risk-averse cast of mind. But it rests on two assumptions that can’t support the weight that’s been put on them.

The first is the idea that American politics has, with Trump’s departure from the White House, returned to a kind of normalcy. Under this view, a prosecution would be an extreme and irrevocable blow to social peace. But the absence of open conflict is not the same as peace. Voters may have put a relic of the 1990s into the Oval Office, but the status quo of American politics is far from where it was before Trump.

The most important of our new realities is the fact that much of the Republican Party has turned itself against electoral democracy. The Republican nominee for governor in Arizona — Kari Lake — is a 2020 presidential election denier. So, too, are the Republican nominees in Arizona for secretary of state, state attorney general and U.S. Senate. In Pennsylvania, Republican voters overwhelmingly chose the pro-insurrection Doug Mastriano to lead their party’s ticket in November. Overall, Republican voters have nominated election deniers in dozens of races across six swing states, including candidates for top offices in Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin…

All of this is to say that we are already in a place where a substantial portion of the country (although much less than half) has aligned itself against the basic principles of American democracy in favor of Trump. And these 2020 deniers aren’t sitting still, either; as these election results show, they are actively working to undermine democracy for the next time Trump is on the ballot.

This fact, alone, makes a mockery of the idea that the ultimate remedy for Trump is to beat him at the ballot box a second time, as if the same supporters who rejected the last election will change course in the face of another defeat. It also makes clear the other weight-bearing problem with the argument against holding Trump accountable, which is that it treats inaction as an apolitical and stability-enhancing move — something that preserves the status quo as opposed to action, which upends it.

5) My daughter wants a pet snake.  Not happening.  But she’d approve of this, “How Facebook Is Saving Snakes: Snake-identification groups on social media are turning serpent haters into appreciators”

What force could drive such a dramatic shift in perspective? Baker credits, of all things, a Facebook group, one whose mission it is to educate members about snakes. Although the social media giant has a bad reputation for doing everything wrong in public health and politics, it turns out to be a powerful tool for saving snake lives. It’s not just Facebook. Wildlife enthusiasts are co-opting various social media platforms to build communities that promote accurate snake information and slay viral myths. Through these efforts they are converting even the most committed snake haters into ardent snake appreciators whose newfound regard for these misunderstood creatures often spreads to family, friends and neighbors. One by one, the snakes are living to slither another day…

Whereas other social media ID groups encompass huge areas, from entire continents to the entire planet, Pyle went local, focusing on the snakes he’s most familiar with. That way, he reasoned, “I can actually help if someone has a snake in their backyard.” He hoped his regional approach would serve as a template for other local efforts.

Today Pyle’s group has more than 176,000 members eagerly exchanging information about the region’s venomous rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths and coral snakes, as well as its nonvenomous rat snakes and water snakes, among other harmless species. “This group has been the first time in my life that I think I’m making a real difference,” he says. Other regional groups that have formed include a statewide Texas ID and Central Texas Snake ID, which has more than 43,000 members and is run by a snake-relocation service near San Antonio. Facebook features dozens of other groups, too, mostly in the southern and southwestern states where most snakes live, covering regions as niche as Southside Atlanta.

The premise of the groups is simple. A member uploads an image of a snake they want identified, and within minutes an expert administrator responds. One unbreakable rule of the pages is that users have to keep their guesses to themselves. Only IDs made with certainty are allowed. For Pyle, this rule is so crucial that he once muted his own daughter for guessing. It can be a matter of safety, especially if someone says a snake is nonvenomous when it isn’t.

6) Derek Thompson, “There Is No National Teacher Shortage: The narrative doesn’t match the numbers.”

For several weeks, I watched this Great American Teacher Shortage narrative bloom across the media landscape. Because of my reporting for my abundance-agenda series, I was predisposed to believe it was real. The U.S. is rife with shortages, including of infant formula and monkeypox vaccines. But I was also skeptical, because so many public-education controversies—see: the debates over remote schooling, the proper way to teach American history, and controversial laws regarding how teachers can discuss sex ed—are plastered with ideology.

When I spoke with education researchers and writers to figure out what was really going on, a more complex narrative emerged. In parts of the country, schools are struggling to hire staff. But they are mostly the same districts that have been struggling for years to fill the same positions, such as substitute and special-ed roles. In the big picture, the new and catastrophic national teacher shortage is neither newly catastrophic nor, in any meaningful sense, national. Under one interpretation of the murky data, the country might even have a teacher surplus on its hands, because so many parents have pulled their children out of public schools since the pandemic began…

American teachers and American schools absolutely do have real problems that deserve our attention.

Teacher vacancies exist, and they are concentrated in specific states, districts, and positions. Many rural areas and the Deep South are experiencing shortages. Some high-poverty districts have struggled for decades to hire enough teachers. High teacher turnover is especially a problem in child care and special education. A recent study in Louisiana found that one-third of the state’s child-care centers lose more than half of their teachers every year. A 2022 government survey found that the vacancy rate for special-ed teachers is more than four times higher than that for physical-education instructors.

Exhausted, underpaid, and stressed out, America’s teachers seem to be in a state of psychological and financial crisis. By some estimates, public-school teachers are the most “burned out” workers in America. The pandemic made things worse; some surveys show a big increase in the share of teachers who say they want to quit. Indeed, managing an elementary-school classroom via Zoom five days a week sounds to me like one of the lower rings of hell.

So, if the question is whether some districts are struggling to hire enough teachers, or whether some specific occupations have shortages, or even whether many teachers are feeling crummy about their work, the answer is clearly yes. These things are all happening. But most of these things have been happening for a long time.

“There has not been a mass exodus of teachers across the country,” Heather Schwartz, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation, told me. Chad Aldeman, who writes about education finance at Edunomics Lab, agrees. “The public narrative has gotten way ahead of the data and is even misleading in most cases,” he told me.

7) Jonathan Weiler with an excellent post on the value and limits of the “polarization” frame:

This Tweet, from Jeff Jarvis, a professor in CUNY’s Newmark School of Journalism, has been making the rounds, as you can see.

Some thoughts….

Obviously, I’ve had some professional and, therefore, personal investment in the significance of the polarization frame. The books I’ve co-written on the subject document how the nature of America’s political divisions has changed over time, and argue that the changing nature of those divisions is highly consequential. One key facet of the argument is that a politics primarily anchored in deep-seated psychological and personality differences is a recipe for sustained, irreconcilable conflict. These deep-seated differences aren’t politically consequential in and of themselves, at least not according to our understanding. They become consequential when they map onto partisan conflict. That is, when people with basically different worldviews start sorting themselves out into two distinct partisan political camps, those different worldviews become the basic fault line of our politics. Once that happens, the stage is set for especially acrimonious and potentially violent politics. Others have built on that framework to argue such conditions have made the emergence of a Trump-like figure more likely, which reinforces and deepens the dangers of the politics we tried to map.

At a time of deepening polarization in the United States, the fallout in The Village points to troubling consequences on the cul-de-sac level: Not even old friends are immune to the forces pitting us against each other.

Polls reveal perceptions of major events — the 2020 election, the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, the protests ignited by the death of George Floyd — vary widely along partisan lines. Less explored is the impact in our own backyards, the strains on bonds that are supposed to trump politics.

This is the kind of frame Jarvis is talking about. Much of the American right is becoming increasingly extreme, violent and enamored of political leaders who aren’t even making a pretense anymore of respecting such bedrocks of democracy as election outcomes that they don’t like. In the Graham story, it’s hard to fathom what context or insight readers gain from what feels almost like a polarization disclaimer. One of our two major parties is traveling far down the road of authoritarianism and is inspiring, all over the country, the kind of atmosphere that led to Graham’s resignation. Polarization, in the basic sense of describing a phenomenon in which two objects increasingly gravitate toward poles, is not what is at play here. Instead, one object, the Republican Party, is becoming increasingly and dangerously extreme in a way that simply does not characterize the other party.

I can’t believe I am about to do this, but here’s Bill Kristol (!!!!)1, explaining the differences in a Tweet this weekend:

8) This is cool, The Athletic with a way to think about elite soccer players through 18 different playing style categories. 

9) I know I shouldn’t waste quick hits on stuff I don’t like, but sometimes it amazes me what the NYT Op-Ed page lets get through.  Most of the commentators properly ripped this to shreds.  “Maternal Instinct Is a Myth That Men Created”  I mean, of course there’s some reality to that claim, so why completely undermine yourself by arguing with strawman after strawman.  

10) This is very fun from Randall Munroe (with good visuals, so gift link), “Shark or Orca: Which Should You Fear More?”

11) Nice NCSU news release, “Study of Ancient Skulls Sheds Light on Human Interbreeding With Neandertals

Research has established that there are traces of Neandertal DNA in the genome of modern humans. Now an exploratory study that assessed the facial structure of prehistoric skulls is offering new insights, and supports the hypothesis that much of this interbreeding took place in the Near East – the region ranging from North Africa to Iraq.

“Ancient DNA caused a revolution in how we think about human evolution,” says Steven Churchill, co-author of the study and a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. “We often think of evolution as branches on a tree, and researchers have spent a lot of time trying to trace back the path that led to us, Homo sapiens. But we’re now beginning to understand that it isn’t a tree – it’s more like a series of streams that converge and diverge at multiple points.”

“Our work here gives us a deeper understanding of where those streams came together,” says Ann Ross, corresponding author of the study and a professor of biological sciences at North Carolina State University.

“The picture is really complicated,” Churchill says. “We know there was interbreeding. Modern Asian populations seem to have more Neandertal DNA than modern European populations, which is weird – because Neandertals lived in what is now Europe. That has suggested that Neandertals interbred with what are now modern humans as our prehistoric ancestors left Africa, but before spreading to Asia. Our goal with this study was to see what additional light we could shed on this by assessing the facial structure of prehistoric humans and Neandertals.”

“By evaluating facial morphology, we can trace how populations moved and interacted over time,” Ross explains. “And the evidence shows us that the Near East was an important crossroads, both geographically and in the context of human evolution.”

For this study, the researchers collected data on craniofacial morphology from the published literature. This ultimately resulted in a data set including 13 Neandertals, 233 prehistoric Homo sapiens, and 83 modern humans.

 

Quick hits (Part II)

1) Are skittles toxic?  I doubt it, but I’m eating them anyway.

2) I took Vitamin D supplements for about a year. But, barring some dramatic new evidence, I’m done with it. “Study Finds Another Condition That Vitamin D Pills Do Not Help: The vitamin pills do not prevent bone fractures in most people or protect against many other diseases, adding to questions about medical guidance many now take for granted.”

3) I always aim to have my aerobic exercise be at least 20 minutes, but rarely go much over 30.  Good to know that’s pretty efficient.  NYT Well Newsletter:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week from activities like biking or swimming. That corresponds to just over 20 minutes a day. Still, you can benefit from doing less, said Dr. I-Min Lee, an epidemiologist who studies exercise at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The first 20 minutes of physical activity per session confer the most health perks, at least in terms of longevity, Dr. Lee said. As you continue working out, “the bang for your buck starts to decrease” in terms of tangible health rewards, she added.

4) Greg Sargent, “Rising GOP anger at Mitch McConnell offers a lesson for Democrats”

Republicans have staged a carnival of fake outrage ever since Sen. Joe Manchin III announced support for a massive climate and health-care package. Their claim: The West Virginia Democrat and his party double-crossed them by announcing a deal just after Senate Republicans helped pass industrial policy making us competitive with China.

There’s a lesson in this for Democrats: Procedural hardball works.

You can see this in rising GOP anger at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican, angry lawmakers say, has been too willing to agree to bipartisan deals on legislation — which allowed that alleged double-cross to happen, catching him flat-footed.

CNN reports on new “internal tensions” in the party, with House Republicans faulting McConnell for negligently letting bipartisanship break out on infrastructuregun control and the Chips and Science Act. That bill invests $280 billion in shoring up the semiconductor industry and in science and technology development, and just passed both houses

Regardless, there’s a moral in this story for Democrats: There is often no serious penalty for political hardball, no matter how far it pushes the procedural envelope.

Republicans have strained vigorously to gin up outrage over the Democrats’ procedural handling of all this. House Republicans raged that the Manchin deal required them to sink the chips bill. Senate Republicans held up a measure to provide health care to veterans suffering from burn pit exposure, though there’s some dispute about the motive. And Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) declared the Democrats’ perfidy would make it harder to win GOP support for a bill codifying same-sex marriage.

That’s absurdly revealing: The explicit admission is that the merits of the same-sex marriage bill (and possibly the burn pit bill) are beside the point. If Republicans do sink that measure, it will be because Democrats used their authority under the simple-majority reconciliation process to pass something entirely unrelated to it!

But that aside, here’s the thing: None of that fake outrage will matter in the least.

5) Nice summary of evidence on food and weight loss from Eric Barker:

Here’s the neuroscience of eating less and staying fit:

  • Beware “Food Reward”But blander foods aren’t fun! (Which is why you’ll eat less of them.)
  • Reduce Food Variety: Say you ate steak for dinner. If dessert was more steak, you’d be a lot less likely to eat it.
  • Control Your Environment: Discipline at the grocery store. And put all your tasty snacks in a jar. On a high shelf. In another country.
  • “High Satiety” Foods: Eat meat, fish, oatmeal, vegetables… Okay, I’m just typing that and I already feel full.
  • Exercise To Maintain Weight Loss: It may not help you lose fat but it will help keep it off — as long as you can tolerate the music at the gym.

The food variety party really hits home and makes so much intuitive sense and is something I personally really need to work on.  When I’m feeling full from my dinner, I switch foods and pack on more calories.

Reduce Your Variety

In 2010 Chris Voight ate nothing but 20 plain potatoes a day for 60 days. Yes, your mind cannot process that degree of horror. He lost 21 pounds. Frankly, he had trouble eating enough because he just wasn’t all that hungry.

Yes, this brief tableau of gastronomic desolation is anecdotal, but the scientists are nodding. Food variety is a very big deal. What six words have the mystical ability to increase space in your stomach? “Do you have room for dessert?

Even within a meal we go back and forth between steak and potatoes or chips and soda. Why? Keeps the variety high. When variety is low, we get tired of whatever we’re eating faster. Researchers have even coined the term “the buffet effect” because the endless options resist any habituation and people eat until they’re ready to explode. (Example: Thanksgiving.)

More options mean more eating. Less variety is an easy way to feel full on fewer calories.

6) The extra cool part of this is that a friend of mine from high school, who is a complete space buff, had a contract to write the descriptions of the items for Sotheby’s, “Buzz Aldrin’s Space Memorabilia Sells for More Than $8 Million”

7) I really doubt we’ll ever have the sense to do it, but, oh my should we just clean up the spelling in the English language. McWhorter:

I hope it would help people to unbend somewhat to more intuitive (if odd-looking) spellings if those new spellings were seen as social justice of a kind. Children whose first language is English have to labor longer to learn to read than their counterparts. This crowds out school time that could be used for learning other things. Dyslexia appears to be less prevalent in many other languages because mapping the sounds we utter to the chaos of how they are represented on the page (“cough,” “bough,” “enough”) is so complex and often arbitrary. Anglophone kids are twice as likely to show signs of dyslexia as Italian ones, for example.

Plus, English is notoriously hard to master for the legions of people worldwide required to learn it as a second or third language. However, as languages go, English isn’t especially tough — if you want difficult, try Polish, Lithuanian or Navajo. A good deal of what frustrates English learners is the spellings. To think beyond our time is to imagine English as an international language that welcomes learners with spellings that actually make sense. Finnish spellings do — the sounds you make correspond neatly with the letters on the page. But let’s face it, the likelihood of Finnish as a lingua franca is slim. So why can’t English tidy itself up a bit?

Busy people leading busy lives shouldn’t have to put up with spelling seemingly designed to be difficult, random and frustrating. Think, for example, of just that word, “busy.” Why is its “u” pronounced “ih”? And why is the “y” in that word and at the end of adverbs pronounced “ee”?

I could go awn. We Anglophones wallow in orthographical muck. Attention must be paid.

8) Good stuff from Ron Brownstein, “Red states are building a nation within a nation”

9) This is excellent.  You should read it (free link), “Alabama Takes From the Poor and Gives to the Rich”

In states like Alabama, almost every interaction a person has with the criminal justice system comes with a financial cost. If you’re assigned to a pretrial program to reduce your sentence, each class attended incurs a fee. If you’re on probation, you’ll pay a fee to take your mandatory urine test. If you appear in drug court, you will face more fees, sometimes dozens of times a year. Often, you don’t even have to break the law; you’ll pay fees to pull a public record or apply for a permit. For poor people, this system is a trap, sucking them into a cycle of sometimes unpayable debt that constrains their lives and almost guarantees financial hardship.

While almost every state in the country, both red and blue, levies fines and fees that fall disproportionately on the bottom rung of the income ladder, the situation in Alabama is far more dramatic, thanks to the peculiarities of its Constitution. Over a century ago, wealthy landowners and businessmen rewrote the Constitution to cap taxes permanently. As a result, today, Alabama has one of the cruelest tax systems in the country.

