Quick hits (part III)

1) Personally, I’m not a fan of tattoos, but it was fascinating to read about their history in South Korea and how it’s actually illegal to be tattoo artist.

The oldest recorded tattoos belonged to a European man, now nicknamed Ötzi, who lived 5,300 years ago, researchers say. They have found that ancient cultures used tattoos for varying purposes: decoration, protection, punishment.

In South Korea, tattoos, also called munshin, have long had negative associations. During the Koryo dynasty, which ruled from 918 to 1392 A.D., people were forcibly given tattoos on their faces or arms listing the crimes they had committed or marking them as slaves. This punishment, the step before the death penalty, left tattooed people as outcasts living on the fringes of society. It was eliminated in 1740.

In the 20th century, tattoos were adopted by gangs inspired by Japanese customs, renewing body ink as a physical emblem of criminality.

Several modern tattoo artists in South Korea said they had deliberately moved away from menacing images like dragons and Japanese imagery often requested by gangsters.

2) Interesting stuff here about assessing actual racism on campus, “Is discrimination widespread? Testing assumptions about bias on a university campus.”

Discrimination has persisted in our society despite steady improvements in explicit attitudes toward marginalized social groups. The most common explanation for this apparent paradox is that due to implicit biases, most individuals behave in slightly discriminatory ways outside of their own awareness (the dispersed discrimination account). Another explanation holds that a numerical minority of individuals who are moderately or highly biased are responsible for most observed discriminatory behaviors (the concentrated discrimination account). We tested these 2 accounts against each other in a series of studies at a large, public university (total N = 16,600). In 4 large-scale surveys, students from marginalized groups reported that they generally felt welcome and respected on campus (albeit less so than nonmarginalized students) and that a numerical minority of their peers (around 20%) engage in subtle or explicit forms of discrimination. In 5 field experiments with 8 different samples, we manipulated the social group membership of trained confederates and measured the behaviors of naïve bystanders. The results showed that between 5% and 20% of the participants treated the confederates belonging to marginalized groups more negatively than nonmarginalized confederates. Our findings are inconsistent with the dispersed discrimination account but support the concentrated discrimination account. The Pareto principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Our results suggest that the Pareto principle also applies to discrimination, at least at the large, public university where the studies were conducted. We discuss implications for prodiversity initiatives. 

3) I’m with Helen Lewis on enough of the woke, “pregnant people

The ACLU is not alone in neutering its campaign for abortion rights. Last week, a friend who wanted to raise funds for the cause asked me to recommend an American organization still willing to acknowledge that abortion is a gendered issue. Finding a candidate was surprisingly tricky. The word women has been purged from the front page of the NARAL website, while the Lilith Fund helps “people who need abortions in Texas.” (However, the group notes elsewhere that most of those who call its hotline are “low-income women of color.”) Fund Texas Women has been renamed Fund Texas Choice. The National Abortion Federation’s response to the Supreme Court leak noted that it will “keep fighting until every person, no matter where we live, how much money we make, or what we look like, has the freedom to make our own decisions about our lives, our bodies, and futures.”

One of the most irritating facets of this debate is that anyone like me who points out that it’s possible to provide abortion services to trans people without jettisoning everyday language such as women is accused of waging a culture war. No. We are noticing a culture war. A Great Unwomening is under way because American charities and political organizations survive by fundraising—and their most vocal donors don’t want to be charged with offenses against intersectionality. Cold economic logic therefore dictates that charities should phrase their appeals in the most fashionable, novel, and bulletproof-to-Twitter-backlash way possible. Mildly peeved centrists may grumble but will donate anyway; it’s the left flank that needs to be appeased.

Pointing out that women are the ones who largely need abortions is very second wave, boring, old-school, so done. Witness those placards held by older women that read: I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit. Instead, the charities think: Can we find a way to make this fight feel a little more … now? And that’s how you end up with the National Women’s Law Center tweeting, “In case you didn’t hear it right the first time: People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions. People of all genders need abortions.” (No, that’s not my copy-and-paste keys getting stuck. The group really said it six times.)

When I questioned the wisdom of foregrounding the small minority of people who seek abortions but do not identify as women, the ACLU’s Branstetter told me, “Transgender people do not have the privilege of pretending that we do not exist. When we use inclusive language, it’s because we recognize that transgender people do exist.” Such language, she argued, is “not at all at odds with the broader mission of ensuring that anyone who wants an abortion can have access to it.” Yet little evidence suggests that the ostentatious banishment of women will help the American abortion-rights campaign succeed.

4) I haven’t had time to really dive into this report yet, but looks pretty interesting, “Politics, Sex, and Sexuality: The Growing Gender Divide in American Life”

The gender divide has been a constant feature of American life, even as the ways women and men differ continue to evolve. The source of the gender gap in politics, religion, sex and sexuality, and relationship expectations has been a source of consistent and sometimes contentious dialogue.

Some of these differences are long-standing. It has been well established that men and women approach sex differently. Men think about sex more often in their day-to-day lives, and feelings of satisfaction with their sex lives are more closely tied to the frequency with which they have sex than it is for women.

In other areas, the gender divide seems to be growing. Women, especially college-educated women, have become more Democratic in their politics—and in the

process transformed the party’s politics. Twenty-eight percent of Democrats are now college-educated women, an increase from 12 percent in 1998. Men without any college education have increasingly identified as Republican, but by a less substantial degree.

However, conceptions of sex and sexuality have also undergone drastic changes in recent years. Young people express increasing fluidity in feelings of physical attraction, but these generational differences are much more prevalent among women. Women are more likely than men to report physical attraction to both genders. This is by far most evident among young women. Just over half (56 percent) of women ages 18 to 29 say they are attracted to only men, compared to 83 percent of women ages 65 and older.

5) The case that we’re maybe overstating just how damaging social media is. “Three Dubious Claims About Social Media: Doom-mongers are unable to prove many of their key assertions.”

6) Apples has stopped making the Ipod.  Oh man did I love my Nanos for so many years (until it became just so much easier to update all my podcasts on my phone).

7) Good stuff from Jeremy Faust, “The million US Covid dead are younger than you think.”

Cover photo

But we’ve known since 2020 that Covid-19 outbreaks cause a larger relative increase in deaths among young and middle-aged adults than in among seniors.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Covid-19 has caused a greater deviation from normal death rates among non-seniors than seniors.

Since the start of the pandemic there has been a 30% increase in all-cause mortality among US adults ages 18-49, and a 26% increase among adults ages 50-64. The increase has been “just” 17% for adults ages 65 and up. However, because the usual mortality rate for seniors is so much higher to begin with, the raw numerical increases in mortality among seniors has been greater, accounting for around two-thirds of all excess deaths since the pandemic erupted on US soil.

8) We really, really are in scary times for democracy.  Greg Sargent, “An openly pro-coup Trumpist could become Pennsylvania’s next governor”

How should the media cover a candidate who is running for a position of control over our election machinery — and has also displayed an open eagerness to steal elections?

This question arises now that Doug Mastriano is surging in the GOP primary for Pennsylvania governor. As a state senator, Mastriano played a lead role in Donald Trump’s effort to overturn his 2020 presidential loss, and the state’s next governor could be pivotal to a 2024 coup rerun.

This basic situation is reflected in some media coverage of Mastriano’s surge. But there’s something more nefarious about Mastriano than those basic facts convey when it comes to the true threat to democracy he poses.

Mastriano didn’t just try to help Trump overturn the election. At the time, he also essentially declared his support for the notion that the popular vote can be treated as non-binding when it comes to the certification of presidential electors.

