The future of mRNA vaccines

Loved Emily Oster’s interview with the CEO of Moderna.  Lots of greats stuff in here.  I was particularly intrigued by the discussion of the future of mRNA vaccines:

Emily Oster  

Last thing!  I know you were working on a lot of stuff prior to this which was not COVID. What is the most exciting next virus that you’re fixing?

Stephane Bancal  

So there are two that I will draw to your attention. One is the flu. As you know, the flu kills 30,000 to 60,000 Americans a year, depending on how bad the strain mutation is. Efficacy of the flu vaccine is 60% in a good year, in a bad year 25 to 30%.  We believe with the mRNA, because of the speed at which we can follow up a variant of flu (“seasonal strains” they are called, but it’s the same thing as a variant) we can get the world 90 to 95% efficacy flu vaccine. 

And our next exciting thing, which is going to be in the clinic very soon, is to do a study for flu. This will go very fast because flu is a very well known virus. Our goal is to combine in a single dose a variant boost of COVID and a variant boost of flu. In a single dose, you get at your CVS or primary care doctor every year, and you have a great winter with no flu, no COVID, and you’re a happy lady. 

The next one is CMV. It’s a very poorly known virus. Cytomegalovirus is the number one cause of birth defects in this country and many countries in the world: 1 in 200 kids.  The industry has tried for 20 years to make a CMV vaccine. They all failed, because it is a very complex virus. We have a vaccine that is going into phase three as we speak: Six mRNA molecules in each vial to make six different proteins, because it is such a complex virus. The data so far looks beautiful. 

What we hope is to get this to the finish line in a few years. The study will take a few years to enroll and to wait for natural infection like in any vaccine study. But what I’m hoping for is we’re going to get a high efficacy vaccine, which we’re all thinking will happen because of the science.  Then women 16-plus before getting pregnant get vaccinated, so that if they get infected during their pregnancy, they won’t transmit to their baby and they will not have babies with birth defects. 

I’m so passionate about this one. You know, I really believe every woman should get that option to get that vaccine. You know, I have two young girls — 18 and 17. And I really want the vaccine to be launched soon because I really want them to get it before they get pregnant. 

Cool!  Let’s hope this all works out as Bancal projects.  And to think, even a few months ago I had never heard of CMV and it’s a big deal as viruses go.  The technology we’ve unleashed in response to Covid is truly amazing and is going to do us a world of good down the road.

The 5 micron error that made the pandemic so much worse

This Wired article from Megan Molteni, “The 60-Year-Old Scientific Screwup That Helped Covid Kill: All pandemic long, scientists brawled over how the virus spreads. Droplets! No, aerosols! At the heart of the fight was a teensy error with huge consequences.” is now literally one of my favorite articles from the whole pandemic.

I’ve been reading for a long time on how epidemiologists got it really wrong on droplets versus aerosols.  And a huge part of this ongoing error was claiming that only particles smaller than 5 microns would typically float in the air (the rest would be droplets that would sink in less than 6 feet) when, in reality, this barrier is closer to 100 microns.  And I probably don’t need to tell you there’s lots and lots of disease-causing particles that are larger than 5 microns and smaller than 100.  

As I said, I (and maybe you) have been reading about this for almost a year, though (really, since Linsey Marr came on the scene, big time).  But how did “science” settle on such a gross and obviously provably wrong error and propagate it for so long?!  Now that’s a good question, and this article, like Marr’s graduate student, Katie Randall, finally gets to the bottom of it.  So much good stuff in here, but here’s the key story of how the erroneous 5 microns came to be:

She tried another tack. Everyone agreed that tuberculosis was airborne. So she plugged “5 microns” and “tuberculosis” into a search of the CDC’s archives. She scrolled and scrolled until she reached the earliest document on tuberculosis prevention that mentioned aerosol size. It cited an out-of-print book written by a Harvard engineer named William Firth Wells. Published in 1955, it was called Airborne Contagion and Air Hygiene. A lead!

In the Before Times, she would have acquired the book through interlibrary loan. With the pandemic shutting down universities, that was no longer an option. On the wilds of the open internet, Randall tracked down a first edition from a rare book seller for $500—a hefty expense for a side project with essentially no funding. But then one of the university’s librarians came through and located a digital copy in Michigan. Randall began to dig in.

One night she read about experiments Wells did in the 1940s in which he installed air-disinfecting ultraviolet lights inside schools. In the classrooms with UV lamps installed, fewer kids came down with the measles. He concluded that the measles virus must have been in the air. Randall was struck by this. She knew that measles didn’t get recognized as an airborne disease until decades later. What had happened?

Part of medical rhetoric is understanding why certain ideas take hold and others don’t. So as spring turned to summer, Randall started to investigate how Wells’ contemporaries perceived him. That’s how she found the writings of Alexander Langmuir, the influential chief epidemiologist of the newly established CDC. Like his peers, Langmuir had been brought up in the Gospel of Personal Cleanliness, an obsession that made handwashing the bedrock of US public health policy. He seemed to view Wells’ ideas about airborne transmission as retrograde, seeing in them a slide back toward an ancient, irrational terror of bad air—the “miasma theory” that had prevailed for centuries. Langmuir dismissed them as little more than “interesting theoretical points.”

But at the same time, Langmuir was growing increasingly preoccupied by the threat of biological warfare. He worried about enemies carpeting US cities in airborne pathogens. In March 1951, just months after the start of the Korean War, Langmuir published a report in which he simultaneously disparaged Wells’ belief in airborne infection and credited his work as being foundational to understanding the physics of airborne infection.

How curious, Randall thought. She kept reading.

In the report, Langmuir cited a few studies from the 1940s looking at the health hazards of working in mines and factories, which showed the mucus of the nose and throat to be exceptionally good at filtering out particles bigger than 5 microns. The smaller ones, however, could slip deep into the lungs and cause irreversible damage. If someone wanted to turn a rare and nasty pathogen into a potent agent of mass infection, Langmuir wrote, the thing to do would be to formulate it into a liquid that could be aerosolized into particles smaller than 5 microns, small enough to bypass the body’s main defenses. Curious indeed. Randall made a note.

When she returned to Wells’ book a few days later, she noticed he too had written about those industrial hygiene studies. They had inspired Wells to investigate what role particle size played in the likelihood of natural respiratory infections. He designed a study using tuberculosis-causing bacteria. The bug was hardy and could be aerosolized, and if it landed in the lungs, it grew into a small lesion. He exposed rabbits to similar doses of the bacteria, pumped into their chambers either as a fine (smaller than 5 microns) or coarse (bigger than 5 microns) mist. The animals that got the fine treatment fell ill, and upon autopsy it was clear their lungs bulged with lesions. The bunnies that received the coarse blast appeared no worse for the wear.

For days, Randall worked like this—going back and forth between Wells and Langmuir, moving forward and backward in time. As she got into Langmuir’s later writings, she observed a shift in his tone. In articles he wrote up until the 1980s, toward the end of his career, he admitted he had been wrong about airborne infection. It was possible.

A big part of what changed Langmuir’s mind was one of Wells’ final studies. Working at a VA hospital in Baltimore, Wells and his collaborators had pumped exhaust air from a tuberculosis ward into the cages of about 150 guinea pigs on the building’s top floor. Month after month, a few guinea pigs came down with tuberculosis. Still, public health authorities were skeptical. They complained that the experiment lacked controls. So Wells’ team added another 150 animals, but this time they included UV lights to kill any germs in the air. Those guinea pigs stayed healthy. That was it, the first incontrovertible evidence that a human disease—tuberculosis—could be airborne, and not even the public health big hats could ignore it.  

The groundbreaking results were published in 1962. Wells died in September of the following year. A month later, Langmuir mentioned the late engineer in a speech to public health workers. It was Wells, he said, that they had to thank for illuminating their inadequate response to a growing epidemic of tuberculosis. He emphasized that the problematic particles—the ones they had to worry about—were smaller than 5 microns.

Inside Randall’s head, something snapped into place. She shot forward in time, to that first tuberculosis guidance document where she had started her investigation. She had learned from it that tuberculosis is a curious critter; it can only invade a subset of human cells in the deepest reaches of the lungs. Most bugs are more promiscuous. They can embed in particles of any size and infect cells all along the respiratory tract.

What must have happened, she thought, was that after Wells died, scientists inside the CDC conflated his observations. They plucked the size of the particle that transmits tuberculosis out of context, making 5 microns stand in for a general definition of airborne spread. Wells’ 100-micron threshold got left behind. “You can see that the idea of what is respirable, what stays airborne, and what is infectious are all being flattened into this 5-micron phenomenon,” Randall says. Over time, through blind repetition, the error sank deeper into the medical canon. The CDC did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Amazing.  And this 5 micron distinction has been part of the gospel of disease transmission since, meanwhile everybody who studies air particles at all knows that it’s wrong.  And, somehow, it took till this pandemic and 2021 for this knowledge of air particles to finally win out.

Quick hits (part I)

1) One of the better takes on the ransomware that’s made getting gas a nightmare in NC.  Just because I happened to be out running errands Monday evening and was low I serendipitously filled up as the craziness started Tuesday morning here.  Now, I regularly drive by mostly empty stations with a few stations having lines of dozens of cars.  Do better America!

2) Ummm, I definitely stick with my less intelligent, but friendlier/happier dog.  But, interesting, “Grumpy Dogs Outperform the Friendlies on Some Learning Tests
Dogs that would not be the first choice of many pet owners do better than some of the more agreeable fellows when they have to learn from a stranger.”

3) This, especially when it comes to summer camps this summer, “I Tell My Patients Not to Mask Their Kids Outside: For most young people, the social and emotional benefits of taking masks off outdoors greatly outweigh the personal and public-health advantages of keeping them on.”

4) There’s some really, really bad diversity training that really is out there based on absolutely nonsense, racist ideas like hard work and punctuality are “white supremacy” virtues.  As Yglesias points out, nobody really bothers to defend it (nor did they when he posted this), and, yet, it keeps getting propagated because nobody wants to speak against it and risk being labeled racist or “fragile” white person:

So I want to talk instead about one specific document, not because I think it’s the most important document in the world, but because I don’t really see anyone who I read and respect talking about it even though I’ve seen it arise multiple times in real life.

I’m talking about “The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture” by Tema Okun, which I first heard of this year from the leader of a progressive nonprofit group whose mission I strongly support. He told me that some people on the staff had started wielding this document in internal disputes and it was causing big headaches. Once I had that on my radar, I heard about it from a couple of other nonprofit workers. And I saw it come up at the Parent Teacher Association for my kid’s school.

It’s an excerpt from a longer book called Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups that was developed as a tool for Okun’s consulting and training gigs.

But today, even though it’s not what I would call a particularly intellectually influential work in highbrow circles — even ones that are very “woke” or left-wing — it does seem to be incredibly widely circulated. You see it everywhere from the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence to the Sierra Club of Wisconsin to an organization of West Coast Quakers.

Which is to say it’s sloshing around quite broadly in progressive circles even though I’ve never heard a major writer, scholar, or political leader praise or recommend it. And to put it bluntly, it’s really dumb. In my more conspiratorial moments, I wonder if it’s not a psyop devised by some modern-day version of COINTELPRO to try to destroy progressive politics in the United States by making it impossible to run effective organizations. Even if not, I think the document is worth discussing on its own terms because it is broadly influential enough that if everyone actually agrees with me that it’s bad, we should stop citing it and object when other people do. And alternatively, if there are people who think it’s good, it would be nice to hear them say so, and then we could have a specific argument about that. But while I don’t think this document is exactly typical, I do think it’s emblematic of some broader, unfortunate cultural trends…

The craziest thing about “The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture” is that it has literally nothing to do with race.

Some of the things she condemns are genuinely bad. For example, it is true that some people have “the belief there is one right way to do things and once people are introduced to the right way, they will see the light and adopt it.” That is in fact not true and not a productive way to live your life, conduct political work, or run an organization of any size.

Mostly, though, she’s against things like “either/or thinking” and “perfectionism” where it’s pretty clearly a case in which you just don’t want to take things too far. I am the very opposite of a perfectionist, and in my old blogging days, I was infamous for my typos. Today I am still like that, but thanks to the help of Marc and Claire, I try to keep dumb mistakes out of Slow Boring since this is, after all, my job, and thousands of subscribers have kindly agreed to pay for it. But I still frequently find myself encountering people who are too perfectionist-oriented, and there are absolutely people who are too hung up on dichotomous thinking and false binaries. But there are also people who are too sloppy or too indecisive.

But big picture, none of this has anything to do with race or white supremacy!

And I don’t mean that in, like, “it’s not racist unless you’re wearing a Klan hood and burning a cross in my lawn.” I mean, nothing. If you don’t know any non-white people who sometimes strike you as excessively rigid in their thinking or seem like too much of perfectionists then you need to get out more. But then Okun herself concedes that there’s no necessary relationship between manifesting white supremacy culture and being white yourself, nor even the ethnic composition of the group…

Okay, but really who cares?

I think enough attention has been paid to the view that Cancel Culture Is A Totalitarian Menace Threatening Our Freedoms that a lot of people have trouble hearing any other kind of criticism, and it leads them to immediately retreat into whataboutism and minimization.

So for the record, I wholeheartedly agree — I do not think a bunch of folks running around telling the world that asking for written memos and focusing on measurable results is racist are going to take over the United States and extinguish human liberty. Frankly, I don’t think they’re going to do anything at all other than run a bunch of basically useless trainings and disrupt the internal functioning of progressive organizations. My concern is less that Woke Conservation Biologists are going to oppress us and more that they aren’t going to do conservation biology very well.

But this can still be very harmful.

If you tell teachers and principals that having a sense of urgency about teaching kids to read is a form of white supremacy, then that is going to hurt kids’ learning. And if young people entering the progressive nonprofit sector believe that any effort to construct disciplined, hierarchical organizations is a form of white supremacy, then they are not going to accomplish anything.

I would also say that the political faction that tends to pride itself on ideas like “taking the science seriously” and “trusting the experts” should ask itself how a white physical education major from Oberlin got to be such a guru on this subject…

But that not only has a range of first-order harms, but it also creates a situation where you then find yourself turning around later and wondering why nobody trusts the experts anymore. Some of the reason is that they’re under assault by bad-faith operators who derive personal benefits from discrediting the concept of neutral expertise. But some of it is that the participants in these institutions can’t be consistently bothered to uphold those values and ask really basic questions of the influential practitioners who happen to be aligned with the right politics.

5) Using drugs to cheat in sports is bad.  They way international athletics organizations horribly treat their athletes based on questionable drug test is… worse?  I mean, your career ruined for eating a steak?!

The American Olympic long jumper Jarrion Lawson, the first man since Jesse Owens to win the 100 meters, 200 meters and long jump at the same N.C.A.A. championships, had a similar experience. After he ate a beef teriyaki bowl at a Japanese restaurant in Arkansas in 2018, he also tested positive for a metabolite of trenbolone.

His agent, Paul Doyle, tracked down the restaurant’s beef supplier, which said it collected beef from farms that, like many farms across America, treated cows with trenbolone to make them grow. Because Mr. Lawson could not recover an exact sample of the beef he’d eaten before the test, he was exonerated in part through old text messages about what he wanted to have for lunch that day and a receipt the restaurant had retained. But he lost 19 months of competition to a provisional suspension while he fought the charge.

“Had he ordered the chicken bowl instead of the beef bowl, he would have saved himself $2 million and his reputation,” said Mr. Doyle, referring to losses from sponsor contracts, competition earnings and legal fees. “It’s very frustrating. Sometimes it seems like they’re taking the approach of ‘Let’s try and ban as many athletes as we can.’”

6) For a variety of reasons, the NHL is gone from a minor interest to me to being my favorite sport by a long shot.  They kind of suck on player safety (Tom Wilson!), though I appreciate the improvements from the constant fighting that really turned me off long ago, but, damn do they get it on air quality.  Kind of amazing that a sports league understands this so much better than major public health agencies.  I loved reading this about upcoming Hurricanes playoff games:

PNC Arena can normally seat 18,680 for hockey. Hurricanes president and general manager Don Waddell said Friday the team was still discussing with the NHL how many fans the team would initially be allowed to host, but that NHL ventilation standards would still limit PNC to about 10,000-12,000 fans until the team can bring in additional HVAC and dehumidifying equipment.

7) No, I’m never going to love wasps, but I can appreciate the important environmental roles they play, “Wasps have a bad rap. This summer, let’s learn to love them”

8) Love, love, love this headline, “Pandora ditching mined diamonds for lab-grown ones: The move by the world’s biggest jeweler reflects consumer demand for sustainability and ethical sourcing.”  I mean, diamonds are absurdly over-rated as gemstones (I mean, a good emerald, ruby, or sapphire over a diamond any day!!), but even worse their environmental and human impact, so, yes, more of this!

9) This was interesting and definitely a move in the right direction, “Is This the End of the Leotard?The German gymnastics team’s full-body uniforms are a bold statement against sexualization and wedgies.”  Also, I had no idea the wedgies were such a big thing.  Athletes should be comfortable, damnit.

10) Good stuff from Noah Smith, “Why politically guided science is bad: Research should not be an effort to reach one’s desired conclusions.”

The other day, a paper was published in the American Economic Review about incarceration’s effect on children. It caused quite a stir, because it concluded that kids can sometimes benefit in certain ways from having their parents locked up:

Every year, millions of Americans experience the incarceration of a family member. Using 30 years of administrative data from Ohio and exploiting differing incarceration propensities of randomly assigned judges, this paper provides the first quasi-experimental estimates of the effects of parental and sibling incarceration in the US. Parental incarceration has beneficial effects on some important outcomes for children, reducing their likelihood of incarceration by 4.9 percentage points and improving their adult neighborhood quality. While estimates on academic performance and teen parenthood are imprecise, we reject large positive or negative effects. Sibling incarceration leads to similar reductions in criminal activity.

There was a torrent of negative reactions to the paper. That’s understandable. You have to be pretty ghoulish to actually like incarceration, and finding out that it can have some beneficial effects for the very children and siblings of the people who get locked up would place us on the horns of a dilemma. Uncomfortably, this is not the first paper to find some sort of effect like this. Here’s another from 2020, which uses a similar methodology but looks at education instead.

Some defended the paper, but very many people were upset about it. Negative reactions from various academics on Twitter ranged from “yikes” to barf emojis to allegations that its publication represented a breach of ethics. Defenders responded that these negative reactions were merely cases of people encountering inconvenient facts.

Those facts — and we do not yet know if they’re facts — would certainly be inconvenient, if you don’t like mass incarceration (and I definitely do not like it!). The U.S. prison system is a human rights nightmare; it would be disgusting to think that casting more people into the maw of that nightmare could be good for their children and siblings. And on top of that, these papers imply that family is sometimes a bad thing — that parents can be such toxic people that throwing them into a dungeon actually makes life better for their kids! That disturbing idea cuts against our deep-seated family values.

Nevertheless, I think calls for the suppression of findings like this are wrong. (And saying that papers like this should not be published, or should have to clear greater-than-usual hurdles for publication, is definitely a call for suppression.) In fact, this reaction is part of what I see as a growing movement in recent years to make scientific inquiry more governed by political ideology. And I think that’s a very bad idea. Scientists can’t ever be fully free of biases, but being less political and more devoted to seeking the facts is a worthy goal that should not be abandoned…

One worry that’s commonly brought up in these debates is that if bad people get a hold of these research results, they will do bad things with it…

In other words, maybe people like John Pfaff know how to use this research to craft better alternatives to modern-day incarceration or subtly tweak sentencing policy, but Ben Shapiro will see it and start screaming “SEEEE? MASS INCARCERATION IS GOOOOOOOD!!!” to his twelve bazillion followers. And then where will we be?

In fact, you can make a similar argument for almost any piece of research, especially for scientific discoveries. The same technology that can cure disease might be used to create bioweapons. The same chemistry discoveries that can create useful new materials can be used to blow people up. And so on.

It’s reasonable for scientists (including social scientists) to be concerned about the evil uses to which their discoveries might be put. But to suppress or modify those discoveries is akin to the Noble Lie — it’s an expression of a belief that you, the researcher, can predict the uses to which society will put your discoveries, and can thus control social outcomes by deciding whether to report what you’ve found.

11) Sorry if I’ve already mentioned Julia Galef and her new book on Scout Mindset, but this is a great interview and I’m really looking forward to reading the book.

Dylan Matthews

Walk me through what you mean by “scout mindset.” What does it mean to have it? How do you know if you have it?

Julia Galef

It’s my term for the motivation to see things as they are and not as you wish they were, being or trying to be intellectually honest, objective, or fair minded, and curious about what’s actually true.

By default, a lot of the time we humans are in what I call “soldier mindset,” in which our motivation is to defend our beliefs against any evidence or arguments that might threaten them. Rationalization, motivated reasoning, wishful thinking: these are all facets of what I’m calling a soldier mindset.

I adopted this term because the way that we talk about reasoning in the English language is through militaristic metaphor. We try to “shore up” our beliefs, “support them” and “buttress them” as if they’re fortresses. We try to “shoot down” opposing arguments and we try to “poke holes” in the other side.

I call this “soldier mindset,” and “scout mindset” is an alternative to that. It’s a different way of thinking about what to believe or thinking about what’s true.

12) As a top-notch linguist and someone decidedly anti-woke, John McWhorter is always especially interesting on the N-word:

Some will despise that I am calling the new take on the word pious. But 25 years ago we all knew exactly those things about the word’s heritage, and felt modern and enlightened to, with sensible moderation, utter the word in reference rather than gesture. Under normal conditions, the etiquette would have stayed at that point. The only thing that makes that take on the word now seem backwards is a sense of outright “cover-your-mouth” taboo: i.e. religion. This performative refusal to distinguish, this embrace of the mythic, shows a take on the N-word analogous to taking the Lord’s name in vain.