Taxes on most property, for example, are exceptionally low. In 2019, property taxes accounted for just 7 percent of state and local revenue, the lowest among the states. (Even Mississippi, which also has low property taxes, got roughly 12 percent from property taxes. New Jersey, by contrast, got 29 percent.) Strapped for cash, all levels of government look for money anywhere they can get it. And often, that means creating revenue from fines and fees. A 2016 study showed that the median assessment for a felony in Alabama doubled between 1995 and 2005, to $2,000…

To understand how Alabama came to be so underdeveloped, you need only look to the Black Belt, a large region originally named for its rich black dirt that sweeps across the lower midsection of the state. The earth is full of crushed limestone left behind by the sea that once covered the land. Montgomery, Alabama’s capital, is in the heart of the region. It’s an agriculturally rich area that was once blanketed by cotton plantations worked by enslaved people. Much of the area is still rural and agricultural, but the product isn’t cotton; it is, among other things, timber. Drive just a few minutes outside Montgomery and you’re flanked by forest. Rows of loblolly pine stand sentinel along the roads, waiting to be turned into America’s paper. Much of the land is owned by multinational corporations, international investors, hedge funds, some families that live outside the Black Belt and some whose ancestors cultivated the land before the Civil War.

Many of those families’ agricultural interests were top of mind when state lawmakers rewrote Alabama’s Constitution. In 1874, less than a decade into Reconstruction, the Democratic Party, representing the landowning, formerly slave-owning class, took over the state government in a rigged election and quickly passed a new Constitution that mandated taxes on property would remain permanently low.

In the next couple of decades, as cotton prices crashed, poor sharecroppers, both white and Black, banded together in a populist movement to unseat the elites who controlled the state. In response, in another set of contested elections, the elites called another constitutional convention to further consolidate their power over the state. “What is it that we want to do?” the convention president, John B. Knox, asked. “Establish white supremacy in this state.” But this time, he said, they wanted to “establish it by law — not by force or fraud.”

10) Chait, “Without Media Accountability, Republicans Will Govern Like a One-Party State”

Last week, the Florida Republican Party held its annual Sunshine Summit, which was marked by a new policy: The mainstream media was not permitted to cover the event. Instead, the only “news” would be transmitted through conservative-approved sources. “We in the state of Florida are not going to allow legacy media outlets to be involved in our primaries,” Florida governor Ron DeSantis said. “I’m not going to have a bunch of left-wing media people asking our candidates gotcha questions.”

The next day, the Washington Post published a detailed reported story on the Claremont Institute, a right-wing think tank whose scholars have supported the Trump administration’s efforts to secure an unelected second term. The Institute’s president, Ryan Williams, replied on the record that he saw no need to explain any of this. “The Claremont Institute,” he wrote, “is not interested in participating in the fiction that the Washington Post is a legitimate media outlet, or that its chronically discredited journalists are dispassionate fact-finders intent on bringing their readers objective news.”

As long as it has existed, the right has loathed the news media. Figures like Joe McCarthy and Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler used the tactic of pointing to alleged media bias to discredit reporting that challenged their lies. But, as David Freedlander noted, the right’s war on independent media is reaching a new stage of blanket refusal to acknowledge its legitimacy…

The only point I need to make is that the mainstream media does routinely report critically on the Democratic Party. If you are watching CNN or reading the New York Times, you have encountered a steady stream of articles questioning whether Joe Biden is too old for the job, noting high inflation, pummeling the Afghanistan withdrawal, and so on. Whether you believe this level of criticism is excessive or insufficient is a matter of perspective, but the clear fact is that it exists.

Nothing like this exists within the conservative media. The communications apparatus of the conservative movement was established with the goal of advancing the right’s political interests. Its organs often borrow superficial conventions, like bylines and the inverted-pyramid structure, to create the simulacrum of a traditional news medium. But the people working in these institutions understand they are working for the conservative movement, not on behalf of the public’s right to know. Their approach to malfeasance by their side is to ignore, distort, or change the subject to some agreed-upon sin by the enemy (a practice called “whataboutism”).

The rise of Donald Trump intensified the bubble effect in the conservative media. His famous boast that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue without losing any support reflected his grasp of the conservative base’s imperviousness to facts. Trump understood that he could maintain his base without engaging with external reality at any rational level; reporting that made him look bad was simply “fake news” by definition.

11) I love that Biden’s drug czar is all about “harm reduction.” That’s so the way to go on drug issues.

12) From early June, before the Dobbs decision, “‘Pro-Choice’ Identification Rises to Near Record High in U.S.”

A Gallup poll conducted mostly after the draft of a Supreme Court decision addressing abortion rights was leaked finds a marked shift in public attitudes over the past year. After a decade in which Americans’ identification as “pro-choice” varied narrowly between 45% and 50%, the percentage has jumped six points to 55% in the latest poll, compared with the prior measure a year ago.

Pro-choice sentiment is now the highest Gallup has measured since 1995 when it was 56% — the only other time it has been at the current level or higher — while the 39% identifying as “pro-life” is the lowest since 1996.

13) David French on Tim Miller’s new book:

The genius of Tim’s book (and I highly recommend reading it) is that it cuts through the rationalizations—and the rationalizations are endless—and gets ultimately to a heart-level question: Who are you, really? Or, put another way, What is your core identity?

I don’t think those who live outside the American right understand the extent to which the upheaval of the Trump years impacted multiple, intersecting aspects of personal identity and exposed the true hierarchy of personal values.

Let’s take the example of Lindsey Graham. Yesterday in The Atlantic Mark Leibovich published a scorching profile of Graham, Kevin McCarthy, and other politicians who’ve been particularly sycophantic to Donald Trump. Leibovich highlights this revealing exchange:

Once, early in 2019, I asked Graham a version of the question that so many of his judgy old Washington friends had been asking him. How could he swing from being one of Trump’s most merciless critics in 2016 to such a sycophant thereafter? I didn’t use those exact words, but Graham got the idea. “Well, okay, from my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this,” he told me. “‘This,’” Graham specified, “is to try to be relevant.” Relevance: It casts one hell of a spell.

Ask any person to describe themselves, and they’ll likely respond with a mix of characteristics and virtues. They’ll describe their profession (lawyer, banker, plumber), their relationships (husband, father, grandfather), and their politics (Republican, Democrat), and if asked they might even describe their perceived virtues (honesty, fidelity, fortitude).

But what if the virtues conflict with other core parts of a person’s identity? Prior to the Trump years, Graham was joined at the hip with the maverick John McCain. During the 2016 campaign, he called out Trump’s flaws early and often.

So how would one describe Lindsey Graham, before Trump? He was a senator. He was powerful. And while all politicians are flawed, I’d say he was generally perceived to be both honest and independent.

But then, during the Trump years, honesty and independence directly and starkly clashed with status. Time and again, men and women in America’s political class found that they couldn’t possess both virtue and power. They had to make a choice.

The writer and Christian theologian C. S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” Another way of putting it is that we don’t really know if we possess a virtue until it is tested.

We might think of ourselves as honest, but we don’t really know if we are until honesty carries a cost. Or we might think of ourselves as physically brave, but we don’t know if we are until we face a mortal threat. We might be sure that we’re faithful, right until the moment when temptation is at its peak.

During the Trump years, the collision between status and virtue was constant and relentless. Trump never gave anyone a breather. He was never chagrined or mollified by scandal. He never apologized. He never turned over a new leaf. He just charged from one lie to another, and his demands for absolute loyalty left his defenders and followers with little ability to separate themselves from his worst moments while still remaining in the Republican tent.

As we’ve seen from days of courageous testimony before the January 6 House Select Committee, it is quite possible to say “I’m a Republican, and I’m honest.” But with each passing week—and with each new revelation—it grows more difficult to say “I’m a Trump Republican, and I’m honest.” Status conflicts with virtue, and status wins.

14) What’s not to love about a Janeane Garofalo profile? “Janeane Garofalo Never Sold Out. What a Relief. That concept might be the reason her trailblazing stand-up career has been overshadowed; it may also be the reason she’s still so sharp, our critic argues.”

15) Relatively new NC resident Frank Bruni give his take on the state (and the Congressional district that I’m about a mile outside of):

I visited the 13th District because it’s the site of the only House race in North Carolina that’s considered a tossup, an emblematic contest between a 46-year-old Democrat, Wiley Nickel, with decades of public service under his belt, and a 26-year-old Republican, Bo Hines, who was endorsed by Trump and crows about that whenever, wherever and however he can. On his Twitter profile, his Facebook page and his campaign website, the headshot of Trump is bigger than his own headshot.

But I also toured the district as part of my acclimation to North Carolina, to continue testing my belief that this state — my new home — is as accurate, illuminating and alarming a political mirror of the country as any other. A year after moving here from the People’s Republic of the Upper West Side, I realize that I didn’t so much turn my back on New York City as turn my gaze toward a broader, truer portrait of America right now…

And it’s a tense state whose residents are, as Bitzer said, “sorting themselves more and more into like-minded communities.” That was driven home to me when I looked for a house here. I had the vague idea of finding, within a roughly 25-minute drive of Duke’s campus in Durham, some kind of political mix that reflected the state’s reputed political color. I like purple.

But I learned how inexact the “purple” label is. It implies some real blending of red and blue, some halfway point. But North Carolina is purple only if you step far back, the way you do to make sense of a Seurat painting, so that you no longer see the individual dabs and blotches of red and blue.

A blotch of deep blue is where I ended up, 20 minutes from Duke, on the border of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Front yards near mine showcase “Black Lives Matter” and “We Believe” signs. Several neighbors’ first conversations with me were about how to follow the county’s recycling rules correctly.

These days, “the red is redder and the blue is bluer,” said Steve Schewelwho was on Durham’s school board and then its City Council before serving as the city’s mayor from December 2017 to December 2021.

And, oh, yeah, how nice to unexpectedly find a friend and blog fan quoted in the NYT:

Damon Circosta, the chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, told me, “This is a state that’s most comfortable — more comfortable — forging a middle path.” North Carolina swung sharply right during the first half of the last decade, but then voters denied the incumbent Republican governor, Pat McCrory, a second term and elected Cooper. Two years later, Republicans lost their supermajorities in the state legislature. Cooper, meanwhile, has combined a mild manner and practical approach to remain popular enough that he’s mentioned as a possible presidential contender if Joe Biden doesn’t run again.

16) And speaking of NC, how cool to see a former student of mine in Slate, “State Judge Elections Are About to Become Decisive for Abortion Rights”

17) It really does not speak well for left organizations in DC these days that Ruy Teixeira feels he has no home at the Center for American Progress any more.

Ruy Teixeira is one of Washington’s most prominent left-leaning think-tank scholars, a fixture at the Center for American Progress since the liberal organization’s founding in 2003. But as of August 1, he’ll have a new professional home: The American Enterprise Institute, the longtime conservative redoubt that over the years has employed the likes of Newt Gingrich, Dinesh D’Souza, and Robert Bork.

Teixeira, whose role in the Beltway scrum often involved arguing against calls to move right on economic issues, insists his own policy views haven’t changed — but says the current cultural milieu of progressive organizations “sends me running screaming from the left.”

“My perspective is, the single most important thing to focus on in the social system is the economic system,” he tells me. “It’s class.” We’re sitting in AEI’s elegantly furnished library. Down the hall, there’s a boisterous event celebrating the conservative intellectual Harvey Mansfield. William Kristol, clad in a suit, has just left the room. Teixeira’s untucked shirt and sneakers aren’t the only thing that seems out of place. “I’m just a social democrat, man. Trying to make the world a better place.”

To hear Teixeira tell it, CAP, and the rest of Washington’s institution-based left, stopped being a place where he could do the work he wanted. The reason, he says, is that the relentless focus on race, gender, and identity in historically liberal foundations and think tanks has made it hard to do work that looks at society through other prisms. It also makes people nervous about projects that could be accused of giving short shrift to anti-racism efforts.

“I would say that anybody who has a fundamentally class-oriented perspective, who thinks that’s a more important lens and doesn’t assume that any disparity is automatically a lens of racism or sexism or what have you … I think that perspective is not congenial in most left institutions,” he says.

To hear Teixeira tell it, CAP, and the rest of Washington’s institution-based left, stopped being a place where he could do the work he wanted. The reason, he says, is that the relentless focus on race, gender, and identity in historically liberal foundations and think tanks has made it hard to do work that looks at society through other prisms. It also makes people nervous about projects that could be accused of giving short shrift to anti-racism efforts.

“I would say that anybody who has a fundamentally class-oriented perspective, who thinks that’s a more important lens and doesn’t assume that any disparity is automatically a lens of racism or sexism or what have you … I think that perspective is not congenial in most left institutions,” he says.

“I’d say they have been affected by the nature and inclination and preferences of their junior staff,” he says. “It’s just the case that at CAP, like almost any other left think tank you can think of, it’s become very hard to have a conversation about race and gender and trans issues, even crime and immigration. You know, ‘How should the left handle these?’ There’s a default assumption about how you’re supposed to talk about these things, even the language. There’s a real chilling effect on all of these organizations, and I think it’s had an effect on CAP as well.”

18) Interesting stuff on fatherhood from Melinda Wenner Moyer:

Have you ever noticed that men love to hear — and tell — stories about deadbeat dads? The husband who cheats on his wife; the father who doesn’t know how to use a washing machine; the guy who gets mad at his wife if the house isn’t spotless. Their reaction is rarely horror or disgust or “God, what a dick!” — but rather, something along the lines of:

“See, I’m not so bad, right?”

“Look! I’m an angel in comparison.”

“Aren’t you glad you married me?”

I know, I know; #notallmen. But if I had a dime for every time I heard a friend laugh/vent about their husband comparing himself to a bad apple to make himself look good, well, I wouldn’t need any paid subscribers…

First, let’s start with who mothers tend to compare themselves to. Although we might not like to admit it, moms often compare themselves to other moms they know. Who’s got a cleaner house? Does my friend read to her kids more often than I do to mine? Mothers are also frequently comparing themselves to ideal versions of mothers on social media, and this is a problem. When we compare our lives to the aspirational, tightly curated and totally unrealistic depiction of life we see on Instagram — mom looks beautiful, the house is spotless, the kids are rosy-cheeked and smiling — we are constantly taking in data that says: You aren’t doing as good of a job as they are. No wonder we all feel like failures.

Research suggests this is exactly what happens. A study published in February found that mothers who tend to make social comparisons are more negatively affected by parenting-related Instagram accounts than moms who don’t make a lot of social comparisons. Social media, the researchers found, gives social-comparison-oriented mothers a “decreased sense of parenting competence.” More than one-third of the moms in the study “mentioned the idealistic picture of parenting presented by InstaParents as something that was affecting them negatively, e.g. “Some people on Instagram make it all seem a little too perfect – then you start doubting yourself.” Sound familiar?

On the other side of the comparison spectrum are dads. In general, there’s much less research on dads than on moms (that’s slowly changing, thank god!), but wow, the research we do have on how dads make social comparisons is …. fascinating. As you might guess, compared with moms, dads aren’t spending as much time on Instagram and Facebook, comparing themselves to ideal parents. Sometimes dads compare themselves to other dads they know, but because dads don’t tend to talk about parenting and household tasks with their guy friends as much as moms do with their mom friends, they often don’t have the data they need to make these comparisons. So what do they do instead? When dads make social comparisons, they often choose to compare themselves to fictional deadbeat dads. And this has big implications… [emphasis in original]

What happens when a dad compares himself to a fictional terrible dad? He feels pretty good about himself and his contributions to the family. He certainly doesn’t feel like he’s not doing enough. There is no incentive to change his ways, to do more. As Gaber explained, fathers who compared themselves to do-nothing dads “believed that they were doing more than this mythical dad who left all child care and housework responsibilities to their wives… They wanted to believe the division of labor was fair, even though their wives were doing more housework. By utilizing this manufactured referent, they could argue that their household contributions were greater than the average.”

19) I loved Jeff Maurer’s take on WV vs. EPA:

I’m going to do something weird here: I’m going to focus on the law, not the policy outcome. Articles about Supreme Court rulings almost never discuss the relevant law. They focus on policy outcomes, and people cheer or decry rulings based on those outcomes. Everyone in America seems to believe that the objective answer to any legal question — in an amazing coincidence — just so happens to align with the policy outcome they prefer. We treat this fact as so obvious that any disagreement must be the work of devious activist judges. Conservatives sang this song for decades while liberals denounced them as sore losers, and now the roles have exactly reversed, but few people seem to appreciate the irony. So, before I start, I insist that we all:

A federal agency can’t do anything without Congressional authority. The bureaucracy might be thought of as Congresses’ contractors; they do jobs that Congress can’t do themselves. It’s a logical system; if the government needs to, say, break up a drug ring, that should probably be farmed out to highly trained DEA agents instead of having Chuck Grassley and Elizabeth Warren kick down doors themselves.

Congress often uses vague language to authorize various actions. They have to; it’s impossible to anticipate every nuance that an agency might encounter in the course of doing the thing Congress wants them to do. Broad language also provides longevity; the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has the authority to regulate alcohol, generally, not a list of spirits that would be rendered obsolete every time the sick fucks at Budweiser add a new sin against liquor to their product line of the damned…

So: Congress gives authority to federal agencies, but the parameters of that authority are vague pretty much by definition. The question in West Virginia v. EPA is whether EPA overstepped its authority in 2015 when it tried to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants. EPA claims that its authority comes from section 111(d) of the 1970 Clean Air Act, which is too long to cite in full, but I’ll link to it here in case you’re trying to commit suicide by boredom.1 Luckily, understanding the key question in this case doesn’t require reading the full law — you just need to channel your inner stoned freshman and ponder this question: What, like…really is a SYSTEM, man?