Mastriano is now running for a position that exerts real control over the process of certifying electors. Republicans fear he could secure the nomination, because he might be a weak general-election candidate. But forecasters note that in a bad enough year, he could win.

This is deeply worrisome: It means Mastriano could soon have the power to help execute a version of the scheme he endorsed — certifying electors in direct defiance of the state’s popular-vote outcome, based on bogus claims that this outcome was compromised.

9) Somehow, I didn’t hear about Paxlovid mouth till this week, “Paxlovid Mouth Is Real—And Gross
“​​I imagine this is what grapefruit juice mixed with soap would taste like.””

10) Freddie deBoer takes a position on trans issues that I am largely in accord with.  Treat them with kindness, humanity, and decency, but be honest that, yes, there’s real and meaningful differences between biological males and trans men, etc.  Alas, we live in a world where if this is your view, you invite support from all sorts of anti-trans trolls, so deBoer as turned his comments off as a direct result.  It seems obvious to me that you can think Leah Thomas shouldn’t swim against women, but that you should treat trans people with decency and respect.  And, yet, for so many people these things just don’t go together.  deBoer:

I am turning off comments on this newsletter until Monday, June 13th. I’m doing so because my very explicit and simple request that comments stay on-topic and at least somewhat germane to the issue at hand has been ignored by too many people. Specifically, I am done with the comments on every post on this newsletter becoming a forum on trans issues. I have made my stance very clear: I respect trans people and their gender identities, I use their preferred pronouns, I believe trans people should be protected by anti-discrimination and hate crimes law, and I want them to enjoy the same full legal, political, and social equality under the law as anyone else. I have also said repeatedly that I do not have the understanding or perspective necessary to have an opinion on when and how children should begin transitioning. Yes, there are elements of identity madness that are present in our national conversation on trans people, but that is a literally universal feature of our political discourse today and in no way reflects poorly on trans people themselves, only our times. And I would remind everyone that for any identifiable minority group there is an activist class that is often quite distinct from the larger population.

I do, however, recognize that trans issues are political issues and that whether I like it or not, there is a political debate in this country about the status of trans people. Those who, for example, would exclude the existence of trans lives from K-12 education hold power and influence in our society. For this reason, and due to my general commitment to free speech, I have hosted comments on this newsletter that express legitimate political opinions on trans issues that I disagree with. One of the worst elements of the current state of free exchange in this country is that the suppression of certain viewpoints has badly deluded liberals and leftists about the popularity of their own opinions, and this topic is an example of where that’s the case. I don’t think it behooves anyone to silence opinions that may very well win the day in the political arena. Accordingly, some opinions that would be excluded from many progressive spaces that I have not censored here include

  • The idea that trans men or women are not “really” men or women

  • The argument that transwomen should not be permitted to participate in women’s sports

  • The belief that minors should have to wait until X years old before they start the process of transitioning, particularly medically

  • That trans advocates (whether trans or cisgender) have been unusually censorious or aggressive in their role in the culture war.

Those are ideas that you can express here, as are others. But you can express them when it is appropriate to the topic at hand. And there is a small number of people here who have created a situation where “the trans debate” starts up whether I write about the earned income tax credit or Star Trek or anything elseAnd, yes, this is a special case I’m making, and I’m doing it because I’ve been forced to.Why do I have to make this specific regulation, when I don’t with other issues? Again, because a numerically small but loud percentage of the commenters have been so relentlessly fixated in this regard. If you’re mad that I have to constrain conversation in that way, get mad at them.I have had enough of that, and since I gave a warning to all of you recently and it was ignored by a committed few, I am shutting down comments as a means to demonstrate how serious I am.

11) See, stuff like this doesn’t help because it’s not true.  Gail Collins, “Don’t Be Fooled. It’s All About Women and Sex.”  It’s a lot about women and sex.  But certainly not all.  Many, many people have a good faith belief that the value of that developing human life outweighs all other considerations and while I think they are wrong in full context, we should not be erasing the reality of this common view.

12) Frank Bruni’s UNC commencement speech is excellent.

13) This is just very useful data to have in our current debates.  Drum with a nice chart of abortion by weeks:

14) This is cool, “What is the multiverse—and is there any evidence it really exists?”

Is there any direct evidence suggesting multiverses exist? 

Even though certain features of the universe seem to require the existence of a multiverse, nothing has been directly observed that suggests it actually exists. So far, the evidence supporting the idea of a multiverse is purely theoretical, and in some cases, philosophical.

Some experts argue that it may be a grand cosmic coincidence that the big bang forged a perfectly balanced universe that is just right for our existence. Other scientists think it is more likely that any number of physical universes exist, and that we simply inhabit the one that has the right characteristics for our survival.

An infinite number of alternate little pocket universes, or bubbles universes, some of which have different physics or different fundamental constants, is an attractive idea, Kakalios says. “That’s why some people take these ideas kind of seriously, because it helps address certain philosophical issues,” he says.

Scientists argue about whether the multiverse is even an empirically testable theory; some would say no, given that by definition a multiverse is independent from our own universe and impossible to access. But perhaps we just haven’t figured out the right test.

Will we ever know if our universe is just one of many?

We might not. But multiverses are among the predictions of various theories that can be tested in other ways, and if those theories pass all of their tests, then maybe the multiverse holds up as well. Or perhaps some new discovery will help scientists figure out if there really is something beyond our observable universe.

15) Good stuff from Jeff Maurer, “It’s Always the Adults’ Fault”

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to go. It seems1 like we’re in an era in which too many adults fail to develop world-weary skepticism. Too few grown-ups are taking on the role of the soft, tempering force that subdues youthful impulses. And, in the absolute saddest cases, some older people are embracing youthful nonsense in a desperate attempt to stay relevant. It’s bone-chillingly pathetic.

The most obvious place where adults give in to youthful nonsense is college. College students produce over-zealous silliness the way the Keebler elves make cookies; it seems to be their primary function. This will always be true, and one of the most valuable things that college provides is a low-stakes environment for people to do some of the dumbest things of their lives. That’s normal. What’s not normal is for college administrators to respond to garden variety flare-ups by fanning the flames. You’re not supposed to discipline a janitor based on unfounded charges of racism, or punish a professor for speaking Chinese while teaching about China, or be part of the seemingly endless parade of administrators indulging silly campus freak-outs until they become national news. When the Student Alliance for Immediate and Brutal Justice demands that French toast be removed from the cafeteria because it’s a symbol of colonialism, you’re supposed to thank them for concern, assure them you’ll investigate, and then do exactly nothing. You’re not supposed to start firing lunch ladies like an ancient priest chucking virgins into a volcano in a futile attempt to appease the gods.

Youth-led revolts at major companies have also been indulged by people who should know better. There were several such incidents, but the most high-profile one was probably the New York Times forcing out Editorial Page Editor James BennettReports say that the revolt was led by young employees who were mostly on the business side of the Times (meaning: not reporters). That makes the case infinitely more fascinating to me, because it raises the question: What, exactly, was the Times afraid of? A bunch of 26 year-old Social Media Strategists saying “Hey, most prestigious news outlet in the country: Do what I say or else me, my eight months of experience, and my communications degree from USC are out the fucking door”?I honestly wonder if Times shareholders have grounds for a lawsuit based on the fact that management didn’t immediately issue a cake with “Goodbye!” written on it to anyone making that threat…

I’ve written before about what I see as the symbiotic relationship between liberals and leftists. Roughly speaking, a leftist’s job is give liberals like me the cojones we need to attempt big things. In turn, a liberal’s job is to take the far left’s extremely stupid ideas and turn them into something workable. This relationship seems to be encoded in nature; we are the oxpecker and the wildebeest, perpetually coexisting for mutual advantage.