I call this refusal performative – i.e. a put-on – because I simply cannot believe that so many people do not see the difference between using a word as a weapon and referring to the word in the abstract. I would be disrespecting them to suppose that they don’t get this difference between, say, Fuck! as something yelled and fuck as in a word referring to sexual intercourse. They understand the difference, but see some larger value in pretending that it doesn’t exist.

In my experience, a common idea is that if we allow the word to be used in reference, there is a slippery slope from there to whites feeling comfortable hurling the slur as well. There are two problems with this point. One: for decades civilized people could use the word in reference, and yet there was no sign of the epithet coming back into style. Today’s crusaders can’t claim to be holding off some rising tide. Second: what is the sociohistorical parallel? At what point in human history has a slur been proscribed, but then returned to general usage because it was considered okay to refer to the word as opposed to use it? That many people can just imagine this happening with the N-word is not an argument, especially since it’s hard not to notice that this hypothetical scenario fits so cozily into their professionally Manichaean take on race…

We are getting to a point where a generation of Elect people will be unable to even sit through a classic witfest like the film Blazing Saddles, their religion rendering them unable to process that the use of the N-word by vicious, stupid, silly characters was written as a way of decrying racism rather than fostering it.

Actually, I would not be surprised if we are already at that point, given things one sees and hears these days. True to form, in the fall of 2020 at Bard College, freshmen began a campaign of shaming against a professor who read out not the word n—– [McWhorter used the full word, but you sure won’t catch me doing that] but Negro in a discussion of Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail. The new idea is that even that word is profane, in being an outdated one black people no longer consider appropriate. The pretended inability to distinguish between the abusive and the antique is an indication that 2020 had been a Sunday School in Electism for these kids. They are showing that they have learned their lesson in suspending basic intelligence in favor of virtue signalling, in the face of something that would not matter a whit to most black people themselves…

Many ask why black people give whites the power to harm us so easily with this word. I for one have never and never will see it as a badge of strength to announce to white America that uttering a sequence of sounds will send me into therapy. I’d be embarrassed if it did, and that is what I call Black Power.

But I know I am missing the point. This performative transformation of the N-word into a taboo term affords a kind of power: black Elects get a way of getting back at whites by destroying their careers; white Elects spectating get to show they aren’t racists by cheering on the witch-hunting. To these people all of this feels healthy, active, restoring, noble.

But the problem is that while it may feel that way to them, to the rest of us – among whom are legions of thoroughly reasonable, intelligent, concerned, and sensitive persons of all races  – this new take on the N-word looks paranoid, fake, and mean.

What kind of antiracism is that?

13) I haven’t actually read all of this, but everybody sure does love it, “‘I’d Never Been Involved in Anything as Secret as This’ The plan to kill Osama bin Laden—from the spycraft to the assault to its bizarre political backdrop—as told by the people in the room.”

14) I’m not sure that the correct response from the CDC from being overly-cautious is to now be overly aggressive.  My take is that universal public indoor masking should be expected until all adults who want to be fully vaccinated have had the chance to be fully vaccinated, and, realistically, we’re talking about some time in June for that.  As, usual, I think Zeynep is right, “Maybe We Need Masks Indoors Just a Bit Longer”

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say it did not believe that fully vaccinated people needed to wear masks or distance indoors or out, with a few exceptions, like when using public transportation.

It’s difficult for officials to issue rules as conditions evolve and uncertainty continues. So I hesitate to question the agency’s approach. But it’s not clear whether it was responding to scientific evidence or public clamor to lift state and local mandates, which the C.D.C. said could remain in place.

It might have been better to have kept up indoor mask mandates to help suppress the virus for maybe as little as a few more weeks.

The C.D.C. could have set metrics to measure such progress, saying that guidelines would be maintained until the number of cases or the number vaccinations reached a certain level, determined by epidemiologists…

Telling everyone to wear masks indoors has a sociological effect. Grocery stores and workplaces cannot enforce mask wearing by vaccination status. We do not have vaccine passports in the U.S., and I do not see how we could. Places can either say “wear a mask regardless” or just accept that people who don’t want to wear one will not…

Even if the only people not protected by the vaccines were those hesitant to use them or who had false beliefs about them, public health principles would not allow us to say that any threat to their health is their problem, at least not while the virus is still spreading at substantive levels. Infectious diseases create risks for others.

There are those who are not yet vaccinated because they haven’t managed to navigate the process, or have started late, or are concerned because of bad experiences with the medical establishment. The immunocompromised remain vulnerable. Even if the unvaccinated were all conspiracy theorists and dead-end anti-vaxxers, we would need to take virus levels into account before discounting the risks even to them.

Plus, Covid-19 can still terribly burden our health resources, especially in those areas that still have many unvaccinated adults.

The C.D.C. guidelines are essentially implying that the risk that the vaccinated will transmit the virus to others, including their unvaccinated children, is so vanishingly low that it is not worth worrying about. But if that’s their position, they should state it clearly and explain it, not just say that “fully vaccinated people have a reduced risk of transmitting” the virus.

And is the expectation that the unvaccinated will all simply go with the guidance and stay masked? That does not fit with what we’ve observed in this country over the past year, especially with the ongoing polarization over these questions.

 

How did disease transmission experts get it so  wrong?

It’s been a while since I’ve written much about droplet versus aerosol transmission.  In large part because the science is clearly very much settled in favor of the substantial majority of transmission coming from inhaled aerosols.  In fact, there’s pretty much no actual evidence for straight-up droplet transmission.  I’m amazed at the aerosol people on twitter, though, who for months have just kept hammering on this because, some how, there’s actually scientists out there still insisting on droplets.  I’ve been telling people that it would be if there was some group of us political scientists who were saying, “party ID is really important for understanding politics” and there was some received wisdom where people just refused to accept this.

Anyway, nobody better to write about what went wrong here than Zeynep in the article she was born to write.  You should read it all because it’s really a fascinating story of “how can science go so wrong?”, but here’s some key parts:

Why did it take so long to understand all this?

One reason is that our institutions weren’t necessarily set up to deal with what we faced. For example, the W.H.O.’s Infection Prevention and Control (I.P.C.) global unit primarily concentrates on health care facilities. Many of the experts they enlisted to form the Covid-19 I.P.C. Guidance Development Group were hospital-focused, and some of them specialized in antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections that can spread wildly in health care facilities when medical personnel fail to regularly wash their hands. So this focus made sense in a prepandemic world. Hospitals employ trained health care workers and are fairly controlled, well-defined settings, with different considerations from those of a pandemic across many environments in the real world. Further, in some countries like the United States, they tend to have extensive engineering controls to dampen infections, involving aggressive air-exchange standards, almost like being outdoors. This is the opposite of modern office and even residential buildings, which tend to be more sealed for energy efficiency. In such a medical environment, hand hygiene is a more important consideration, since ventilation is taken care of.

Another dynamic we’ve seen is something that is not unheard-of in the history of science: setting a higher standard of proof for theories that challenge conventional wisdom than for those that support it…

The skepticism about airborne transmission is at odds with the acceptance of droplet transmission. Dr. Marr and Joseph Allen, the director of the Healthy Buildings program and an associate professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told me that droplet transmission has never been directly demonstrated. Since Dr. Chapin, close-distance transmission has been seen as proof of droplets unless disproved through much effort, as was finally done for tuberculosis.

Another key problem is that, understandably, we find it harder to walk things back. It is easier to keep adding exceptions and justifications to a belief than to admit that a challenger has a better explanation.

The ancients believed that all celestial objects revolved around the earth in circular orbits. When it became clear that the observed behavior of the celestial objects did not fit this assumption, those astronomers produced ever-more-complex charts by adding epicycles — intersecting arcs and circles — to fit the heavens to their beliefs.

God, how I love that epicycles analogy.  That’s exactly what we’ve been seeing with the mental contortions to pretend that droplets are the primary form of transmission.  

In a contemporary example of this attitude, the initial public health report on the Mount Vernon choir case said that it may have been caused by people “sitting close to one another, sharing snacks and stacking chairs at the end of the practice,” even though almost 90 percent of the people there developed symptoms of Covid-19. Shelly Miller, an aerosol expert at the University of Colorado Boulder, was so struck by the incident that she initiated a study with a team of scientists, documenting that the space was less full than usual, allowing for increased distance, that nobody reported touching anyone else, that hand sanitizer was used and that only three people who had arrived early arranged the chairs. There was no spatial pattern to the transmission, implicating airflows, and there was nobody within nine feet in front of the first known case, who had mild symptoms.

Galileo is said to have murmured, “And yet it moves,” after he was forced to recant his theory that the earth moved around the sun. Scientists who studied bioaerosols could only say, “And yet it floats.”

So much of what we have done throughout the pandemic — the excessive hygiene theater and the failure to integrate ventilation and filters into our basic advice — has greatly hampered our response. Some of it, like the way we underused or even shut down outdoor space, isn’t that different from the 19th-century Londoners who flushed the source of their foul air into the Thames and made the cholera epidemic worse.

Anyway, so much more good stuff in the article.  Well worth your time.  And, on the whole how exactly did we go so wrong on aerosol vs droplets, the most epic twitter thread I’ve ever made it all the way through from Jose-Luiz Jimenez explaining how this all went wrong.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really, really liked this from Yglesias on how young college-educated liberals are in a self-reinforcing bubble that drives the Democrats left in ways that hurt electoral competitiveness:

Twenty years ago, the gap in educational attainment and age between voters and staffers probably didn’t matter much because there was no systematic correlation between these factors and ideology.

Flash forward to 2020 and that’s not true anymore. Almost all of the work in politics — meaning not just campaigns, but congressional staff, advocacy groups, nonprofits, political media, etc. — is still being done by young college grads, but young college grads are way more left-wing than the median voter.1

This creates an important asymmetry. The natural demographic and sociological biases of conservative movement staffers tend to temper the cultural attitudes of the GOP base vote. But the natural demographic and sociological biases of progressive movement staffers, by contrast, pull them away from the median voter and toward the extremes. This can be a particular problem because of group polarization. If a group of young college graduates who start off with ideas to the left of the population median discusses something amongst themselves, they are likely to shift their views even further to the left…

I think that the clearest examples of this normally come from language and usage questions.

Carville cited the jargon term “Latinx” as his example of choice and it’s one that I’ve used myself. People then naturally question how much usage choice could really impact electoral politics, and I agree that it’s a little far-fetched. To me, the main utility of linguistic examples is they are highly visible and countable manifestations of group dynamics. If an organization has settled on “Latinx,” that is a sign that its internal culture is highly influenced by the norms of young college graduates. But I think the biggest issues are conceptual and substantive.

A contrast: talking about economics

Now to be clear, it is perfectly natural for political and policy debates to be shaped by academic work.

But here’s a useful contrast where I don’t think anyone goes in for “faculty lounge politics” — redistribution. In college, I learned of two main theoretical justifications for redistributive politics. There’s a utilitarian argument grounded in the declining marginal value of money, and there’s the Rawlsian argument about the difference principle and maximin. These are not particularly obscure ideas, and I bet a very large share of the people who work in progressive politics professionally could explain the policies they advocate for in these terms if they wanted to.

In practice, though, nobody does that. No elected official that I can think of tweets about progressive taxation as if they are trying to impress their professor. There’s an academic world and there’s a “talking in the real world” world, and though the worlds influence each other, they are separate. It’s very common for practical policymakers in the economics arena to have academic backgrounds, but one of the skills you are expected to master if you want to make that transition is the communication of ideas without making reference to declining marginal utility.

Not only does everyone understand that it would be dumb to try to communicate to the mass public in those terms, but also nobody mistakes this for saying that we shouldn’t talk about the policy issues that concerned Rawls or that motivate the utilitarian case for redistribution.

The problems with trying to practice faculty lounge politics in this area would be three-fold. One, it is simply not highly accessible to most people, especially to the persuadable or sporadic voters with who politicians are most interested in communicating. Second, the nature of academic work is that it incentivizes people to find hair-splitting realms of disagreement, whereas majoritarian politics involves assembling a big baggy coalition. You don’t want to commit yourself to a hyper-specific theoretical paradigm — you want to get a lot of people thinking you’re roughly on the right track. Last but not least, academic ideas tend to get a little extreme. You start with the observation that Bill Gates won’t miss $3,000 that could be life-changing to a single mom struggling to make the rent, and next thing you know you’re Peter Unger writing “Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence” and saying you’re a bad person if you splurge on a Mother’s Day present when that money could have done so much more good in Africa.

That’s not a critique of Unger, by the way. I try in my writing and in my personal practice to cultivate a more altruistic, more cosmopolitan view of the world, and it’s not his job to be politically palatable. But at the end of the day, you can’t take the politics out of politics…

I happened to be in Elizabeth Warren’s Senate office when she’d just described “the hard truth about our criminal justice system: It’s racist … front to back.” This brought her tons of criticism from police chiefs who felt she was insulting them and their officers. I heard a poor staffer on the phone explaining that Warren was saying the criminal justice system disproportionately punishes Black people, not that every single police officer holds bigoted sentiments against Black people.

Of course, to me, it was obvious what she meant.

But Warren, who was literally a professor for most of her career before becoming a politician, ended up with an electoral coalition that was overwhelmingly tilted to highly educated people. I think it’s probably also not coincidental that Massachusetts is the most educated state in the union. If the population demographics of Massachusetts were typical of the United States, then a strategy of recruiting a lot of unusually charismatic professors to run for office would make a lot of sense. But it’s actually an extreme outlier state, and what works there isn’t going to work at large unless you are very deliberate about it.

Yet I think one feature of the BA bubble is that it actually makes it somewhat hard to identify and address weaknesses.

Warren’s problem was clearly an across-the-board lack of appeal to less-educated people. The campaign conceptualized this as a weakness with African Americans that they tried to address with a successful campaign to court Black activists. But these activists, much younger and better educated than the Black primary electorate, turned out to have no sway with the voters she was seeking. I heard a lot that her real problem was sexism, but the fact is she did better with college-educated men than with non-college women.

Of course, as I learned in my women’s studies class at college, just because a view is widely held by women doesn’t mean it’s not in some sense sexist or about gender. But again, I think the faculty lounge insight that views of Warren have something to do with ideas about gender roles mostly just served to obscure the kind of basic point that non-college Democrats — white, Black, men, women, everyone — weren’t on board, and it would be wise to try to address that.

2) And let’s follow that up with Chait, “Elizabeth Warren’s Book Shows She Has No Idea Why Her Campaign Failed”

But sexism alone has a hard time explaining why Warren took the lead in national polls of primary voters before collapsing in the fall of 2019. Surely, the reason many of the voters who were prepared to nominate her changed their mind is not that they learned her gender.

Warren’s account ignores the possibility that her campaign simply misjudged the electorate, both within the party and outside it. As a result, she positioned herself too far left, which not only cost her support among Democrats, but created well-founded concerns — even among Democrats who liked her ideas — about her ability to beat Trump. (I was one of those voters. My initial enthusiasm for her candidacy gave way to dismay at her apparent lack of political savvy.) Perhaps she would have lost no matter what she did, but her strategic choices seem to have hurt her chances in ways she does not acknowledge.

At the outset of her campaign, Warren staked her ground closer to the ideological center of the party. She labeled herself “capitalist to my bones,” pledged to avoid any tax increases on the middle class, and emphasized her interest in reforming the most dangerous and antisocial corporate behavior. This was in keeping with Warren’s identity as a former Republican who had been inspired to join public life in response to egregious abuses of the financial system.

Yet the competition with Sanders pulled her farther and farther left. Not only did she join other candidates in endorsing highly unpopular proposals like completely decriminalizing border enforcement and providing subsidized health insurance to undocumented immigrants, but she continued to load new program after new program onto her platform.

The biggest trouble came in her decision to junk her health-care plan. Warren initially promised to bring about universal health insurance by building on Obamacare. In 2019, she decided to join Sanders by endorsing Medicare for All. Bringing 150 million people currently covered by employer health insurance onto government rolls, increasing the federal budget by more than half, would make it impossible for her to keep her promise not to raise taxes on the middle class.

Warren does briefly describe a damaging debate in which other candidates piled on the questionable math assumptions undergirding her plans. She doesn’t consider that her own decision to abandon her original health-care plan put her in a position where those questions were so easy to ask and so difficult to answer.

In February 2020, at a moment Biden’s campaign was bottoming out, Perry Bacon astutely noted that the balance of power within the Democratic primary was held by voters with “somewhat liberal” views. Warren’s campaign, though, has spent a year sprinting away from those voters, as if the party was actually torn between social democracy and democratic socialism.

Warren shares her obvious pride at her refusal to accept large donations, which steered her toward a mass donor base that eventually raised well over $100 million. This strategy, Warren argues, freed her from having to cater to the views of wealthy funders. She fails to consider the possibility that the need to constantly excite her small donor base with a constant string of new progressive announcements may have entrapped her in a different way.

The most painfully oblivious sections are when Warren describes her efforts to woo Black and Latino activists, whose endorsements she equates with wooing those communities as a whole. After one speech about racism, she exults, “the Washington Post said it was the speech Black activists had been waiting for.” The release of her cutting-edge progressive criminal-justice plan “got a good reception” from an activist, whose approving tweet she quotes with satisfaction. Her endorsement by “Black Womxn For” is a moment of triumph in the narrative.

Despite the extensive detail of her hard work to win over activists, she shows no measures of broader Black sentiment. In February 2020, New York Times reporter Astead Herndon detailed how Warren’s success with Black and Latino political activists had yielded barely any support among actual Black and Latino voters. Warren’s strategy, noted Herndon, revealed “the limits of using the language of progressive activists to speak to a Black community that is more ideologically diverse.”

That disconnect became even more starkly evident the following November when Trump made shocking gains with conservative-leaning Black and Latino voters. That result produced a searching examination of the disconnect between the increasingly left-wing cadre of young, college-educated activists on the left and its voters, especially the party’s disproportionately Black and brown moderate wing.

3) This is definitely not great, “‘Belonging Is Stronger Than Facts’: The Age of Misinformation: Social and psychological forces are combining to make the sharing and believing of misinformation an endemic problem with no easy solution.”

There’s a decent chance you’ve had at least one of these rumors, all false, relayed to you as fact recently: that President Biden plans to force Americans to eat less meat; that Virginia is eliminating advanced math in schools to advance racial equality; and that border officials are mass-purchasing copies of Vice President Kamala Harris’s book to hand out to refugee children.

All were amplified by partisan actors. But you’re just as likely, if not more so, to have heard it relayed from someone you know. And you may have noticed that these cycles of falsehood-fueled outrage keep recurring.

We are in an era of endemic misinformation — and outright disinformation. Plenty of bad actors are helping the trend along. But the real drivers, some experts believe, are social and psychological forces that make people prone to sharing and believing misinformation in the first place. And those forces are on the rise.

“Why are misperceptions about contentious issues in politics and science seemingly so persistent and difficult to correct?” Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth College political scientist, posed in a new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It’s not for want of good information, which is ubiquitous. Exposure to good information does not reliably instill accurate beliefs anyway. Rather, Dr. Nyhan writes, a growing body of evidence suggests that the ultimate culprits are “cognitive and memory limitations, directional motivations to defend or support some group identity or existing belief, and messages from other people and political elites.”

Put more simply, people become more prone to misinformation when three things happen. First, and perhaps most important, is when conditions in society make people feel a greater need for what social scientists call ingrouping — a belief that their social identity is a source of strength and superiority, and that other groups can be blamed for their problems.

As much as we like to think of ourselves as rational beings who put truth-seeking above all else, we are social animals wired for survival. In times of perceived conflict or social change, we seek security in groups. And that makes us eager to consume information, true or not, that lets us see the world as a conflict putting our righteous ingroup against a nefarious outgroup.

Framing everything as a grand conflict against scheming enemies can feel enormously reassuring. And that’s why perhaps the greatest culprit of our era of misinformation may be, more than any one particular misinformer, the era-defining rise in social polarization.

Growing hostility between the two halves of America feeds social distrust, which makes people more prone to rumor and falsehood. It also makes people cling much more tightly to their partisan identities. And once our brains switch into “identity-based conflict” mode, we become desperately hungry for information that will affirm that sense of us versus them, and much less concerned about things like truth or accuracy.

4) For the truly polling minded of you, this report from Data for Progress is an absolute must-read.

In the week before the 2020 general election, Data for Progress conducted polling in 15 states with best-in-class accuracy. As we analyze our performance we’ve drawn three important conclusions:

  • Partisan Nonresponse and Activist Overrepresentation: Conservative white voters are opting out of polling, while liberal voters are disproportionately opting in, creating an underlying bias in our respondent pools. We also have evidence that liberal partisan activists are systematically overrepresented in our surveys.

  • Geographic Heterogeneity in Respondents: There are substantial differences between urban and rural white voters in terms of likelihood of voting Biden in 2020 or switching from Trump to Biden. Respondents living in zip codes which display the most firm Trump support are less likely to respond to polls — even when you control for their partisanship and other demographics.

  • Geographic Heterogeneity in Electoral Performance: Biden overperformed House Democratic candidates in heavily white suburban and urban counties, and underperformed them in rural counties that were majority non-white.

5) And here’s the NYT version:

After the 2016 election, when pollsters underestimated Donald Trump’s support in many key states, post-mortem reports indicated that firms had often failed to account for the differences between white voters with and without college degrees.

“Weighting” data by education — that is, making sure that a survey had the right level of representation across education levels, particularly within racial groups — was cemented as standard operating procedure.

But the Data for Progress team has found that this may not be enough. Its report showed significant, consistent differences within education groups that had an effect on whom they reached. Not all white conservative voters with college degrees will vote similarly — and not all of them will be equally likely to respond to a survey.

A particularly big factor was where people lived: The team found that a respondent’s social environment — who their neighbors are — may matter more than their educational level.