The definition of the word “system” is at the center of this case. That’s because the law requires EPA to regulate air pollution according to “…the best system of emission reduction…that has been adequately demonstrated.” So: EPA can’t just say “cut your emissions in half”; they have to have a method for cutting emissions — a system, if you will — that actually exists on Earth. Traditionally, these systems have usually been technology such as “scrubbers” added to coal-fired power plants, though they could also be processes such as changes to how the plant operates…

Justice Roberts and the five justices who joined his opinion think that EPA’s cap-and-trade plan is absolutely not a “system”. Roberts writes:

“The word “system” shorn of all context, however, is an empty vessel. Such a vague statutory grant is not close to the sort of clear authorization required.”

I have to say: I’m sympathetic to Justice Roberts’ concern here. You can’t have federal agencies seizing authority that nobody gave them by distorting the English language beyond all recognition. The dumbest articles and Twitter threads responding to this ruling have basically argued that the ruling is wrong because climate change is an EMERGENCY!!! I happen to believe that climate change is an emergency, but more importantly: So fucking what? You can’t chuck the rule of law out the window and say “It’s okay because: Emergency.” Most power grabs in history use emergency as pretext; the very concept of a dictator arose in ancient Rome as a temporary post in response to an emergency. Of course, the “emergency” never ended, and the post became the opposite of temporary, and Rome was unable to stab their way back to being a Republic.

20) And, as long as we’re on Maurer’s legal takes, this is excellent, “The Court’s Conservatives are Lying About Gay Marriage: But it’s not clear which part of their story is a lie”

In Obergefell, three of the four justices seem to believe that “liberty” does not include the freedom to marry. Thomas and Alito each wrote dissents in which they forcefully defend a narrow conception of the word “liberty”.2 Justice Scalia — who has assumed a role in conservative jurisprudence that I would describe as “Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque” — calls the expansive reading of the Due Process Clause by liberals a “threat to American democracy”. All four conservative justices who ruled on that case took the opportunity to write a dissent; they were like a rap group recording a diss track, each trying to one-up the others as they took turns spitting fire at the object of their disdain.

My uncharitable reading of Roberts’ argument after that point is that it’s basically gibberish. I feel that it essentially amounts to an internally-conflicted Roberts gasping “but come on!” In the course of searching for an explanation as to why marriage is a right, but not a right possessed by everyone, Roberts sings the praises of opposite-sex marriage as “…a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs.” Well — if the Aztecs did it, then I’m convinced! It’s good to know that if I ever engage in human sacrifice like the Aztecs, or child abandonment like the Carthaginians, John Roberts will have my back…

It seems clear that Roberts, Alito, and Thomas would give gay marriage the thumbs-down if the question was litigated again. To not nix it would be to basically say: “We totally blew it way back in 2015.” It’s hard to imagine what event might change their minds short of a Christmas Eve visit from Gay Jacob Marley and his husband, Ghost Scrooge. (Side note: Would you watch a Netflix series called The Adventures of Gay Jacob Marley and Ghost Scrooge? I’ve got a pitch meeting next week.)

The big question, then, is where Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett stand. Justices’ opinions on not-yet-litigated cases are always a coquettish fan dance, but by backing Dobbs, the three Trump-appointed justices endorsed the same skepticism of Due Process Clause-derived rights that animates the Obergefell dissents. Dobbs repudiates the logic of Roe and Obergefell; in his opinion, Alito speaks of the abortion right that the Court derived from the Fourteenth Amendment with the same disdainful tone that I’ve used on this blog to talk about George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky.

21) I found this really interesting, “Why Netflix’s most expensive movies keep getting worse.”  That said, I’ve watched most of Netflix’s “The Hustle” and I think it’s really good.

22) I hope this pans out! “UK scientists take ‘promising’ step towards single Covid and cold vaccine”

Scientists have made a “promising” advance towards developing a universal coronavirus vaccine to tackle Covid-19 and the common cold.

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London have discovered that a specific area of the spike protein of Sars-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – is a good target for a pan-coronavirus jab that could offer protection against all the Covid-19 variants and common colds.

Developing a vaccine that protects against a number of different coronaviruses is a huge challenge, they said, because this family of viruses have many key differences, frequently mutate and generally induce incomplete protection against reinfection. That is why people can repeatedly catch common colds, and why it is possible to be infected multiple times with different variants of Sars-CoV-2.

A universal coronavirus vaccine would need to trigger antibodies that recognise and neutralise a range of coronaviruses, scientists said, stopping the virus from entering hosts cells and replicating.

In the new study, the researchers investigated whether antibodies targeting the “S2 subunit” of Sars-CoV-2’s spike protein also neutralise other coronaviruses. The researchers found that after vaccinating mice with Sars-CoV-2 S2, the mice created antibodies able to neutralise a number of other animal and human coronaviruses.

They included the common cold coronavirus HCoV-OC43, the original strain of Sars-CoV-2, the D614G mutant that dominated in the first wave, Alpha, Beta, Delta, the original Omicron and two bat coronaviruses. The findings are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

“The S2 area of the spike protein is a promising target for a potential pan-coronavirus vaccine because this area is much more similar across different coronaviruses than the S1 area,” said the study’s co-first author, Kevin Ng, of the Francis Crick Institute. “It is less subject to mutations, and so a vaccine targeted at this area should be more robust.”

23) This really is kind of wild, from David Wallace-Wells, “Hardly Anyone Talks About How Fracking Was an Extraordinary Boondoggle”

Perhaps the most striking fact about the American hydraulic-fracturing boom, though, is unknown to all but the most discriminating consumers of energy news: Fracking has been, for nearly all of its history, a money-losing boondoggle, profitable only recently, after being propped up by so much investment from Wall Street and private equity that it resembled less an efficient-markets no-brainer and more a speculative empire of bubbles like Uber and WeWork. The American shale revolution did bring the country “energy independence,” whatever that has been worth, and more abundant oil and gas. It has indeed reshaped the entire geopolitical landscape for fuel, though not enough to strip leverage from Vladimir Putin. But the revolution wasn’t primarily a result of some market-busting breakthrough or an engineering innovation that allowed the industry to print cash. From the start, the cash moved in the other direction; the revolution happened only because enormous sums of money were poured into the project of making it happen.

Today, with profits aided by the energy price spikes of the last year, the fracking industry is finally, at least for the time being, profitable. But from 2010 to 2020, U.S. shale lost $300 billion. Previously, from 2002 to 2012, Chesapeake, the industry leader, didn’t report positive cash flow once, ending that period with total losses of some $30 billion, as Bethany McLean documents in her 2018 book, “Saudi America,” the single best and most thorough account of the fracking boom up to that point. Between mid-2012 and mid-2017, the 60 biggest fracking companies were losing an average of $9 billion each quarter. From 2006 to 2014, fracking companies lost $80 billion; in 2014, with oil at $100 a barrel, a level that seemed to promise a great cash-out, they lost $20 billion. These losses were mammoth and consistent, adding up to a total that “dwarfs anything in tech/V.C. in that time frame,” as the Bloomberg writer Joe Weisenthal pointed out recently. “There were all these stories written about how V.C.s were subsidizing millennial lifestyles,” he noted on Twitter. “The real story to be written is about the massive subsidy to consumers from everyone who financed Chesapeake and all the companies that lost money fracking last decade.”

24) Lots of gas and bloating for many early humans! “Early Europeans Could Not Tolerate Milk but Drank It Anyway, Study Finds: For thousands of years, Europeans consumed milk products despite lacking an enzyme needed to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort, according to a new study.”

The oldest evidence of milk came from Turkey, which was home to some of the world’s first agrarians. Those farmers then moved across Europe, taking their cattle and other livestock with them. By 6,000 years ago, they had arrived with their milk in England and Ireland.

Dr. Evershed and his colleagues found that some societies took up milk while neighboring ones did not. They also found that milk production went through boom-and-bust cycles over the centuries.

Mark Thomas, a geneticist at University College London, led the team’s analysis of lactase persistence. He and his colleagues analyzed DNA harvested from 1,786 ancient skeletons found across Europe and neighboring regions. They looked for a mutation that kept the lactase gene switched on during adulthood.

The oldest mutation they found dated back about 6,600 years ago. But in their collection of ancient remains, it stayed rare until 4,000 years ago. For those 2,600 years, in other words, Europeans were consuming milk despite almost none of them being able to make lactase as adults.

To see how this mutation affected people today, the researchers joined forces with George Davey Smith, an epidemiologist at the University of Bristol. Dr. Davey Smith has carried out a number of studies on the health of living British people by analyzing a large database called UK Biobank. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers have submitted their DNA to the effort, along with their electronic health records and answers to questionnaires.

Dr. Davey Smith sifted through the UK Biobank for information about milk and lactase, comparing 312,781 volunteers who carried the lactase mutation to 20,250 who did not.

The analysis delivered some surprising results: People without the lactase mutation consume about as much milk as people who carry it. Yet people who cannot make the enzyme do not suffer any significant health problems. They do not die at a higher rate, they do not have weaker bones and they have just as many children as people with the mutation do…

Together, these parallel lines of evidence suggest that early Europeans made milk a part of their diet, even without lactase. It is possible that some of them occasionally suffered some uncomfortable cramps and gas, but it was not enough to affect their health.

Early Europeans may have also lessened the painful effects of milk sugar by fermenting milk into cheese or turning it into butter. (In Ireland, people who harvest peat from bogs have occasionally found massive containers of “bog butter” dating back thousands of years.)

Consuming milk without lactase became riskier later, in times of crisis, Dr. Evershed and his colleagues argued. Starvation has been shown to shift mild symptoms, such as gas and cramps, to more dangerous ones, like diarrhea.

25) Lots of good social science here from Edsall, “How You Feel About Gender Roles Can Tell Us How You’ll Vote”

competing ideas about the roles of men and women, at home and at work, shape our political life. They do not set men against women as much as produce two opposing coalitions, each made up of both men and women.

It almost goes without saying, but men and women who support traditional gender roles for men and women lean strongly toward the Republican Party; men and women who question traditional gender roles and who are sympathetic to women’s rights lean strongly toward the Democratic Party…

While there are modest gender gaps in partisanship, voting and policy views, Winter wrote, “these pale compared with the differences among men and among women in views on gender roles and feminism. And gender roles and feminism have increasingly structured elite partisan debate.”

In an email expanding on the points he made in his book chapter, Winter wrote that “a voter’s personal masculinity/femininity (and views on same)” interacts with partisanship such that “people (men or women) who support traditional gender roles tend to favor the Republican Party and people who either reject or at least do not valorize traditional gender roles (men and women both) favor the Democratic Party.” The focus “is on the voter’s views about how gender should be organized (i.e., the belief that men should be masculine, act masculine and hold masculine roles; women should be feminine, act feminine, hold feminine roles).”

The gap between the attitudes of Democrats and Republicans toward the women’s rights movement has widened in recent years, Winter notes:

From 1970 through 2016, Democrats rated feminists and the women’s movement higher than did Republicans. This difference was modest — between 5 and 10 degrees — through the 1970s, then increased steadily from 10 degrees in 1980 to almost 20 degrees in the mid-1990s. After closing slightly, partisan polarization in ratings of feminists reached their most polarized level yet in 2016. That year, Democrats rated feminists at 67 degrees, compared with 43 degrees among Republicans, a difference of about a quarter of the 101-degree rating scale.”

The same pattern Winter describes can be found on a wide range of politically salient issues. The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers issued a report, “Gender Gap Public Opinion,” based on poll data from the 2016 and 2020 American National Election Study, the 2018 General Social Survey, the 2020 Cooperative Election Study and the June 2020 AP-NORC Center Poll.

 

Where are we with Covid anyway?

David Wallace-Wells with the best piece I’ve read on Covid in quite a while (this one gets the gift link):

Nationally, the BA.5 wave does not appear to have crested yet, but so far deaths, while rising, are doing so relatively slowly. Pull far enough back in looking at the graphs and it’s hard to even see the increase. Hospitalizations have doubled roughly since May but are still only a quarter as high as they were at the peak of the initial Omicron wave and well below any of the pandemic’s previous peaks. I.C.U. admissions have barely budged.

 

How can you characterize this dynamic, or make sense of it? Wave after wave of infection passing through, but almost in the background; hospitalizations and deaths bumping up and down, but mostly within a relatively narrow range, and much lower, relative to caseloads, than we remember even from the first Omicron wave, let alone Delta before that and the waves of 2020 still earlier.

One word for it is “endemic,” says Trevor Bedford, a computational virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle and among the most careful and dependable soothsayers of the past two years.

Bedford is reluctant to dwell on semantic debates about what constitutes a “pandemic phase” rather than an “endemic phase” for Covid-19, for instance. But if we insist that the country is still in a pandemic phase, he says, we’re not going to be able to downshift from that anytime soon, since conditions aren’t likely to look very different for years — and the country’s accumulating immunological protection, if imperfect, is still a categorical break from those earlier phases in which we first calibrated our fears. “If we’re saying that we’re still in a pandemic right now, it’s still going to be a pandemic in year seven — we’ll still be in a pandemic then,” Bedford says. “So I think it’s better to acknowledge that we’re at 98 percent of the population having immunity of some form — certainly over 95 percent. There’s not much more that could change in that regard.”

There are technical reasons other epidemiologists would dispute the term “endemic.” With respiratory diseases, it can refer to diseases where the average sick person infects fewer than one new person, and each of this year’s variants is more infectious than that. And while many use “endemic” to imply viral stability, there remains the possibility of a “surprise” in viral evolution, of course; no one I spoke to for this article was comfortable ruling it out…

But in a vernacular sense, the term fits: A large majority of the country has gotten infected with the coronavirus, probably most of us with a strain of Omicron, and 67 percent of us are vaccinated as well (though only 32 percent boosted). And for all the variant-after-variant turbulence of the past few months, from another perspective, the Covid experience in America has been for months in something like a steady state…

This year has been considerably worse than that, largely because it includes the initial arrival of Omicron — which, though often described as “mild,” killed more than 100,000 Americans in the first six weeks of the year. And so although the country’s current trajectory is following an annualized pace of 100,000 deaths, more than 200,000 Americans have died already this year, which implies over 250,000 deaths by the end of 2022.

Michael Mina, an epidemiologist who left Harvard to become the chief scientist at the online medical portal eMed in 2021 after spending most of the pandemic as the country’s leading rapid-testing evangelist, believes it could get worse. With a combination of seasonality and waning immunity among older people, he said, there’s potential for a fall wave of perhaps 1,000 a day. That would bring the number of American deaths, this year, to potentially 300,000 or more…

That toll, 10 times that of recent flu seasons, is smaller, to be sure, than those of the first two years of the pandemic, when just over 400,000 Americans died during both President Donald Trump’s last year in office and in President Biden’s first. But it isn’t that much smaller. Nationally, the infection fatality rate is a fraction of what it once was, but the disease is spreading much more prolifically now and has been all year, which means all told the disease is still generating a quite devastating death toll — particularly among the elderly, who have been accumulating immunity more slowly than the rest of the population and shedding it more quickly.

The way I see it endemic probably is the best description because we do 1) seem to be at a new normal, and 2) this isn’t going away anytime soon.  The basic fact seems to me that, within somewhat of a range, we are at a new normal that is simply worse than our old normal.  But this is where we are for a while yet until we get those better vaccines we just don’t have enough urgency for. Status quo ante is just not an option.  So, yeah, with some modest ups and downs, this is basically just life now.

Also a good take on things from Eric Topol

But let me emphasize: the culprit in all of this isn’t our vaccines, which are now providing little to no protection against infections and transmission. They are damn leaky, which only arose from the emergence of Omicron and has gotten progressively worse as we moved to BA.5 . It’s the virus. That’s why we’ve started to see a crack in protection vs. severe disease from vaccines with boosters, as I previously reviewed (boiling frog metaphor). It’s that we have not gotten ahead of the immune escape properties of virus with a bolstered mucosal immunity strategy—local IgA, neutralizing antibodies in the upper airway—via nasal or oral vaccines to solidify our 2nd layer of defense. Or inhaled interferons to jack up our first line of defense. Or developing a variant-proof vaccine…

As Akiko Iwasaki and I wrote last week, it is imperative that we launch a new, major initiative, as we called it Operation Nasal Vaccine, to get ahead of the virus and promote respiratory mucosal immunity.

To summarize a few key points:

  1. There is little to no respiratory mucosal immunity from mRNA vaccines in people vs Omicron

  2. Nasal vaccines in animal models induce very high levels of neutralizing antibodies vs Omicron

     

  3. There are 12 nasal vaccines in clinical trials and 4 are late-stage, Phase 3 but there is no government plan for manufacturing, distribution or regulatory review as there was for the original vaccines.

  4. While only 1 nasal spray vaccine is currently available (FluMist for influenza) we have already had marked success on a comparative basis against SAR-CoV-2 for vaccine efficacy and an oral antiviral pill (Paxlovid vs Tamiflu). Furthermore, the biology of the SARS-CoV-2 virus makes it a more favorable target than influenza

Next week the White House is having a next-generation summit meeting to ponder plans for a nasal and universal, variant-proof vaccines. We’ve had enough of pondering……we need action. Let’s hope we finally get the vital support we need to build on our early and momentous success against the virus. It’s still evolving and we are getting further and further behind. We can do this.

I do think, hopefully, we’ll have a new normal that looks like the old normal.  But not until we really put the effort into these new vaccines.  But, for now, our new normal is a lot better than it was not all that long ago, but alas, it’s going to be a while before we are back to early 2020.