That interplay roughly tracks the relationship between young adults and older ones. Young people have the idealism, the verve, the drive, the looks, the charm, the energy, the initiative, the creativity, the fearlessness, the zazzle, the style, the grit, the zeal, and the ability to see themselves naked without getting depressed. But I have something that they don’t have: A bullshit detector. My bullshit detector is a finely tuned machine, and I’m in the garage every day cleaning the gaskets and adjusting the belts, so that fucker’s going to be purring like a kitten for many years to come.

As I get older, and look back on my younger self and contemplate fatherhood, I’m starting to understand my role. I used to fear getting older; I was afraid of becoming irrelevant. I don’t fear that anymore. I get it now: People don’t become irrelevant as they age — their role just changes. They stop being the player, but they become the coach; they’re in the background, not directly doing the thing but very much guiding the people who are doing the thing. It’s an evolution born of the fact that we start out with endless initiative but no wisdom, and as time goes by, we trade the former for the latter.

The system breaks down when older people fail to gently nudge young people away from nonsense. That can happen because of stunted development or cowardice, and I’m really not sure which is worse. If you never have the moment when you think “Wait, these lyrics that some ex-theatre kid wrote while high are a bunch of bullshit,” well, that’s a problem. Because it means that you’re not developing the nonsense-free view of the world that’s supposed to come with age. And if you do have that moment but pretend like you didn’t because you’re afraid that you’ll look old by admitting to being out-of-step with the zeitgeist, then I, for one, find you pathetic. You are Steve Buscemi with a backwards hat and a skateboard — I think you should ditch the act and embrace who you are. Because the world needs old people. And young people need old people most of all.

16) The rise and fall of Pat McCrory, who’s about to get blown-out by a Trump-endorsed opponent in the NC Senate primary, “How the ‘most conservative governor in North Carolina history’ became a RINO”

17) This is good, “The New Definition of Racism

For Kendi in particular, racism is properly thought of not as simple out-group bias, but rather as any system that produces disparate outcomes between or across racial and ethnic groups. He says this openly. In his book How to Be an Antiracist and again in an interview with Vox just after he had been minted a MacArthur “genius,” Kendi argues that there are only two possible explanations for a measurable difference in performance between two large groups in a given undertaking—say, standardized testing. These are (1) some form of racism within a social “system,” no matter how hidden and subtle, or (2) actual (I read him as meaning genetic) “inferiority” on the part of the lower-performing of the two groups. “There’s only two causes of, you know, racial disparities,” Kendi said on a Vox podcast. “Either certain groups are better or worse than others, and that’s why they have more, or racist policy. Those are the only two options.”

Disparities, in the Kendi model, are de facto evidence of racist discrimination. Moreover, Kendi’s proposition sets a clever rhetorical trap: His logical implication is that anyone who argues against Explanation No. 1 is, by definition, agreeing with Explanation No. 2. If you don’t accept racism as the culprit in performance outcomes, you must be endorsing group inferiority. Thus, should we accept his framing, simply to argue against “anti-racism” is to identify oneself as a racist. For the nonconfrontational—who dodge this trap by agreeing that all group gaps are either evidence of racism or the dread thing itself—Kendi proposes some social-engineering solutions to fix our racist system. These include the formation of a federal Department of Anti-racism, tasked with ensuring proper representation of all groups across all fields of American enterprise, regardless of performance.

In order to determine the value of Kendi’s proposed definition of “racism,” we must first examine the logic of his claims. The old business-world canard that “the problem with this whole argument is that it is wrong” comes to mind. It is remarkable that such an easily disprovable idea has become so globally popular. The contention that the only factor that might explain group differences in performance, at any given time, is either genetic inferiority or hidden racism is simply wrong as a matter of fact. And if Kendi were saying that temporary cultural underperformance demonstrated genuine “inferiority” across an entire race, that too would be wrong as a matter of fact.

Serious social scientists—from Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams on the political right to William Julius Wilson and John Ogbu on the left—have pointed out for decades that large human groups differ in terms of performance because of dozens of variables. Yes, these include culture (i.e., hours of study time per day). But they also include factors such as environment, region of residence, and even stochastic chance (or luck, to state it a bit more plainly).

One particularly obvious and noncontroversial example of such an “intervening independent variable” is age. According to the Pew Research Center, the most common (modal) age of black Americans is 27, and the most common age for white Americans is 58 (the median age gap, approximately a decade, is smaller). The most common age for Hispanics in the U.S.—across all regions and among both males and females—is 11. Vast differences such as these, which have nothing to do with inferiority, are certain to be reflected in measured group outcomes.

18) Nice feature on Tim Green’s fight against ALS.

19) Kelsey Piper, “Smallpox used to kill millions of people every year. Here’s how humans beat it.”

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really loved this podcast conversation about AI.  And here’s the article from Steven Johnson that much of it is based upon.  Especially intriguing is the idea that the human brain is just a really, really good prediction machine:

And perhaps there is indeed more to the large language models than just artful pastiche. ‘‘What fascinates me about GPT-3 is that it suggests a potential mindless path to artificial general intelligence,’’ the Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist David Chalmers wrote, shortly after OpenAI released the software. ‘‘It is just analyzing statistics of language. But to do this really well, some capacities of general intelligence are needed, and GPT-3 develops glimmers of them.’’ We know from modern neuroscience that prediction is a core property of human intelligence. Perhaps the game of predict-the-next-word is what children unconsciously play when they are acquiring language themselves: listening to what initially seems to be a random stream of phonemes from the adults around them, gradually detecting patterns in that stream and testing those hypotheses by anticipating words as they are spoken. Perhaps that game is the initial scaffolding beneath all the complex forms of thinking that language makes possible.

2) Brian Beutler: on the Democratic response to Roe

The confidence gap between the parties is always striking. Here, Republicans seem to know they’re courting disaster, but they’re playing it very cool, or trying to find diversionary ways to remain on offense. Democrats seem to recognize that they’re on the winning side of the issue, but can’t seem able to exploit it for all its worth. 

And as usual I think this stems from the same paralyzing neurosis as always, the constantly nagging anxiety that anything they do with confidence, without Republican cover, will generate “backlash,” and swamp the upside of getting caught on war footing. This week, Democrats even raced to validate the false panic the GOP whipped up over peaceful protests outside of the GOP justices’ homes, by streamlining legislation to beef up their security. There, for the world to see, was backlash to Republicans materializing all on its own, and Democrats tried to tamp it down for fear that the counterbacklash would surely be worse. 

Chuck Schumer eventually struck the right note. But by then the message had been sent: simmer down. 

If I could impress one thing on everyone experiencing backlash panic, what I’d say is, Alas, it’s out of your hands. Maybe sometimes this isn’t true, but in this case it is. There’s nothing Democrats can do, no form of conciliation, that’ll stop Republicans from convincing the large and motivated anti-abortion minority in the country that Democrats intend to steamroll them and steal their hard-fought, 50 year victory against Roe. That’s baked in. 

The challenge for Democrats has to be to figure out how to countermobilize the significantly larger pro-Roe majority in the country and they can’t do it unless they 1) promise in clear and simple terms to fix what the GOP broke, and 2) make the air thick with the horror of the GOP’s social vision for America.