In particular, Fischer said: “There are substantial differences among white conservatives that we aren’t picking up on. A college-educated white Republican in a rural, consistently Trump-supporting ZIP code is different from one in an urban or Biden-supporting ZIP code.”

“We’re hearing from more of the Biden-supporting ZIP codes, and less of the non-Biden-supporting ones,” he added. “And because of that, we can’t just weight by education and expect that to be solved.”

6) Okay, something positive, “Dare we hope? Here’s my cautious case for climate optimism”

The organization Carbon Tracker, whose reports are usually somber reading, just put out a report so stunning the word encouraging is hardly adequate. In sum, current technology could produce a hundred times as much electricity from solar and wind as current global demand; prices on solar continue to drop rapidly and dramatically; and the land required to produce all this energy would take less than is currently given over to fossil fuels. It is a vision of a completely different planet, because if you change how we produce energy you change our geopolitics – for the better – and clean our air and renew our future. The report concludes: “The technical and economic barriers have been crossed and the only impediment to change is political.” Those barriers seemed insurmountable at the end of the last millennium.

7) I gotta say, at this point in the pandemic I agree with the school systems taking a less rigorous approach towards school quarantines.  

8) Good (and depressing/disturbing) summary from 538, “Advantage, GOP: Why Democrats have to win large majorities in order to govern while Republicans don’t need majorities at all” This is going into a syllabus or two:

For a variety of reasons — some long-standing, some intentional, others newer or incidental — the political institutions that make up the field of American politics are

Take the Senate. Republicans currently hold half of the seats in that chamber even though they represent just 43 percent of the U.S. And it’s not just the Senate — the Electoral College, the House of Representatives and state legislatures are all tilted in favor of the GOP. As a result, it’s possible for Republicans to wield levers of government without winning a plurality of the vote. More than possible, in fact — it’s already happened, over and over and over again. 

Minority rule has always been possible in the U.S., as we saw during the Jim Crow era, when white people manipulated elections and obstructed Congress in order to suppress the rights of a Black majority in many Southern states. The founders purposely designed many of our federal institutions to only indirectly reflect the will of the people — in political science lingo, they made them “counter-majoritarian.”

And for most of our nation’s history those minority protections helped both parties in roughly equal measure. In other words, to revisit our tennis game analogy, the two players regularly switched sides of the court, but now, that isn’t the case. 

Instead, according to political scientist Rob Mickey and author of “Paths Out of Dixie,” a book about enduring antidemocratic rule in Southern states, our institutions are now being “weaponized and used … by a coherent set of actors with a coherent set of interests and preferences” — the modern GOP. Increasingly seeing the appeal of minority rule as demographic change shrinks the voting power of their heavily white coalition, Republican leaders are using their institutional leg up to try and take steps — like enacting voting restrictions, but also attempting to undermine the results of popular elections — that entrench their advantage even more solidly. And because these institutions interact to shape the game, its rules and its arbiters, they reinforce one another in an antidemocratic feedback loop. In this way, institutions that have long kept our democracy balanced are now threatening to unravel it.

It may seem dramatic to suggest that Republicans are overriding democracy to win power when Democrats currently control all three elected legs of the federal government: the presidency, Senate and House. But in order to secure them, Democrats had to go above and beyond winning a simple majority of votes, like a tennis player having to ace all of her serves on a particularly windy day.

By now, Democrats’ disadvantage in the Electoral College is well-documented. President Joe Biden won the national popular vote by 4.5 percentage points, yet he won Wisconsin — the state that gave him his decisive 270th electoral vote1 — by only 0.6 points. In other words, Biden needed to beat former President Donald Trump nationally by more than 3.8 points2 in order to win the White House outright. (However, Trump wouldn’t have won outright unless Biden had won the popular vote by fewer than 3.2 points, thus losing Pennsylvania as well.3 The Electoral College’s Republican bias in 2020 thus averaged out to 3.5 points — but either way, it’s the most out of sync the Electoral College has been with the popular vote since 1948.)

9) Loved this bit of social science research.  I need to figure out how to incorporate this into my own research, “The Salience of Children Increases Adult Prosocial Values”

Organizations often put children front and center in campaigns to elicit interest and support for prosocial causes. Such initiatives raise a key theoretical and applied question that has yet to be addressed directly: Does the salience of children increase prosocial motivation and behavior in adults? We present findings aggregated across eight experiments involving 2,054 adult participants: Prosocial values became more important after completing tasks that made children salient compared to tasks that made adults (or a mundane event) salient or compared to a no-task baseline. An additional field study showed that adults were more likely to donate money to a child-unrelated cause when children were more salient on a shopping street. The findings suggest broad, reliable interconnections between human mental representations of children and prosocial motives, as the child salience effect was not moderated by participants’ gender, age, attitudes, or contact with children.

10) I really hate calling things violence that aren’t actually violence.  Thus, I really liked this in Persuasion, “Silence Isn’t Violence: There’s a better way to stand up for justice than to punish those who aren’t quick to condemn.”

“Silence is violence,” goes the slogan. But what is the right response when someone says something so offensive that it deserves to be condemned? And what is the right response to someone who fails to condemn, but they or others wish they had?

In a well-reported episode from March, Sandra Sellers, a Georgetown Law professor, was fired after comments she made to a colleague over Zoom about Black students’ performance in her class went viral. The colleague, David Batson, lost his job as well: He left because, as he wrote in his resignation letter, he “missed the chance to respond in a more direct manner to address the inappropriate content of those remarks.”

“This experience has provided me, and I hope others, an invaluable opportunity to reconsider what actions should be taken when we encounter insensitive remarks,” Batson wrote.

If this is now the standard, I wonder who among us will be capable of living up to it, and what the cost will be.

Self-censorship, in the academy and elsewhere, is a legitimately worrisome phenomenon. People fear punishment for saying the wrong thing. But this new wrinkle—the impulse to compel speech, and the resulting fear of being punished for not speaking up—is just as worrisome.


There are plenty of reasons why someone might fail to condemn offensive remarks in the moment. One is “tonic immobility,” the feeling of being frozen in stressful situations. It’s cousin to the more familiar “fight-or-flight” stress responses that are triggered in the amygdala, one of the oldest parts of our brain. The freeze response is another involuntary defense mechanism we’ve inherited from our evolutionary past.

The problem is that the lesson professors and other professionals will take away from the Georgetown Law episode is that the freeze response can end one’s career. The episode also teaches that there’s nothing to be gained by taking the time to think through a response or quietly correct a colleague: Better to pull the pin out of the hand grenade.

But in order to be ready to condemn, we’d have to walk through the day ready for confrontation—anticipating that at any moment we will have good reason to condemn. That is no way to live. Yet increasingly, readiness to condemn seems to be what people expect of themselves and others. As we demand that people have ripostes at the ready, it means we’re entering conversations armed, our words sharpened, weaponized. Like jacked-up warriors, we’re almost disappointed if we don’t encounter something worthy of condemnation.

Of course, there are circumstances when the failure to condemn is itself a legitimate target for condemnation. The former president’s failures to condemn white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 and those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 spring to mind. He had time and a cadre of advisers to help him think through what he might say. As a person with tremendous political power and cultural influence whose words might have prevented violence, he had a moral duty to condemn.

But in our daily conversations as ordinary citizens, we can afford a more forgiving standard. In fact, we need a more forgiving standard if we are to rebuild the social trust that has been in such sharp decline.

11) It’s getting hot in here, “NOAA unveils new U.S. climate ‘normals’ that are warmer than ever”

12) Fair take from Drum on Fox, “Rupert Murdoch Has Destroyed the Country, Part 753”

It is natural that Democrats trust the government more when a Democrat is president while Republicans trust government more when a Republican is president. However, a new study confirms something we’ve seen before: Republicans are far more partisan than Democrats. Here’s the basic chart, helpfully colorized by me:

This partisan difference among Republicans became even larger starting in the Bush era:

This is yet another demonstration of the malignant effect of Fox News. Before 2000, Republicans were somewhat more partisan than Democrats in their trust of government. After 2000 they went absolutely bonkers. This is what Rupert Murdoch has done to us.

13) I liked this from Yglesias on vaccinations, “We should get people vaccinated against Covid-19: The case for a serious, whole-of-government effort”

Make the vaccine mandatory

There’s obviously not going to be a national rule that everyone has to get a Covid vaccine.

But the maps of states that require an MMR or DTaP vaccine for kids to go to school are really boring because all 50 states require it.

This is a state rather than a federal issue. But we now have a vaccine authorized for use in kids as young as 12, and Pfizer is talking about getting authorization for kids as young as two by September. Biden’s Education Department can encourage states to add the Covid vaccine to their requirement list, and can also just flip to straightforwardly agreeing with Republicans about school openings, emphasizing that if teachers are worried about Covid, they should get vaccinated.

Over 100 colleges are already requiring Covid vaccinations, and university administrators tend to be the kind of people who care what Democratic Party presidents say, and Biden should encourage more to do that.

Biden can also clarify that while employers need to accommodate people with bona fide religious or medical reasons to avoid vaccination, requiring vaccination as a condition of employment is allowed. My guess is most employers won’t do that, but it’s common for healthcare facilities to require staff to get flu shots, and it would be reasonable to do the same for Covid shots.

Covid-19 was the leading cause of death among police officers last year, yet vaccination rates among police officers are very low.

“I hate to sound like I don’t care, but I really don’t,” one union rep told The Washington Post.

Well, I care whether cops die on the job and I also care whether they spread illness among the public. The International Association of Police Chiefs says it’s legal for departments to mandate vaccination, and blue states and cities should go forward with that. If the officers that are so brain-poisoned by right-wing politics that they won’t take a vaccine choose to resign, that’s not the worst thing either.

Last but by no means least, the military requires all kinds of vaccinations but has not yet made the Covid vaccine mandatory. I think that was a damaging decision. Vaccine refusal rates in the military appear to be high, and I’m honestly not surprised. Military officers order soldiers to take vaccines all the time. And they also order soldiers to do dangerous things all the time. Given the nature of the military setting, failure to mandate the vaccine signals some kind of profound lack of confidence. And I worry it could emanate out from the service members to their friends and family on the civilian side. If we want people vaccinated, we should require vaccination where plausible.

Substance over process

Now what people say about all this is the military “can’t” mandate a vaccine that’s only available under Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. I’ve also heard that some public colleges and universities are worried about litigation here, though others say that’s nonsense. Certainly it’s not stopping Rutgers.

Be that as it may, I am not an attorney, so don’t take legal advice from me.

To me, the key thing is that Biden needs to set a substantive goal and then bend the process to that end. If we want people to take the vaccine, then either make exceptions to the rules that require full authorization or else get the full authorization done. It’s a bit absurd that we don’t have a nominee to run the FDA while we’re in the middle of a huge global public health crisis, but this issue is frankly too big to be left up to process-focused career civil servants. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, and neither is Biden.

But at a certain point, Biden needs to decide whether he trusts the scientific and medical advice he is being given. From everything I understand, the vaccines are safe and effective and people should be encouraged to take them. Biden also appears to have been told that and believes that it is true. It’s not his job as President of the United States to make the regulatory agencies believe as if they believe themselves on this subject…

Vaccinate America’s kids

The New York Times article about likely FDA approval of vaccinating teenagers contained this nugget that I thought was revelatory:

“I do think we need to have a national and global conversation about the ethics of our vaccinating kids, who are low risk for serious complications from the virus, when there aren’t enough vaccines in the world to protect high-risk adults from dying,” said Jennifer B. Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Now Joe Biden is a politician. And he’s a pretty good one. He didn’t get where he is by telling mothers to deprioritize their children’s health in order to help foreigners. That’s not going to be the policy of his administration, nor would it be the policy of any administration.

He has to be aware, though, that many well-credentialed public health experts think that’s immoral. But those experts are conversely aware, of course, that “no American teens can get vaccinated until we’ve hit every person in the developing world over 50” is not a rule that will fly in the basic American political context. The experts will look at me ranting and raving about how the only CDC guidance about summer camps should be vaccinate the older kids and the staff and they’ll say “well, it wouldn’t actually be the worst thing in the world if a lot of Republicans decided not to vaccinate their children.”

To some extent they’re right — you wouldn’t want to waste shots by mandating them for middle school and high school students next fall when we could be shipping that medicine to Indonesia. The problem is then those same people are going to point to the existence of continued Covid infections and millions of unvaccinated children as the reason various mandates and warnings need to stay in place.

It’s going to take real leadership to say, no, we are not going to do that. We are taking Covid seriously and our strategy to beat it is to vaccinate, and we are going to vaccinate everyone. Give Covax all the money in the world. Global vaccination should absolutely be the Biden administration’s number two priority — but that means pursuing it primarily by trying to boost vaccine production. The number one priority has to be pulling every lever possible to vaccinate as many Americans as possible.

14) Why am I so pro-vaccine?

15) OMG I love this experiment.  The twitter thread provides very nice details.  And I love that the person who I first saw re-tweeting it accurately summed up that this is why we see all the (misguided) beach shaming.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Bernstein:

You want to know something really depressing? Now is the time when Republicans have the least to fear from former President Donald Trump. There’s more than a year to go until the 2022 midterm elections, and at least 10 months until the primaries for those elections. Trump left office at one of his low points in popularity. Sure, most Republican voters still like him — as most Republicans like most Republican politicians (other than congressional leaders, who are almost always unpopular).

Not only that, but Trump’s electoral defeat is still fairly recent news. If there was ever a time to move away from him, it’s now.

That, of course, is not what’s happening. Just in the last few days, angry Utah Republicans hooted at Senator Mitt Romney, who voted to remove Trump from office after his impeachment trials. Over in the House of Representatives, Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming is apparently in danger (again) of losing her leadership post because she insists on accurately saying that Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election. And believing — or at least pretending to believe — Trump’s fantastic lies about nonexistent voting fraud is increasingly the central belief Republican elected officials must share

My guess is that this has little to do with Trump. Republican complaints about fictional election fraud were central to their legislative agenda in state after state well before Trump’s 2016 campaign. It’s true that the specifics of that agenda have shifted somewhat in response to Trump’s whining. What that shows more than anything, however, is that attempts to hijack elections may only be the secondary motive for these laws; the primary reason for them is for Republican elected officials to convince their strongest supporters that they are doing their best to repress Democrats and various Democratic groups. 

That’s why fictional election fraud is such a good issue for many Republicans right now. Opposing Biden and the Democratic legislative agenda, after all, would tend to unite the party. But a united Republican Party is the last thing that Republican radicals want. They need enemies; they need apostates they can label “Republicans in name only” to prove that they are the true conservatives. The Jan. 6 Capitol riot and Trump’s continuing lies are so obviously an attack on the Constitution, the rule of law and the American republic that Republicans such as Romney and Cheney refused to go along. For the radicals, that’s exactly the kind of opportunity they rarely fail to exploit.

It’s possible, but unlikely, that any of this will seriously damage Republicans in 2022 and 2024. Elections tend to ride on what voters think about incumbents, not challengers. There is a slim possibility that the party will split and make itself unelectable. And there’s a somewhat greater chance that it will wind up throwing away a handful of elections by nominating candidates who run well behind what a generic candidate would do, as it’s done repeatedly over the last decade. For the most part, however, the out-party’s actions don’t have much to do with its electoral success.

The real damage continues to be to the party’s capacity to govern when it does win. And, even more seriously, to the party’s commitment to core democratic beliefs and procedures. Depressing, indeed — and scary.

2) Yeah, so this… “Experts: CDC’s Summer-Camp Rules Are ‘Cruel’ and ‘Irrational’”

With all this good news related to the pandemic in the U.S. and the relaxing of a number of controls, the CDC’s newly released guidance for summer camps is notable for its rigidity and strictness: Masks must be worn at all times, even outdoors, by everyone, including vaccinated adults and children as young as 2 years old. The exceptions are for eating and swimming. (The guidance helpfully notes that if a person is having trouble breathing or is unconscious, no mask need be worn.) Campers must remain three feet apart from each other at all times including, again, outdoors. Six feet of distance must be maintained during meals and between campers and staff. If you need to sneeze and you don’t have a tissue, do it into your mask. (Children presumably are expected to carry a cache of spares.) Campers and staff should be cohorted, and any interaction with a person outside the cohort must be conducted at a distance of six feet. Art supplies, toys, books, and games are not to be shared…

For much of last summer, when COVID-19 rates were on par with where they are now — before half the adult population was vaccinated and millions of children had acquired immunity naturally — many camps had far fewer restrictions and there was no corresponding wave of related outbreaks.

The combination of masking and social distancing of children outdoors, said Dimitri Christakis, an epidemiologist and the editor-in-chief of JAMA Pediatrics, the leading journal for pediatric medicine, “is unfairly draconian.” We should let kids be close and play, he said. And with rapid testing twice a week on a rolling basis, a relatively easy program to conduct, he added, we should be able to forgo masks. Even without testing, Christakis said that sports like soccer should be able to be done without masks. And that “keeping children masked for activities like baseball and tennis is ridiculous.”

Mark Gorelik, a pediatric immunologist at Columbia University and an expert on MIS-C, the rare COVID-19-related inflammatory syndrome, said, “We know that the risk of outdoor infection is very low. We know risks of children becoming seriously ill or even ill at all is vanishingly small. And most of the vulnerable population is already vaccinated. I am supportive of effective measures to restrain the spread of illness. However, the CDC’s recommendations cross the line into excess and are, frankly, senseless. Children cannot be running around outside in 90-degree weather wearing a mask. Period.”

An infectious-disease scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci’s agency, spoke with me about the CDC guidance on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. “With staff and parents vaccinated, there is no reason to continue incredibly strict mitigation efforts or put severe limitations on activities,” they said. “Charitably,” the scientist, who has an expertise in respiratory viruses, continued, “masking kids at camp outdoors is simply virtue signaling. Requiring kids to continuously wear masks at camps, even while outside playing in the heat, when it provides little additional protection is unfair and cruel to our children. Considering that children are at incredibly low risk for developing severe illness, the minimal benefits of mask wearing do not outweigh the substantial costs of discouraging children to be active and their overall health.

3) We’re doing some survey experiments with some cool PSA’s we made.  Check out this one.  At the end of the survey there’s an option for open-ended feedback.  This one was just amazing:

In case you’re wondering.  I’m not getting the vaccine any time soon because I’m pissed off about the government lockdowns and the blatant lying by the CDC, and Fauci, about the actual research studies that prompted the state mandated lockdowns.  Refusing to get the vaccine is the only thing that I have control over in this whole unconstitutional situation.  So even though I compleley trust the vaccines, and I believe that they work remarkably well, and that refusing to get the vaccine is not in my best interest nor in the best interest of society as a whole, I am still going to say no.  I’ll get the vaccine when I’m done being pissed off.

4) Speaking of vaccines, I’m so tired of the media trying to scare people about variants for clicks when the reality is more like this, “Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine is Highly Effective Against Variants, Studies Find: Two studies showed the vaccine to be more than 95 percent effective at protecting against severe disease or death from the variants first identified in South Africa and the U.K.”

5) Given the current reality, I’d be disappointed if my or my kid’s university was doing on-line only graduation.  NC State is doing multiple outdoor graduations.  I am disappointed, though, that the PS ceremony where we get to see our graduates and meet their families is not happening.  

6) The lost Franklin expedition of 1845 is fascinating.  I’ve not watched AMC’s The Terror, but read Dan Simmon’s novel upon which it’s based.  Now there’s this, “His Ship Vanished in the Arctic 176 Years Ago. DNA Has Offered a Clue.: For the first time, researchers have identified the remains of a sailor from the doomed 1845 Franklin expedition of the fabled Northwest Passage.”

7) I gotta say, I’m not impressed by the prison abolition movement.  There’s so much we need to do a lot better, but I think there’s pretty solid models in Europe rather than a utopian vision of prison abolition:

The book, which débuted on the Times best-seller list, offers an entry point into the world of abolitionist politics, beginning with an essay titled “So You’re Thinking about Becoming an Abolitionist.” It contains several basic but profound observations: “Increasing rates of incarceration have a minimal impact on crime rates. Moreover, crime and harm are not synonymous. All that is criminalized isn’t harmful, and all harm isn’t necessarily criminalized.” If there is a mismatch between punishment and crime, and crime and harm, then what is the intent of the criminal-justice system and the police it employs? Kaba refers to the “criminal punishment system” to emphasize that justice in the United States means a promise of retribution much more than an effort to understand why an infraction has occurred. She writes, “If we want to reduce (or end) sexual and gendered violence, putting a few perpetrators in prison does little to stop the many other perpetrators. It does nothing to change a culture that makes this harm imaginable, to hold the individual perpetrator accountable, to support their transformation, or to meet the needs of the survivors.” When we spoke, Kaba told me, “I am looking to abolish what I consider to be death-making institutions, which are policing, imprisonment, sentencing, and surveillance. And what I want is to basically build up another world that is rooted in collective wellness, safety, and investment in the things that would actually bring those things about.” …

Our current criminal-justice system is rooted in the assumption that millions of people require policing, surveillance, containment, prison. It is a dark view of humanity. By contrast, Kaba and others in this emergent movement fervently believe in the capacity of people to change in changed conditions. That is the optimism at the heart of the abolitionist project. As Kaba insists in her book, “The reason I’m struggling through all of this is because I’m a deeply, profoundly hopeful person. Because I know that human beings, with all of our foibles and all the things that are failing, have the capacity to do amazingly beautiful things, too. That gives me the hope to feel like we will, when necessary, do what we need to do.” Abolition is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Even the guiding lights of the movement are embedded in campaigns for short-term reforms that make a difference in daily life. For Kaba, that has meant raising funds for mutual aid during the pandemic and campaigning for reparations in Chicago. For Gilmore, it has meant working with incarcerated people and their families to challenge the building of prisons across California. For Angela Davis, it has meant lending her voice to movements for civil and human rights, from Ferguson to Palestine. The point is to work in solidarity with others toward the world as they wish for it to be. “Hope is a discipline,” Kaba writes. “We must practice it daily.”