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Who knew the Opossum was so interesting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how to be more grateful:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parsons summed up the argument this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

18) This is wild. 

An explanation here.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Ezra on the affordability crisis:

The numbers are startling. The median home price in 1950 was 2.2 times the average annual income; by 2020, it was six times average annual income. Child care costs grew by about 2,000 percent — yes, you read that right — between 1972 and 2007. Family premiums for employer-based health insurance jumped by 47 percent between 2011 and 2021, and deductibles and out-of-pocket costs shot up by almost 70 percent. The average price for brand-name drugs on Medicare Part D rose by 236 percent between 2009 and 2018. Between 1980 and 2018, the average cost of an undergraduate education rose by 169 percent. I could keep going.

We papered over the affordability crisis with low prices for consumer goods, soaring asset values that kept richer Americans happy, subsidies for some Americans at certain times and mountains of debt: housing debt and student-loan debt and medical debt that kept the working class semi-afloat. But none of this addressed the core problem. For far too long, the prices of the things we need most have been growing far faster than inflation.

And so a weird economy emerged, in which a secure, middle-class lifestyle receded for many, but the material trappings of middle-class success became affordable to most. In the 1960s, it was possible to attend a four-year college debt-free, but impossible to purchase a flat-screen television. By the 2020s, the reality was close to the reverse.,,

There’s a famous video where you’re told to keep your eye on a basketball being passed around and, as you do, you miss an actor in a gorilla suit ambling across the scene. But once you’ve seen the gorilla, you never miss it again. Politics works like that, too. It’s not just about the problems we have. It’s about the problems we learn to see. The prices problem has been lurking for years, but it’s never been the core of our politics. Now it is. It’s on gas station signs and at the supermarket. It’s in rental contracts and tuition checks. Even if headline inflation falls, I don’t think we’re going to unsee the high price of a middle-class life anytime soon. The political party that dominates this next era will be the one that shares the public’s fury and puts prices at the center of its agenda.

There are some early glimmers of what that might look like. The New Democrat Coalition, which is made up of 99 moderate-ish House Democrats, recently released a package of policy proposals meant to address inflation. But much of it is aimed at the affordability crisis that predates the rise in inflation. It includes legislation that would use federal transportation dollars to push cities and states to make it easier to build housing, that would ease worker shortages by raising legal immigration and that would cap insulin costs and allow Medicare to negotiate more drug prices.

If liberals look, they’ll find no end of ideas for bringing down prices across the economy. “I’ve been pulling my hair out about this stuff for years,” Dean Baker, one of the founders of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, told me. “We can’t just accept markets as structured and then use tax and subsidy policy to make it less bad. A real big problem with progressives is we treat the market problems as givens rather than restructure those markets.”

Baker’s long-running argument is that the division between market and government is now, and always has been, false. “The idea of a free market is nonsense,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of fun with libertarians who say they want the government out of markets. And I say, ‘Oh, you don’t want to have corporations anymore?’ Those are legal entities.”

2) Good stuff from Perry Bacon on media coverage of Biden:

Reporters tend to view their role as a check on politicians. This means presidents are always covered skeptically — but when one party dominates Washington, the political media often scrutinizes that party’s president even more. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump got very negative coverage at times when their parties also controlled Congress…

Also, the media’s “equally positive and negative to both sides” approach has been challenged by the increasingly radical and antidemocratic Republican Party. Honest coverage of political news often seems anti-GOP. The mainstream media covered Trump very harshly, particularly in the final months of his presidency as he worked to overturn election results. Some journalists, consciously or unconsciously, were poised to “balance” that negative Trump coverage with criticism of Biden, even if his actions weren’t nearly as deserving of condemnation. In the post-Trump era, leaders at CNN, the New York Times and other major outlets have emphasized that they don’t want to be perceived as more aligned with the Democrats….

Now, Biden is polling worse than Trump was in July 2020, when thousands of people were dying each week of covid, a situation much worse than the real and serious problem of high inflation in the Biden era. You can’t credibly argue that Trump, with his constant inflammatory statements and incompetent management, was a better president than Biden. These poll numbers reflect something gone wrong.

And in my view, media coverage is a big factor in those warped polling results. Media commitment to “equal” coverage of both parties has resulted in a year and a half of coverage since Biden entered office that implies both parties are similarly bad, as if the surge of inflation and some of Biden’s policy mistakes rival a Republican Party that is actively undermining democracy in numerous ways, such as continuing to voice baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, passing measures making it harder to vote, and gerrymandering so aggressively in states such as Wisconsin that elections are effectively meaningless.

Yes, I am calling for the media to cover Biden more positively. Not in the sense of declaring Biden a better man than Trump (though that is obviously true). Instead, political coverage should be grounded in highlighting the wide range of our problems and assessing whether politicians and parties are working toward credible solutions. Such a model would still produce a lot of stories about surging inflation, Afghanistan and other issues where Biden’s policies haven’t worked. But there would also be more stories about other issues important to Americans, even if they were going well under Biden (like the huge job growth during his tenure). Ideally, on every issue, the media would compare the Republican and Democratic solutions. You can see how this model might help Biden — but the bigger benefit would be to readers.

3) Republicans movement against democracy predates Trump. From Leonhardt’s newsletter:

On Feb. 24, 2016 — during Donald Trump’s Republican primary campaign and more than four years before he would falsely accuse Joe Biden of election fraud — somebody registered the website http://www.stopthesteal.org. It may have been Roger Stone, the Republican operative who was advising Trump’s 2016 campaign and appears to have coined the phrase “Stop the Steal.”

At the time, the target of the phrase was not a Democrat. It was Ted Cruz, Trump’s closest competition for the Republican nomination. After Cruz won the Colorado caucuses in April 2016, hundreds of Trump supporters gathered at the State Capitol in Denver and chanted, “Stop the steal!” During this same period, the website posted baseless allegations claiming fraud in other states.

This bit of history comes from Charles Homans’s latest revelatory story — which The Times Magazine has just published — about the anti-democracy movement within the Republican Party. The story’s central point is that this movement to create doubt about election results is older than many people realize and larger than Trump himself.

“What is striking about the movement around the supposed theft of the 2020 election,” Charles writes, “is how much of it — the ideas, and rhetoric, and even the people involved in it — predated Trump’s presidency, and in some cases even his candidacy.” And as that movement continues today, it is based less on the narrow goal of restoring Trump to power and more on a missionary zeal to put right-wing candidates into office.

4) Love this on new research on how woodpeckers don’t damage their brains with all that pounding:

Watching a woodpecker repeatedly smash its face into a tree, it’s hard not to wonder how its brain stays intact.

For years, the prevailing theory has been that structures in and around a woodpecker’s skull absorb the shocks created during pecking. “Blogs and information panels at zoos all present this as fact — that shock absorption is occurring in woodpeckers,” said Sam Van Wassenbergh, a biologist at the University of Antwerp. Woodpeckers have even inspired the engineering of shock-absorbing materials and gear, like football helmets.

But now, after analyzing high-speed footage of woodpeckers in action, Dr. Van Wassenbergh and colleagues are challenging this long-held belief. They discovered that woodpeckers are not absorbing shocks during pecking and they likely aren’t being concussed by using their heads like hammers. Their work was published in Current Biology on Thursday.

When a woodpecker slams its beak into a tree, it generates a shock. If something in a woodpecker’s skull were absorbing these shocks before they reached the brain — the way a car’s airbag absorbs shocks in an accident before they reach a passenger — then, on impact, a woodpecker’s head would decelerate more slowly compared with its beak.

With this in mind, the researchers analyzed high-speed videos of six woodpeckers (three species, two birds each) hammering away into a tree. They tracked two points on each bird’s beak and one point on its eye to mark its brain’s location. They found that the eye decelerated at the same rate as the beak and, in a couple of cases, even more quickly, which meant that — at the very least — the woodpecker was not absorbing any shock during pecking.

Dr. Van Wassenbergh said that if woodpeckers were absorbing some of the shock they were trying to deliver to the tree, “it would be a waste of precious energy for the birds. Woodpeckers have undergone millions of years of evolution to minimize shock absorption.” Maja Mielke, a biologist at the University of Antwerp and a co-author of the study, added that like a hammer, a woodpecker’s skull is “really optimized for pecking performance.”

But with one mystery solved emerged another: How do woodpecker brains withstand that repeated shock?

To calculate pressure in the birds’ skulls, the researchers created a computational model based on pecking movement and skull shape and size, and they found that the pressure created was far below what would cause a concussion in a primate. In fact, the birds would have to hit a tree at twice their current speed — or hit wood four times as stiff — to sustain a concussion. “We forget that woodpeckers are considerably smaller than humans,” Dr. Van Wassenbergh said. “Smaller animals can withstand higher decelerations. Think about a fly that hits a window and then just flies back again.”

5) Good take on the changing college football landscape (which totally bums me out, by the way):

There seems to be two things about conference realignment that everyone agrees with: It’s bad for the sport, and it’s all about the money. Long term, don’t these two things contradict each other? What’s going on? — Eric A.

That’s a truly fascinating thesis. On the surface, how could those two realities not be mutually exclusive, right? Wouldn’t the ability to make more money allow the powers that be to make the sport better, not worse? Or, if all this realignment is in fact bad for the sport, then isn’t all that money going to eventually evaporate?

My two cents: Two conferences separating themselves so far from the others that all but 32 fan bases feel they’re playing in the minor leagues is unquestionably bad for the sport of college football the way we’ve always known itUSC and UCLA ditching their 100-year-old conference and jeopardizing their West Coast peers’ future is frankly a big fat F.U. to the sport of college football the way we’ve always known it.

But college football has been veering farther and farther from its roots for several decades now, and the USC/UCLA news mostly feels like the moment everyone stopped pretending otherwise. The execs at Fox and ESPN don’t have any sort of civic responsibility toward Iowa State or Oregon State fans; their only obligation is to their shareholders. They are making a multi-billion dollar bet that while loyal, local college football fans may be alienated by the changing tides, they are going to draw in millions and millions of new fans with more NFL-esque version of the sport where every Saturday is Ohio State vs. Penn State, followed by Texas vs. Alabama, followed by Georgia vs. Oklahoma, followed by Michigan at USC.

Less charm, more blockbusters.

Fox Sports analyst Joel Klatt, whose opinions I respect tremendously but whose paycheck comes from one of the aforementioned companies, gave a pretty telling summation of this reality in a tweet shortly after the USC-UCLA news broke. “I think it is important to consider the potential CFB has as the clear #2 (sports) product in our country … Maximizing its potential hinges on the consumption from a national market rather than a regional one.”

6) And I guess if college athletes are just going to be paid employees, at least it’s not coming out of state funds?  Here’s the Texas Tech approach:

One week after Texas Tech announced a $200 million football facilities project, a group of Red Raider boosters announced Monday they’re taking their support to another level with a NIL program that will offer $25,000 deals to more than 100 Red Raider football players.

The Matador Club, a local nonprofit collective, is signing all 85 scholarship Texas Tech players and 20 walk-ons to one-year, $25,000 NIL contracts. In exchange, players will perform community service, serve as ambassadors for local and West Texas charities and appear at Matador Club events.

The contracts are payable monthly beginning in August and are renewable. Unlike NIL collectives at other schools, the contracts are also nonexclusive. The Matador Club is not acquiring players’ NIL rights and is encouraging them to continue pursuing other deals on their own.

“This serves as sort of a base salary for the whole locker room,” Cody Campbell, a founding member of the Matador Club and Texas Tech regent, told The Athletic, “and that should add a lot of stability and continuity to the program.”

Campbell, the co-CEO of DoublePoint Energy and co-founder of Double Eagle Energy Holdings, said $25,000 is a rate that is both sustainable and highly competitive with what other collectives are putting together. While the Matador Club raised enough funding through private donations to support more than 100 players, Campbell believes they can raise “two or three times more” if needed. They’re planning to sign men’s basketball and baseball players soon with the hopes of eventually also supporting non-revenue sports.

7) Good stuff from Jelani Cobb on Herschel Walker:

During three seasons with the University of Georgia Bulldogs, Walker, who is now sixty, recorded more than five thousand rushing yards. In 1982, he won the Heisman Trophy. These are his primary qualifications for representing Georgia in the Senate. He has also cited his work in law enforcement, his graduation from U.G.A. in the top percentile of his class, and his success in running businesses, including one of the largest minority-owned food-service companies in the country. These claims would be impressive, if they were accurate. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that he had never worked in law enforcement, that he did not graduate from college, and that he has exaggerated the size of his various business ventures.) The state G.O.P. had a long list of potential candidates to challenge Warnock. Walker, however, had effusively praised and diligently defended Trump during the 2020 election and after it. Trump looked at the unqualified newcomer, who was prone to rambling disquisitions on subjects he knew little about, and saw in him a winner. Game recognizes game.

Trump’s endorsement helped Walker become the nominee despite a devastating ad from a primary opponent pointing to Walker’s alleged history of domestic violence, including an incident years ago in which he is said to have pointed a firearm at his now ex-wife. (He has said that he does not remember that episode, citing a struggle with dissociative-identity disorder, and has denied accusations from other women.) His personal life has continued to prove complicated. A frequent commentator on the perils of “fatherless” households in Black communities, he has highlighted the role he has played in the life of his twenty-two-year-old son, Christian. In June, though, the Daily Beast reported that Walker was also the father of a ten-year-old son, whom he had not publicly acknowledged, and that the boy’s mother had sued him for child support. Walker then admitted that he had fathered a daughter during his college years, and also that he had another child, a thirteen-year-old son. Hypocrisy has seldom been less of a political liability than it is now, so it’s not particularly shocking that a candidate for high office would rail against men shirking their paternal responsibilities while evidently evading his own. Yet Walker also appears not to have told his campaign staff the truth when he was asked directly how many children he has; an unnamed adviser told the Daily Beast that Walker lies “like he’s breathing.”…

We have learned the hard way that, in American politics, integrity is optional. We’ve seen the wreckage that unqualified leadership yields. Yet Walker’s deficits are not the only cause for concern here. Warnock and Ossoff were elected on January 5, 2021. The next day, a Trumpist mob laid siege to the United States Capitol. We are not yet beyond that moment. Trump will reportedly announce a 2024 run for the Presidency ahead of this year’s election, when a Walker victory could return control of the Senate to the Republicans. A number of state legislatures have made their systems less amenable to fair elections, and next year the Supreme Court may assist those efforts. No one in the G.O.P. leadership can possibly believe that Walker is fit to hold a Senate seat, but the hope—as dangerous as it is cynical—is that he may be able to win one. And that joke would most certainly be on us.

8) This is just so absurdly unconstitutional, but, at this point who can be confident courts will make the obvious right calls on legislation like this, “South Carolina bill outlaws websites that tell how to get an abortion”

Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling that overturned the right to abortion in June, South Carolina state senators introduced legislation that would make it illegal to “aid, abet or conspire with someone” to obtain an abortion.

The bill aims to block more than abortion: Provisions would outlaw providing information over the internet or phone about how to obtain an abortion. It would also make it illegal to host a website or “[provide] an internet service” with information that is “reasonably likely to be used for an abortion” and directed at pregnant people in the state.

Legal scholars say the proposal is likely a harbinger of other state measures, which may restrict communication and speech as they seek to curtail abortion. The June proposal, S. 1373, is modeled off a blueprint created by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), an antiabortion group, and designed to be replicated by lawmakers across the country.

As the fall of Roe v. Wade triggers a flood of new legislation, an adjacent battleground is emerging over the future of internet freedoms and privacy in states across the country — one, experts say, that could have a chilling impact on First Amendment-protected speech.

“These are not going to be one-offs,” said Michele Goodwin, the director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy at the University of California at Irvine Law School. “These are going to be laws that spread like wildfire through states that have shown hostility to abortion.”

Goodwin called the South Carolina bill “unconstitutional.” But she warned it’s unclear how courts might respond after “turning a blind eye” to antiabortion laws even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

9) Some of you may recall that back when I tore my Achilles, it was my second attempt at playing Pickleball.  Never thought I’d see Pickleball in the New Yorker, “Can Pickleball save the world?”

10) Some really good political science here, “Survey Nonresponse and Mass Polarization: The Consequences of Declining Contact and Cooperation Rates”

Recent studies question whether declining response rates in survey data overstate the level of polarization of Americans. At issue are the sources of declining response rates—declining contact rates, associated mostly with random polling mechanisms, or declining cooperation rates, associated with personal preferences, knowledge, and interest in politics—and their differing effects on measures of polarization. Assessing 158 surveys (2004–2018), we show that declining cooperation is the primary source of declining response rates and that it leads to survey overrepresentation of people who are more engaged in politics. Analyzing individual responses to 1,223 policy questions in those surveys, we further show that, conditional on the policy area, this survey bias overestimates or underestimates the partisan divide among Americans. Our findings question the perceived strength of mass polarization and move forward the discussion about the effect of declining survey response on generalizations from survey data.

11) Jeremy Kamil is someone I’ve really learned a lot from on twitter.  Good stuff from him in NYT, “I’m a Virologist, and I’m Setting the Record Straight on Variants and Reinfections”

The blitz of Omicron variants has felt like one long wave. And many questions have arisen amid the tumult. Are we seeing the emergence of entirely new coronavirus variants that are impervious to immunity from vaccines and previous infections? If we keep getting reinfected, is it inevitable that most of us will end up developing long Covid?

In short, the answer is no.