I laid out some of these ideas last week (section two here), but there really is so much more work to be done. 

This week Schumer held a test vote on abortion-rights legislation that reflects the Democratic caucus’s view of what a just response to the Supreme Court would be. On the Senate floor, it united Republicans in opposition, and allowed them to peel off Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Republicans “filibustered” it, but they didn’t have to, because it would’ve gone down 49-51 anyhow. 

I suppose it’s fine to hold that vote, as a kind of demonstration of the whip count. But I also think it’s unnecessary. Dems could just as easily assert: We have 49 votes to codify Roe, and 48 to change the rules. Give us two more pro-choice senators who support changing the rules, and we’re good. They can even point to their earlier effort to change the rules to pass voting-rights legislation. There was a roll-call vote and everything. The numbers almost certainly haven’t changed, and if they have changed, Dems could just say so, which would be much faster and more direct than going through the machinations of holding floor votes to prove it. 

In any case, though, the real power of the Senate and House now lies in exposing the GOP in the most merciless possible way. Clarity about what will happen if Dems win is the most important thing, but this a close second. 

We know 49 Democrats support the most righteous-possible bill. Ok, fine, good. But what do Republicans support?

It wouldn’t even take much doing to find out. I would run the votes in a ladder, starting at the lowest-possible wrung, working upward toward votes on bills that codify more and more abortion rights until I reached a point of diminishing returns: Abortion shall be legal in cases of rape, vote. Abortion shall be legal in cases of incest, vote. Abortion shall be legal when the life of the mother is at risk, vote. In cases of rape, the threshold shall be the woman’s attestation to rape, vote. It shall be lawful to obtain birth control; to cross state lines to obtain abortions; to obtain abortifacients from out of state, vote, vote, vote. Then: abortion shall be legal in the first trimester; the second trimester, on and on up the sliding scale until Democrats are poised to fracture, and then stop.

Show voters how many Republicans want to force rape victims to give birth; show them how many Republicans who claim to support a rape exception actually think most women who claim they were raped are liars; show voters how many want no exceptions; to surveil women who are pregnant.

I’m agnostic about when this showcase should occur, but I’m also generally dubious about finely laid plans that amount to: there’s a better time than as soon as possible. Do it now, do it again in October. For fuck’s sake, Dems can’t even be certain they’ll still control the Senate by the time midterms roll around. Shit happens, so take your shots while you can. 

3) I really don’t like her use of “conspiracy theory” but Catherine Rampell is right to call out Democrats on misguided talk on inflation:

A conspiracy theory has been infecting the Democratic Party, its progressive base, even the White House. It’s not quite as self-sabotaging as the horse-dewormer-cures-covid false theory that swept up many Republicans last year, but it’s pretty damaging nonetheless.

Call it “Greedflation.”

The theory goes something like this: The reason prices are up so much is that companies have gotten “greedy” and are conspiring to “pad their profits,” “profiteer” and “price-gouge.” No one has managed to define “profiteering” and “price-gouging” more specifically than “raising prices more than I’d like.”

For example, a bill introduced on Thursday by Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) bans “price-gouging,” which it defines as “unconscionably excessive” pricing.

What counts as an “unconscionably excessive” price, you ask? TBD, but it’s definitely going to be illegal.

The problem with this narrative is that it’s just a pejorative tautology. Yes, prices are going up because companies are raising prices. Okay. This is the economic equivalent of saying “It’s raining because water is falling from the sky.” Well, why?

Why are companies, which have always been “greedy” (or, one might say, “profit-maximizing”), able to raise prices now? What changed between early 2020, when corporate profits and inflation were plummeting, and today, when both metrics are “unconscionably” up?

The answer is important, because it determines what policymakers can or should do about it.

Here is how economists explain the recent run-up in inflation: Demand is strong, thanks to pandemic-forced savings plus expansionary government policies (stimulus payments, low interest rates, etc.). Meanwhile, supply remains constrained by covid-related disruptions, labor shortages, other unfortunate shocks. Companies can’t ramp up production quickly enough to procure all the stuff that consumers want to buy, whether that “stuff” is oil, furniture or eggs.

A concrete example: In 2019, a car dealer that raised prices 10 percent might have lost customers and watched inventory sit. Today, that dealer can raise prices 20 percent and still have trouble keeping anything in stock. That’s because cars remain hard to come by, and customers are willing and able to pay a premium for whatever’s available.

The solution to the broader increase in prices, then, is ramping up supply (e.g., getting more workers in the labor force, removing trade barriers, encouraging oil-drilling); and/or, tamping down demand (e.g., raising interest rates).

“Supply and demand” is not the greedflationists’ preferred lens on inflation. They say inflation is driven by a Manichean struggle between big corporations and their innocent victims, the customers.

4) Pretty interesting interview, “Bill Gates Is So Over This Pandemic”

Are you saying the pandemic is essentially over, at least for rich countries?

No, it’s not over. We don’t know enough about variants. Nobody predicted the Omicron variant. It’s one of the great unexplained events. And we’ve always been pretty stupid about the science of transmission. I’ve been calling Congress and saying, be more generous on the international response, and I’ve been calling Germany, the UK, and France. When the US doesn’t take a leadership role in global health, it creates a vacuum.

I love these articles that say, “Hey, if these countries don’t vaccinate themselves, they’re going to generate variants and screw us.” There’s not much science to support that.

5) If Madison Cawthorn survives, it won’t be because of support from Republican elites. “Inside the Republican campaign to take down Madison Cawthorn”

6) Really looking forward to reading Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s new book.  Here’s a cool excerpt, “People Are Dating All Wrong, According to Data Science”

The researchers had data on:

  • demographics (e.g., age, education, income, and race)
  • physical appearance (e.g., How attractive did other people rate each partner?)
  • sexual tastes (e.g., How frequently did each partner want sex? How freaky did they want that sex to be?)
  • interests and hobbies
  • mental and physical health
  • values (e.g., their views on politics, relationships, and child-rearing)
  • and much, much more

Further, Joel and her team didn’t just have more data than everybody else in the field. They had better statistical methods. Joel and some of the other researchers had mastered machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence that allows contemporary scholars to detect subtle patterns in large mounds of data. One might call Joel’s project the AI Marriage, as it was among the first studies to utilize these advanced techniques to try to predict relationship happiness.

After building her team and collecting and analyzing the data, Joel was ready to present the results—results of perhaps the most exciting project in the history of relationship science.

Joel scheduled a talk in October 2019 at the University of Waterloo in Canada with the straightforward title: “Can we help people pick better romantic partners?”

So, can Samantha Joel—teaming up with 85 of the world’s most renowned scientists, combining data from 43 studies, mining hundreds of variables collected from more than 10,000, and utilizing state-of-the-art machine learning models—help people pick better romantic partners?

No.

The number one—and most surprising—lesson in the data, Samantha Joel told me in a Zoom interview, is “how unpredictable relationships seem to be.” Joel and her coauthors found that the demographics, preferences, and values of two people had surprisingly little power in predicting whether those two people were happy in a romantic relationship.

And there you have it, folks. Ask AI to figure out whether a set of two human beings can build a happy life together and it is just as clueless as the rest of us…

Another way to say all this: Good romantic partners are difficult to predict with data. Desired romantic partners are easy to predict with data. And that suggests that many of us are dating all wrong.

So, what traits make people desirable to others?