8) Looks like MDMA (aka Ecstasy) can be remarkably effective as part of a treatment regime for PTSD.  It’s a shame to think of the human suffering we could have been alleviating without such a moralistic and binary approach to so many potentially beneficial drugs:

In an important step toward medical approval, MDMA, the illegal drug popularly known as Ecstasy or Molly, was shown to bring relief to those suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder when paired with talk therapy.

Of the 90 people who took part in the new study, which is expected to be published later this month in Nature Medicine, those who received MDMA during therapy experienced a significantly greater reduction in the severity of their symptoms compared with those who received therapy and an inactive placebo. Two months after treatment, 67 percent of participants in the MDMA group no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD, compared with 32 percent in the placebo group.

MDMA produced no serious adverse side effects. Some participants temporarily experienced mild symptoms like nausea and loss of appetite.

“This is about as excited as I can get about a clinical trial,” said Gul Dolen, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. “There is nothing like this in clinical trial results for a neuropsychiatric disease.”

Mental health experts say that this research — the first Phase 3 trial conducted on psychedelic-assisted therapy — could pave the way for further studies on MDMA’s potential to help address other difficult-to-treat mental health conditions, including substance abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, eating disordersdepressionend-of-life anxiety and social anxiety in autistic adults.

And, mental health researchers say, these studies could also encourage additional research on other banned psychedelics, including psilocybin, LSD and mescaline.

“This is a wonderful, fruitful time for discovery, because people are suddenly willing to consider these substances as therapeutics again, which hasn’t happened in 50 years,” said Jennifer Mitchell, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, and lead author of the new study.

9) The latest on Neanderthals

Estatuas cave in northern Spain was a hive of activity 105,000 years ago. Artifacts show its Neanderthal inhabitants hafted stone tools, butchered red deer, and may have made fires. They also shed, bled, and excreted subtler clues onto the cave floor: their own DNA. “You can imagine them sitting in the cave making tools, butchering animals. Maybe they cut themselves or their babies pooped,” says population geneticist Benjamin Vernot, a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA), whose perspective may have been colored by his own baby’s cries during a Zoom call. “All that DNA accumulates in the dirt floors.”

He and MPI-EVA geneticist Matthias Meyer report today in Science that dirt from Estatuas has yielded molecular treasure: the first nuclear DNA from an ancient human to be gleaned from sediments. Earlier studies reported shorter, more abundant human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from cave floors, but nuclear DNA, previously available only from bones and teeth, can be far more informative. “Now, it seems that it is possible to extract nuclear DNA from dirt, and we have a lot of dirt in archaeological sites,” says archaeologist Marie Soressi of Leiden University.

“This is a beautiful paper,” agrees population geneticist Pontus Skoglund of the Francis Crick Institute. The sequences reveal the genetic identity and sex of ancient cave dwellers and show that one group of Neanderthals replaced another in the Spanish cave about 100,000 years ago, perhaps after a climate cooling. “They can see a shift in Neanderthal populations at the very same site, which is quite nice,” Skoglund says.

In what Skoglund calls “an amazing technical demonstration,” they developed new genetic probes to fish out hominin DNA, allowing them to ignore the abundant sequences from plants, animals, and bacteria. Then, they used statistical methods to home in on DNA unique to Neanderthals and compare it with reference genomes from Neanderthals in a phylogenetic tree.

All three sites yielded Neanderthal nuclear and mtDNA, with the biggest surprise coming from the small amount of nuclear DNA from multiple Neanderthals in Estatuas cave. Nuclear DNA from a Neanderthal male in the deepest layer, dating to about 113,000 years ago, linked him to early Neanderthals who lived about 120,000 years ago in Denisova cave and in caves in Belgium and Germany.

But two female Neanderthals who lived in Estatuas cave later, about 100,000 years ago, had nuclear DNA more closely matching that of later, “classic” Neanderthals, including those who lived less than 70,000 years ago at Vindija cave in Croatia and 60,000 to 80,000 years ago at Chagyrskaya cave, says co-author and paleoanthropologist Juan Luis Arsuaga of the Complutense University of Madrid.

At the same time, the more plentiful mtDNA from Estatuas cave shows declining diversity. Neanderthals in the cave 113,000 years ago had at least three types of mtDNA. But the cave’s Neanderthals 80,000 and 107,000 years ago had only one type. Existing ancient DNA from Neanderthal bones and teeth had also pointed to a falloff in genetic diversity over the same period.

Arsuaga suggests Neanderthals thrived and diversified during the warm, moist interglacial period that started 130,000 years ago. But about 110,000 years ago, temperatures in Europe dipped suddenly as a new glacial period set in. Soon after, all but one lineage of Neanderthals disappeared. Members of the surviving lineage repopulated Europe during later, relatively warm spells, with some taking shelter in Estatuas cave.

10) The Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebasitan Aho had the team’s first hat trick of the season this week.  I was disappointed to learn that the team makes no effort to return the hats to the fans (some teams do).  

11) John Swartzwelder wrote a ton of iconic Simpsons episodes (and way more episodes than any other writer), but is known for being extraordinary private and reclusive.  Thus, a real treat to read this new interview with him.  

12) I’m entirely open to the scientific possibility that we don’t actually need to vaccinate all our kids to keep them safe and Covid well-contained (I like that formulation better than “herd immunity”).  But, the sociological/psychological reality is that there’s too many parents (and teachers) who won’t be able to relax and behave normally till all the kids are vaccinated— so let’s do it. “Do Kids Really Need to Be Vaccinated for Covid? Yes. No. Maybe.: Many experts argue that Covid-19 cannot be curbed without vaccinating children. But others aren’t so sure.”

13) I was shocked to see an ad for Dr Pepper Zero the other day.  As those who know me in real-life know, I absolutely swear by my Diet Dr Pepper (or DDP as we refer to it in the Greene household).  Fortunately, it’s not being replaced and we’ll have a Diet Coke/Coke Zero kind of thing going on here.  Also, I am curious about it.  

14) I remember being really intrigued by David Buss’ work on sex and evolutionary psychology a long time ago (in fact, I even used to discuss it in my Gender & Politics class).  I imagine it is less welcome than ever on the left.  Here’s a pretty interesting summary from his new book:

Professor David M. Buss, a leading evolutionary psychologist, states in the introduction of his fascinating new book that it “uncovers the hidden roots of sexual conflict.” Though the book focuses on male misbehavior, it also contains a broad and fascinating overview of mating psychology.

Sex, as defined by biologists, is indicated by the size of our gametes. Males have smaller gametes (sperm) and females have larger gametes (eggs). Broadly speaking, women and men had conflicting interests in the ancestral environment. Women were more vulnerable than men. And women took on far more risk when having sex, including pregnancy, which was perilous in an environment without modern technology. In addition to the physical costs, in the final stages of pregnancy, women must also obtain extra calories. According to Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, pregnant women in their final trimester require an additional 200 calories per day, or 18,000 calories more in total than they otherwise would have required. This surplus was not easy to obtain for our ancestors. Men, in contrast, did not face the same level of sexual risk.

These differences in reproductive biology have given rise to differences in sexual psychology that are comparable to sex differences in height, weight, and upper-body muscle mass. However, Buss is careful to note, such differences always carry the qualifier “on average.” Some women are taller than some men—but on average men are taller. Likewise, some women prefer to have more sex partners than some men—but on average men prefer more. These evolved differences are a key source of conflict.

One goal of the book is to highlight situations in which sexual conflict is diminished or amplified to prevent victimization and reduce harm.

Because of the increased risk women carry, they tend to be choosier about their partners. In contrast, men are less discerning. Studies of online dating, for example, find that most men find most women to be at least somewhat attractive. In contrast, women, on average, view 80 percent of men as below average in attractiveness. Another study found that on the dating app Tinder, men “liked” more than 60 percent of the female profiles they viewed, while women “liked” only 4.5 percent of male profiles.

The book provides a simple figure to understand the ongoing conflict between men and women.

Men are constantly trying to manipulate women into moving closer to their preferred optimum, and women are likewise relentlessly influencing men to inch closer toward theirs. Buss writes, “If women and men could agree in advance on a compromised middle-ground solution that was perfect for neither but acceptable for both … they could avoid many of these costs.”

Because sexual risks are higher and sexual mistakes are more dangerous for women, they prefer to wait longer to evaluate a potential partner for suitability. For men, sexual mistakes are viewed differently. Research indicates that when asked to reflect on their sexual history, women are more likely to regret having had sex with someone, while men are more likely to regret having missed out on sexual opportunities. 

Even in the most egalitarian countries, men prefer more sexual partners compared to women. In Norway, researchers asked people how many sex partners they would prefer over the next 30 years. On average, women preferred five, men preferred 25. Even the desire to kiss before intercourse differs between the sexes. About 53 percent of men report that they would have sex without kissing, while only 14.6 percent of women would have sex without kissing. These different preferences can give rise to sexual conflict.

15) Pretty interesting stuff from Gallup on proof of vaccination status:

Americans’ Preferences for Proof of Vaccination to Participate in Activities Based on COVID-19 Attitudes
% Who favor businesses requiring people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to do each over the next several months
  Travel by airplane Go to events
with large crowds
Go to your worksite
to do your job*
Stay in a hotel Dine in
at a restaurant
  % % % % %
Vaccination status  
Have been/Will be vaccinated 74 71 59 56 52
Will not get vaccinated 8 7 6 6 5
Worry about getting COVID-19  
Very/Somewhat worried 77 72 66 59 55
Not too/Not at all worried 49 48 36 37 34
*Among those employed full or part time.
GALLUP PANEL, APRIL 19-25, 2021
Partisans’ Preferences for Proof of Vaccination to Participate in Activities
% Who favor businesses requiring people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to do each over the next several months
  Travel by airplane Go to events
with large crowds
Go to your worksite
to do your job*
Stay in a hotel Dine in
at a restaurant
  % % % % %
Party identification  
Democrat 85 82 69 66 62
Independent 47 47 38 35 30
Republican 28 25 16 22 19
*Among those employed full or part time.
GALLUP PANEL, APRIL 19-25, 2021

16) There’s a 9 inch(!) moth in Australia.

The giant wood moth was discovered by a construction worker at the Mount Cotton State School.

Credit…Mount Cotton State School

17) This is terrific.  “‘I seek a kind person’: the Guardian ad that saved my Jewish father from the Nazis: In 1938, there was a surge of classified ads in this newspaper as parents – including my grandparents – scrambled to get their children out of the Reich. What became of the families?”

18) David Frum argues that China is actually a paper dragon and not nearly as scary as we think.

Undergirding these examples and dozens more like them is Beckley’s clarifying theoretical insight: Repression is expensive.

The lines that plot the comparative GDP of the United States and China distort the real balance of power between the two societies, Beckley argues, because China must devote such a large share of its resources to basic subsistence needs to avert the overthrow of the state.

Beckley dramatizes this point with historical context. The concept of GDP did not exist in the 19th century, but economists have retrospectively reconstructed those figures backward into time. They have found that in the 1800s, the Chinese empire had a GDP much larger than that of Great Britain. The Chinese army of 800,000 men also enormously exceeded Britain’s troop numbers. Yet when the two states clashed in the two Opium Wars, from 1839 to 1842 and again in 1858, China was crushingly defeated. Why?

A great part of the answer, then as now, was the cost of repression.

Nineteenth-century China faced an average of 25 local uprisings a year. Most of its troops had to be deployed to suppress rebellions and control banditry, leaving few available for war-fighting.

The next part of the answer is that mass is not power.

Although China’s resources were enormous in the aggregate, most were consumed by the basics of subsistence. In the 19th-century, Britain produced only half as much as China, but it did so with one-thirteenth the population—making more wealth available for more purposes.

A final piece of the answer is that technological copycats face huge disadvantages against technological innovators. They will always lag behind the more creative rival, not only in the factory, but on the battlefield. “Repeatedly during the Opium Wars … Chinese armies of thousands were routed in minutes by a few hundred, or even a few dozen, British troops,” Beckley notes.

19) Looks like I was wrong on this and I truly believe that when you opine on stuff it’s important to admit when you are wrong (and even better to grapple with why you were).  For now, here’s Drum: “Update: The J&J Vaccine Pause Probably Had No Effect on Vaccine Hesitancy”

20) Always read Ash Jha: “We may not reach herd immunity. That’s okay.”

After an unprecedented mass vaccination campaign over the past four months, vaccine demand has begun to soften, leading to hand-wringing in some quarters about whether the United States will achieve herd immunity or whether we will be living with the coronavirus months and years from now.

The answer is, it’s not that simple. And just as important, it may not matter that much.

Herd immunity is not a clear line. The virus will not be eradicated the moment we administer the shot that gets us to herd immunity. The term describes the inflection point at which each infection results in less than one additional infection and outbreaks sputter out. You can think of it like a wildfire surrounded by firebreaks, where the blaze ultimately burns out without additional interventions.

It’s not hard to see how it came to be viewed as the pandemic finish line, but that line has shifted. Estimates of herd immunity have been adjusted upward from the 60 percent to 70 percent that we expected last year, to 80 percent more recently, largely because of new variants that are more contagious. The threshold is determined by factors beyond vaccination, including immunity due to prior infections, seasonal effects such as humidity and time spent indoors, who is immune and who isn’t, and broader behavioral factors such as whether people are engaging in any public health measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
 
Real-world evidence from Israel and the United Kingdom suggests that even without hitting the herd immunity threshold, vaccination can drive infections way down. Why? Because immunity in a population is not like an on-off switch. As populations begin to build up immunity, infection spread begins to slow. If people practice even modest levels of public health measures such as mask-wearing indoors or avoiding large crowds, it may be enough to drive infection numbers down substantially. To stretch the fire metaphor, even if you don’t have the flames surrounded on all sides, a little bit of a drizzle combined with some firebreaks may be enough to keep it from burning out of control…

The coronavirus pandemic marks the clearest dividing line in most of our lives. But while the pandemic had a clear beginning, the ending will be much more gradual. As vaccination rates slow, we will require a resource-intensive ground game to reach more and more unvaccinated people and push us toward herd immunity. It is indeed possible that we may not reach that elusive threshold, or we might get there for a period only to have waning immunity, new variants or changes in behavior drop us below that threshold. But with infection numbers low and modest mitigation efforts in place, we will see small outbreaks that will affect the unvaccinated and burn out quickly. The terrifying surges of the past year will be behind us. And the things we value most in our lives — time with family and friends, social gatherings with colleagues, entertainment and sports — things we have missed so much, will be possible and safe.

This pandemic will end when the risk it poses, and the strategies necessary to mitigate that risk, fade into the background and become part of normal life. To get there, we should focus less on the herd immunity threshold, vaccinate more people and get on with our lives. As the old saying goes, pandemics end with a whimper, not with a bang. This one, too, will end. With a whimper.

21) This was very interesting, but I think in some ways misguided, “The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles: A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green” Yes, there’s absolutely local, significant environmental costs to mining all that lithium.  But on a global cost/benefit scale the benefits are so much greater.  Of course we should minimize the harm we do from mining lithium, but, let’s keep this in big picture perspective.

22) I’ve been following the whole global efforts and patents controversy at some remove so I’m a little cautious, but Alex Tabarrok seems pretty right based on what I do know:

For the last year and a half I have been shouting from the rooftops, “invest in capacity, build more factories, shore up the supply lines, spend billions to save trillions.” Fortunately, some boffins in the Biden administration have found a better way, “the US supports the waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic.”
Waive IP protections. So simple. Why didn’t I think of that???

Patents are not the problem. All of the vaccine manufacturers are trying to increase supply as quickly as possible. Billions of doses are being produced–more than ever before in the history of the world. Licenses are widely available. AstraZeneca have licensed their vaccine for production with manufactures around the world, including in India, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, China and South Africa. J&J’s vaccine has been licensed for production by multiple firms in the United States as well as with firms in Spain, South Africa and France. Sputnik has been licensed for production by firms in India, China, South Korea, Brazil and pending EMA approval with firms in Germany and France. Sinopharm has been licensed in the UAE, Egypt and Bangladesh. Novavax has licensed its vaccine for production in South Korea, India, and Japan and it is desperate to find other licensees but technology transfer isn’t easy and there are limited supplies of raw materials:

Virtually overnight, [Novavax] set up a network of outside manufacturers more ambitious than one outside executive said he’s ever seen, but they struggled at times to transfer their technology there amid pandemic travel restrictions. They were kicked out of one factory by the same government that’s bankrolled their effort. Competing with larger competitors, they’ve found themselves short on raw materials as diverse as Chilean tree bark and bioreactor bags. They signed a deal with India’s Serum Institute to produce many of their COVAX doses but now face the realistic chance that even when Serum gets to full capacity — and they are behind — India’s government, dealing with the world’s worst active outbreak, won’t let the shots leave the country.

Plastic bags are a bigger bottleneck than patents. The US embargo on vaccine supplies to India was precisely that the Biden administration used the DPA to prioritize things like bioreactor bags and filters to US suppliers and that meant that India’s Serum Institute was having trouble getting its production lines ready for Novavax. CureVac, another potential mRNA vaccine, is also finding it difficult to find supplies due to US restrictions (which means supplies are short everywhere). As Derek Lowe said:

Abolishing patents will not provide more shaker bags or more Chilean tree bark, nor provide more of the key filtration materials needed for production. These processes have a lot of potential choke points and rate-limiting steps in them, and there is no wand that will wave that complexity away.

Technology transfer has been difficult for AstraZeneca–which is one reason they have had production difficulties–and their vaccine uses relatively well understood technology. The mRNA technology is new and has never before been used to produce at scale. Pfizer and Moderna had to build factories and distribution systems from scratch. There are no mRNA factories idling on the sidelines. If there were, Moderna or Pfizer would be happy to license since they are producing in their own factories 24 hours a day, seven days a week (monopolies restrict supply, remember?). Why do you think China hasn’t yet produced an mRNA vaccine? Hint: it isn’t fear about violating IP. Moreover, even Moderna and Pfizer don’t yet fully understand their production technology, they are learning by doing every single day. Moderna has said that they won’t enforce their patents during the pandemic but no one has stepped up to produce because no one else can.

The US trade representative’s announcement is virtue signaling to the anti-market left and will do little to nothing to increase supply.

What can we do to increase supply? Sorry, there is no quick and cheap solution. We must spend. Trump’s Operation Warp Speed spent on the order of $15 billion. If we want more, we need to spend more and on similar scale. The Biden administration paid $269 million to Merck to retool its factories to make the J&J vaccine. That was a good start. We could also offer Pfizer and Moderna say $100 a dose to produce in excess of their current production and maybe with those resources there is more they could do. South Africa and India and every other country in the world should offer the same (India hasn’t even approved the Pfizer vaccine and they are complaining about IP!??) We should ease up on the DPA and invest more in the supply chain–let’s get CureVac and the Serum Institute what they need. We should work like hell to find a substitute for Chilean tree bark. See my piece in Science co-authored with Michael Kremer et. al. for more ideas. (Note also that these ideas are better at dealing with current supply constraints and they also increase the incentive to produce future vaccines, unlike shortsighted patent abrogation.)

Bottom line is that producing more takes real resources not waving magic patent wands.

Our models of the world are wrong. Do we know which ones?

I was listening to this great Fresh Air interview with Suzanne Simard an ecologist who has basically completely revolutionized our understanding of forest ecosystems.

Trees are “social creatures” that communicate with each other in cooperative ways that hold lessons for humans, too, ecologist Suzanne Simard says.

Simard grew up in Canadian forests as a descendant of loggers before becoming a forestry ecologist. She’s now a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia.

Trees are linked to neighboring trees by an underground network of fungi that resembles the neural networks in the brain, she explains. In one study, Simard watched as a Douglas fir that had been injured by insects appeared to send chemical warning signals to a ponderosa pine growing nearby. The pine tree then produced defense enzymes to protect against the insect.

“This was a breakthrough,” Simard says. The trees were sharing “information that actually is important to the health of the whole forest.”

In addition to warning each other of danger, Simard says that trees have been known to share nutrients at critical times to keep each other healthy. She says the trees in a forest are often linked to each other via an older tree she calls a “mother” or “hub” tree.

“In connecting with all the trees of different ages, [the mother trees] can actually facilitate the growth of these understory seedlings,” she says. “The seedlings will link into the network of the old trees and benefit from that huge uptake resource capacity. And the old trees would also pass a little bit of carbon and nutrients and water to the little seedlings, at crucial times in their lives, that actually help them survive.”

It took a long time for Simard’s ideas to break through over the existing, overly-simplified models of forest and tree growth, which scientists actually thought they understood pretty well, but were just plain wrong.

Especially in light of all my listening on science innovations lately, I just couldn’t help thinking, what is it we think we know now that we’re just wrong about?  What are our trees communicating through fungi that we simply have no idea about?  Obviously, I have no idea (the closest I would say is that I imagine we’re going to find out that we’re really just scratching the surface on our microbiome and the human body as an ecosystem, but at least we already know there’s something there and that we are profoundly ignorant).  It seems far more likely than not that something we know is basically going to turn out to be Aether.  And I think that’s pretty cool to think about and should probably give us all (okay, me) a little more humility.