As a virologist, it’s important to me that people understand Covid-19 remains a great concern. But this does not excuse or license a misdiagnosis of the current situation.

Let’s start with what is true. BA.5, one of the most recent Omicron variants to emerge, is everywhere. It unquestionably has an advantage in terms of transmissibility over previous Omicron lineages, most likely because it’s better at evading our existing repertoire of antibodies…

Thankfully, reinfection a few weeks after recovery is not the norm. Scientists have shownthat people who previously contracted Covid-19 are less likely to get infected withthe variant du jour than people who had never seen the virus, and this trend holds true for Omicron. Early research from Qatar that has not yet been peer-reviewed showed that people who had a BA.1 infection in, say, January were significantly less likely to experience a BA.4 or BA.5 breakthrough infection months later. While more research on this is welcome, these findings are consistent with how immunity, played out at the population level, helps explain the rise, fall and magnitude of epidemic waves.

Antibodies remain a powerful defense against this coronavirus. They do many things to protect us, while also flagging the virus for destruction by other elements of the immune system. Even though some studies have found that Omicron variants may induce weaker antibody responses than earlier variants, this is most likely because Omicron causes less severe disease, thanks to immunity from vaccines and prior infections.

Our immune system works much like a wise yet frugal investor, calibrating responses according to the magnitude and extent of the various danger signals sensed during infection. Generally speaking, the greater the symptoms and disease from infections like Covid or the flu, the stronger the antibody response. When existing antibodies are good enough to keep disease to a minimum (because fewer virus particles succeed in replicating in the body), we tend to see much lower amounts of antibodies than when someone ends up hospitalized from the coronavirus. Vaccines are a great way around that problem: They stimulate our immune systems to make antibodies, and other tailored defenses, even when there is no disease…

Most immunologists I know are cautiously optimistic about our long-term prospects. We don’t know exactly what this virus will do next, and we should never be dismissive of those who have a high risk profile or are dealing with long Covid. Nonetheless, most of us can have faith in our immune systems, especially when we make use of vaccines and boosters. Recorded history may hold little precedent for the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. But this is not our immune systems’ first rodeo.

12) Whether in this case or not, we absolutely need to hold parents responsible for what their kids do with guns, “A Handgun for Christmas Will a jury find James and Jennifer Crumbley criminally responsible for their son’s mass shooting”

13) This is really good, “Justice Neil Gorsuch’s Radical Reinterpretation of the First Amendment.” 

he decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, holds that a public-high-school football coach has a constitutional right to publicly pray at the fifty-yard line after games. Using the words “quiet” or “quietly” ten times to describe the coach’s prayers, Gorsuch dismisses any concerns that students may feel coerced to join him, as long as they are not expressly compelled to do so. The coach’s conduct, Gorsuch finds, in an opinion joined by Justices John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, is fully protected by the First Amendment.

The First Amendment, of course, states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The establishment clause, which was cited by the school district, has traditionally been interpreted to prohibit government action that compels religious conduct, favors one religion over another, or endorses religion over non-religion. But Justice Gorsuch makes the astonishing claim that, because prayer is protected by both the “speech” and the “free exercise” references, it is “doubly protected.” This “double protection” means that the School District’s concern that the coach’s prayers run afoul of the establishment clause is outgunned, two clauses against one. Does this mean that if I (1) petition the government to (2) hold a rally supporting the (3) printing of a pamphlet about my (4) new religion, I’d be quadruply protected and could thereby trump other constitutional provisions, such as the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment? The math quickly becomes absurd.

Burt Neuborne, a professor at New York University’s School of Law, makes the compelling argument that the structure of the First Amendment is no accident. It is not a mere list of protected activities to be added to and subtracted from one another; rather, its language tracks how political ideas move from internal thought and belief to external conduct. First comes personal conviction, then public discussion and dissemination, and, finally, political action. The goal is the free expression of political will, which is essential to a functioning democracy. Neuborne’s analysis confirms what many media and First Amendment lawyers consider a truism: political speech is at the core of the First Amendment’s protections.

Protecting political speech, including speech that criticizes government officials, was the primary justification in the Supreme Court’s unanimous landmark 1964 decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which holds that government officials need to meet a very high burden of proof to succeed in defamation claims. In that decision, Justice William Brennan reasoned that, because political speech is central to democracy, “debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide-open.” According to Justice Gorsuch’s opinion, however, that long-held understanding of the central purpose of the First Amendment is wrong. In his view, it is government suppression of religious speech that is the core concern of the First Amendment, and what it was designed to protect against. Further, Gorsuch’s finding that religious speech is “doubly protected” implies that political speech—say, about voting rights or women’s rights—is only single protected.

14) I know one of the people in this headline!  And, yeah, it’s been a mess, “China’s ‘zero covid’ policy has been a nightmare for U.S. diplomats”

15) Yes, this is anecdotes but from one school teacher.  But, oh my, what anecdotes (and from a self-described “leftist”) “Yes, Things Are Really As Bad As You’ve Heard: A Leftist Schoolteacher Struggles To Say Aloud the Things He Regularly Witnesses That Are So Outlandish They Sound Made Up By Right-Wing Provocateurs”

To most people, this sort of policy is absolutely inexplicable. How could it possibly benefit racial justice or equity to keep classrooms half-empty, excluding students who want to attend in deference to those who don’t? The whole thing sounds like the sort of outrageous Kafkaesque fantasy a conservative would invent to satirize the ultra-woke and their bigotry of low expectations. But that’s precisely the problem. After all, what options do you have when so many of the people in charge of our schools have priorities so disordered that merely describing them, no matter how dispassionately, will earn you accusations of strawmanning?

I’ve had liberal friends of mine dispute (to my face!) straightforward accounts of what my colleagues have said. They’ll tell me school districts could never embrace such obviously unworkable policies; what else can I do except shrug my shoulders and say, “I’m sorry, but yes, they can?” They’ll tell me I sound like one of those right-wing grifter types; what else can I do except sigh and tell them the grifters have a point?

This is where I have to stop and make one thing very clear: I’m a leftist. Like, a big one. I hate capitalism, I support abortion on demand, and I unironically use phrases like “systems of oppression” and “the dominant culture.” The last big paper I put together for my undergraduate degree was on critical race theory, for the love of God! I’m not the sort of person who can be easily dismissed as a conservative crank. But plenty of my fellow leftists are still willing to try, on the grounds that anyone who thinks there might be any problem with DEI policies must necessarily be a slack-jawed MAGA troll.

In my short career as an educator, I’ve had countless experiences like this – encounters with colleagues and administrators so surreal that even close friends chided me for exaggerating or “playing into right-wing tropes” when I repeat them. And there’s a sense in which I don’t blame them, because things really are that crazy out here. Let me rattle off two quick examples for now, in case the summer program wasn’t bizarre enough:

1) I once attended a meeting where we brainstormed strategies to increase AP enrollment. When we moved to discuss the gap in enrollment between Black and white students, a senior teacher said that trying to register more children of color for AP classes is inherently racist and that putting greater value on AP classes at all is an expression of white supremacy. To clarify: I don’t mean that a senior teacher expressed a complex set of ideas regarding racial justice that could be uncharitably reduced to those claims. I mean I sat in a room where a senior teacher literally spoke the words Trying to register more students of color for AP classes is inherently racist and Putting greater value on AP classes at all is an expression of white supremacy, to an audience of other teachers who nodded along or otherwise kept quiet.

(Return of) Quick Hits

1) Great week at the beach.  No blogging, obviously, and I tried to cut my daily consumption of reading down by more than 50% and read some more novels and just relax.  Still, a ton of great stuff to share that I’ll be working through for a while.  Here’s our annual self-timer photo from Topsail Island Sound:

2) Among the novels… I was so happy to have a new Dan Chaon novel to read at the beach.  Sleepwalk did not disappoint. 

3) And, I finished reading the supposedly “transphobic” The Men.  It was really good (not great, but very thought-provoking and entertaining).  And the thought that this novel is, any way, “transphobic” just shows how unhinged the gender radicals and their allies are.

4) This! “How Are We Possibly Still Disinfecting Things? America can’t quit hygiene theater.”

A related reason might be that some people who do understand how the virus spreads see no harm in erring overwhelmingly on the side of caution. Though it’s irrational, they feel more secure knowing—or better yet, seeing—that their surroundings have recently been cleaned or that attempted safety protocols are in place. As customers have come to expect a higher level of visible hygiene, some businesses might feel as though they have no choice but to supply the theatrics. They’re left with an inflated standard that they don’t dare to burst…

A related and more nefarious reason hygiene theater persists is that good ventilation and filtration, great measures at cutting back infection, are invisible. For companies aiming to demonstrate their concern about COVID, these practices can have less payoff because they’re harder to flaunt (or at least, they’ll seem to have less payoff until the staff has a COVID outbreak and business stalls out). Instead of a wrapped and sanitized remote control in his hotel, Allen told me, “what I would have loved to have seen was a note on my bed that said they’ve upgraded the filters and increased the ventilation rate. The other stuff is just silly.” Maybe so, but plastic-wrapping a remote is a lot easier and cheaper than installing a suite of HEPA filters and convincing people that they’re there.

And thus, the theater continues. 

5) As mentioned previously, loved Jerrod Carmichael’s “Rothaniel.” Here’s a great interview with him.

6) I got off the waitlist and have access to Dall-e.  Here’s a twitter thread of my AI image creations.

7) Here’s a fascinating idea, “Could Your Old Poop Cure You of Future Diseases? Fecal transplants can fix gut diseases, but finding the right donor stool is tricky. The solution, some scientists believe, is to keep a store of your own.” 

But what if patients just used their own poop—or rather, healthy poop from their past? If harvested at a time when the patient was in good health, the bacteria in the sample would likely be well-balanced, perhaps removing the need to test and assure the quality of the donor’s stool.

In June of this year, after numerous requests from families, Amili announced that it would set up a separate bank for people who want to store their own samples for future treatments. Ong explains that individuals can freeze and preserve the “perfect version of their gut microbiome” when they are young and healthy, similar to storing eggs or stem cells, and then have them transplanted back when their health falters. “It removes a little bit of the yuck factor, as well, because you’re receiving something from yourself rather than from someone else,” he says.

Ong is not the only one who’s enthusiastic about the prospect of rejuvenating the gut microbiome using personal stool samples. Last week, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital argued in the journal Trends in Molecular Medicine that the concept is worth exploring. They point to the mild temporary adverse effects observed after transplants with donated samples, and also to the potential for disease transmission between donor and recipient, and the fact that the long-term safety of donating fecal matter remains to be studied.

Emerging research and clinical trial data suggest that all of these concerns could be avoided by patients providing their own samples. “We don’t know a lot about why this works, to be truthful, but it does appear that using your own stool is better and safer than using a random donor,” says Scott Weiss, a professor of medicine at Harvard.

But Sarah McGill, an associate professor of medicine who studies the use of fecal transplants at the University of North Carolina, foresees logistical challenges. “Stool banks, which now exist mainly to treat people with C. diff infection, typically hold stool for weeks or months. Holding samples for years or decades would be more expensive,” she says.

8) My son asked me what Democrats should do to find back for democracy.  My short version was: “everything Brian Beutler says to do!”  His summary points (plus an excerpt) from this week (really– read it!)

① Even if Merrick Garland were a relentless insurrection fighter, existing norms governing our criminal-law system would still be a bad match for protecting Americans from a killshot aimed directly at the constitution

② Creating new processes and institutions for rare cases of coup attempts could take a life time, but within the existing ones, we can and should expect our leaders to be creative

③ Unfortunately, they tend to act is if Donald Trump’s relentless depravity can only be met with an equal and opposite demonstration of rectitude…

The central problem is this: In the course of trying to overthrow the Constitution, one might violate any number of criminal statutes. But criminal law doesn’t generally exist as an impenetrable shield against wrongdoing. Our laws against speeding don’t exist to guarantee that nobody ever drives over 70 miles per hour. Our laws against public corruption likewise exist (or existed before John Roberts defanged them, thanks John Roberts) not to make politics free from sin, but to make abuse of office come at a high potential cost, so that most leaders in most instances will act in the public’s interest rather than their own. 

Contrary to what Republicans say in utter bad faith about the futility of gun control, criminal laws haven’t failed in their purposes just because determined individuals nevertheless violate them. They mustn’t work perfectly in order to be said to have real value. That is, with one critical exception: When the crime is a killshot aimed at the republic itself. 

Our institutions of accountability need to foil traitors to the Constitution every time because by definition the legitimate government can’t survive a single successful attempt to overthrow it. 

And yet our Constitution doesn’t make any special distinction between the due process rights of workaday criminals and those of the rare criminals whose singular goal is the illegal seizure of the presidency. It does create special political processes for severing such people’s access to government power, such that threats to the government can be neutralized. People can be barred by the Constitution and the law from seeking federal office. If they have already obtained high office, they can be expelled in various ways. 

But these separate processes of political accountability also create the potential and even a regular incentive for something analogous to jury nullification on behalf of such offenders. America has never impeached and removed a president; it’s impeached and removed, or otherwise expelled, vanishingly few other federal officials leaving many, many clear offenders untouched. It took a civil war for the government to create a process for systematically banning enemies of the union from federal service, but the bar for banning duly nominated major-party candidates, or their official or unofficial leaders, in modern times remains insurmountably high. 

Criminal law might in theory create a failsafe against this kind of political immunity, but in practice that would require neutral prosecutors to aggressively target people like Trump who pose unacceptable danger to the constitutional order, and for normal judicial processes to work in all such cases. In reality, we will seldom have both of these things. Replace Garland with Batman and we’d still have to contend with the fact that someone so well situated to overthrow the government from within will also likely have a cultish sway over enough of the public to nullify actual criminal juries. 

The Way We Do Things leaves us in this perverse predicament where the only practicable forms of redress to a violent coup are coinflip prosecutions, and the hope that public exposure (through congressional oversight or trial evidence) will cause enough political damage to make the culprit too toxic to win back power, even through our minoritarian institutions. 

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

9) Headlines like this should not exist.  This should not be remotely legal. “4,000 Beagles Are Being Rescued From a Virginia Facility. Now They Need New Homes.”

10) A very good friend of mine– and yes, a reader of this very blog!– swam the English Channel last week.  I loved following along online.  And, I’m going to take .000000001% of the credit since she knew that her cars and house where well taken care of back in Cary, NC with the Greene family in charge :-). 

11) Important on abortion from Jamelle Bouie, “Republicans Are Already Threatening the Right to Travel”

There is nothing in the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health that would explicitly threaten the right to travel between states. In his concurrence with the majority’s ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh even says that in his view a state may not “bar a resident of that state from traveling to another state to obtain an abortion.”

But that’s exactly where some Republican-led states want to take the law.

Missouri lawmakers have introduced a “bounty” bill similar to the one now in operation in Texas, which would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a resident obtain an abortion out of state. Another bill would apply Missouri’s laws to abortions that occur in other states.

Speaking of Texas, a group of State House lawmakers who call themselves the Texas Freedom Caucus hope to “impose additional civil and criminal sanctions on law firms that pay for abortions or abortion travel,” regardless of where the abortion occurs.

According to The Washington Post, an anti-abortion organization led by Republican state lawmakers has been exploring “model legislation that would restrict people from crossing state lines for abortions.”

“Just because you jump across a state line doesn’t mean your home state doesn’t have jurisdiction,” Peter Breen, vice president of the Thomas More Society, told The Post. “It’s not a free abortion card when you drive across the state line.”

And in Washington, congressional Republicans have rejected an effort to affirm the right to travel. “Does the child in the womb have the right to travel in their future?” asked Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, objecting to a Democratic bill that would bar restrictions on women traveling to another state to get a legal abortion.

There are few, if any, modern precedents for laws that limit the right of Americans to travel between states. To the extent that there is a history here, it lies in the legal conflicts over both fugitive slaves and free Black individuals in the decades before the Civil War.

12) And, OMG, these laws really are insane.  We are absolutely going to start seeing miscarrying women, etc., start dying soon.

My colleagues and I have watched all this in horror. We are worried that this could happen to us, too. A law that recently went into effect in Indiana mandates that doctors, hospitals and abortion clinics report to the state when a patient who has previously had an abortion presents any of dozens of physical or psychological conditions — including anxiety, depression, sleeping disorders and uterine perforation — because they could be complications of the previous abortion. Not doing so within 30 days can result in a misdemeanor for the physician who treated the patient, punishable with up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

 

The law is written so broadly that a primary care provider who sees a patient with depression, an anesthesiologist whose patient has an allergic reaction to a medication or a radiologist who notes a patient has free fluid in the abdomen could be punished with a fine and jail time if they don’t report these things as possible complications of that person’s prior abortion. Any health care provider so charged could easily become a target of national attention, with attacks against them professionally and personally.

While clinicians are generally required to have malpractice insurance, such coverage does not typically cover expenses related to criminal charges. And while malpractice insurance often covers legal counsel during a malpractice claim, the same is not true for criminal charges. In addition to those tangible repercussions of such charges, physicians are at professional and financial risk that could end their careers and affect their families. Health care systems must not abandon their physicians when they are most at risk, in order to avoid bad press.

Laws like these are too often written by politicians without medical expertise, and too often use medically inaccurate definitions. Lawmakers can claim that the laws aren’t intended to hurt patients, but they instill fear in providers that will have implications for patients nonetheless.

13) On some level, I really just don’t get Joe Manchin.  What’s his game?! He’s better than any Republican (he’s been good on judges, among other things), but he just seems like such a bad actor!