Well, the first truth about what people look for in romantic partners, like so many important truths about life, was expressed by a rock star before the scientists figured it out. As Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows told us in his 1993 masterpiece “Mr. Jones”: We are all looking for “something beautiful.” The conventional attractiveness of a mate is the number one predictor of how many messages someone gets, for both men and women. We are also looking for:

  • someone tall (if a man)
  • someone of a desired race (even though most never admit it)
  • someone rich
  • someone in an enforcement profession (like lawyer or firefighter) if a man
  • someone with a sexy name (such as Jacob or Emma)
  • and someone just like ourselves (people are 11.3 percent more likely to match with someone who shares their initials)

THE FASCINATING, IF sometimes disturbing, data from online dating sites tells us that single people predictably are drawn to certain qualities. But should they be drawn to these qualities? If you are like the average single dater—predictably clicking on people with the traits the scientists found are most desired—are you going about dating correctly? Or are you dating all wrong? …

Of course, the finding that one’s happiness outside of a relationship can have an enormous impact on one’s happiness inside that relationship is hardly a revolutionary idea. Consider this saying that was featured on Daily Inspirational Quotes: “Nobody can make you happy until you’re happy with yourself first.”

This is the type of quote that often makes cynical data geeks like myself roll our eyes. However, now, after reading the work of Joel and her coauthors, I have become convinced that this quote is largely true.

This relates to an important point about living a data-driven life. We data geeks may be most excited when we learn of a finding that goes against conventional wisdom or clichéd advice. This plays to our natural need to know something that the rest of the world doesn’t. But we data geeks must also accept when the data confirms conventional wisdom or clichéd advice. We must be willing to go wherever the data takes us, even if that is to findings like those featured on Daily Inspirational Quotes.

So, as discovered by both a team of 86 scientists and whoever writes Daily Inspirational Quotes, one’s own happiness outside a relationship is by far the biggest predictor of one’s happiness in a romantic relationship.

7) Katherine Wu, “America Is Starting to See What COVID Immunity Really Looks Like”

In the absence of perfect immunity, there can be no hard line between people who have been infected in the past and people who will be infected in the future. It is instead a boundary that people will cross constantly, and not always knowingly, as immunity naturally ebbs and flows. Perhaps better vaccines will come along that help anti-infection shields stick around for longer. But even then, another variant—one that’s a massive departure from both Omicron and our current vaccines—could arrive, and reset our immune landscape “like an Etch-a-Sketch,” says Shweta Bansal, an infectious-disease modeler at Georgetown University. Even in the absence of a total makeover, the coronavirus has plenty of tricks to keep spreading. In South Africa, where cases have once again been ticking up, some unvaccinated people who caught BA.1 just months ago may now be vulnerable to a pair of Omicron-family offshoots, BA.4 and BA.5, that seem to hopscotch over infection-induced immunity, and have already been detected in the U.S…

From the beginning of the pandemic, it seemed very possible that nearly all Americans would eventually be infected by this coronavirus. In recent months, that reality’s come to feel just about inevitable, and may come to pass sooner than many people hoped. With a virus like this, infection won’t be “a one-and-done situation,” Pitzer told me. The virus’s saturating spread may well continue for generations to come; reinfections and vaccinations throughout a person’s lifetime could become, for most of us, a new pathogenic norm. For perspective, Cobey points out that pretty much everyone ends up infected by a flu virus by the time they’re about 10. SARS-CoV-2 spreads even faster, and experts don’t know whether its pace will eventually slow.

“I think if you haven’t gotten it yet, you’re extremely lucky,” Majumder told me. “It reflects privilege,” she said, more than almost anything else: the ability to work from home, access to masks, being up-to-date on vaccines. Majumder and I both check these boxes, likely insulating us against the worst of most exposures; she doesn’t think she’s been infected either. Perhaps there is some biology at play, too. Some people could be genetically less primed to be infected by certain pathogens, even after they’re exposed—a phenomenon well documented with HIV, for instance. Others might be a bit more resilient against contracting the coronavirus because they’re carrying a smidge more immune protection, laid down by the SARS-CoV-2-like pathogens they’ve encountered in their past. But “those are things that affect you on the extreme margins,” Bhattacharya told me, unlikely to account for most of the noncases in the mix.

If the weightiness of mostly infected isn’t super scientifically significant, maybe it’s more a psychological shift. Nations decide what level of transmission, disease, and death they’re willing to live with; a virus’s presence becomes a sort of background noise. People start to see infections as common; individual infections, even outbreaks, stop making front-page news. It’s not an inappropriate transition to make when a country truly is ready for it.

Sorry, but a short one.  Maybe a few more later today.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is going into my Public Policy syllabus, “We Pay to Keep the Old Out of Poverty. Why Won’t We Do the Same for the Young?”

Others have argued that American poverty persists because government assistance makes Americans unwilling to work. As the former representative Paul Ryan put it, “There are nearly 100 programs at the federal level that are meant to help, but they have actually created a poverty trap.” But our high child poverty rate isn’t because poor people feel less incentivized to work or they’re just plain lazier in the United States. We manage to have both high employment levels and high poverty rates at the same time.

The real difference is that the United States does far less to reduce its child poverty rate than some of its foreign peers. “It’s no more complex than we spend less, and so poverty rates are higher among kids,” Hilary Hoynes, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, told me.

There are a number of social programs that other countries offer that the United States doesn’t. We don’t have universal health care (although we do have the Children’s Health Insurance Program for low-income kids, as well as more expanded coverage through the Affordable Care Act). We also spend far less on child care and early childhood education.

But the most important distinction is that most other countries give parents more money when their children are young, many of them through direct child allowances. “The evidence is overwhelming that child allowances are the single most important policy for preventing child poverty,” said Irwin Garfinkel, an economist at Columbia. Giving parents cash goes an incredibly long way toward erasing poverty.

By contrast, we’ve spent significant resources over the past half-century on alleviating elderly poverty. Social Security is the greatest anti-poverty program we have in the United States. It kept 26.5 million people out of poverty in 2020, most of them seniors. Unemployment insurance, the safety net program that clocks in next, lifted 5.5 million people above the poverty line. We rarely talk about it this way, but Social Security is a form of direct cash payment to all Americans once they hit a certain age.

“It’s not rocket science,” Dr. Hoynes said. When it comes to how much we spend on the elderly, “we look pretty similar to other countries.” The United States simply spends less on a permanent safety net for children.

2) Great interview by Yascha Mounk of David Wallace-Wells on climate change:

First, what do you think is the most likely scenario at this point in terms of climate? And I know that that depends on political choices, and it’s really hard to project. But if you have made your best point estimate of where we’re going to be in fifty, or a hundred years, what do you think the climate and life on earth will look like? 

Wallace-Wells: Well, I think the first thing to say is that all of these projections are governed by several layers of uncertainty. There is uncertainty, as you point out, about human response and human action. And there’s also uncertainty about how the climate itself will respond, what sorts of feedback loops may be initiated, and exactly how quickly things like Arctic and Antarctic ice will disappear. So we’re making projections in a cloud of deep uncertainty. And for the most part, I think most humans alive on the planet today use that as an excuse to not worry too much about it. 

But I think the alternate approach, that we should be worrying about it more as a result, is probably more responsible, at least. But of course, as a human, I share the other impulse too. If I had to guess I would say that we’re looking at a level of warming this century somewhere between two and two and a half degrees Celsius, maybe a little north of that. And that’s basically because we are making remarkably fast progress driving down the price of renewable energy, which makes it now a good bargain just about everywhere in the world that’s investing in its own energy future. But we’re not nearly doing enough or moving fast enough to draw down our use of fossil fuels. So at the moment, we’re supplementing our existing energy base with renewables rather than replacing, which is what we really need to do.