Your extra life

I still think it’s crazy that Slate is somehow still punishing Mike Pesca, but on the bright side, without the Gist, I’ve discovered some great new podcasts.  Probably my favorite is Steven Johnson’s “American Innovations.”  From Coca-Cola, to air-conditioning, to powered flight, to breakfast cereal, Johnson tells great stories of how these innovations depend not just on a great inventor, but, in many cases, others recognizing the potential and how to bring the innovation to a mass audience.  Its a great podcast.  So, naturally, I was excited to see Johnson with a NYT Magazine feature on how innovations in science and public health basically doubled the human life span within the last 100 years.  So much goodness in here.  You should read it all.  And I’m so going to get the new book when it comes out. But, anyway, here’s a taste:

In effect, during the century since the end of the Great Influenza outbreak, the average human life span has doubled. There are few measures of human progress more astonishing than this. If you were to publish a newspaper that came out just once a century, the banner headline surely would — or should — be the declaration of this incredible feat. But of course, the story of our extra life span almost never appears on the front page of our actual daily newspapers, because the drama and heroism that have given us those additional years are far more evident in hindsight than they are in the moment. That is, the story of our extra life is a story of progress in its usual form: brilliant ideas and collaborations unfolding far from the spotlight of public attention, setting in motion incremental improvements that take decades to display their true magnitude.

Another reason we have a hard time recognizing this kind of progress is that it tends to be measured not in events but in nonevents: the smallpox infection that didn’t kill you at age 2; the accidental scrape that didn’t give you a lethal bacterial infection; the drinking water that didn’t poison you with cholera. In a sense, human beings have been increasingly protected by an invisible shield, one that has been built, piece by piece, over the last few centuries, keeping us ever safer and further from death. It protects us through countless interventions, big and small: the chlorine in our drinking water, the ring vaccinations that rid the world of smallpox, the data centers mapping new outbreaks all around the planet. A crisis like the global pandemic of 2020-21 gives us a new perspective on all that progress. Pandemics have an interesting tendency to make that invisible shield suddenly, briefly visible. For once, we’re reminded of how dependent everyday life is on medical science, hospitals, public-health authorities, drug supply chains and more. And an event like the Covid-19 crisis does something else as well: It helps us perceive the holes in that shield, the vulnerabilities, the places where we need new scientific breakthroughs, new systems, new ways of protecting ourselves from emergent threats.

How did this great doubling of the human life span happen? When the history textbooks do touch on the subject of improving health, they often nod to three critical breakthroughs, all of them presented as triumphs of the scientific method: vaccines, germ theory and antibiotics. But the real story is far more complicated. Those breakthroughs might have been initiated by scientists, but it took the work of activists and public intellectuals and legal reformers to bring their benefits to everyday people. From this perspective, the doubling of human life span is an achievement that is closer to something like universal suffrage or the abolition of slavery: progress that required new social movements, new forms of persuasion and new kinds of public institutions to take root. And it required lifestyle changes that ran throughout all echelons of society: washing hands, quitting smoking, getting vaccinated, wearing masks during a pandemic.

It is not always easy to perceive the cumulative impact of all that work, all that cultural transformation. The end result is not one of those visible icons of modernity: a skyscraper, a moon landing, a fighter jet, a smartphone. Instead, it manifests in countless achievements, often quickly forgotten, sometimes literally invisible: the drinking water that’s free of microorganisms, or the vaccine received in early childhood and never thought about again. The fact that these achievements are so myriad and subtle — and thus underrepresented in the stories we tell ourselves about modern progress — should not be an excuse to keep our focus on the astronauts and fighter pilots. Instead, it should inspire us to correct our vision.

Quick hits (part II)

1) One of my more idiosyncratic academic interests is the 19th century American political parties.  So, of course I loved seeing “What can Never Trump learn from the nineteenth century’s Free Soilers?”

The annexation of Texas, the Mexican-American War, and the Wilmot Proviso all served to deepen the rifts in the Democratic Party. Antislavery Northern and master-race Southern Democrats found themselves increasingly at odds with one another, feuding over the direction of the party as well as the nation. Building off their Jacksonian ideology, Democrats who opposed the so-called “peculiar institution” saw their fight against slavery as a continuation of their battle against entrenched power and corrupt elites. Others, like William Leggett, viewed it as the natural outgrowth of their egalitarian ethos. In time, they understood their fight against the “money power” of banks and corporations to be the same as the battle against the “slave power,” viewing both as threats to American liberty. For these Democrats, opposing slavery was the only logical conclusion to the democratic revolution Jackson had launched. Walt Whitman called these men members of “the Undaunted Democracy.”

With the nomination of Lewis Cass for the 1848 election on the Democratic ticket, a supporter of popular sovereignty, antislavery Jacksonians expressed their protest in the formation of the Free-Soil Party. In a powerfully symbolic gesture towards antislavery unionism, the Free Soilers nominated Andrew Jackson’s former Vice President, Martin Van Buren, and Charles Francis Adams, the son of the man Jackson had defeated. Their platform boiled down to the slogan, “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men!”

Despite their antislavery stance, however, the Free-Soil Party stopped well short of the complete abolition of slavery. Despite their heady goals of halting the spread of slavery, with such little political infrastructure, numerous organisational weaknesses, and intense internal divisions, the Free-Soil Party did not win a single state, though a few did win election to the House of Representatives.

Diehard Free Soilers were soon marginalised and spent years in the political wilderness, out of power and with almost no influence. To make matters worse, many of these Democrats returned home following the failure of Van Buren’s presidential bid. The antislavery wing of the Democratic Party continued to quarrel with one another, so much so that Francis Blair lamented, “It is unfortunate that we should be splitting our fragment of a party into smaller fragments by making new strife among our leading men.” Despite Preston King’s best efforts at the 1854 New York Democratic convention to convert the party into a free-soil party, the Southern pull of the party proved too strong. Realising there was no room from in the party of Jackson, men like King bolted, finding their way into the newly formed explicitly antislavery Republican Party.

As Jonathan H. Earle in his masterwork on the antislavery Democrats notes, “The Jacksonian element within the Republican party was by no means a majority, or even a dominant voice. But the genius of the early Republicans lay in their ability to attract various Free-Soil Democrats, Liberty men, and Whigs under a single antislavery banner.” Soon, savage critics of the Jacksonians like the radical Whig Thaddeus Stevens found themselves in the same party. Though at odds on numerous policy debates and in matters of best governance, former rivals shared the common goal of putting slavery on the course for ultimate destruction from the United States. Combining their efforts and forgetting past feuds, antislavery Democrats were able to bolster the Republican coalition that won Abraham Lincoln the presidency in 1860.

Lincoln’s victory was the result of an antislavery amalgamation.

With Trump’s defeat in 2020, the question is whether or not Never Trumpers will formally join the Democratic Party, or try and reform the Republican Party, or embrace an exile from party politics. All three have risks and rewards. Naturally, appeals to conservative voters will not score points for Biden with the online left and party progressives. Likewise, if Never Trump Republicans like The Atlantic’s David Frum, CNN’s S.E. Cupp, and The Bulwark’s Sarah Longwell do formally join the Democratic Party, it will likely be greeted by Trumpsters as confirmation of their ‘fake’ conservative credentials. There is also the possibility that Never Trumpers will lose their identity in becoming Democrats. Free Soil Democrats faced similar questions and the lessons they offer are complex though poignant.

2) This is really great from John McWhorter, “How the N-Word Became Unsayable” [McWhorter actually uses the word, but I’m not going to because I sure don’t need people searching my blog and finding it, even if just quoting a NYT column]

In 1934, Allen Walker Read, an etymologist and lexicographer, laid out the history of the word that, then, had “the deepest stigma of any in the language.” In the entire article, in line with the strength of the taboo he was referring to, he never actually wrote the word itself. The obscenity to which he referred, “fuck,” though not used in polite company (or, typically, in this newspaper), is no longer verboten. These days, there are two other words that an American writer would treat as Mr. Read did. One is “cunt,” and the other is “[n-word].” The latter, though, has become more than a slur. It has become taboo.

Just writing the word here, I sense myself as pushing the envelope, even though I am Black — and feel a need to state that for the sake of clarity and concision, I will be writing the word freely, rather than “the N-word.” I will not use the word gratuitously, but that will nevertheless leave a great many times I do spell it out, love it though I shall not.

 “[n-word]” began as a neutral descriptor, although it was quickly freighted with the casual contempt that Europeans had for African and, later, African-descended people. Its evolution from slur to unspeakable obscenity was part of a gradual prohibition on avowed racism and the slurring of groups. It is also part of a larger cultural shift: Time was that it was body parts and what they do that Americans were taught not to mention by name — do you actually do much resting in a restroom?

That kind of concern has been transferred from the sexual and scatological to the sociological, and changes in the use of the word “[n-word]” tell part of that story. What a society considers profane reveals what it believes to be sacrosanct: The emerging taboo on slurs reveals the value our culture places — if not consistently — on respect for subgroups of people. (I should also note that I am concerned here with “[n-word]” as a slur rather than its adoption, as “nigga,” as a term of affection by Black people, like “buddy.”)…

Rather, the modern American uses “the N-word.” This tradition settled in after the O.J. Simpson trial, in which it was famously revealed that Detective Mark Fuhrman had frequently used “[n-word]” in the past. Christopher Darden, a Black prosecutor, refused to utter the actual word, and with the high profile of the case and in his seeming to deliberately salute Mr. Read’s take, by designating “[n-word]” “the filthiest, dirtiest, nastiest word in the English language,” Mr. Darden in his way heralded a new era.

That was in 1995, and in the fall of that year I did a radio interview on the word, in which the guests and I were free to use it when referring to it, with nary a bleep. That had been normal until then but would not be for much longer, such that the interview is now a period piece.

It’s safe to say that the transition to “the N-word” wasn’t driven by the linguistic coarseness of a Los Angeles detective or something a prosecutor said one day during a monthslong trial. Rather, Mr. Darden’s reticence was a symptom of something already in the air by 1995: the larger shift in sensibility that rendered slurs, in general, the new profanity.

This occurred as Generation X, born from about 1965 to 1980, came of age. These were the first Americans raised in post-civil-rights-era America. To Generation X, legalized segregation was a bygone barbarism in black-and-white photos and film clips. Also, Generation X grew up when overt racist attitudes came to be ridiculed and socially punished in general society. Racism continued to exist in endless manifestations. However, it became complicated — something to hide, to dissemble about and, among at least an enlightened cohort, something to check oneself for and call out in others, to a degree unknown in perhaps any society until then.

For Americans of this postcountercultural cohort, the pox on matters of God and the body seemed quaint beyond discussion, while a pox on matters of slurring groups seemed urgent beyond discussion. The N-word euphemism was an organic outcome, as was an increasing consensus that “[n-word]” itself is forbidden not only in use as a slur but even when referred to. Our spontaneous sense is that profanity consists of the classic four-letter words, while slurs are something separate. However, anthropological reality is that today, slurs have become our profanity: repellent to our senses, rendering even words that sound like them suspicious and eliciting not only censure but also punishment.

3) I’ve been hearing for a while about the super-high lumber prices.  Finally, I know why.  Pretty fascinating.  

Since 2018, a one-two punch of environmental harms worsened by climate change has devastated the lumber industry in Canada, the largest lumber exporter to the United States. A catastrophic and multi-decade outbreak of bark-eating beetles, followed by a series of historic wildfire seasons, have led to lasting economic damage in British Columbia, a crucial lumber-providing province. Americans have, in effect, made a mad dash for lumber at the exact moment Canada is least able to supply it.

Climate change, which has long threatened to overturn dependable facts about the world, is now starting to make itself known in commodities markets, the exchanges that keep staple goods flowing to companies and their customers. For years, scientists and agricultural forecasters have warned that climate change could result in devastating failures among luxury goods, such as fine chocolate and wine. Others have speculated about several grain-producing regions slipping into a simultaneous drought, a phenomenon dubbed “multiple breadbasket failures.” But for now, a climate-change-induced shortage is showing up more subtly, dampening supply during a historic demand crunch.

“There are people who say, ‘Climate change isn’t affecting me,’” Janice Cooke, a forest-industry veteran and biology professor at the University of Alberta, told me. “But they’re going to go to the hardware store and say, ‘Holy cow, the price of lumber has gone up.’”…

This has produced a surge in home construction—and with it, a need for Canadian softwood lumber. Among builders, the preferred “species” of wood for framing homes is called Canadian SPF, or Canadian spruce-pine-fir, Jalbert said. As its hyphenated name gives away, SPF is not a single species of tree, but a catchall industry name for conifers grown in the northern boreal forest. If you’re in a relatively new American home or low-rise building right now—or if you can see one out the window—there’s a good chance it’s made of SPF imported from Canada, specifically British Columbia or Alberta.

Canadian SPF is grown in orderly tracts of forest that span much of Canada’s northern belt. Starting in 1999, an outbreak of bark-eating mountain pine beetles has ravaged conifer forests across the American and Canadian West. It has been especially bad in British Columbia, which exports about half of its lumber to the U.S.

“The mountain pine beetle has been a force of nature in this current epidemic,” Cooke said. The beetle has devoured 18 million hectares of forest in British Columbia alone, killing 60 percent of its merchantable pine. The outbreak has been accelerated by “weather associated with climate change,” Cooke said. A series of unusually warm winters has failed to kill the usual number of mountain pine beetles, allowing populations to swell to unprecedented size. Nor have two decades of unusually dry and drought-riddensummers helped. When trees are drought-stressed, they’re less able to mount a defense to the beetle, and they succumb more quickly.

Across North America, the woodland affected by the beetle—a tract stretching from Montana to Saskatchewan—totals 27 million hectares, an area more than three-quarters the size of Germany.

The outbreak has required quick thinking from regulators and lumber companies. In the early years, British Columbia “went into salvage mode,” Cooke said. Loggers followed the path of the beetle, felling dead trees as quickly as they could. If collected in the first year or two after dying, beetle-blighted timber is essentially as high-quality as freshly felled trees. “But the longer it stands dead, the less useful it is,” Cooke said. “You can use it for pallets and pellets, but not that nice construction-grade timber.” At the same time, loggers cleared around the affected forest, hoping to cut off the outbreak’s expansion.

This approach worked for more than a decade. As the outbreak expanded, the province maintained its lumber production. But trees take a long time to grow in the harsh climes of British Columbia. With its bountiful sunlight and warm, wet weather, Florida can grow a pine to merchantable size in 15 years, but “in 15 years, a tree is not much taller than me here,” Cooke said. Canadian forests take 40 to 60 years to reach maturity. Looking ahead, British Columbia foresaw a production gap, a decades-long span when it would have no trees to harvest. That shortfall was predicted to begin about now.

4) Kate Winslet is terrific in Mare of Easttown, but, damnit, I expect HBO to spare me the melodramatic twists worthy of General Hospital or Dallas.  Alas.

5) I did not realize kids and berries was some weird instagram thing.  Apparently, some people are starting to notice that berries are expensive.

Why would we who can afford it—but not really—put ourselves through this? As year-round strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries have become absolutely ubiquitous on kid-food Instagram—that pleasing Technicolor world of carefully arranged fruit rainbows and nicely packed PlanetBox Rovers—some parents are beginning to push back on the fruits’ dominance. “Can I complain about the overuse of fresh berries in baby/kid food media?” wrote a commenter on a post by Amy Palanjian, whose account is @yummytoddlerfood. “They’re in most meals that I see on Instagram, and in my neck of the woods they’re very expensive most of the year and don’t last long.”…

The prices that middle-class parents moan about, others have recently pointed out on the social network where berries are king, put fresh berries totally out of reach for others. Dalina Soto, whose Instagram account is @your.latina.nutritionist, recently described going to the supermarket with her child, who “LOVES berries,” and grabbing a mixed 2-pound container of blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. At the checkout counter, she realized that it was $18.25. “I can afford this but WTF,” she wrote. “I just heard my mom’s voice in my head: ‘Tu ta loca, pon eso pa’tra!’ [‘You’re crazy, put that back!’]” She got a 2-pound container of blueberries instead for $7.99—still, she wrote, “more than what a worker at that store probably makes” in an hour.

I’m long on record as saying the biggest difference in my lifestyle if I were super-rich is that I’d simply eat all the raspberries I wanted regardless of cost.  I think I could easily eat $8-10/day and that’s just not justifiable.  Relatedly, it’s strawberry season in NC and in-season, local strawberries are so much better than what typically survives the journey to the Food Lion or Harris Teeter. 

6) Speaking of kids, I don’t recall how I came across this 13 year old New Yorker article about EB White and Stuart Little, but I loved it as that is one of my very favorite kids’ books.

7) This is full of colorful goodness in Wired, “How Pixar Uses Hyper-Colors to Hack Your Brain: The animation studio’s artists are masters at tweaking light and color to trigger deep emotional responses. Coming soon: effects you’ll only see inside your head.”

8) We don’t notice what’s not happening, but excellent point from Fareed Zakaria, “Ten years later, Islamist terrorism isn’t the threat it used to be”

9) A really under-appreciated point– the U.S. actually kicked ass in our economic response to Covidcompared to a bunch of other modern democracies.

When my editors asked me to write a story for our Pandemic Playbook series on the country that I thought “got Covid-19 right” economically, I immediately looked abroad. I spent a few weeks researching and writing about Japan, which has kept unemployment low and spent big to fight the economic downturn.

But as I was working on my Japan article, the US adopted Biden’s American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion behemoth of a bill. With that step coming after the two Trump relief bills, the US just about matched Japan’s spending to fight the downturn. And as I looked into the details, it became impossible to deny that the US spent the money better…

No country handled the economic shock of Covid-19 perfectly. Every country, the US included, made mistakes, sometimes grave mistakes. But a detailed comparison suggests that the US had the strongest economic response to the pandemic, in terms of providing income to its citizens during lockdown and ensuring a strong, rapid recovery as the economy began to reopen.

“The US will come out of this economically better than any country that was similarly affected by the virus,” Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard and former chair of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, says.

10) We have to do criminal justice so much better.  Far too many headlines like this.  Not just an innocent mistake– a lazy mistake.  “KARE 11 Investigates: Innocent MN family held at gunpoint in SWAT no-knock warrant raid: Mother and child terrorized in bungled no-knock warrant raid. A KARE 11 investigation reveals Minneapolis police failed basic checks and hit the wrong address.”

11) OMG this makes me so mad.  If neo-Nazis started calling it the Hitler High Five should people stop giving each other high fives?  Like, “look at those high-fiving after a white guy scored a goal– must be a white power high five.”  I just don’t get the desire to live in the world where every action is given the worst possible interpretation and people let right-wing neo-nazis and trolls redefine ordinary hand gestures! “No, ‘Jeopardy!’ Champ Kelly Donohue Didn’t Make the ‘White Power’ Hand Gesture”

12) Relatedly, I loved this.  I have not watched “Nomadland” but did notice that it was a work about “nomads” in the American West, created by a Chinese woman.  Sounds great if that’s your type of movie.  Alas, a lot of people might have been complaining about a white American making a movie about Chinese people.  Look for the universals in the human experience, damn it!  Great artists do that, regardless of their own demography.  

On Sunday, Chloé Zhao won an Oscar for best director for her film Nomadland, becoming the first Asian woman to win the award. Zhao’s win is rightfully being celebrated by women and communities of color everywhere.

Zhao, 39, was raised in China and educated in London and New York. Nomadland is her third successive film that focuses on life in the American West. On the surface, Zhao has little in common with her protagonists, who include a pair of Native American siblings struggling with life on a reservation, a rodeo cowboy recovering from a traumatic brain injury, and, most recently in Nomadland, a 50-something teacher who adopts a nomadic lifestyle after losing her job. But this did not stop her from daring to tell their stories. In fact, the very thing that makes Zhao such an interesting filmmaker is the steady hand she brings to films whose protagonists experience a world wholly unlike her own. 

Zhao’s success has come at a time when critics are questioning the legitimacy of filmmakers telling stories as community outsiders. Last year, the filmmaker Lulu Wang publicly criticized Ron Howard’s decision to direct a film about the Chinese pianist Lang Lang. “As a classically-trained pianist born in China, I believe it’s impossible to tell Lang Lang’s story without an intimate understanding of Chinese culture and the impact of the Cultural Revolution on artists and intellectuals and the effects of Western imperialism,” Wang tweeted.  

Wang alludes to a movement that prioritizes stories whose creative leadership is “deeply tied to those communities” they aim to depict. Proponents of this perspective claim that, for too long, stories have been told by outsiders, which harms the communities portrayed. This can be true, and advocates are right to ensure that some films are chronicled by those with lived experience. But if this belief is the new paradigm for who can tell whose stories, will it not also work to prevent Zhao, a Chinese woman, from portraying the lives of those in the American West? Given the praise for Zhao, one is left wondering what actual standards are being applied.

Zhao says that her directing method allows her to more accurately portray lives so different from her own. She blends the real and the fictional by casting nonprofessional actors, incorporating their real-life stories into her scripts, and encouraging on-screen improvisation. “By staying close to real life, I can help myself, an outsider, to make a film from inside,” she says.

In Howard’s case, Lang Lang, whose story is at the center of the film, co-wrote the source material and is helping to produce the project. Even this, however, was not enough to shield the film from Wang’s experience-based criticism. Staying close to the truth, whether scripted or unscripted, does not seem to be a defense to the condemnation of “outsider” storytelling.

Elevating the work of non-white filmmakers is a worthy goal because viewpoint diversity allows great art to flourish. But in the uncritical embrace of Zhao’s filmmaking, those pushing the “lived-experience” norm have created a double standard. If they really mean that white filmmakers should not be allowed to tell the stories of non-whites, they should say so clearly and present a coherent argument for it. Otherwise, the prevailing standard will lead to the exclusion of great works like Zhao’s. 

13) One of those epidemiological studies I really enjoyed digging into:

In-person schooling has proved contentious and difficult to study throughout the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Data from a massive online survey in the United States indicates an increased risk of COVID-19-related outcomes among respondents living with a child attending school in-person. School-based mitigation measures are associated with significant reductions in risk, particularly daily symptoms screens, teacher masking, and closure of extra-curricular activities. A positive association between in-person schooling and COVID-19 outcomes persists at low levels of mitigation, but when seven or more mitigation measures are reported, a significant relationship is no longer observed. Among teachers, working outside the home was associated with an increase in COVID-19-related outcomes, but this association is similar to other occupations (e.g., healthcare, office work). While in-person schooling is associated with household COVID-19 risk, this risk can likely be controlled with properly implemented school-based mitigation measures.