14) Really interesting ideas about therapeutic use of hallucinogens:

That study and several others have found that psychedelic drugs like psilocybin are remarkably good at alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety — even in many people who do not respond to currently prescribed medications. They need to be taken only a few times (most clinical trials consist of two or three psychedelic sessions) instead of daily for months or years. Some experts say the therapy could be thought of as a surgery that solves a problem with a single procedure instead of a continuing treatment to manage a chronic condition.

Whether hallucinations like the ones Mr. Fernandez experienced are key to psychedelics’ effectiveness is now a question of great debate among researchers. The answer could determine whether millions of people receive much-needed treatment, and it could provide new insight into how mental health disorders are treated going forward.

Psilocybin is expected to receive approvalfor depression from the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the decade, possibly in the next few years. But in its current form, psychedelic therapy will only ever be available for a select few. For one thing, it is not an easy, convenient treatment to undergo. It involves several therapy sessions in addition to the full-day intensive trips, which can be physically and emotionally taxing, not to mention expensive. More concerning, recent reports have emerged of clinicians taking advantage of patients during sessions, when they are in an incredibly vulnerable state. People with a personal or family history of schizophrenia are also currently ineligible for the treatment because of concerns that tripping may exacerbate an underlying risk for psychosis.

In response to these obstacles, some scientists are working to develop molecules based on psychedelics that provide the therapeutic benefits of the drugs but without the hallucinations.

“When you consider the fact that one in five people will suffer from a neuropsychiatric disease at some point in their lifetime, we’re talking a billion people worldwide,” said David Olson, an associate professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular medicine at the University of California, Davis. “We need scalable treatments, and for that, I think we really need medicines that are easily administered.”

Dr. Olson and others think that psychedelics’ effects on the brain are what give them their therapeutic properties, not the trip they take people on, and that the subjective experience of the drugs can be removed while their impact on depression remains. Research conducted in rodents and petri dishes over the past few years suggests this may be possible. Several studies published by Dr. Olson and others have identified new molecules that act like psychedelics in the brain and maintain their antidepressant properties without causing rodents to hallucinate.

Other researchers are skeptical that these new compounds will work in humans. To them, the powerful emotional and mystical experiences caused by psychedelics are what lead to people’s therapeutic breakthroughs.

14) Good stuff from Conor Friedersdorf:

When Semantics Dominate Civics

Every so often, C-SPAN captures the shortcomings of American civic discourse particularly clearly. On Tuesday, during a televised Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on abortion access and the law, Senator Josh Hawley, a social conservative from Missouri, sparred with the UC Berkeley law professor Khiara M. Bridges, who studies race, class, and reproductive rights. If you follow left-of-center media, you may have heard about the exchange via headlines like these:

HuffPost: “Professor Schools Sen. Josh Hawley for His Transphobic Questions in Abortion Hearing”

Above the Law: “You *Have* to Watch This Law Professor SHUT DOWN Senator Josh Hawley”

New York magazine: “Josh Hawley Called Out as Transphobic in Senate Hearing”

Jezebel: “Berkeley Law Professor Eviscerates Sen. Josh Hawley at Post-Roe Hearing”

Inside a “blue” bubble, it would be easy to assume that Senator Hawley had had a bad day. Yet Hawley, for his part, did his utmost to make sure that same exchange reached as many people as possible. He appeared on the Fox News Channel in prime time to discuss the viral moment, amplified the efforts of numerous right-leaning media figures to publicize it, and tweeted out a video clip to his 894,000 Twitter followers. “The Democrats say what they really think: men can get pregnant and if you disagree, you are ‘transphobic’ and responsible for violence,” he wrote. “For today’s left, disagreement with them = violence. So you must not disagree.” Inside a “red” bubble, it would be easy to assume C-SPAN caught “woke insanity,” as The Daily Wire put it…

Both participants conducted that exchange in ways that were likely to earn praise from their ideological allies and contempt from their opponents while generating far more heat than light. Bridges shifted into attack mode and characterized Hawley as a dangerous bigot, generating praise from media leftists while guaranteeing that Hawley would be seen by many as a victim of an unfair attack. After all, neither evidence nor common sense suggests that questions like Hawley’s––questions attempting to bait a progressive into publicly saying that abortion isn’t a women’s issue––contribute to trans suicides. (What’s more, no research that I’m aware of connects suicides among any group to discourse of this sort, which is to say, general legislative debate as opposed to bullying an individual. If the journalists at HuffPost and beyond who endorsed Bridges’s claims truly believed Hawley’s words here would contribute to suicides, would they really have helped turn them into a viral video clip, taking something that aired on C-SPAN and deliberately exposing it to a much larger audience?) And for all of Hawley’s wrongheaded antagonism to LGBTQ rights, the locution that he is “denying that trans people exist” doesn’t capture his actual position.

I expect both know that Americans have long failed to disentangle sex and gender, and that many people use words like man and womanboy and girl inconsistently, sometimes referring to sex and other times to gender and still other times to a mix, often without thinking the matter through. If you asked me, “Do you think a man can be pregnant?” I’d answer, “If you define a man as someone with a penis, testicles, and a Y chromosome, no. If you define man as an identity that corresponds to an internal sense of felt gender, then yes. Before I can answer in a way that allows us to actually understand one another, I need you to know how you define man.”

Instead of modeling a constructive exchange by clarifying their own terminology, Hawley and Bridges talk past each other––mutually aware all the while that they are talking past each other––portraying each other as bigoted and crazy, respectively, for failing to mirror the other’s statements about men and women, when in large part the disconnect boils down to different definitions. To find agreements, all they have to do is use more words. Can a person with a beard, ovaries, and a uterus get pregnant? Maybe! Can a person with no uterus and one Y chromosome get pregnant? Never. Hawley and Bridges likely agree on all that and more. Their important disagreements on LGBTQ issues concern rights and liberties, not semantics. As for the ostensible subject of the hearing, “abortion access and the law”? Nothing about that went viral.

15) Really good free Yglesias post– just read it, “How Hillary Clinton unleashed the Great Awokening”

16) Katherine Wu on Monkeypox vaccines:

And the vaccines available to combat monkeypox have real drawbacks that many other shots do not. Because ACAM2000 contains an active virus, it may be especially risky for infants or people who are pregnant, immunocompromised, or living with HIV. The shot also comes with a small but notable risk of heart inflammation, or myocarditis, and its documentation warns of other serious side effects, including blindness, spreading the vaccine virus to others, and even death. (Still, the jab is a big improvement over its direct predecessorDryvax—an inoculation that many Americans over the age of 50 have—which Slifka describes as pus “ladled out of a cow.”) “You would really have to make a compelling argument,” Titanji told me, “to convince me to use ACAM as the primary tool.”

A newer alternative, known as MVA (or Jynneos in the United States), built around a weaker version of the vaccine virus, is much safer. But the globe’s MVA stock is low, with most refills months away, and the vaccine has yet to be approved in Europe for use against monkeypox. Experts also lack solid intel on just how well both ACAM2000 and MVA actually work against monkeypox, because the virus—and the vaccinations that fight it—remains rare for most of the world.

17) Scott Alexander, “Nobody Knows How Well Homework Works”

Are there any real randomized studies? Cooper finds six for his review article (page 17), none of which are published or peer-reviewed. Only one is randomized by students, and it contradicts itself about how random it actually was; the other five are cluster-randomized by classroom (which means they have very low effective sample size). Several are bungled in confusing ways. Still, these pretty consistently show a positive effect of homework with medium-to-high effect size. The one that might have been randomized by students (and so might possibly be okay) had an effect size of 0.39. Some of the cluster randomized ones that weren’t bungled too badly had effect sizes in the 0.9 range; the cluster randomization makes it hard to call this significant, but unofficially it seems impressive.

Since Cooper wrote his 2006 review, I was able to find one actually good, individually randomized study of homework, Nawaz and Welbourne. They took 368 students taking algebra classes using a digital platform, and randomly assigned them either 0%, 50%, 100%, or 150% of the ordinary homework load (corresponding to 0, 15, 30, or 45 minutes/night). Results:

The students with more homework did better, p < 0.0001. Looks solid. Probably 9th grade algebra homework is useful. But everyone already expected high school homework to be more useful than elementary school, and math homework to be more useful than other subjects. So it’s unclear if eg 4th grade reading homework would follow the same pattern.

Still, this is the one firm fact about homework which we have managed to produce in several million child-years of assigning it. For everything else, just go with your priors, I guess.

(Abbrevieated) Quick hits (part I)

1) A doctor in Ohio, “I’m a High-Risk Obstetrician, and I’m Terrified for My Patients”

On June 24, Roe v. Wade was overturned and a near-total abortion ban became law in Ohio, where my wife and I practice. There are no exceptions for rape, incest or fetal anomalies, including lethal conditions.

Diagnosing birth defects is what I do. Over the years many of my patients with lethal anomalies have elected to continue their pregnancy knowing that their child will die after delivery. These patients always have my full support. Sometimes this is in concurrence with their religious beliefs, though sometimes it’s simply meaningful for them to deliver and spend time with their child, even if only for minutes or hours. Most patients, however, elect to discontinue the pregnancy.

For these patients, abortion is now illegal in Ohio. Some people will travel out of state. However, many people will not be able to do so, particularly people of color and those living in strategically disenfranchised communities. Sometime soon, I am going to meet a patient who has no ability to leave the state, and I am going to have to tell her that her baby has a lethal condition, and she is going to have to carry a pregnancy to term against her will. It might be tomorrow. It might be weeks from now. But this is going to happen, and I cannot stop it.

This patient will go through her third trimester visibly pregnant. Strangers in the grocery store will congratulate her. She will have to explain her story over and over again to friends, neighbors and co-workers. She will be forced to experience labor and delivery, and then her child will die. The risks of term delivery are far greater than the risk of abortion, so she may also experience hemorrhage, pre-eclampsia, blood clots or other complications.

Ohio’s new law is unimaginably cruel.

2) Interesting stuff from Scott Alexander on ADHD stimulant medication and learning:

This matches my general impression of the rest of the stimulant/ADHD literature, see eg this old review by Swanson and this newer one. Stimulants often raise grades, usually by improving students’ ability to concentrate on tests, or their likelihood of finishing homework on time. But if you take care to separate out how much people are learning, it usually doesn’t change by very much.

I’m not sure this says anything bad about Concerta. Concerta’s only claim was that it helps people pay attention better, and this study bears that out. Kids who take Concerta do better on tests, complete a homework analogue faster, and cause less trouble in class.

But it does say something bad, at least weird, about the role of attention in school. For some reason, paying attention better doesn’t (always) mean you learn more. Why not?

3) This is from 2017, but someone just shared it saying they thought it would change our gun policies if everybody had to read this.  Alas, I think not as many people clearly just take human devastation as an acceptable cost of our gun policies.  A trauma surgeon on what bullets do to human bodies.

Goldberg jumped in. “As a country,” Goldberg said, “we lost our teachable moment.” She started talking about the 2012 murder of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Goldberg said that if people had been shown the autopsy photos of the kids, the gun debate would have been transformed. “The fact that not a single one of those kids was able to be transported to a hospital, tells me that they were not just dead, but really really really really dead. Ten-year-old kids, riddled with bullets, dead as doornails.” Her voice rose. She said people have to confront the physical reality of gun violence without the polite filters. “The country won’t be ready for it, but that’s what needs to happen. That’s the only chance at all for this to ever be reversed.”

She dropped back into a softer register. “Nobody gives two shits about the black people in North Philadelphia if nobody gives two craps about the white kids in Sandy Hook. … I thought white little kids getting shot would make people care. Nope. They didn’t care. Anderson Cooper was up there. They set up shop. And then the public outrage fades.”

Goldberg apologized and said she wasn’t trying to stop me from writing a story. She just didn’t expect it to change anything.

4) After the leak, but before Dobbs.  From Gallup, “‘Pro-Choice’ Identification Rises to Near Record High in U.S.”

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • 55% now identify as pro-choice, the highest percentage since 1995
  • For first time, majority of Americans say abortion is morally acceptable
  • Democrats drive most of the attitudinal shifts supporting abortion rights

5) David French on Tim Miller’s new book:

The genius of Tim’s book (and I highly recommend reading it) is that it cuts through the rationalizations—and the rationalizations are endless—and gets ultimately to a heart-level question: Who are you, really? Or, put another way, What is your core identity? 

I don’t think those who live outside the American right understand the extent to which the upheaval of the Trump years impacted multiple, intersecting aspects of personal identity and exposed the true hierarchy of personal values.

Let’s take the example of Lindsey Graham. Yesterday in The Atlantic Mark Leibovich published a scorching profile of Graham, Kevin McCarthy, and other politicians who’ve been particularly sycophantic to Donald Trump. Leibovich highlights this revealing exchange:

Once, early in 2019, I asked Graham a version of the question that so many of his judgy old Washington friends had been asking him. How could he swing from being one of Trump’s most merciless critics in 2016 to such a sycophant thereafter? I didn’t use those exact words, but Graham got the idea. “Well, okay, from my point of view, if you know anything about me, it’d be odd not to do this,” he told me. “‘This,’” Graham specified, “is to try to be relevant.” Relevance: It casts one hell of a spell.

Ask any person to describe themselves, and they’ll likely respond with a mix of characteristics and virtues. They’ll describe their profession (lawyer, banker, plumber), their relationships (husband, father, grandfather), and their politics (Republican, Democrat), and if asked they might even describe their perceived virtues (honesty, fidelity, fortitude).

But what if the virtues conflict with other core parts of a person’s identity? Prior to the Trump years, Graham was joined at the hip with the maverick John McCain. During the 2016 campaign, he called out Trump’s flaws early and often.

So how would one describe Lindsey Graham, before Trump? He was a senator. He was powerful. And while all politicians are flawed, I’d say he was generally perceived to be both honest and independent.

But then, during the Trump years, honesty and independence directly and starkly clashed with status. Time and again, men and women in America’s political class found that they couldn’t possess both virtue and power. They had to make a choice.

The writer and Christian theologian C. S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” Another way of putting it is that we don’t really know if we possess a virtue until it is tested.

We might think of ourselves as honest, but we don’t really know if we are until honesty carries a cost. Or we might think of ourselves as physically brave, but we don’t know if we are until we face a mortal threat. We might be sure that we’re faithful, right until the moment when temptation is at its peak.

During the Trump years, the collision between status and virtue was constant and relentless. Trump never gave anyone a breather. He was never chagrined or mollified by scandal. He never apologized. He never turned over a new leaf. He just charged from one lie to another, and his demands for absolute loyalty left his defenders and followers with little ability to separate themselves from his worst moments while still remaining in the Republican tent.

As we’ve seen from days of courageous testimony before the January 6 House Select Committee, it is quite possible to say “I’m a Republican, and I’m honest.” But with each passing week—and with each new revelation—it grows more difficult to say “I’m a Trump Republican, and I’m honest.” Status conflicts with virtue, and status wins.

6) If you are interested in constitutional law, just consider this a must-read from Adam Serwer, “Dobbs Is No Brown v. Board of Education
Conservatives think they are righting a historical wrong, but the two decisions represent entirely different approaches to the law.”

7) I’ve loved Monet for as long as I’ve known art was a thing.  Recently, automated Claude Monet is one of my favorite twitter accounts.  This Washington Post feature is terrific.  If you like art and all, it’s a must (free link): “Monet’s towering obsession: Rouen Cathedral in Normandy was the painter’s most radical fixation”

8) Good tweet.

9) David Graham, “Why Illinois’ Red-Flag Laws Didn’t Stop the Highland Park Shooting: Making such statutes less porous requires approaches that are either extremely confusing or constitutionally problematic.”

In retrospect, the points where Illinois law broke and failed to stop Crimo are apparent. The problem is that making red-flag laws less porous requires a statute that either is a confusing kludge or raises troubling civil-liberties questions—or both—all in the service of a relatively simple goal of preventing dangerous people from getting guns. In effect, a strong red-flag law risks trampling on Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights in the name of protecting Second Amendment rights, while weaker red-flag laws may barely work at all.

10) Beutler:

This week the New York Times reported that two of the people Donald Trump singled out most prominently as political enemies—former FBI Director James Comey and his former deputy, Andrew McCabe—were subjected to the most intrusive kinds of IRS audit over a very short time frame. The odds that any one of Trump’s enemies would end up on that list are very long. The odds that at least two of them were on it are so astronomical, it’s almost hard to imagine he didn’t somehow corrupt the IRS and deploy it as a weapon of harassment against his political enemies. 

On its face, it’s a scandal tailor made for hauling principals up to Capitol Hill and demanding answers from them in front of cameras, then combing through every pertinent document in existence for further clues. In practice, the committees of jurisdiction still have not obtained Donald Trump’s tax returns as the law entitles them, as the public interest requires, and as Democrats promised they would.

The Washington Post reports that Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden “requested a ‘thorough investigation’ and pledged his panel would explore the matter, and that his House Ways and Means Committee counterpart Richard Neal, “expressed fear that the situation ‘reeks of political targeting.’”

OK, so now what? I like to remind Democrats that Republicans hauled Comey up to the Hill to answer questions two days after he recommended against prosecuting Hillary Clinton. Republicans convened the first hearing about what turned out to be the totally-made-up IRS targeting controversy four days after an initial inspector-general report concluded the IRS had used improper criteria to identify and scrutinize right-wing political nonprofits. (That report turned out to be one-sided: The IRS used similar criteria to identify and scrutinize left-wing political nonprofits; there was no partisan targeting scandal whatsoever.) 