Mounk: The battle against climate change is often framed as revolving primarily around economic sacrifices. And there is a part of that which is true. But what you’re talking about in terms of the falling price of renewable energies is that actually, in many places, it’s just becoming economically rational to deploy technologies that are better for the planet.

Wallace-Wells: Yeah. This is really one of the major shifts in the culture of climate change and climate action over the last five or ten years. The Kyoto Protocol, and Al Gore first warning us about climate change—those were undertaken at moments when we really thought that this was going to be a burdensome transition, that we would have to do it for the sake of each other and the planet and our lives in the future, but it was going to be expensive in the short and medium term. In part because renewable energy costs have fallen so dramatically, and because we’re getting a clearer sense of the catastrophic health effects of burning fossil fuels, that calculus has really changed. Just about every world leader acknowledges that. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that 90% of the world is now living in places where new renewable energy is cheaper than new fossil fuel energy. It’s a very, very different policy landscape than the one that we were operating in even during the Paris Accords negotiations in 2015. 

3) Love this NPR article on peak TV! (Except that, sorry, Severance was just a B show with quirky production design and poor episodic structure):

What resonates the most, though, from that talk in 2015, is the way Landgraf talked about the good and the great. A lot of people who heard those “peak TV” numbers from critics — 400 shows! — groused back that it didn’t really matter, because most of it was terrible. Landgraf, on the other hand, was careful to point out that this was not the point he was making. He didn’t think the problem was too much bad TV; he thought the problem was largely too much good TV. Or, maybe, too much good enough TV. The head of FX, after all, doesn’t care about total garbage shows or about how many of them there are; that’s not the competition, either for viewers or awards, or for critical attention. (There was a lot of speculation at the time that this part of the speech reflected in part FX’s frustration at a lack of awards recognition for The Americans.)

Here’s what he said about too much good TV: “There’s just too much competition, so much so that I think the good shows often get in the way of the audience finding the great ones.”

Maybe self-serving? Sure, of course. Landgraf is not an academic or a neutral arbiter; he’s a network executive who had (and has) his own business to worry about. But I think this phenomenon does exist, and not just for audiences. As a critic, I do feel overwhelmed by the amount of television — but not by the amount that’s terrible, most of which I get to ignore. I feel overwhelmed by the amount that’s okay. Perfectly fine. Watchable, but unremarkable. The ten-episode series that should be four; the four-episode series that should be a movie. The A-for-effort project that just doesn’t quite get where it’s trying to go. The adaptation of true events that’s well-made but has little to add to the podcast it’s based on. The show that stars very famous people doing solid work and nevertheless doesn’t make so much as a ripple.

It’s not that nothing is great. There are still exciting new shows out there; Apple’s Severance, for instance, is wonderful and innovative, weird and special and provocative. But at times, I do feel like I am kept very busy looking at B-plus shows that look a lot like other B-plus shows, that are nicely made and earnestly executed by talented people and that are perfectly okay if you like the kind of thing that they are.

But with the Netflix news last week, it does seem like perhaps we really have reached Peak TV. Maybe things really are going to contract, just a few years behind schedule. If that happens, it may come as a relief to viewers (both amateur and professional), but it will mean shake-ups with implications for jobs and creativity that are still very hard to predict. And of course, when money is hard to come by, it’s often the new voices that are sacrificed first.

Or, I suppose, this will all be wrong, and the number of shows will grow for the next seven years like they’ve grown for the last seven years, and in 2029, we’ll be back here talking about SuperPeak TV and the fact that our greatest movie stars are now making shows that exclusively air on those little screens at gas pumps. Nobody ever said it was easy to see the future.

4) Enjoyed this New Yorker profile of Emily St John Mandel, but, sorry Sea of Tranquility pales in comparison to Station Eleven..

5) Nice twitter thread on some new research on the impact of a university education on political values in Britain. Here’s the TL;DR:

6) Super low-N, but, what a great subject to study, “Nine weeks of high-intensity indoor cycling training induced changes in the microbiota composition in non-athlete healthy male college students”

7) Good Chait piece on Christopher Rufo, the evil genius behind the CRT-panic and now all the “groomer” nonsense.

8) German Lopez on how opioids are a cautionary tale for legalizing drugs:

Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. reached their highest point ever recorded last year, with more than 100,000 deaths over 12 months. Deaths are up nearly 50 percent since the start of the Covid pandemic.

Whenever I write about deadly overdoses, some readers ask: Why not legalize and regulate drugs? They argue that the government causes more harm by outlawing drugs and enforcing those bans through policing and incarceration. They suggest that legalization and regulation could better minimize the risks involved.

So today I want to explain why that argument goes only so far — and why many experts are skeptical.

“Drug warriors said we should have a drug-free nation, which was totally bogus,” Jonathan Caulkins, a drug policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University, told me. “But it is totally bogus on the other side to say we can legalize and all the problems will go away.”

In fact, we are living through a crisis that shows the risks of legalization: the opioid epidemic.

The problem began with a legal, regulated drug: prescription painkillers. Pharmaceutical companies promised the drugs would help address pain, a major public health issue. But when the pills were made widely available in the 1990s, their use skyrocketed — along with addiction and overdoses. And instead of carefully regulating the drugs, officials consistently gave in to profit-minded pharmaceutical companies, which sold opioids to millions of people.

America is poorly poised to legalize and regulate drugs, some experts said. It tends to resist regulation and favor free-market solutions more than other developed nations. It is one of two countries to allow direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads. The First Amendment protects some commercial speech, making drug marketing hard to regulate.

“The policy has to match the culture,” Caulkins said. And “we are not good at having bureaucracies that view their mission as defending the people against the industry.”

The painkiller saga illustrates this…

Experts widely agree that the U.S. government failed to properly regulate opioids. But that does not justify the prohibition and criminalization of drugs, argued Kassandra Frederique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group. “That’s a false binary,” she told me.

Many options exist between commercialized legalization and criminalized prohibition, experts said. Portugal decriminalized the personal possession of all drugs in 2001, but not manufacturing and distribution. Canada prohibits drugs, but allows for facilities where trained staff supervise drug users and may even provide substances to use.

Different drugs can also warrant different approaches. Marijuana is much safer than cocaine and heroin, and laws can reflect that.

And while the opioid crisis has shown the perils of legalization, it has also exposed the risks of prohibition. People who die from a fentanyl overdose often believe they are consuming heroin, cocaine or some other drug, not knowing it is actually fentanyl or contaminated with fentanyl. That is a problem of unregulated supply.

9) Jane Coaston on banning Russian tennis players from Wimbledon:

But limiting Russian influence by banning Russian and Belarusian tennis players from Wimbledon is unlikely to bring about a swifter end to the war in Ukraine or concretely damage Putin’s regime. Where’s the evidence that Russia’s president will be swayed to rethink his military aggression if these athletes aren’t allowed to compete at Wimbledon? What makes the governing bodies of Wimbledon and the L.T.A. think Putin will be devastated that Daniil Medvedev and Victoria Azarenka will not be heating up the courts at The Championships? Sports Illustrated reported that one player doubted Putin even cared about tennis.

By taking this action, Wimbledon hasn’t banned a team competing under the Russian or Belarusian flag. Tennis players are independent contractors. At major tournaments like Wimbledon, they aren’t competing for their countries. Even if fans back home cheer for them, they are competing for themselves.