14) Back before streaming lots of TV shows paid for only short-term rights for the music they used.  Not great for many shows that rely heavily on music.  Dawson’s Creek even lost its theme song!

15) Prepare for a major expansion of how the Supreme Court interprets the 2nd Amendment.  Also, to be fair, if we stipulate that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right (I don’t agree with that decision, but that’s’ where we are), I think there’s a very reasonable case to be made that NY’s law is, in fact, too strict.  

16) I am so with Ezra on this, “Let’s Launch a Moonshot for Meatless Meat”

It’s these next paragraphs where I fear I might lose you. It’s easier to argue for human welfare than animal welfare. I spent most of my life not just as a meat eater, but as an enthusiastic one. I posted my burgers on Instagram and I sought out the perfect roast chicken. Even now, I don’t believe it’s necessarily immoral to eat meat. What I believe is immoral is the way we treat animals in most factory farms. And the scale of that suffering melts the mind.

A reasonable estimate is that about 70 billion land animals are raised and slaughtered for food each year, a vast majority of them chickens. My colleague Nick Kristof has written eloquently about the plight of Costco’s rotisserie chickens, but the horrors do not end there. I’ve spoken with farmers who lie awake with guilt over the way they treat their animals, but they are so buried in debt to the agricultural conglomerates that they see no way out for themselves.

We treat too many animals like inputs, and their suffering as a mere byproduct. Cheap meat isn’t really cheap. It’s just the animal that paid the cost, living in conditions so gruesome I fear describing them. But suffice it to say: If we could produce the meat we want without the suffering we now inflict, it would be one of the great achievements of our age.

My reason for optimism is technological: There have been remarkable strides made in plant-based meat — witness the success of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods — and milks. And the next step is cultivated meat, which is meat grown directly from animal cells. This isn’t science fiction: There’s now a restaurant in Singapore where you can eat lab-grown chicken made by Eat Just. Unsurprisingly, it tastes like chicken, because that’s what it is.

But so far, most of these advances, most of these investments, are through private dollars, with the findings locked up in patents, by companies competing with one another for market share. We’re going to need to move faster than that. “If we leave this endeavor to the tender mercies of the market there will be vanishingly few products to choose from and it’ll take a very long time,” Bruce Friedrich, co-founder and executive director of the Good Food Institute, told me.

This is where policymakers can, and should, come in. At its heart, the American Jobs Plan is a climate bill. But there isn’t a dollar for alternative proteins, despite animal agriculture’s huge contributions to both climate and pandemic risk. That’s worse than a mistake. It’s a failure of policy design. Luckily, it’s easily fixed.

Quick hits (part I)

1) As always enjoyed Hidden Brain podcast, but particularly this one on “when conversations go wrong” with Deborah Tannen about conversation.

2) And I love this interesting bit of social science they shared:

Do conversations end when people want them to? Surprisingly, behavioral science provides no answer to this fundamental question about the most ubiquitous of all human social activities. In two studies of 932 conversations, we asked conversants to report when they had wanted a conversation to end and to estimate when their partner (who was an intimate in Study 1 and a stranger in Study 2) had wanted it to end. Results showed that conversations almost never ended when both conversants wanted them to and rarely ended when even one conversant wanted them to and that the average discrepancy between desired and actual durations was roughly half the duration of the conversation. Conver-sants had little idea when their partners wanted to end and underestimated how discrepant their partners’ desires were from their own. These studies suggest that ending conversations is a classic “coordination problem” that humans are unable to solve because doing so requires information that they normally keep from each other. As a result, most conversations appear to end when no one wants them to. conversation | social interaction | social judgment

3) In a world where I was not busy with end-of-semester grading, I’d do a post on race vs class messaging and the Democratic Party.  Instead, I’m going to tell you to read Tom Edsall’s great summary of the academic debate.

In the past, English wrote, scholars studied how Republicans used racial frames to “undermine support for redistributive policies, but now Democrats have started doing the same thing — with, according to our data, the same effects.”

Nicholas Valentino, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, said the English-Kalla study “comports with a long line of work in political psychology demonstrating a gap between a widely shared principle of racial equity and resistance to policies intended to achieve it.”

From the standpoint of rhetorical strategy, Valentino continued,

there is a trade-off between persuasion and mobilization. Highlighting racial injustice may mobilize nonwhite constituencies and racially progressive whites to engage in politics more forcefully.

That anger could be crucial in motivating voters “to overcome the obstacles to voting being pursued by the G.O.P. in many states,” Valentino noted. “The downside is that policy support for racial redistribution among moderates may decline.”

Martin Gilens, a political scientist at U.C.L.A., praised English and Kalla, but was quick to add caveats:

It’s a very nice paper and solid work. Their findings suggest that even in this time of heightened public concern with racial inequities, Democrats are not likely to boost public support for progressive policies by framing them as advancing racial equality.

That said, Gilens added, “I would consider the English and Kalla results to be sobering but not, in themselves, a strong argument for Democrats to turn away from appeals to racial justice.”

Elizabeth Suhay, a political scientist at American University, captured the complexity of the debate.

“English and Kalla’s findings are compelling,” she wrote by email:

Their findings are consonant with a great deal of conventional wisdom in political science. We would expect race-focused messaging to decrease support for a policy not only because of racism in the public, but also because many Americans perceive policies directed at specific population subgroups as unfair.

Suhay also noted: “Don’t forget self-interest. A longstanding definition of politics is that it’s a contest over ‘who gets what, where, when and how.’ ”

Broad public approval is not the only thing politicians care about. From a strategic perspective, they must also be responsive to activists, interest groups, and donors. Given the intense focus on racial justice among some of the most active Democrats — including but not exclusively African Americans — Biden needs to not only deliver on this issue but also to tell people about it.

Suhay went on:

They face intense demands from Democratic activists for both policy and symbolic actions that address racial inequity; however, these actions do threaten to turn off many whites, especially those without a college degree.

Biden, Suhay argues, “seems to have no choice but to find some middle road: focusing communication on how his policies benefit most Americans while also, more infrequently but unmistakably, making clear his commitment to racial equality” and, she added, “he seems to be walking the tightrope well.”

4) OMG this NYT interactive feature on how Pfizer makes their Covid-19 vaccine is amazing.  Not only is the science behind the vaccine amazing, but the engineering, manufacturing, logistics, etc., of pulling off these millions of doses is really pretty mind-blowing.  If you are one of those “I only read a few free NYT articles” people, this should be one of them.  

5) Good Ezra Klein on the problems with bipartisanship:

We are a divided country, but one way we could become less divided is for the consequences of elections to be clearer. When legislation is so hard to pass, politics becomes a battle over identity rather than a battle over policy. Don’t get me wrong: Fights over policy can be angry, even vicious. But they can also lead to changed minds — as in the winning coalition Democrats built atop the successes of the New Deal — or changed parties, as savvy politicians learn to accept the successes of the other side. There is a reason Republicans no longer try to repeal Medicare and Democrats shrink from raising taxes on the middle class.

This is what Manchin gets wrong: A world of partisan governance is a world in which Republicans and Democrats both get to pass their best ideas into law, and the public judges them on the results. That is far better than what we have now, where neither party can routinely pass its best ideas into law, and the public is left frustrated that so much political tumult changes so little.

This whole debate is peculiarly American. In parliamentary systems, the job of the majority party, or majority coalition, is to govern, and the job of the opposition party is to oppose. Cooperation can and does occur, but there’s nothing unusual or regrettable when it doesn’t, and government does not grind to a halt in its absence. Not so in America, where the president can be from one party and Congress can be controlled by another. In raising bipartisanship to a high political ideal, we have made a virtue out of a necessity, but that’s left us little recourse, either philosophically or legislatively, when polarization turns bipartisanship into a rarity. That’s where we are now…

It will surprise no one to hear that I think Democrats should get rid of the filibuster. But it’s not because I believe Democrats necessarily have the right answers for what ails America. It’s because I believe the right answers are likelier to be found if one party, and then the other, can try its hand at solving America’s problems. Partisan governance gives both parties true input over how America is governed; they just have to win elections. Bipartisan governance, at least with parties this polarized, does the opposite: It deprives both sides of the ability to govern and elections of their consequences.

6) I’m so tired of “scariant” reporting.  The vaccines work great against the variants, too.  The worst has been the reporting on India’s “double mutant” while most of what is going on is likely just the same B117 that’s taken over Europe and America.  

India’s worries have focused on a homegrown variant called B.1.617. The public, the popular press and many doctors have concluded that it is responsible for the severity of the second wave.

Researchers outside of India say the limited data so far suggests instead that a better-known variant called B.1.1.7 may be a more considerable factor. That variant walloped Britain late last year, hit much of Europe and is now the most common source of new infection in the United States.

“While it’s almost certainly true B.1.617 is playing a role, it’s unclear how much it’s contributing directly to the surge and how that compares to other circulating variants, especially B.1.1.7,” said Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego.

7) I think LG is probably bothered that I’m so bothered by NYT headlines like this “Teach Your Kids to Resist Hatred Toward Asians.”  I mean how about I teach my kids to resist stereotyped/prejudiced hatred against anybody?  And pretty sure I do.  I mean, I know that feels a little “All Lives Matter,” but lets just teach our kids not to hate and fall prey to ugly stereotypes, period.

8) I’m not sure this is the case for legalizing heroin that I’d make, but just yesterday I was telling my kids I’m literally for decriminalizing possession and small amounts of selling all drugs (the reality is that many “drug dealers” are just drug addicts supporting their habit and not exactly Stringer Bell).  

In 2013, the Columbia psychologist and drug-addiction researcher Carl Hart published a book that was a specific kind of success: it made him into a public character. The book, “High Price,” is in part a memoir of Hart’s adolescence in a poor Miami neighborhood, documenting the arrival of cocaine there in the eighties. Two cousins, whom as a child he’d looked up to, are exiled from their mother’s house for using cocaine, move into a shed in her back yard, and steal her washer and dryer to pay for drugs. The narrative of Hart’s ascent, to the Air Force, graduate school in neuroscience, and, eventually, Ivy League tenure, is interspersed with evidence from his career as an addiction researcher, in which he spent years paying volunteers to use drugs in a controlled hospital setting and observing the results. Hart argues that the violence and despair that defined the crack epidemic had more to do with the social conditions of Black America than they did with the physical pull of drugs. The book begins with his father beating his mother with a hammer after drinking. Hart’s view is that the attack was not about alcohol. “As we now know from experience with alcohol, drinking itself isn’t a problem for most people who do it,” Hart wrote. “The same is true of illegal drugs, even those we have learned to fear, like heroin and crack cocaine.”

Hart, who was one of the first Black scientists to attain tenure at Columbia, cut a charismatic figure. He had an easy authority in talking about the human and pharmacological experience of drug use, describing it in a way that turned an audience’s expectations on its head. Recounting the Rat Park experiments of the seventies, which allowed rats to press a lever for a drug, Hart explained that rats raised and kept in isolation consumed greater quantities of the drug than those that were held in a stimulating environment. “The key factor is the environment, whether you’re talking about humans or rats,” he said. In the late Obama years, most everyone, but especially most evidence-minded liberals, had lost faith in the war on drugs, and Hart became the scientist who said that pharmacology was a weaker force than we’d been led to think.

To promote the book, and this idea, Hart travelled overseas. During those trips, he said that he favored decriminalization and the regulation of all drugs from a perspective of harm reduction, positions that put him on the far left of the American debate. Still, he was sometimes challenged by audience members who thought these positions condescended to users. At an event in Vancouver, a man in the audience raised his hand and explained that he was a heroin user. “Canadians are more polite than New Yorkers, but essentially he said, ‘Who are you to tell me how to live my life?’ ” Hart recalled. The man was smart and clear, and he knew things about heroin that Hart did not. Hart said the conversation made him feel that he had been “paternalistic, pedantic, all those things. I thought I was, I don’t know, some enlightened scientist, and it just came down to, I had no right.”

In Geneva, he met a physician who invited him to visit a heroin-maintenance clinic with which she was affiliated. Hart spent several months there in 2015, watching heroin users behave as efficiently and functionally as the weighted gears in a watch. Patients checked in twice a day for injections, during one period that began at seven in the morning and another at five in the afternoon. In between, many of them went to work. The patients were each assigned a cubby to stash their respective belongings, and often one would leave a beer there, to drink after injection. Hart noticed that though American doctors worried endlessly over the harms of mixing booze and opioids, it didn’t seem a very big deal to the Swiss users, maybe because they knew the exact dose of heroin they were getting and could trust its purity. When one patient had to attend a wedding in less enlightened England, utterly lacking in injection clinics, she carefully planned out her doses and travel arrangements so she could make the trip. When Hart told me about the Geneva injection clinic, he spoke about it in the way that liberal parents speak about Montessori schools—as a fanatically engineered expression of trust. Of the users, Hart said, “They were always on time.”

Shortly after visiting the clinic, Hart began regularly snorting heroin, as he recounts in a new book, “Drug Use for Grown-Ups.” His description of how he started is deliberately simple, suggesting how many of his boundaries had fallen away: a friend said that she’d never used heroin before but was interested in doing so. “Same here. So one Friday evening we did.” He describes using heroin in carefully managed doses, with product he trusts, in the company of friends, at times when being in an altered state does not interfere with his life, and achieving “a dreamy light sedation, free of stress.” Hart says that he used on “no more than about ten consecutive days at a time,” with a frequency roughly similar to his use of alcohol. He writes, “Like vacation, sex, and the arts, heroin is one of the tools I use to maintain my work-life balance.” There are libertarian strains in Hart’s extreme vision of a responsible individual user—but he also sometimes describes his use in the context of a shared racial identity. “I am frequently in a state of hypervigilance in an effort to prevent or minimize the damage caused by living in my own skin,” he writes. “When heroin binds to mu opioid receptors in my brain, I ‘lay down my burden’ as well as ‘my sword and shield’ just as described in the Negro spiritual ‘Down by the Riverside.’ ”

9) This is a great story, “After years as a meme, ‘Disaster Girl’ takes control of her image — with a hefty payoff”

Zoe Roth couldn’t stop checking her phone. “What’s it at now, what’s it at now?” her co-workers asked as they passed by the hostess stand at the Italian restaurant Il Palio. She gave a live play-by-play, and everyone on staff was invested.

As the clock neared 6 p.m. on April 17, she was shaking. Zoe was in the middle of an online auction for a photo, one that years ago had made her 4-year-old self famous.

In that photo, Zoe’s hair is askew. A close-up of her smirking face is in the foreground of the frame, and in the background, a house fire blazes. In her eyes there is a knowingness, as if she is saying, “Yes, it was me. I did this. Wouldn’t you like to know how.”

Evil girl looking back at the viewer in front of a burning house

10) Where’s that Novavax vaccine, anyway?

11) Noted professor asks, “Should We Stop Grading Class Participation?”  Ummm… no.

12) Oh, please.  “Tech Confronts Its Use of the Labels ‘Master’ and ‘Slave’ :Companies and programmers are reexamining how technical terms are used amid Black Lives Matter protests. But some worry the changes are empty symbolism.”  Let’s be clear– it is empty symbolism and there’s been masters and slaves long before any white or black people made it to America.  

13) You know what we really need to work on?  The fact that Black men are way more likely to get pulled over and have a gun pulled on them. Drum:

You might be surprised by this. The key thing we’re interested in is contact initiated by the police, which is about 80% traffic stops. As you can see, Black drivers and white drivers are stopped at nearly the same rate: 11.7% and 11.0%. This is based on survey data in which people report their own experience.

Now let’s move on to use of force by police. Black and Hispanic respondents report that police used force on them at more than twice the rate reported by white respondents. But there’s also this:

Black respondents report having a gun pointed at them at eight times the rate of white respondents. (The number for Hispanics is unreliable due to small sample size, so don’t pay too much attention to that.)

If these self-reported statistics are accurate, Black and white drivers (along with street encounters) are stopped by police at roughly the same rate. But Black men (and it’s mostly men) have guns aimed at them eight times more often. This probably explains why we see so many examples of this captured on video. It’s because it happens so often.

14) Or a story like this, “NC ROTC student, who is Black, practiced drills with fake gun. A neighbor called police.”

Until Tuesday, Jathan Walthour practiced his Air Force ROTC drills with a mop, marching around his Raleigh home with a kitchen cleaning tool.

But as the drills grew more complicated, the sophomore at Sanderson High School got his first dummy rifle from Dick’s Sporting Goods — a fake wooden gun for more realistic practice.

He took his rifle to the cul-de-sac Tuesday night, spinning and switching it between his shoulders, until his practice stopped short. Someone called police on Walthour, who is 16 and Black. A patrol car rolled up to investigate.

Walthour knew what to do. He belongs to Police Explorers, a community program for kids interested in criminal justice. So he placed the rifle on the ground and stepped away from it before officers said a word.

His mother, Jasmin Krest, offered this sobering response: “This is every day for us.”

15) Meredith Conroy ,”Why Being ‘Anti-Media’ Is Now Part Of The GOP Identity”

There’s little question that the media is one of the least trusted institutions in Republican circles.

In the past two decades, trust in traditional media has plummeted — especially among Republicans. According to polling from Gallup, since at least the late 1990s, Republicans have been less likely than Democrats (and independents) to say they trust the media. But starting in 2015, trust among Republicans took a nosedive, falling from 32 percent to 10 percent in 2020. (Meanwhile, among Democrats, trust in the media has actually climbed back up, and by quite a bit.)

This distrust, and Republicans’ growing animosity toward the media, is significant because they’re already isolated news consumers. And studies have shown that when news consumers exist in a media bubble, they can be hostile toward news that doesn’t match their political beliefs. (It also means they can be too trusting of their preferred news outlets.) Plus, as Jonathan Ladd, a Georgetown University public policy and government professor and the author of “Why Americans Hate the Media and How It Matters,” points out,Republicans are getting the message from Fox News (and the broader conservative media ecosystem) that the mainstream media can’t be trusted. “This isn’t new,” Ladd said, but he added that the conservative media’s continued criticism of the press has been “kicked into high gear” by the modern Republican Party.

Take what happened in the Trump era. During both his campaign for the presidency and his four years in office, Trump openly attacked the mediacalling journalists or news organizations critical of him or his administration “fake news.” Consequently, his supporters’ existing perceptions of media bias and distrust of news organizations intensified — this was especially true among his white supporters, who are more likely to consume exclusively conservative media. For instance, at many of Trump’s campaign events, his supporters would disparage, attack and threaten the press. And now, when Trump’s supporters disagree with a fact, they can decry it as “fake news” — whether it be crowd size or election results.

Hostility and distrust of the news media, in other words, has become a point of political identity among Republicans. 

16) Meanwhile, all the more reason Biden’s low-key style is successful, “The Biden White House media doctrine: Less can be more”

But as a strategy, it is a return to an era that predated the Obama White House, when the country heard from the president sparingly.

But it’s also a continuation of the campaign strategy — especially during the general election — premised on the idea thattoo much exposure didn’t necessarily work to his benefitThat mindset sparked criticism from the press as well as then-President Trump, who was doing daily press briefings on Covid-19 while his opponent was largely broadcasting from his home in Delaware. But Biden aides believed that simplicity and restraint was the best approach. He won the election.

“I don’t think that we felt like what [Trump’s team] did worked,” a senior communications aide told POLITICO. “What [Trump] was doing as a strategy was not successful.”

Robert Gibbs, Obama’s first press secretary, says that the current media environment forces a balance for any White House staff. The American people want to see the president working. But overexposure carries risk — and not just in the form of increasing the chances for a notable gaffe.

“I used to have these discussions with President Obama; we were just laying too much of the communications work on top of him,” Gibbs said. “In reality, once you elevate it to the role of the president commenting on it, you can’t really go backwards. Like it’s now fully owned by them.”

17) Aaron Carroll, “When Can We Declare the Pandemic Over?”

Too many people, though, are unwilling to talk about any lowering of our guard — even in the future — because some danger still exists. They want to know that no one is dying of Covid-19 in their community anymore, or they want to know that there are no cases in the area and that there is no chance of their being exposed.

I understand the sentiment, as we have been overwhelmed with messaging about how dangerous Covid-19 is. But the sentiment is not realistic, nor is it reasonable. Such extreme vigilance can also backfire: Each day we wait, more people become impatient and abandon their posts.

Normal has never meant “perfectly safe.” A safer world will likely still have Covid-19 in it.

Ideally, we should reduce restrictions gradually while we closely monitor the situation. First, we might liberalize outdoor gatherings and open schools and maybe even camps more fully. If all goes well, we could allow for denser indoor public events, with masks. We could allow restaurants and bars to increase to full capacity in stages.

While we do all this, we should track cases, hospitalizations and positivity rates. We will still need to test widely, even asymptomatic people, to measure our progress. Should all go well, eventually, we could get rid of masking requirements. If enough people are vaccinated and transmissions slow, we will reach a place where we are much, much safer than we are now.

Americans are generally willing to live with a greater-than-zero level of risk in exchange for what we used to consider a normal life. The roads are full of cars, even though accidents are the No. 1 killer of children. We don’t seem that eager as a country to restrict access to guns, even though they cause injuries or deaths every day. Bottom line: We can sometimes collectively act to reduce risk, but we almost never eliminate it.

18) Especially since I’m working on PSA’s to encourage vaccination (hopefully coming soon to a social media feed near you), I was especially intrigued by Noah Smith’s take on anti-vaccination:

But in fact, I think there’s another angle to the new antivax movement besides the partisan angle — a widespread need for a feeling of personal control.