That was the middle of an investigation, and this is the beginning of one, but the urgency is greater now. There’s little time left in this Congress to investigate the matter thoroughly, and it at least appears to dwarf EMAILS and LOIS LERNER-GHAZI in its seriousness. The commissioner can be instructed to come prepared next week with as many answers as he can gather on his own, and he can be expected to acknowledge that this smells bad and is a statistical near-impossibility. He can be made to pledge full cooperation with Congress and provide rolling updates to the committees. The committee can refer the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation, and/or secure a promise from IRS leaders to alert the committee if and when they refer suspected criminal conduct for federal investigation.

This could happen, and I’d be gratified if it does. But we have little reason to expect it will under the current leadership, and the ongoing January 6 committee hearings turn out to be the exception that proves the rule. 

(Sidebar: Give it up for Donald J. Trump, the only person who could overshadow a scandal as large as handpicking targets of IRS harassment by subsequently attempting a coup d’etat.) 

The January 6 hearings have been great, and to me they prove the concept of everything I’ve written above and in dozens of previous newsletters. But when you cover the committee’s ins and outs closely, it becomes clear that the engine behind its forcefulness isn’t even a Democrat. It’s Liz Cheney. She is, by Democrats’ design, the face of the hearings. But she’s also the one crafting the story, connecting the dots, and pushing back against the Democratic leadership and its inclination against enumerating a list of crimes for the Justice Department to probe. 

With all the challenges that confront them, Democrats are nevertheless blessed to be running against the party that wants to force 10 year old rape victims to carry pregnancies to term, while in thrall to a criminal who has covered up crimes (and probably a few abortions as well). It shouldn’t take a cautionary tale like Boris Johnson to remind them of how they might use these facts to their advantage, but we should hope that it will.

11) A former student of mine, Melissa Price Kromm (in Slate!), “State Judge Elections Are About to Become Decisive for Abortion Rights”

12) Yowza! “The Giant African Land Snail Has Been Spotted Again in Florida”

Dreaded giant African land snails, known to invasive-species experts as GALS, were spotted in Pasco County, north of Tampa, Fla.

Credit…Kerry Sheridan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

13) Not a big effect, but a real one, “New Dementia Prevention Method May Be Behavioral, Not Prescribed: As experimental drugs prove ineffective against increasing dementia cases in the U.S., researchers argue that improving eyesight can have an effect.”

Why would hearing and vision loss contribute to cognitive decline? “A neural system maintains its function through stimulation from sensory organs,” explained Dr. Rojas, a co-author of an accompanying editorial in JAMA Neurology. Without that stimulation, “there will be a dying out of neurons, a rearrangement of the brain,” he said.

Hearing and vision loss could also affect cognition by limiting older adults’ participation in physical and social activity. “You can’t see the cards, so you stop playing with friends,” Dr. Ehrlich said, “or you stop reading.”

The link between dementia and hearing loss, the single most important factor the Lancet Commission cited as a modifiable risk, has been well established. There is less clinical data on the connection to impaired vision, but Dr. Ehrlich is a co-investigator of a study in southern India to see whether providing older adults with eyeglasses affects cognitive decline.

14) Sorry, no, but we’re just never going to have widespread adoption of elastomeric respirators.  I even thought about it, but, just no.  NYT: A Clunky Mask May Be the Answer to Airborne Disease and N95 Waste: Experts say the U.S. government has unintentionally encouraged a dependency on imported masks by failing to promote elastomeric respirators, a reusable mask that is domestically produced.”

Three years into the pandemic, elastomeric respirators — industrial-grade face masks familiar to car painters and construction workers — remain a rarity at U.S. health care facilities.

Credit…Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

Just reuse those N95s!

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Yascha Mounk with a great interview with Graeme Wood about January 6, MBS, and more:

You call it the “dumbest coup in history.” What makes it a coup, what makes it dumb, and what would it have taken for the coup to succeed? 

Wood: When I call it the dumbest or most pathetic coup in history—or one of them, anyway—what I’m referring to is the very fact that Trump—although there’s this moment in Hutchinson’s testimony where he lunges for the steering wheel of his SUV so that he can be taken to the Capitol, and then is thwarted by his Secret Service detail—then went back to the White House and sat around for hours. The content of these hearings is pretty strange from the perspective of anyone who looks at coups elsewhere in the world, where there is a physical attempt to thwart the legitimate handover of power, or the legitimate governance of the country. And that did happen (that’s what makes it a coup), but what is strange about this, is that the actual orders and action by Trump that would have really caused this to be a coup in a more familiar sense, didn’t happen. He was sitting back and observing, as if to say, “It would be nice if someone did all the risky things that go into making a coup. But I’m not going to do it myself.” 

One template for this would be the Beer Hall Putsch of Hitler: what if Hitler, instead of going to the Bürgerbräukeller, himself firing a shot into the ceiling and saying, “The government is dissolved,” instead just stayed back and let someone else do it for him? That would be a strange turn of events, and that seems to be what has happened here. Trump could have issued all sorts of orders that would have made this an unambiguous coup and made the January 6th Committee proceedings kind of irrelevant, because these orders would have established very clearly what had happened (and also made it more likely that the coup would have succeeded). He just didn’t do these things, because for as long as he’s been a political figure, he has been characterized by lethargy, inaction, and aversion to exertion and personal risk. And in fact, that’s what happened. Luckily for the United States, that’s probably what kept the attempted coup from being a possibly successful one. It certainly would have increased the violence and increased the uncertainty in subsequent days. But coups do not generally happen when the person who can make those orders and commands sits back and instead lets a bunch of Proud Boys with some tourists mixed in just do it on their own. 

He could have said, “Look, I’m in charge here. Military: listen to me–not Joe Biden—indefinitely.” He could have said, “Mike Pence is under house arrest. We need to keep him sequestered in his residence for his own safety.” All of these things that typically happen in coup attempts didn’t happen. So in retrospect, maybe even at the time, it was pretty horrifying and scary. It remains horrifying to me. But it is also just weird, almost humorous, that the main thing that could have caused this coup to move into the territory of possible success is that the guy whose participation was absolutely necessary was doing nothing. He was watching TV the whole time…

Do you have any kind of evaluation of what would have transpired if Trump had gone to the Capitol that day?

Wood: There was a period when, had he done these things—taken unilateral control of executive power and stated clearly “I’m not going to let go of it”—these things would, at the very least, have made the transition of power not a sure thing over the days and weeks ahead, and would have probably ensured a lot a lot more violence. What I think has characterized Trump through the years is a kind of extreme desire to avoid personal risk and instead, in a way, to beg to be invited to do things by others who have done risky and criminal acts for him. So he seems to have always wanted to be a Cincinnatus-like figure who has been called in to save things by others. If there is something that has to be done that is illegitimate, better that they do it than that he do it. There are many examples of coups that have failed (and some that have succeeded) where the leader who was put into power has hung back physically while the actual mechanism of the coups is happening. But Trump’s failure, even behind the scenes, to order the seizing of power is anomalous. Without that, I don’t think there was any chance that this would have succeeded.

2) On the horribly muddled law (and unclear law is inimical to the effective rule of law, among other things) in states banning abortion:

n some states, the confusion felt by providers and patients is compounded by ambiguous, irresolute language in the new and forthcoming laws themselves. Ten states allow abortions in cases of rape or incest, and some require the pregnant person or physician to report the assault to law enforcement. It is not necessarily clear whether, or to what extent, the victim must then coöperate in a potential prosecution—or what, if any, obligations an abortion provider has to the police or prosecutors in this situation. In South Carolina, for example, a provider must disclose the assault to their local sheriff’s department and include the victim’s contact information, although the law does not obligate law enforcement to follow up on the report. (At least two sheriff’s departments in the state have announced that they will not do so unless the patient requests it.) A physician in Utah who performs an abortion on a rape survivor will be required to verify that the assault has been reported, but Heuser told me that “everyone is at a loss” as to what that means. “Do we need to see a police report?” she asked. “Just ask the patient?”

Other exceptions written into abortion bans—most of them for terminations that save the patient from death or serious injury—are similarly muddled. The ban now in effect in Tennessee criminalizes most abortions from the first trimester onward; the Tennessee Human Life Protection Act, a near-total abortion ban that is slated to replace the current law later this summer, likewise criminalizes abortion unless a licensed physician determines that it is “necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to prevent serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” But, according to the text of both of these measures, a life-threatening scenario is not an exception per se but, rather, an “affirmative defense.” This distinction is alarming to Chloe Akers, a criminal-defense attorney in Knoxville. Akers pointed out that a physician who performed an emergency abortion, and was taken to court, would need to prove its necessity “by a preponderance of the evidence.” By contrast, if a person in Tennessee is accused of homicide, and successfully raises a claim of self-defense, the burden of proof is on the state to disprove the claim.

3) The decline of the death penalty:

Public opinion polls conducted by Gallup show support for capital punishment hovers just above 50 percent — its lowest point since the early 1970s. Death sentences and executions are both falling, thanks in large part to aggressive efforts by defense lawyers.

Last year, just 18 people were sentenced to death in the United States, down from 315 in 1996, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Twenty-seven states retain capital punishment, but just 14 have carried out an execution in the past five years. About a third of the country’s 2,500 death row prisoners are in California and other states with official moratoriums on executions.

The Supreme Court, with six conservative justices, has largely left it to state and local leaders to decide who should die and by what method. One might assume that as with abortion, the court’s approach would reflect a sharp divide between red and blue states, but there is far less uniformity among Republican leaders on the death penalty than on abortion. While some conservative governors and attorneys general pursue executions, a growing number of lawmakers on the right are teaming up with civil rights groups and Democrats to curtail the punishment or even abolish it…

4) 538 midterm forecast, “Why Republicans Are Favored To Win The House, But Not The Senate”

Republicans are substantial favorites to take over the U.S. House of Representatives following this November’s midterm elections, but the U.S. Senate is much more competitive, according to FiveThirtyEight’s 2022 midterm election forecast, which launched today. Democrats are also favored to hang on to the governorships in a trio of swing states in the Rust Belt — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan — although they are significant underdogs to win high-profile gubernatorial races in Georgia and Texas against Republican incumbents.

The split diagnosis reflects the difference between macro- and micro-level conditions. The national environment is quite poor for Democrats. Of course, this is typical for the president’s party, which has lost seats in the House in all but two of the past 21 midterm elections. But Democrats are also saddled with an unpopular President Biden and a series of challenges for the country, including inflation levels that haven’t been seen in decades, the lingering effects of the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and fraying trust in civic institutions — caused, in part, by Republican efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election

Democrats, as a predominantly urban party, also face a longstanding problem in the Senate, where every state has equal representation regardless of its population, resulting in a substantial built-in bias toward white, rural states. And although Democrats are very slightly better off following the redistricting process in the House than they were under the 2020 maps, there are still more Republican-leaning seats than Democratic-leaning ones…

In the Senate and gubernatorial races, by contrast, individual factors can matter more. And the GOP has nominated — or is poised to nominate — candidates who might significantly underperform a “generic” Republican based on some combination of inexperiencepersonal scandals or having articulated unpopular conservative positions. This is not a new problem for Republicans: underqualified or fringy candidates have cost them seats in the Senate in other recent cycles

5) Adam Serwer, “Don’t Forget That 43 Senate Republicans Let Trump Get Away With It”

The truth is that Hutchinson’s testimony, had it been given at Trump’s second impeachment trial, may not have changed a single vote. Joining with Democrats to hold Trump accountable would have done too much damage to the party. Better to erode the foundations of American democracy than risk giving the rival party any advantage.

This is cowardice, but also ideology: Since liberals are not Real Americans, it is no sin to deprive them of power by undemocratic means. In this view, Trump’s behavior might be misguided, but his heart remains in the right place, in that his mob sought to ensure that only those worthy to participate in American democracy can hold the reins of power, regardless of whom the voters actually choose.

Although seven Republican senators broke ranks and voted to convict Trump, most of the caucus remained loyal to a man who attempted to bring down the republic, because in the end, they would have been content to rule over the ruins.

6) Very disturbing to see this insulting balderdash coming from an actual government agency, “Oregon Health Officials Delayed a Meeting Because ‘Urgency Is a White Supremacy Value‘”

7) Interesting chart. “Which topics do American couples argue about most?” They don’t have “wokeness” on here, which is definitely the answer in the Greene household (though, presumably a subset of politics).

r/dataisbeautiful - [OC] Which topics do American couples argue about most?

8) And another interesting chart.  Whoa. 

9) Good stuff on the 9th amendment and abortion.

Remember that when the Constitution was first ratified, it did not yet contain its famous first 10 amendments, otherwise known as the Bill of Rights. Those amendments arrived a few years later. They were added in response to the fierce criticism leveled against the Constitution by the Anti-Federalists, who opposed ratification on several grounds, one of which was that the document lacked a bill of rights, and therefore, in their view, left a number of key rights unprotected (because unmentioned).

The Federalists, who labored on behalf of the Constitution’s ratification, rejected this argument. Why? Because, explained James Wilson, one of the leading figures at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, “if we attempt an enumeration, everything that is not enumerated is presumed to be given.” And the consequence of that, Wilson told the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention, “is, that an imperfect enumeration would throw all implied power into the scale of the government; and the rights of the people would be rendered incomplete.”

James Iredell, a future justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, made the same argument at the North Carolina Ratification Convention. “It would not only be useless, but dangerous, to enumerate a number of rights which are not intended to be given up,” he said. That is “because it would be implying, in the strongest manner, that every right not included in the exception might be impaired by the government without usurpation.” Furthermore, Iredell added, “it would be impossible to enumerate every one. Let anyone make what collection or enumeration of rights he pleases, I will immediately mention twenty or thirty more rights not contained in it.”

James Madison, one of the principal architects of the new Constitution, closely followed this debate. On June 8, 1789, he gave a speech to Congress proposing the group of amendments that would ultimately become the Bill of Rights. While doing so, he directly addressed the Anti-Federalist/Federalist debate. “It has been observed also against a bill of rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration,” he said, “and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the general government, and were consequently insecure.” Madison acknowledged that “this is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; But, I conceive, that may be guarded against. I have attempted it.”…

Madison’s attempt became enshrined in the Constitution as the Ninth Amendment. Here is what it says: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” In short, unenumerated rights get the same respect as enumerated ones.

Today, most legal conservatives purport to be constitutional originalists. What that means for the legal debate over abortion is that any purported originalist must face the question of whether abortion rights may be considered to be among the unenumerated rights “retained by the people” that Madison’s Ninth Amendment was specifically written and ratified to protect. Alito’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization entirely fails to grapple with this necessary question.

10) Great stuff on our Supreme Court versus judicial power in other democracies from German Lopez:

But the Supreme Court’s power is strange in a global context. The highest-level courts in other rich democracies tend to be less dominant. Elsewhere, courts can still overturn laws and restrict the government’s reach, but they often face sharper limits on their decisions.

There are two major reasons that the U.S. Supreme Court is unusual, and today’s newsletter will explain them. First, the court’s structure allows for few checks on the justices’ power: They have lifetime tenure, and other branches of government have few ways to overturn a ruling. Second, the dysfunction of the rest of the U.S. government, especially Congress, has created a vacuum that the Supreme Court fills.

Supreme Court justices remain on the bench for life or until they choose to retire. In other countries, there are term or age limits: Judges on Germany’s federal constitutional court, for example, serve for 12 years or until age 68, whichever is sooner.

 

The U.S. model means the current court’s makeup of six conservatives and three liberals is likely to remain in place for years if not decades. And if justices are careful about timing their retirements to benefit their ideological side, it could last even longer. As a result, future elections and public opinion can end up having little influence on the court.

In other countries, limited terms and mandatory retirement ages create opportunities for more recently elected lawmakers to remake the highest courts and keep them in check. “There is some accountability,” said Tom Ginsburg of the University of Chicago Law School. “If a court is too out of control, there is pressure to rein it back in.”

The U.S. also makes it more difficult to overrule a court’s decisions. A two-thirds vote from both the House and the Senate, or approval from two-thirds of state legislatures, initiates a constitutional amendment. Then three-fourths of the states must ratify the amendment. This has only been successfully done 17 times in the more than 230 years since the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were ratified — and never since 1992.

In other countries, legislators can more easily overrule the courts. Canada’s Parliament can pass laws that ignore court rulings, although such laws must be reapproved every five years. British courts are so weak that their decisions act more as recommendations than orders, said Kim Lane Scheppele, a legal expert at Princeton University…

The U.S. Supreme Court is also empowered by the frequent gridlock across the rest of the federal government. For example, Congress could pass a federal law guaranteeing access to abortion in the first trimester, which most Americans favor. Or Congress could pass laws giving the E.P.A. clearer authority to deal with climate change. Neither has happened.

Congress’s struggles demonstrate a broader problem: The U.S. has built so many checks into its political system that it has become what political scientist Francis Fukuyama calls a “vetocracy.” Each part of the lawmaking process, from the House to the Senate to the White House, is a potential veto point for bills. Then there are additional barriers — like the Senate filibuster, which requires 60 of 100 senators to pass most legislation.

The many veto points make it difficult for even the party that controls both Congress and the White House, as the Democrats now do and the Republicans did in 2017 and 2018, to get much done. The courts fill the void.

Other advanced democracies tend to have simpler parliamentary systems. So when a political party or coalition wins an election, it can quickly pass laws to act on its promises.