So, what is the ban doing? It’s doing something. It’s performing the act of action. And perhaps that’s the point. The do-something impulse is among our strongest, even when, in many cases, there’s very little you, I or Wimbledon really can do to make the Russian government stop its campaign of violence against Ukrainians. Inaction can feel weak, but action, even when it’s ineffective, often feels strong.

10) This is good from Jeremy Faust, “Four key facts that show legalized abortion saves and improves maternal lives.”

11) Science! “New method delivers life-saving drugs to the brain—using sound waves: An emerging technique harnessing ultrasound may revolutionize treatment of fatal or hard-to-cure conditions, from cancer to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.”

Focused ultrasound is “science-fiction medicine that is rapidly becoming non-fiction,” says Brad Wood, director of the National Institutes of Health Center for Interventional Oncology.

The novel procedure gets drugs into the brain by overcoming a major hurdle: the blood-brain barrier, a thin protective layer of specialized cells lining the very small blood vessels guarding the human body’s most privileged organ. It keeps out the bad stuff, such as pathogens, but it also prevents potentially useful things from getting in. As a result, virtually all medications for conditions such as brain cancer and neurodegenerative diseases are effectively unable to reach the site where they are needed most.

The challenge is that the brain is extraordinarily fragile and damage is irreversible, which is why surgeons want new strategies to bypass the blood-brain barrier. Methods such as surgical injection have been tried in the past but involve skin incisions, holes in the skull, and passing instruments through the brain, which all risk infection, bleeding, and swelling and could cause permanent brain damage. “When treating the brain, we have to remember the person, too,” says Lipsman, who is also the director of Sunnybrook’s Harquail Center for Neuromodulation. “Treating the heart, limbs, or lungs, won’t change someone’s personality, memory, or affect. Harming the brain will.”

That’s why focused ultrasound, which is noninvasive, is so appealing. Numerous teams around the world have now shown that opening the blood-brain barrier with ultrasound is safe and feasible, so the next hurdle is proving the medical benefits…

Focused ultrasound is not a new idea and has been used as a medical treatment since the 1950s. Beginning 15 years ago physicians used it to destroy uterine fibroids and prostate cancer and treat prostate gland enlargement. Today the procedure is being applied to more than 160 diseases and conditions at various stages of research and commercialization. Some of the FDA-approved techniques are used to treat tremors and some motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease—but these efforts are unrelated to opening the blood-brain barrier.

12) Remember the “pregnant persons” flap over an RBG quote last fall.  Jesse Singal just unlocked his excellent post on the matter:

I do think that when people talk about this, they slightly overcomplicate it. Like, if someone pressed me on why I was calling the person a ‘man’ — what I was really saying — I’d stammer a bit and turn slightly red and eventually admit that really, the only coherent answer is that I was making a strong guess about his physical anatomy. What’s going on in my brain is something like “Beard and suit and tie —> masculine-coded —> male anatomy —> ‘he.’ ” 

Of course things get more complicated with the idea that people should be allowed to choose their pronouns, which is something I am happy to go along with (except in some truly bizarre edge cases we can ignore for now). So if I was informed the beardy, male-seeming person went by ‘they,’ I’d use ‘they.’ I’d be switching, for the sake of politeness, from a system in which pronouns refer (at root, when you really get down to it) to someone’s biological sex to a system in which they refer to someone’s gender identity. Language is flexible; the world will continue to spin and the sun will come up tomorrow. But overall, ‘he’ still usually refers to biological sex, at root. I’m a ‘he’ not because I ‘identify’ as male — all these years later I still don’t understand what that means — but because I am physically, biologically male.

Whether or not you agree with my assessment of my own heness, it’s undeniably the case that sometimes when we say ‘girls’ or ‘women’ or ‘boys’ or ‘men,’ we are locked in quite specifically on biology and nothing else. When we refer to the effects of abortion laws on ‘women,’ we really do just mean “adult human females.” It doesn’t, and never has, had anything to do with how the adult human females in question identify, present, or anything else. To see why, imagine a sentence “We need to protect X’s rights to abortion,” where X refers to how people identify and where the sentence itself is coherent. I don’t think there’s any such sentence, because whether you can get pregnant and therefore might need an abortion has nothing to do with how you identify.

I know that that phrase “adult human female,” despite being right there in the dictionary, has now been successfully pathologized and is treated as borderline hate speech, but we really need it to understand what’s going on here linguistically. So, well, sorry! 

13) You are going to be hearing a lot from me about abortion pills, “Abortion pills by mail pose challenge for officials in red states”

The end of a national right to abortion could trigger a surge of interest in a method of pregnancy termination that has become popular in states that already restrict the procedure: Abortion pills by mail.

Many Republican legislatures have tried banning the pills from being shipped or prescribed. But some women have been able to circumvent the restrictions by getting their pills online from overseas pharmacies that can’t be reached by U.S. laws. The five-day regimen of tablets usually comes in an unassuming envelope, making it hard to police. With the Supreme Court possibly poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, people seeking abortions in the United States will probably flock to these sources, experts say.

“This is just not going to be stoppable,” said Gerald Rosenberg, a law professor emeritus at the University of Chicago law school.

This workaround will probably become another front in the battle over abortion rights.

Residents of Texas and about two dozen other states with sharp limits on abortions have already helped fuel the boom in medicationabortions, as patients seek alternatives to surgical abortions at a clinic, advocatessay. Another factor driving the trend has been coronavirus lockdowns, which limited face-to-face visits at medical facilities. Americans are more comfortable receiving medical care by Zoom-style video links, which allow doctors to prescribe and direct patients on how to take the pills from outside the borders of states that are hostile to abortion.

Mifepristone, sold under the brand name Mifeprex and also known as the abortion pill, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000 for medication abortion. The drug is used with a second pill, misoprostol, to induce what is essentially a miscarriage. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone, which is needed for a pregnancy to progress. Misoprostol, taken 24 to 48 hours after mifepristone, causes cramping and bleeding and empties the uterus. The medication is approved as safe and effective for use in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, although it is sometimes used “off label” after that…

“Mailed pills are hard to police,” said Rachel Rebouche, interim dean of Temple Law School. “That has not stopped [states] from trying.”

14) If this actually pans out, it really is an amazing medical development, “Patients Taking Experimental Obesity Drug Lost More Than 50 Pounds, Maker Claims: The data have not yet been peer reviewed or published. But experts said the drug may give people with obesity an alternative to bariatric surgery.”

An experimental drug has enabled people with obesity or who are overweight to lose about 22.5 percent of their body weight, about 52 pounds on average, in a large trial, the drug’s maker announced on Thursday.

The company, Eli Lilly, has not yet submitted the data for publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal or presented them in a public setting. But the claims nonetheless amazed medical experts.

“Wow (and a double Wow!)” Dr. Sekar Kathiresan, chief executive of Verve Therapeutics, a company focusing on heart disease drugs, wrote in a tweet. Drugs like Eli Lilly’s, he added, are “truly going to revolutionize the treatment of obesity!!!”

Dr. Kathiresan has no ties to Eli Lilly or to the drug.

Dr. Lee Kaplan, an obesity expert at the Massachusetts General Hospital, said that the drug’s effect “appears to be significantly better than any other anti-obesity medication that is currently available in the U.S.” The results, he added, are “very impressive.”

On average, participants in the study weighed 231 pounds at the outset and had a body mass index, or B.M.I. — a commonly used measure of obesity — of 38. (Obesity is defined as a B.M.I. of 30 and higher.)