I got this idea when I noticed that talk show host Joe Rogan declared that healthy 21-year-olds shouldn’t get vaccinated. Rogan is no partisan Republican. But he is someone who seems to place great stock in independence of personal thought and action. And this made me realize that refusing to get vaccinated — or simply harboring reservations about the public health experts’ advice that everyone get vaccinated — might feel like a way of exercising personal independence.

And personal independence really just means exercising control over your own life. This pandemic year has seen Americans lose a lot of the control over their lives that they felt they had previously. Mask mandates and distancing requirements created new rules for everyone to follow. And the virus itself represented the greatest loss of control — a silent, insensate, ever-hungry terror that could lay low the strongest man and send the freest spirits cowering to the safety of their homes.

The plague year infantilized us, made us impotent in the face of forces beyond our control. I think that in some people, that produced a strong desire to strike back and reassert a measure of personal autonomy, even if that meant not wearing a mask or not taking a vaccine. Unable to control the virus or their own fear, people instead took the only independent action they felt they could take — they broke society’s rules.

If this is a big part of vaccine refusal, I doubt that paying people to get shots — one commonly suggested remedy — will be very effective, since to the refusers that would feel like selling their personal autonomy for money.

So I think we need to find some way to convince people that getting vaccinated increases your control over your own life, rather than decreasing it. Especially in low-vaccination red states, we have to get refusers to see it as a tool to be wielded, rather than a rule to be followed. Just like a car or a hammer or a gun, a vaccine shot allows you to escape the fear of the virus, while denying COVID simply shoves that fear back into the deep recesses of your psyche. Vaccines are liberating.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is very true, “A Vaccine Can Be Bad for a Person but Awesome for All People: The safety pause in giving the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is up for debate again—a battle in a Secret War of Denominators and risk-benefit philosophies.”

2) Have I mentioned how much I love, love, love Zeynep’s (free) substack.  So many posts are basically just a clear breakdown of how to be a better thinker applied to examples with Covid.  In these week’s it’s about an outbreak at a nursing home that led many to say “oh, no, vaccines don’t work” but was really a great demonstration of vaccine efficacy.

What are we looking at here? A nursing home outbreak, 46 infections, three deaths, a variant with concerning mutations.

Here’s one way to headline an article about the study:

The article describes the outbreak:

An unvaccinated health care worker set off a Covid-19 outbreak at a nursing home in Kentucky where the vast majority of residents had been vaccinated, leading to dozens of infections, including 22 cases among residents and employees who were already fully vaccinated, a new study reported Wednesday.

Most of those who were infected with the coronavirus despite being vaccinated did not develop symptoms or require hospitalization, but one vaccinated individual, who was a resident of the nursing home, died, according to the study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Altogether, 26 facility residents were infected, including 18 who had been vaccinated, and 20 health care personnel were infected, including four who had been vaccinated. Two unvaccinated residents also died.

The article isn’t inaccurate. It relays what indeed happened. The headline is descriptive. The article states up top that most of the infected did not develop symptoms or require hospitalization, while noting the one death. It highlights the importance of vaccinating nursing home staff (which is how it came into the facility), and explains that this was a variant that shared a key mutation, E484K, with variants that were suspected of partial immune escape, like  B.1.351 (South Africa) and P.1. (Brazil). I’m not picking on the article at all, it is usually how such studies are represented in responsible outlets: the descriptive facts, in order. This is our accepted practice.

The CDC study also notes an efficacy calculation: “Vaccine was 86.5% protective against symptomatic illness among residents and 87.1% protective among HCP.” I saw multiple attempts on social media to compare this number to the one efficacy number from the trials, usually around 95%:…

A cluster differs greatly from what we measured in trials where the participants did not live together or share exposure especially because we know this pathogen is very overdispersed. It oscillates between being aggressively contagious—probably a combination of a person who emits a lot of aerosols and is at the most contagious stage of their infection plus an enclosed space, or repeated exposure in a congregate living facility like this one—and not transmitting onward at all. Various studies find that 80 to 90 percent of people never transmit onward—they are the end of the chain.

Hence, if your exposure takes place while you are a member of a potential cluster, your odds of being infected are much greater than in comparison with exposure that doesn’t occur as part of a cluster. For a pathogen like this, finding transmission events, not infected people, are key because transmission events are near each other. If you find one, you are likely to find more. But that also means that being in a cluster is a worse case scenario, compared with the independent measurements from the trials: one would expect higher attack rates.  In fact, this is very useful information for mitigation: focusing on finding such clusters and “backward-tracing them” to find the source, and then trying to look at other people that might have been exposed within that cluster, rather than trying to trace every infected person’s onward contacts (most of which were going to be dead end anyway) was key to Japan’s comparatively very successful strategy (something I wrote about while explaining overdispersion and its implications). 

When you put this together, what is the information you get from the above study?

You get very, very good, reassuring news about the vaccines.

3) This is really good from political scientists Frances Lee and James Curry: “What’s Really Holding the Democrats Back: It’s not the filibuster.”

Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s Democratic senator, has put everyone on notice: Under no circumstances will he vote to eliminate the Senate filibuster. If the support of at least 10 Republicans is needed to pass legislation, progressives have little hope for their agenda. At least that’s what many seem to think. But eliminating the filibuster probably wouldn’t matter as much as they believe it would. The bigger obstacle to any party’s agenda is its members’ inability to agree among themselves.

We compiled the stated policy goals of every congressional majority party from 1985 through 2018. We identified the parties’ agendas by looking to the bills designated as leadership priorities and the issues flagged by the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader in their opening speech to Congress, yielding a list on average of 15 top priorities per congressional term. Tracking each proposal, 265 in total, we found that the parties failed outright on their agenda priorities about half the time, meaning that no legislation on the issue was enacted.  

We then analyzed when, how, and why each failed, and also whether the majority party faced a unified or divided government when it did. Naturally, when a party controlled the House, Senate, and presidency, it fared somewhat better in enacting its agenda than when it didn’t, but not markedly so. Parties failed on 43 percent of their agenda priorities in unified government as compared with 49 percent in divided government. This failure rate varies from Congress to Congress, but has remained fairly consistent even in recent years. When Democrats most recently held all three branches of government (in 2009–10), they failed on 50 percent of their agenda items. When Republicans most recently held all three (in 2017–18), they failed on 36 percent.

When a party has unified control of government, the filibuster provides the Senate’s minority party (if it has at least 41 senators) with the ability to stop the majority’s legislative efforts. This is why partisans focus so much on the filibuster, and why progressive activists are so concerned over it right now. But the filibuster accounted for only about one-third of the majority party’s failures during the periods of unified government we studied. In the two most recent instances of unified government—the Democrats in 2009–10 and the Republicans in 2017–18—agenda failures caused by the filibuster were even less common. The Democrats had just one of their priorities, immigration reform, fail because of the filibuster. The Republicans had none. Filibuster reform, then, may enable Democrats to achieve particular policy goals opposed by Republicans, and those would certainly be victories. But most failures, about two-thirds overall during years of unified government and 90 percent during the past two instances of unified government, stemmed from disagreements within the majority party rather than the minority party’s ability to block legislation via the filibuster.

4) Kevin Drum with his “megatrends” of American politics.  I agree with most, especially these:

1. US politics will stay toxic as long as Fox News is around. Rupert Murdoch has discovered that spreading fear and outrage is the most reliable way of making money, so that’s what he does. It’s all but impossible to sustain a traditional political system when half the population is scared senseless of the other half, and that will remain the case until Fox New is somehow reined in…

6.  We are entering a biotech golden age. I know, I know: we’ve been entering a biotech golden age for the past four decades. But after years of prologue, I think we really are finally on the verge of huge change. Cheap genome sequencing, CRISPR, and mRNA vaccines are harbingers of the near future.

5) David Frum with an interesting take on the rise of Ron DeSantis.

6) Jack Shafer on the rise of Substack:

The rise of Substack—and of platforms of its competitors—signals a new juncture in journalism, one that combines the power and mystique of the byline with the editorial independence afforded by the blog. After being lectured forever about how information wants to be free, Substack is teaching us that not only will readers pay for top-drawer copy, but that the work of some writers was actually undervalued in the market before readers were given the opportunity to purchase journalism a la carte instead of from a prix fixe menu.

Substack has stampeded some elite media types into a panic. “Is Substack the Media Future We Want?” worried a New Yorker feature recently. New York Times media columnist Ben Smith analyzed the upheaval in his column, “Why We’re Freaking Out About Substack.” Yes, Substack looks like a revolution and smells like a revolution, but as many have noted, it’s really a throwback to the origins of journalism in the Middle Ages, and the emphasis on who is writing the copy as opposed to what is being written can be traced to the late 19th century. Substack may be educating the industry about who adds the high value in journalism, writers or editors.

7) This is cool, “This Map Lets You Plug in Your Address to See How It’s Changed Over the Past 750 Million Years”

8) Pretty sure I wrote a post a while back about how the soccer penalty kick is the dumbest thing in sports.  I stand by that.  Apparently, Premier League teams are now working extra hard to draw fouls in the corner of the penalty box where the likelihood of your next few actions actually scoring a goal is super-low anyway.  Soccer is such a great sport with some really stupid rules.  

Indeed, it hasn’t merely gone, but it’s flipped the other way. Aside from serious foul play, VAR only looks at incidents in the box — so now, fouls that are less obvious inside the box are penalised more than those outside.

This new era hasn’t simply changed the decision-making of officials, but also the approach of forwards, which probably explains the increase in the award of penalties between the first VAR season and the second (as well as some particularly harsh handball decisions at the start of this campaign). It has become increasingly obvious that in certain situations, more than ever, attackers are playing for penalties by attempting to engineer contact. Strategically, it makes complete sense, particularly when an attacker is in the corner of the box.

The word “box” is key here, because the concept of a penalty box doesn’t reflect the true value of the football pitch. In other comparable sports — hockey, for example — this type of area is denoted by a semi-circle rather than a rectangle, forming a consistent distance from the goal. Everyone knows the penalty box in football is 18 yards long, but they might not know it is 44 yards wide — because that ensures it also stretches 18 yards away from the two posts, which are eight yards apart.

So although 18 yards was considered the key distance from goal, this became a box rather than a semi-circle. Clearly, there’s a zone in the corners of the penalty box that are within 18 yards of the byline, but considerably further from the goal. These are poor positions in terms of creating a goal from open play, and are therefore disproportionately valuable in terms of winning a foul.

You’ll probably be familiar with the concept of expected goals, aka xG, which outlines the probability of a shot finding the net when struck from a particular position. Shooting from the corner of the box will result in a goal around one or two per cent of the time, depending upon the xG model and the precise position.

Of course, that doesn’t entirely explain the situation. A player with the ball in that position probably won’t shoot. He’ll attempt to pass or dribble into a better position.

But we can also account for that through analytics. Karun Singh, a football analytics writer with a computer science degree from Cornell University, has developed the concept of “expected threat” — xT. This is explained at length on his blog, and largely follows the concept of xG, but takes the process forward a few stages. In other words, it’s not simply about judging the probability of a goal stemming directly from a particular zone, but about judging the probability of a goal arising from the next two, three, four or five “actions” (passes, crosses, dribbles, shots etc) from a particular zone.

Singh’s analysis is worth reading — his methodology is beyond most of us, but it features excellent interactive graphics to explain the concept. For the purposes of this article, the zone highlighted below is relevant. If a player has the ball in this position, his team will score from the next five “actions” 9 per cent of the time (on average — it varies for different teams).

Furthermore, the heatmap demonstrates how the probability of a goal arising in the next five moves varies across the pitch — the darker the zone, the more dangerous it is. And the most interesting here is the very obvious visual proof that not only is the corner of the box less dangerous than a central position, as you would expect, but it’s also slightly less dangerous than a wider position — the same distance from the byline, but outside the box. The danger increases further when a player reaches the zone near the byline, still outside the box.

In other words, having the ball in the corner of the box is not particularly valuable in terms of creating a goal from open play. And therefore the more logical thing to do is attempt to win a penalty, which will bring a 78 per cent chance of a goal (slightly more if, like in Singh’s model, you include subsequent actions, to account for rebounds).

9) This is very good for the Covid-inclined, “We know a lot about Covid-19. Experts have many more questions”

10) Civil Asset Forfeiture is just the worst! “The Government Seized This Innocent Man’s Car Without Due Process. SCOTUS Won’t Hear the Case.
“How can an ordinary person afford to wait years after the government takes their car?””

11) I don’t post a lot on foreign policy, but if this wasn’t just the clearest case of “sunk cost trap” imaginable when it comes to Afghanistan:

At a recent National Security Council Principal’s Committee meeting, Cabinet-level officials including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and others gathered as part of the administration’s weekslong review of US policy in Afghanistan.

The officials are debating which of three broad options for the 20-year war in Afghanistan Biden should pursue. The first is to adhere to former President Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban, which would require Biden to withdraw all remaining 2,500 US troops by May 1. The second is to negotiate an extension with the insurgent group, allowing American forces to remain in the country beyond early May. And third is to defy the Trump-Taliban pact altogether and keep fighting in Afghanistan with no stated end date.

During the meeting, according to four sources from the White House, Pentagon, and elsewhere familiar with what happened, Milley made an impassioned — and at times “emotional,” according to some — case to consider keeping US troops in the country.

Milley, who was the deputy commanding general of US forces in Afghanistan and served three tours in the country, essentially argued that if American forces fully withdraw by May 1, it would open the door for the Taliban to overtake the country, making life worse for millions of Afghans and imperiling US national security goals.

Women’s rights “will go back to the Stone Age,” Milley said, according to two of the sources. He argued that it wasn’t worth leaving the country after “all the blood and treasure spent” there over the last two decades. [emphasis mine] He also added that, in his view, the lack of 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan would make it harder to stem threats from a nuclear-armed Pakistan.

12) Damn I love science! “This Ultra-White Paint May Someday Replace Air Conditioning: Developed by researchers at Purdue University, the paint reflects 98.1 percent of sunlight”

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a new ultra-white paint that reflects 98.1 percent of sunlight and can keep surfaces up to 19 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than their ambient surroundings. This new paint, which may become available for purchase in the next year or two, could someday help combat global warming and reduce our reliance on air conditioners.

The team of scientists in Purdue’s mechanical engineering department recently published the findings of their paint research, funded by the university’s cooling technologies research center and the Air Force’s scientific research office, in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

“Our paint only absorbs 1.9 percent of the sunlight, whereas commercial paint absorbs 10 to 20 percent of sunlight,” says Xiulin Ruan, a Purdue mechanical engineering professor and one of the study’s co-authors.

The paint is a marked improvement from current heat-rejecting paints on the market. When struck by the sun’s rays, surfaces covered in today’s available white paints get warmer, not cooler. At best, these heat-combatting paints can reflect 80 to 90 percent of sunlight, says Ruan.

The new ultra-white paint, which the researchers say is the coolest on record, reflects nearly all of the sun’s rays and sends infrared heat away from the surface, providing an average cooling power of 113 watts per square meter. If painted onto the roof of a 1,000-square-foot home, that translates to a cooling power of 10 kilowatts, which is more powerful than most residential central air conditioners, Ruan says.

In tests conducted during sunny, midday hours on the roof of a campus building in West Lafayette, Indiana, the paint kept outdoor surfaces 8 degrees cooler than the ambient surrounding temperatures. At night, the paint kept surfaces 19 degrees cooler than their surroundings.

“Our paint can lose heat by its own emission—it emits heat to deep space,” Ruan says. “With such little absorption from the sun, our paint loses more heat than it absorbs. This is really exciting for us. Under the sun, it cools below the ambient temperature and that’s hard to achieve.”

13) Apparently the NHL told its players that after vaccination life could go back to normal, but, then… not so much.  Also, I had no idea how restrictive they were being to make this all work:

Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner sparked discussion and controversy Wednesday when he spoke out against the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols and overall approach to mental health during the pandemic.

Lehner sat at the press conference table inside the Vegas practice facility and delivered an emotional message, claiming that the NHL promised players a more relaxed version of the current protocols once players were vaccinated. He said that even though the majority of Golden Knights players have received their shots, the league hasn’t followed through.

“To be promised something’s going to change, to take a vaccine,” Lehner said. “Where some people, some players were even on the verge of taking it, and I was one of them. I wasn’t sure, but I took it for my mental health. When we did it, now they said it’s not happening. I think that’s wrong.”

The NHL and deputy commissioner Bill Daly quickly disputed Lehner’s claim, stating the league never made such promises. Shortly after Lehner spoke publicly, he talked again with The Athletic over the phone to clarify some of his statements and provided details for the exact rule relaxations he was expecting.

He didn’t back down from his initial statements but doubled down on his belief that the league must do better in its handling of players’ mental health issues.

“We were presented with, ‘Listen, if we can get 85 percent of our travel party vaccinated, these rules are going to change,” Lehner told The Athletic. “They showed us the NBA protocols for all the stages, and that’s what made me take the vaccine.

“Being lied to about things changing, to kind of force us to take the vaccine, is unacceptable. And now that we’ve taken the vaccine, to say ‘Nah, we aren’t changing because of competitive advantage,’ is outrageous.”

NHL players are following stricter isolation rules than most of the general public, essentially only traveling from the rink to their house and back for an entire calendar year. They aren’t allowed to leave their house for something as simple as grocery shopping. No visitors are allowed into their homes, including their own teammates. On the road they often can’t even dine as a team, forced to grab a meal and take it to their room to eat. Even players’ family members are encouraged not to go out for any reason. To the rink, and back home. That’s it.

14) Of course there’s fraud in the vaccination cards.

15) Leonhardt on our inability to properly assess the risks of Covid:

Guido Calabresi, a federal judge and Yale law professor, invented a little fable that he has been telling law students for more than three decades.

He tells the students to imagine a god coming forth to offer society a wondrous invention that would improve everyday life in almost every way. It would allow people to spend more time with friends and family, see new places and do jobs they otherwise could not do. But it would also come with a high cost. In exchange for bestowing this invention on society, the god would choose 1,000 young men and women and strike them dead.

Calabresi then asks: Would you take the deal? Almost invariably, the students say no. The professor then delivers the fable’s lesson: “What’s the difference between this and the automobile?”

In truth, automobiles kill many more than 1,000 young Americans each year; the total U.S. death toll hovers at about 40,000 annually. We accept this toll, almost unthinkingly, because vehicle crashes have always been part of our lives. We can’t fathom a world without them.

It’s a classic example of human irrationality about risk. We often underestimate large, chronic dangers, like car crashes or chemical pollution, and fixate on tiny but salient risks, like plane crashes or shark attacks.

One way for a risk to become salient is for it to be new. That’s a core idea behind Calabresi’s fable. He asks students to consider whether they would accept the cost of vehicle travel if it did not already exist. That they say no underscores the very different ways we treat new risks and enduring ones.

I have been thinking about the fable recently because of Covid-19. Covid certainly presents a salient risk: It’s a global pandemic that has upended daily life for more than a year. It has changed how we live, where we work, even what we wear on our faces. Covid feels ubiquitous.

Fortunately, it is also curable. The vaccines have nearly eliminated death, hospitalization and other serious Covid illness among people who have received shots. The vaccines have also radically reduced the chances that people contract even a mild version of Covid or can pass it on to others.

Yet many vaccinated people continue to obsess over the risks from Covid — because they are so new and salient.

Visitors riding the swings at Adventureland, in Farmingdale, N.Y., yesterday.Johnny Milano for The New York Times

‘Psychologically hard’

To take just one example, major media outlets trumpeted new government data last week showing that 5,800 fully vaccinated Americans had contracted Covid. That may sound like a big number, but it indicates that a vaccinated person’s chances of getting Covid are about one in 11,000. The chances of a getting a version any worse than a common cold are even more remote.

But they are not zero. And they will not be zero anytime in the foreseeable future. Victory over Covid will not involve its elimination. Victory will instead mean turning it into the sort of danger that plane crashes or shark attacks present — too small to be worth reordering our lives.

That is what the vaccines do. If you’re vaccinated, Covid presents a minuscule risk to you, and you present a minuscule Covid risk to anyone else. A car trip is a bigger threat, to you and others. About 100 Americans are likely to die in car crashes today. The new federal data suggests that either zero or one vaccinated person will die today from Covid.

It’s true that experts believe vaccinated people should still sometimes wear a mask, partly because it’s a modest inconvenience that further reduces a tiny risk — and mostly because it contributes to a culture of mask wearing. It is the decent thing to do when most people still aren’t vaccinated. If you’re vaccinated, a mask is more of a symbol of solidarity than anything else.

Coming to grips with the comforting realities of post-vaccination life is going to take some time for most of us. It’s only natural that so many vaccinated people continue to harbor irrational fears. Yet slowly recognizing that irrationality will be a vital part of overcoming Covid.

15) Discovered the Raccoon Whisperer videos this weekend.  Ummm… wow.  Who knew raccoons could get so fat!

16) I love McDonald’s ice cream cones.  The fact that they are so constantly broken drives me crazy and feels like some bizarre failure of capitalism (I mean, there’s money at stake here– invent a more reliable ice cream machine!!)  And OMG this amazing Wired story explains it all and so much more.  It’s your must-read for the weekend.  And it also introduced me to this awesome website which I will now be checking before heading to McDonald’s for cones with the kids after Sunday afternoon nature walks.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Yglesias on Housing policy as a case study in how liberals make arguments to each other versus what is the best way to actually accomplish the goals of liberal arguments.  

What’s interesting about the housing case is that we just recently had a really good collaboration between Vox and Data for Progress (written up by Jerusalem Demsas) on the question of whether a race-forward framing of the housing issue is a good idea. The answer was: No, land use reform is more popular if you describe it as an economic growth initiative than as a racial justice initiative.