“When courts wind up doing so much of the work, it is often precisely because the parliament is broken,” Scheppele said.

11) So true from Chait, “The Democratic Party Needs Better Moderates”

A valuable critique available to the centrists is that their party has been captured by affluent, college-educated professionals and is steadily losing working-class voters as a result. But the reality is that the centrists are compounding that problem rather than alleviating it…

The context for the drama between the Democratic moderates and their party’s leadership is that the moderates have failed to differentiate themselves from the progressive wing on cultural grounds. (They have focused on their disdain for defunding the police, though their response came after the slogan was already abandoned by virtually the entire progressive wing.) They have likewise failed to formulate a coherent economic agenda that improves either substantively or politically upon the ideas identified with the party. Instead, they have thrown up objections to the administration’s attempt to tax the rich and use the proceeds for programs to benefit the working and middle classes…

To be fair to the Democratic Party’s moderates, complainers like Gottheimer and Murphy get all the attention in the media while moderates with more constructive approaches often fail to attract media attention. That is one of the difficult aspects of moderation: It’s more difficult to redefine the party’s brand as moderate when the press defines moderation as disagreement with the party.

That said, the Democratic Party’s moderates have largely failed to think creatively and rationally about the problems caused by the progressive wing (problems that, in many instances, are very real.) Instead, they have reduced their moderate identity to a collection of petty grievances unworthy of sympathy. The party’s struggles belong to them too.

12) Cool birth order research: “Birth order differences in education originate in postnatal environments”

Siblings share many environments and much of their genetics. Yet, siblings turn out different. Intelligence and education are influenced by birth order, with earlier-born siblings outperforming later-borns. We investigate whether birth order differences in education are caused by biological differences present at birth, that is, genetic differences or in utero differences. Using family data that spans two generations, combining registry, survey, and genotype information, this study is based on the Norwegian Mother, Father, and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). We show that there are no genetic differences by birth order as captured by polygenic scores (PGSs) for educational attainment. Earlier-born have lower birth weight than later-born, indicating worse uterine environments. Educational outcomes are still higher for earlier-born children when we adjust for PGSs and in utero variables, indicating that birth order differences arise postnatally. Finally, we consider potential environmental influences, such as differences according to maternal age, parental educational attainment, and sibling genetic nurture. We show that birth order differences are not biological in origin, but pinning down their specific causes remains elusive.

13) If fans stopped coming to NC Courage women’s soccer games because a single player doesn’t support LBGTQ rights, that’s nuts.  Also, are there no other explanations?

It would be an understatement to simply call Jessica Turner a fan of women’s soccer. She absolutely loves the game and wants to see it grow.

The 33-year-old Raleigh resident went to France for the Women’s World Cup in 2019 and she’s been a season-ticket holder of the National Women’s Soccer League’s North Carolina Courage since the team moved to the Triangle in 2017. She is also the vice president of the club’s lone official supporters’ group, The Uproar.

And typically, when it comes time to renew her season tickets for the Courage, she shows no hesitation. But this season was different. Turner felt conflicted.

“I was asking myself: ‘Do I want to give money to an organization that may not align with my values, and that has — very publicly — decided to employ someone who I know does not align with my values?’ So, that was really hard for me,” Turner told WUNC recently. “What it came down to for me is that I do want to support the players. And I do think that women’s soccer and our league — and the way our league is growing — is bigger than one club or one player. But it is very difficult.”

While Turner has continued to show up and support the Courage at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary this season, some of her peers have not.

The past year has been an eventful one off the field for the Courage. The team fired its long-time head coach following a report outlining his history of sexual coercion and harassment, they parted ways with fan favorites from the U.S. Women’s National Team, and — the most crucial issue for Turner and many others — they brought back a player who is not a favorite among some supporters.

“For me, the biggest sticking point was the re-signing of Jaelene Daniels,” Turner said. “They knew that there had been issues in the past with this player, very publicly… And they decided to go with that knowing that there is going to be backlash, knowing that there is going to be a whole section of our fanbase that are going to feel harmed by this and are going to feel like the club doesn’t support them.

“That was the biggest thing that made me really question renewing my season tickets.”

Daniels, an undeniably talented player, has made statements on her social media accounts that fans, players, and others called homophobic. Most notably, in 2017, Daniels declined a call-up to the U.S. National Team and later revealed in an interview with the 700 Club — a Christian television program — that she did so because she refused to wear a jersey with rainbow decals honoring LGBTQ Pride Month.

Also, who knows what other things players may believe that fans disagree with, but never come up because there’s not jersey night for them?  I mean, maybe some of these players love guns, but there’s never a “gun rights” night.  People should watch sports to appreciate great athletes and competition, not because they agree with the political views of the players.  

14) Enjoyed Jonathan Weiler’s take on Dobbs:

I want to make one more comment, for now, about the Dobbs decision. The majority in that case enumerated the “legitimate” interests the state has in banning abortions as the now valid basis for upholding those laws. Those interests include ”respect for and preservation of prenatal life at all stages of development…; the protection of maternal health and safety; the elimination of particularly gruesome or barbaric medical procedures; the preservation of the integrity of the medical profession; the mitigation of fetal pain.”

About the first “legitimate” interest, numerous foundational religious texts, including the Bible, are ambiguous about or do not recognize the proposition that life begins at conception. More broadly, there is profound theological debate over that proposition. And there is no scientific consensus on the matter. But the Court majority has asserted that one very particular religious-cultural perspective about when life begins counts as a legitimate state interest. Concerning fetal pain, the prevailing science of neurological development says the mechanisms necessary to experience pain do not exist before about 24 weeks, i.e. viability. That fact renders disingenuous the state’s supposed interest in avoiding “particularly gruesome or barbaric medical procedures” before viability. Disingenuous because, if there is no evidence of fetal pain before about 24 weeks, then any procedure done prior to that threshold cannot reasonably be distinguished in its barbarity from any other invasive medical procedure that involves blood, cutting or other surgical necessities.

The Court majority’s meaning when discussing “integrity of the medical profession” is barely veiled cover for defending those practitioners who refuse to carry out abortions. At the same time, the Court has ensured that many doctors will face nearly impossible choices about whether to perform abortions when weighing their responsibility to the health of their patients against the increasing probability of criminal prosecution. It’s hard to imagine a more direct threat to the integrity of the medical profession than that. So, once you strip away the highly contested premise that life begins at conception and the scientifically dubious claim that fetuses experience pain before 24 weeks, there is nothing legitimate about almost any of the interests the Court says states have prior to viability. Though the Court did say protecting “maternal health and safety” is a legitimate state interest, it has clearly put its thumbs on the scale in favor of fetuses. That’s because the Court majority cannot shake its core belief, deeply rooted in misogyny, that fetuses are more sacred and more worthy of state protection than the humans who carry them. As a result, the Court has simply punted on trying to meaningfully balance the interests of the latter with those of the former. The laws that are now going into effect make that crystal clear.

15) I thought I’d see at least some liberals agree with me that the EPA decision was not necessarily so unreasonable.  Fortunately, Drum came through:

Their conclusion is that generation shifting is too big a deal to infer from throw-away language. If this is what we want to do, it needs authorization from Congress, not a federal agency feverishly parsing generic language to give itself huge, highly specific new authority.

This doesn’t strike me as unreasonable, though it’s obviously tricky to figure out just how broad a grant of authority Congress gave to EPA in this case. Unfortunately, the liberal position on this is done no favors by the Lazarus argument: namely that the Supreme Court knows Congress is paralyzed right now, so they have to allow EPA to step in and take action.

This is sophistry, and no court in the world would pay any attention to it. On the contrary, it would be taken for what it is: a tacit admission that EPA doesn’t have the authority it wants, but we should all agree to pretend otherwise because the stakes are too high to waste time with the doofuses in Congress. Like it or not, this is never going to fly.

As many legal observers have pointed out, this case is not really about the EPA or about climate change. (In fact, the EPA plan at the core of the case has been on hold for a while as the Biden administration crafts its own plan.) It’s about how much deference we should pay to federal agencies who are exercising authority delegated to them by Congress. Liberals generally want agencies to have lots of interpretive authority while conservatives want to rein it in. This case is yet another example of conservatives reining it in.

The good news here is that, by itself, this case doesn’t set any big new precedent—not that I see, anyway. Like last week’s decision in American Hospital Association, it merely prohibits a specific action without taking a sledgehammer to current rules about agency deference in general.

The bad news is that the Court’s conservatives are obviously working themselves up to swing that sledgehammer eventually. It’s still unclear just how much wreckage they plan to leave behind when they’re done.

16) Interestingly, just as they’ve turned 100, I’ve rediscovered a love of Klondike bars, which I had all the time in my youth, but barely in the past 30 years.  

17) Who stops a bad guy with a gun? Usually nobody.  On occasion, but rarely, a “good guy” with a gun.

18) It’s nothing short of amusing that some of the pro-life types think there’s even the remotest chance that red states will try and do better by struggling mothers and newborns.

19) Apparently there’s a lot of products with super-high THC levels out there now and it’s not good.

20) Some important perspective on the typical person getting an abortion:

THE TYPICAL PATIENT …
Is Already a Mother.
Is in Her Late 20s.
Attended Some College.
Has a Low Income.
Is Unmarried.
Is in Her First 6 Weeks of Pregnancy.
Is Having Her First Abortion.
Lives in a Blue State.

I find that “is already a mother” fact very compelling.  These are women who know what pregnancy and parenthood entail.

21) Damn is this good from deBoer:

Ten years ago, let’s say fifteen to be safe, if you saw an essay titled “Consequences are Good, Actually,” you might naturally assume that it came from the political right. Conservatives, after all, believe in law and order, retributive justice, and the God of the Old Testament. But nowadays, it’s liberals who constantly call for consequences, liberals who sneer at the concept of forgiveness, liberals who stand for a Manichean worldview that permits no deviation from white-hat/black-hat morality. And so in that linked piece OG carceral feminist Jessica Valenti insists that the object of her ire deserves only hellfire, and this is quite in keeping with the contemporary progressive id in 2022. Valenti is reacting specifically to New York magazine cover story about a teenager who shared nude photos of his girlfriend and the social consequences that followed for him and others. But she is reacting as she and her liberal peers react to everything: “someone has to burn.” She just does so in the vocabulary of a disapproving pre-K teacher.

We’ve spent the past two years with the left-of-center world debating, and largely endorsing, quite radical ideas about ending policing and prisons. This would seem to suggest a certain predisposition to forgiveness and equanimity in human affairs, a communal understanding that life is complicated, all of us are sinners, and there but for the grace of God go we. But as the various groans about the New York piece show, the urge to defund the police etc. is really much less about a particular ethic of caring and much more about simply nominating a communally-approved target for progressive anger. It happens that the abstract category “the cops” is a good thing for people to target, but the broader point is that most liberal criminal justice reform energy isn’t derived at all from a desire to be more compassionate and understanding but simply to have a new designated hate object. And this condition is unhealthy, is my feeling. Because forgiveness is good and absolutely central to the left-wing conception of the world.

The contradiction here is badly exacerbated by the fundamentally weaselly way that the left-of-center mass talks about criminal justice reform. The constant instinct is to refer to more-sympathetic criminal classes, like the gold-standard “first-time nonviolent drug offenders,” when calling for an end to mass incarceration. The trouble with this is that a huge majority of our incarcerated population is not in fact drawn from those more cinematically compelling victims. Most people locked up in state prisons are there for violent offenses and most people in local jails awaiting trial and sentencing who end up in state prisons will be too…

But it gets worse for our liberal champions of anti-carceral measures. Within this large bulk of violent offenders, there’s also many who have committed sex-based offenses like sexual assault, domestic violence or intimate partner violence or similar, or hate crimes. These are considered (to borrow a term) especially heinous by liberals for various ideological reasons. What I frequently feel moved to remind anti-carceral-state lefties is that their efforts to shutter prisons will necessarily involve letting a lot of the guys responsible for those things out. Let me highlight this: there is no path to dismantling the prison industrial complex that does not let out a lot of people guilty of “identity crimes” like sexual assault, hate crimes, or domestic violence. [emphasis in original] And so you have a bit of a dilemma if you’re a standard-issue (read: not particularly well-considered) liberal, which is that you must rail against the punitive state knowing that if your efforts were to succeed you would inevitably free a lot of people you would prefer stay locked up, perhaps even for longer than initially sentenced.

This conflict is like so many others within 21st-century liberalism in that it’s not only blindingly obvious but totally under-discussed. There’s been both a reflexive endorsement of all manner of ideas related to police and prison reform under restorative justice auspices, but it’s arisen alongside a shamelessly punishing left-wing culture that does nothing all day but look around for the right person to rake over the coals. And this is a conflict of values, obviously. You can come up with some sort of undergraduate justifications of anti-carceral politics that have nothing to do with forgiveness, but ultimately the urge to liberate people from physical prisons is a reflection of a desire to embrace greater compassion and understanding for the guilty. This runs completely against the assumption that the heart of left-wing practice is being a sneering and vengeful hall monitor who never stops passing judgment on others. In a healthy political culture, this kind of conflict of values would result in debate, an assessment of where people stand, and potentially breaking into explicitly-separate camps. But internet leftism is not a healthy political culture, and so there is no healthy debate. Instead, people just ignore the obvious conflict, mostly because they only pretend to care about this shit when chatting up girls at Union Pool.

22) Happiness strategies

23) Sadly, this seems about right from Brownstein, “Is Biden a Man Out of Time? Democrats have a growing sense of panic about conservative advances but are not seeing a president who shares their urgency.”

Even many of Biden’s critics agree that his establishment pedigree, and his promises to unify the country and work with Republicans, contributed to his victory over Trump. He reassured, they concede, many center-right voters who might have preferred the former president’s policies but recoiled from his belligerent personality and style. But to frustrated Democrats, the administration’s cautious response to the abortion decision is further evidence that Biden’s roots in an earlier political order have left him slow to acknowledge, much less respond to, the radicalization of the Trump-era GOP. The growing chorus among the president’s internal critics is that even if Biden was the right man for beating Trump, he has become the wrong man for combatting Trumpism.

“I go back in my mind to 2020 and ask: Could anyone else have beaten Trump? I don’t think so,” Tresa Undem, a pollster mostly for progressive causes, told me. “But from the perspective of some Democratic voters [now], he just doesn’t get it. Biden will be presiding over this critical period when so many people are losing rights. Can you imagine being the president when women lost the right to abortion, and election subversion [is advancing], and the whole country is worried about democracy, and you are like, ‘The Supreme Court is just fine’?”

Similarly, when asked on a conference call with reporters this week what Biden could be doing differently to respond to the ruling, Sarah Lipton-Lubet, the executive director of the Take Back the Court Action Fund, a group advocating for expanding the Supreme Court, told me he should “stop treating the Supreme Court like it’s some untouchable panel of demigods. This Court is brazenly political, and we have to stop pretending otherwise.” That sentiment among Democrats escalated further today, when the Court capped its term by hobbling the federal government’s ability to regulate the carbon emissions that cause climate change.

As concerned as many Democrats are about Biden’s advanced age and his diminished approval ratings, the persistent chatter among them about whether he should run again in 2024 centers as much on the fear that he’s a man out of time. Many activists express a similar frustration with the party’s politburo of aging congressional leaders. “It’s not necessarily only an age thing, but I do think the younger crop of leaders have cut their teeth during times when they never really believed our institutions were legitimate,” Adam Jentleson, a former Democratic Senate leadership aide and a co-founder of Battle Born Collective, a liberal advocacy group, told me. “They don’t have this nostalgia for a [prior] set of norms and principles, because they never experienced them.”

24) My 16-year old was quite surprised to learn that he knows more about the relative genetic diversity of humans and chimps than me.  But, now that’s rectified:

The researchers also contrasted the levels of genetic variation between the chimpanzee groups with that seen in humans from different populations.

Surprisingly, even though all the chimpanzees live in relatively close proximity, chimpanzees from different populations were substantially more different genetically than humans living on different continents. That is despite the fact that the habitats of two of the groups are separated only by a river.

Professor Peter Donnelly, director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University and a senior author on the study, noted: ‘Relatively small numbers of humans left Africa 50,000-100,000 years ago. All non-African populations descended from them, and are reasonably similar genetically.’

‘That chimpanzees from habitats in the same country, separated only by a river, are more distinct than humans from different continents is really interesting. It speaks to the great genetic similarities between human populations, and to much more stability and less interbreeding over hundreds of thousands of years in the chimpanzee groups.’

25) Really enjoyed this on worldviews from Clearer thinking:

What makes a worldview?

Worldviews are a type of story we learn about how the world works and about what things matter and why. In this post, we put forward a theory of worldviews that will help you understand how different worldviews work. We call this “Snow Globe Theory.” Every worldview includes many beliefs, but after reflecting on a wide variety of worldviews, we believe that almost every one has four central components. There are other common elements that some worldviews have but others don’t – for example, a strong culture, or a theory about trustworthy sources of knowledge – but this article will focus on these four central elements:

  1. What is good?

  2. Where do good and bad come from?

  3. Who deserves the good?

  4. How can you do good or be good?

You can understand a worldview quite well if you know what thoughtful people with that worldview would all answer in response to these four questions. While each individual member of a group will have somewhat different answers to the questions above, it is the portions of their answers that most members of that group share with each other that compose the group’s worldview.

Interestingly, the “effective altruist” seems to come closest to my own (many others here, too, at the link)

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