This is not a very surprising result if you take a second to think about it. Most voters like to hear that politicians care about people like them and their problems, and most voters are white. Meanwhile, non-white people benefit from economic growth. The presumption of Kahlenberg’s framing is that the audience is fully bought-in on the need to prioritize racial justice, and just needs to be told how to do that. But this, to me, is the central paradox of contemporary liberalism, which simultaneously holds that racism pervades American society and also that a good way to do politics is to constantly frame things in racial terms…

Aside from land use, the other big cause I’ve been very involved with is trying to get more political focus on expansionary monetary policy and full employment. In his memoir, “Eyes to the Wind: A Memoir of Love and Death, Hope and Resistance,” Ady Barkan very generously credits me with inspiring him to launch Fed Up, the first activist campaign focused on these issues. The articles that he says got him wanting to do this don’t say much of anything about race, but he explains that centering race was critical to securing momentum for his project in the progressive non-profit world:

I had laid out a good argument for why the Fed should pursue full employment, but I still needed to tell a comprehensible story about how the Fed should do that and how we could plausibly get the Fed to do it. Over my first months at CPD, Amy and I talked through those questions, and quite soon she had identified the crucial element that was missing from my analysis and my proposal: race.

And later.

So my framing would matter. A campaign pitch about the Federal Reserve and creative expansionary monetary policy would be met by glazed-over eyes and silence. A campaign about jobs and wages would be met by nodding heads and smiles. But a campaign about combatting racial and economic equality by delivering full employment to all communities? That might actually get some people excited.

Barkan’s frankness about this was really helpful and enlightening to me because the monetary policy campaign has been very successful but also very deliberately focused on elite persuasion. The basic question was how could a white activist convince a group of funders to give him money to convince a group of highly educated monetary policy officials to care more about working-class people and the answer was … talk a lot about race.

But that’s not the advice you would give someone trying to win a US Senate seat in Iowa…

Here at Slow Boring, everything ultimately comes back to Max Weber and politics as a vocation.

And what I would really like is for funders to think harder about these issues and try to adopt more of an ethic of responsibility and less of an ethic of moral conviction. What does that mean? Well in the ethics of conviction what matters are your feelings and intentions. Your job on this view is to wage the righteous struggle, and a struggle against white supremacy sounds a lot more righteous than a struggle against inefficient regulation.

But to use the social justice jargon of our time, intentions aren’t what matters. And relatively privileged people ought to be self-reflective about our privileges. If there are urgent problems, your obligation is to act like a responsible person and actually try to make them better. Does turning zoning reform into a highly polarized issue of racial conflict make it more or less likely to happen? And in particular, does setting up your grantmaking in such a way that any progressive cause’s advocates are strongly incentivized to turn it into a highly polarized issue of racial conflict make those causes more or less likely to prevail?

If the answer is “less likely,” then you have to not do it. That does not mean that you can’t address issues of race and racism. An issue that’s gotten attention in recent years is that a lack of racial diversity in clinical trials is compromising the quality of the health care that non-white patients receive. There is very strong evidence of racial bias in police stops. These are racial issues and they deserve to be addressed.

At the end of the day, though, there’s a big difference between saying “I want to fund various kinds of work, including some work on issues where race-neutral solutions won’t work” and saying “I want to create financial incentives for everyone to frame their race-neutral policy ideas as racial justice initiatives.” These days there is a lot of the latter happening and a lot of people are responding to it. If you’re in a position to make those kinds of decisions, you have to ask yourself whether that’s actually helping anyone.

2) The shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant the day of the Chauvin really blew up.  But 48 hours later, when it was clear she was basically shot while just about to stab an unarmed person, it’s largely dropped away.  This is not a good case to make arguments about racist policing and police reform.  I like Drum’s take:

Just as the verdict in the Derek Chauvin case was coming down on Tuesday, another high-profile police shooting of a Black person was taking place in Columbus, Ohio. But this case resolved very differently than the Chauvin case. Police had been called to a house where a fight was taking place and body cam video of the incident was released almost immediately. Here’s what it showed:

The girl wearing black, identified as 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, has a knife out and is obviously about to stab the girl wearing pink. A police officer on the scene shot Bryant four times before she could do any harm.

By American standards this was a righteous shooting. The police officer did the right thing and will certainly not be in any trouble over it.

But looking at this a little more broadly suggests that maybe American standards aren’t very good. Police are trained to react to situations like this with direct firepower, and you can make an argument that this is the right thing to do. But was it? Would rushing the two girls have been adequate? A warning shot? A taser? In countries like Norway and the UK it would have been handled differently simply because cops in those countries don’t routinely carry guns.

Shooting Bryant was, in some sense, the lowest-risk response. It was 100% guaranteed to save the girl in pink from any injury whatsoever. But would a different response have been better, even if it ran some small risk of the girl in pink suffering some (probably non-fatal) injury?

I think so.

3) Good stuff from Susan Glasser, “Many Republicans are acting like the Capitol insurrection never happened, and much of Washington is fine with it.”

Next Wednesday, President Joe Biden is set to deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress, on the eve of his hundredth day in office. Outside the Capitol, newly erected fences and a heavy National Guard presence attest to the lingering scars of our own January 6th. But January 6th denialism has taken hold in Trump and many of his supporters—even some inside Congress. They now claim the horrific events of that day were merely a peaceful protest, and they continue to refuse to accept the legitimacy of Biden’s win. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been unable to reach a deal with Republicans to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the attack on the Capitol.

And never mind the old bipartisan ritual of applauding the President, no matter which Party he comes from; a number of Republican members of Congress told Punchbowl News that they won’t even bother to show up for the President’s speech. “No,” said Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a former member of the House Republican leadership. “No,” said Representative Nancy Mace, a highly regarded Republican freshman from South Carolina. “I am not,” said Representative Greg Pence, the brother of Trump’s Vice-President, Mike Pence. Just hours after rioters sought to stop the Vice-President from banging down the gavel on the Trump Presidency, Greg Pence was one of the hundred and forty-seven Republicans who voted against certifying the election results—a total so large that it represents not some small lunatic fringe but the vast majority of the House Republican Conference.

Three months later, no price has been paid by the Republicans who took that vote. In the immediate aftermath of January 6th, this outcome was not entirely clear. Some Republican politicians initially disavowed Trump and seemed to believe that his hold on the Party would dissipate—Nikki Haley, I’m thinking of you—but have since proved eager to run away from their own words. Many companies even announced that they would suspend political donations to those who had voted against certifying the election results, suggesting there might actually be consequences. Instead, the inevitable walk-back has already started.

In recent days, as new campaign-finance reports have come in, the nonprofit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (crew) has found numerous examples of corporate political-action committees resuming contributions to Republicans who voted to overturn the election results. They include the pacs run by A.T. & T., the American Bankers Association, JetBlue, and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. Toyota’s pac has given at least forty-eight thousand dollars to thirty-one Republican members who voted against certification, according to Noah Bookbinder, the president of crew, who told me it was the largest amount that his group has found so far—a “full-on embrace of not caring that members of Congress encouraged an insurrection.”

This is hardly surprising. Washington is a calculating place, and these companies have calculated, accurately, where the vast majority of Republican officials in Congress still stand. Papering over a scandal, assuming that the public is not paying enough attention to care about a few donations which really matter only to the politicians who receive them—that’s what this town is all about. “There was an opportunity for the Republican Party to differentiate itself from Donald Trump and his anti-democratic actions and tendencies, to say he’s gone too far,” Bookbinder told me. “They didn’t do that.”

4) Damn, I loved this from Katherine Wu, “Show Your Immune System Some Love: Antibodies are great and all, but macrophages, B cells, and helper T cells deserve some attention too.”  You know I am all about showing the T-cells some love:

If the immune system ran its own version of The Bachelor, antibodies would, hands down, get this season’s final rose.

These Y-shaped molecules have acquired some star-caliber celebrity in the past year, due in no small part to COVID-19. For months, their potentially protective powers have made headlines around the globe; we test for them with abandon, and anxiously await the results. Many people have come to equate antibodies, perhaps not entirely accurately, with near imperviousness to the coronavirus and its effects. Antibodies are, in many ways, the heartthrobs of the immune system—and some 15 months deep into immunological infatuation, the world is still swooning hard.

Don’t get me wrong: Antibodies have served me well, and thanks to my recent dalliance with the Pfizer vaccine, the anti-coronavirus variety will be receiving an extra dose of my admiration for a good while yet. I am, above all else, eager for the rest of the global population to nab the safeguards they offer, ideally for keeps.

But antibodies are simply not the only immune-system singles worthy of our love. A multitude of cells and molecules are crucial to building a protective immune response against this virus and many others. It’s time we took a break from antibodies, and embarked on a brief Rumspringa with the rest of the body’s great defenders…

T cells play a far more subtle game. Their career choices range from demolishing virus-killed cells to corralling and coordinating other immune cells. As several researchers have pointed out, T cells might be some of the most underappreciated cells in the war against COVID-19, especially when it comes to vaccines. Some evidence even suggests that, in the absence of decent antibodies, T cells can clean up the coronavirus mostly on their own.

Then there are the helpers—the benign Jekyll to the killers’ bellicose Hyde. Helper Ts are some of the most loyal partners you’ll find in the immune system, nurturing almost to a fault and versatile to boot. They coax B cells into maturing into antibody factories. They cheer killers along their murderous paths. They even goad innate immune cells into becoming the most ferocious fighters (and feeders) they can be. Effectively, helpers are “badass multitaskers that coordinate every level of immunity,” Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington, told me. They’re about as supportive as they come—as long as you don’t mind being micromanaged from time to time.

5) As a parent who has let all his kids play with nerf guns and water guns, the idea of an NYT advice columnist saying even water pistols desensitize gun violence, all I can say is… give me a break.  

6) Great stuff from Brian Beutler in this week’s newsletter:

I’ll admit to mostly sidestepping the question of whether the Waters and Biden statements were appropriate; I have mixed feelings about them, and only one read-it-in-10-minutes-or-less email to write. (Unless….subscribe to my Substack, The Watersgate Investigation.) The norm that elected officials, particularly the president, shouldn’t opine on the guilt or innocence of criminal defendants before juries do is a strong one. The fact that Trump trampled it heedlessly was awful and corrosive. At the same time, Waters’s prerogatives in her dual-hatted roles as congresswoman and civil-rights activists are in tension here; as are Biden’s obligations to uphold the rights of the accused, respect separation of powers, and play social peacemaker. It’s a thorny debate, but it’s playing out all on its own, in good faith, without Republican input, on the broad left. 

Tabling the censure resolution, as Democrats did, was a way of saying Republicans should be excluded from that debate, and rightly so—but not because Republicans have their own “mess” to clean up. They’re unwelcome because they don’t see themselves as bound by the principles they’re pretending to be mad that Waters violated. Republicans love interfering in judicial processes to help their allies and punish their enemies; they love inciting violence against their political opposition. Donald Trump did these things with abandon and they cheered it for years; after he lost, they forged ahead in his image, most recently in the form of legislation offering their supporters immunity from civil liability for running over Black Lives Matter protesters with their cars

This isn’t the hypocrisy of a politician who preaches conservative family values by day then hits the Appalachian Trail at night. It’s shit-eating revelry in the fascistic notion that they and only they are allowed to violate the rules. They may use and abuse power all they want while their opponents must never run afoul of norms of decorum or fair play. The catch is that they understand it would be politically untenable to assert or attempt to justify this double standard explicitly. They get around that impediment by resorting to deception, to trying to convince the wider public that they view principles other than raw self-interest as sacrosanct. They preen about higher values they do not hold, knowing that neither the press nor the opposition party is likely to stipulate to the plain truth: That they are liars, keen on sanctioning their enemies for behavior that they revel in by feigning offense. 

7) Interesting, “What Facebook Did for Chauvin’s Trial Should Happen All the Time: If the social-media giant can discourage hate speech and incitements to violence on a special occasion, it can do so all the time.”

On Monday, Facebook vowed that its staff was “working around the clock” to identify and restrict posts that could lead to unrest or violence after a verdict was announced in the murder trial of the former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. In a blog post, the company promised to remove “content that praises, celebrates or mocks” the death of George Floyd. Most of the company’s statement amounted to pinky-swearing to really, really enforce its existing community standards, which have long prohibited bullying, hate speech, and incitements to violence.

8) Linda Greenhouse on guns and the Supreme Court:

Once again, the country is awash in gun violence. And once again, the justices have to decide whether to inject the Supreme Court into the middle of the gun debate. Will the first of those two sentences inform the second?

That’s really the question now, it seems to me. There is little doubt that the necessary four votes exist to add a Second Amendment case to the docket for decision, and there are plenty of candidates to choose from. One case under active consideration challenges New York State’s restriction on carrying a concealed gun outside the home. The justices have taken it up at their private conference twice this month and are scheduled to do so again on Friday.

case from New Jersey raising the same challenge to a similar constraint was filed at the court on April 2. There are other Second Amendment cases in the pipeline, propelled toward the court in the expectation that Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s arrival has finally tipped the balance toward action on the gun rights agenda…

Thirteen years post-Heller, the decision itself has become more of a symbol and talking point than a legal opinion that people actually take the trouble to read.

If they did, they would see Heller as the limited decision that it was. Yes, it took the unprecedented step of interpreting the Second Amendment as conferring an individual right to own a gun, but the court applied that new right to the unusual circumstance of a District of Columbia law that prohibited private gun ownership. Only the District and Chicago had such a strict law. The court held only that individuals have a constitutional right to own a gun and to keep it at home for self-defense. For the vast majority of people in the country, Heller changed nothing as a practical matter; it constitutionalized a right that gun owners already enjoyed under state and local laws.

Whether the Second Amendment also protects a right to walk down the street, or onto a college campus, or into a supermarket, a warehouse, a State Capitol, or a 12-year-old’s birthday party carrying a gun are questions that Heller did not answer. The current court can answer those questions in the affirmative if it so chooses. It has the votes. We will soon see whether it has the discipline and common sense to stay its hand.

9) Richard Hasen, “Republicans Aren’t Done Messing With Elections: Not content with limiting voting rights, they are threatening the integrity of vote counting itself.”

A new, more dangerous front has opened in the voting wars, and it’s going to be much harder to counteract than the now-familiar fight over voting rules. At stake is something I never expected to worry about in the United States: the integrity of the vote count. The danger of manipulated election results looms.

We already know the contours of the battle over voter suppression. The public has been inundated with stories about Georgia’s new voting law, from Major League Baseball’s decision to pull the All-Star Game from Atlanta to criticism of new restrictions that prevent giving water to people waiting in long lines to vote. With lawsuits already filed against restrictive aspects of that law and with American companies and elite law firms lined up against Republican state efforts to make it harder to register and vote, there’s at least a fighting chance that the worst of these measures will be defeated or weakened.

The new threat of election subversion is even more concerning. These efforts target both personnel and policy; it is not clear if they are coordinated. They nonetheless represent a huge threat to American democracy itself.

Some of these efforts involve removing from power those who stood up to President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The Georgia law removes the secretary of state from decision-making power on the state election board. This seems aimed clearly at Georgia’s current Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, punishing him for rejecting Mr. Trump’s entreaties to “find” 11,780 votes to flip Joe Biden’s lead in the state.

Even those who have not been stripped of power have been censured by Republican Party organizations, including not just Mr. Raffensperger and Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, but also Barbara Cegavske, the Republican secretary of state of Nevada who ran a fair election and rejected spurious arguments that the election was stolen. The message that these actions send to politicians is that if you want a future in state Republican politics, you had better be willing to manipulate election results or lie about election fraud.

Republican state legislatures have also passed or are considering laws aimed at stripping Democratic counties of the power to run fair elections. The new Georgia law gives the legislature the power to handpick an election official who could vote on the state election board for a temporary takeover of up to four county election boards during the crucial period of administering an election and counting votes. That provision appears to be aimed at Democratic counties like Fulton County that have increased voter access. A new Iowa law threatens criminal penalties against local election officials who enact emergency election rules and bars them from sending voters unsolicited absentee ballot applications.

10) Loved this, “Can We Learn to Live With Germs Again? The health of our bodies and microbiomes may depend on society’s return to lifestyles that expose us to bacteria, despite the risks.”

In January, a global consortium of health researchers published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in which they raise the alarm about the microbial fallout that may follow in the pandemic’s wake. “We’re starting to realize that there’s collateral damage when we get rid of good microbes, and that has major consequences for our health,” says B. Brett Finlay, first author of the PNAS paper and a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of British Columbia.

Almost everything we know about the microbiome is uncertain, including how our activities and environments influence its makeup. But Dr. Finlay and others argue that our collective health may depend on our willingness to holster our sanitizers and cleansers, moderate our use of bacteria-slaying drugs, and resume old habits that nourish our microbial communities. In other words, we’re going to have to live with germs again…

The world and just about everything in it, including people, are awash in microbes. Bacteria blanket our surfaces, suffuse the air we breathe and saturate certain areas of our bodies, especially the gut. While some microbes and other microscopic particles are a threat to us, a vast majority are benign. And there’s mounting evidence that our health relies on our early and ongoing interactions with them.

Dr. Graham Rook, an emeritus professor of medical microbiology at University College London, likens the immune system to a computer. He says that the microbes we encounter in daily life — on other people and in our spaces — are the data that the immune system relies on to program and regulate its operations.

Deprived of these exposures, especially at the start of life, the immune system is prone to malfunction. The result can be allergies, asthma, autoimmune disorders, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic medical conditions.

The “hygiene hypothesis,” introduced in 1989 by the epidemiologist David Strachan, first made the case that bodies deprived of contact with microbes could be at risk for health problems. The hygiene hypothesis has evolved over time, and experts continue to debate many of its finer points. But it’s now clear that exposure to “good” bacteria is necessary for a person’s health, and that living in too-sterile environments may threaten us in ways scientists are only just beginning to grasp.

Before the pandemic, there was growing recognition among both doctors and the public that aspects of modern life may be upsetting our balance of healthy microbes, perhaps especially in our guts, and hurting our health as a result. This idea is not so much controversial as simply too new to be fully appreciated; roughly 95 percent of the published microbiome scholarship has come in just the last decade, and two-thirds of it only in the last five years. But already, research has revealed that, apart from training the immune system, our bacteria produce molecules that affect the workings of our every cell and organ.

“The microbes we carry in our gut could affect the function of the brain, the spinal cord, the joints or things far from where those microbes live,” says Dr. Eran Elinav, another of the PNAS paper’s authors and a principal investigator at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

There’s some conjecture that the imbalance or loss of good microbes may heighten a person’s susceptibility to infection — including, perhaps, to the coronavirus. Late last year, researchers based in Hong Kong observed a link between certain microbiome characteristics and severe Covid-19. Experts have hypothesized that unwell gut microbiomes may partly explain why older adults and adults with conditions such as obesity or Type 2 diabetes seem to be at greater risk of serious Covid-19 illness. There’s even some speculation that microbiome factors play a part in so-called long Covid — the brain fog, fatigue and other persistent symptoms that afflict many in the aftermath of the infection.

“There’s a wealth of evidence to suggest the microbiome has an influential role in our response to viral infections,” says Brent Williams, an assistant professor in the department of clinical pathology and cell biology at Columbia University. This raises intriguing questions about how the microbiome might influence disease outcomes for Covid, he says, “or how it might be altered by Covid, and whether those alterations persist.”

Love the human body as ecosystem rather than organism analogy– I use that one all the time.

11) Interesting! “Vietnam defied the experts and sealed its border to keep Covid-19 out. It worked.: How the country has kept coronavirus deaths to just 35, and grew its economy in 2020.”

12) People really need to stop using flushable wipes that aren’t actually flushable.  “A nasty pandemic problem: More flushed wipes are clogging pipes, sending sewage into homes.”  Actually, even better, I really don’t understand why government cannot come up with enforceable standards for flushable wipes that actually are flushable.  What we have know is disgusting and expensive.  

13) “Normal” temperature is about to get warmer.

As soon as the 2021 New Year’s celebrations were over, the calls and questions started coming in from weather watchers: When will NOAA release the new U.S. Climate Normals? The Normals are 30-year averages of key climate observations made at weather stations and corrected for bad or missing values and station changes over time. From the daily weather report to seasonal forecasts, the Normals are the basis for judging how temperature, rainfall, and other climate conditions compare to what’s normal for a given location in today’s climate.

For the past decade, the Normals have been based on weather observations from 1981 to 2010. In early May, climate experts at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information will be releasing an updated collection—hourly, daily, monthly, and annual Normals for thousands of U.S. locations, states, regions—based on the weather experienced from 1991 to 2020.

But what about global warming?

Alongside the questions about when the new Normals will be released (first week of May), we’ve gotten a lot of questions about the Normals and global warming. Is global warming affecting the Normals? (Yes). Are the Normals adjusted to “subtract out” global warming? (No.)  So the new normal reflects our changing climate? (Yes). Then how do we keep track of what used to be normal? (Different analyses.)

The last update of the Normals took place in 2011, when the baseline shifted from 1971-2000 to 1981-2010. Among the highlights of the rollout was the creation of a map showing how climate-related planting zones across the contiguous United States had shifted northward in latitude and upward in elevation. It was a clear signal that normal overnight low temperatures across the country were warmer than they used to be.  

Changes in US plant zones between 1971-2000 Normals and 1981-2010 Normals

14) Possibly the biggest vaccine news this year.  “‘Game-changing’ malaria vaccine is 77% effective at stopping infection”

15) This Zeynep Tufekci analysis (older, but recently re-shared) on why the final Game of Thrones season is so bad is just fantastic.  Such a great way of thinking about storytelling.  But only read it if you’ve watched all the show or are confident you never will. 

16) Great stuff from Ron Brownstein, “The racist “replacement theory” that more in GOP are pushing has it exactly backwards. The real risk to older Whites is that immigrants won’t replace them in the workforce & tax base.”

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