At the end of the study, those taking the higher doses of the Eli Lilly drug, called tirzepatide, weighed about 180 pounds and had a B.M.I. just below 30, on average. The results far exceed those usually seen in trials of weight-loss medications and are usually seen only in surgical patients.

Some trial participants lost enough weight to fall into the normal range, said Dr. Louis J. Aronne, director of the comprehensive weight control center at Weill Cornell Medicine, who worked with Eli Lilly as the study’s principal investigator.

Most of the people in the trial did not qualify for bariatric surgery, which is reserved for people with a B.M.I. over 40, or those with a B.M.I. from 35 to 40 with sleep apnea or Type 2 diabetes. The risk of developing diabetes is many times higher for people with obesity than for people without it.

15) NYT, “Russia’s Grave Miscalculation: Ukrainians Would Collaborate”

KRYVYI RIH, Ukraine — The solicitation to commit treason came to Oleksandr Vilkul on the second day of the war, in a phone call from an old colleague.

Mr. Vilkul, the scion of a powerful political family in southeastern Ukraine that was long seen as harboring pro-Russian views, took the call as Russian troops were advancing to within a few miles of his hometown, Kryvyi Rih.

“He said, ‘Oleksandr Yurivich, you are looking at the map, you see the situation is predetermined,’” Mr. Vilkul said, recalling the conversation with a fellow minister in a former, pro-Russian Ukrainian government.

“Sign an agreement of friendship, cooperation and defense with Russia and they will have good relations with you,” the former colleague said. “You will be a big person in the new Ukraine.”

The offer failed spectacularly. Once war had begun, Mr. Vilkul said, the gray area seeped out of Ukrainian politics for him. Missiles striking his hometown made the choice obvious: He would fight back.

“I responded with profanity,” Mr. Vilkul said in an interview.

If the first months of the war in Ukraine became a military debacle for the Russian army — deflating the reputations of its commanders and troops in a forced retreat from Kyiv — the Russian invasion also highlighted another glaring failure: Moscow’s flawed analysis of the politics of the country it was attacking. The miscalculation led to mistakes no less costly in lives for the Russian army than the faulty tactics of tank operators who steered into bogs.

The Kremlin entered the war expecting a quick and painless victory, predicting that the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky would fracture and that leading officials in the largely Russian-speaking eastern region would gladly switch sides. That has not happened.

16) Did not like this story! “‘Heartbreaking’: Wild fox kills 25 flamingos, 1 duck at National Zoo”  What’s up with that fox?  Just kill something and eat it– but 25?!

17) Technology FTW, “Small Drones Are Giving Ukraine an Unprecedented Edge: From surveillance to search-and-rescue, consumer drones are having a huge impact on the country’s defense against Russia.

“Drones changed the way the war was supposed to be,” says Valerii Iakovenko, the founder of Ukrainian drone company DroneUA. “It is all about intelligence, collecting and transferring data about enemy troops’ movements or positionings, correcting artillery fire. It is about counter-saboteurs’ actions, and it is of course search-and-rescue operations.” Iakovenko estimates that Ukrainian forces are operating more than 6,000 drones for reconnaissance and says these can link up with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite systems to upload footage. “In 2014, drones became the center of attention of intelligence units, but their scale cannot be compared to what we see today,” he says. (Russia first began its invasion of Ukraine in 2014 with its annexation of Crimea.)

Civilian drone researcher Faine Greenwood has tracked and logged almost 350 incidents in which consumer drones have been used in Ukraine, with the video footage shared on Twitter, Telegram, YouTube, and other social media. Many of the clips, which Greenwood has also mapped, are recorded by military forces, but others have been captured by civilians and journalists. The documented incidents are likely to be only a small fraction of the drone usage in Ukraine. Iakovenko says that in addition to collecting footage for possible war crimes, drones are being used to inspect buildings that have been hit and to help restore power supplies that have been damaged or knocked out.

“You get cheap airborne surveillance, or even strike capabilities, by using these,” says Ulrike Franke, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who has studied the use of drones in war. The drones allow troops on the ground to immediately surveil forces around them, retarget weapons, and take action that could stop enemy advances or save lives. “You have individuals or small militia groups that all of a sudden have their own airborne surveillance capability—that’s something you wouldn’t have had 10 years ago. There certainly have been tactical advances and tactical victories because of that.”

18) Fascinating twitter thread on the evolution of religion.

19) This could be a very interesting twist, “Your phone could reveal if you’ve had an abortion: Internet searches, visits to clinics and period-tracking apps leave digital trails.”

When someone gets an abortion, they may decide not to share information with friends and family members. But chances are their smartphone knows.

The leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion proposing to overturn Roe v. Wade raises a data privacy flash point: If abortion becomes criminal in some states, might a person’s data trail be treated as evidence?

There is precedent for it, and privacy advocates say data collection could become a major liability for people seeking abortions in secret. Phones can record communications, search histories, body health data and other information. Just Tuesday, there was new evidence that commercial data brokers sell location information gathered from the phones of people who visit abortion clinics.
 
“It is absolutely something to be concerned about — and something to learn about, hopefully before being in a crisis mode, where learning on the fly might be more difficult,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, a technology fellow at the Ford Foundation.

20) I can’t wait! “See Daniel Radcliffe as “Weird Al” Yankovic in the First Trailer for Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”

21) Good stuff on health care from Yglesias, “Overtreatment in American health care is a problem”

22) 30 foot border wall means 30 foot falls.  Yikes. “The border wall Trump called unclimbable is taking a grim toll: The journal JAMA Surgery offers one of the first attempts to measure injuries and deaths resulting from falls along new sections of the wall”

23) This conversation between Derek Thompson on adolescent mental health and parenting was fascinating.  I’ve been thinking about it so much since I listened to it. 

Quick hits (part I)

So much I wanted to write about this week.  But, alas, had to get the grades in.  At least, some pretty good stuff here, I think.  And lots more about abortion next week.

1) Loved this in an Emily Oster interview about a book on philosophy and parenting:

But even on smaller issues, I question my kids a lot. In our house, you’re not “entitled to your opinion,” as Americans like to say. You have to defend them. I ask the boys questions, then I question their answers, so they have to think critically about their own ideas. I want to get them in the habit of backing up their opinions with evidence and arguments. But more than that, I want them to know that you shouldn’t have an opinion unless you can back it up — and if the evidence and arguments aren’t on your side, you should change your mind.

You must be super-frustrated with the people who feel in their bones that COVID isn’t real, or that ivermectin cures it, all evidence aside. And you’re doing this huge public service by helping parents find the relevant evidence and think through its significance. I want my kids to have that orientation toward the world. And questioning them — and making them make arguments — is a key part of that. The only downside is that they’ll do it back to you. (But of course, that’s upside too — just exhausting sometimes.)

2) Jeff Maurer on student debt:

One thing I’ve learned is that you can find a research paper to support just about anything. I googled “immigrants commit more crime” and found this paper supporting that thesis from the Center for Immigration Studies, even though it’s pretty well established that the opposite is true. I searched “Bush tax cuts increased revenue” and had to scroll past dozens of studies saying “no they didn’t”, but I eventually found this paper from the Hoover Institute that takes the affirmative position. I did manage to find the outer bounds of this theory — searches for “women find model train enthusiasts sexy” and “crystal meth is a great source of fiber” came up empty — but for most topics under the sun, you can find some crank spouting nonsense due to funding from some presumably-even-larger crank.

Most progressives who want to forgive most or all student loans argue that doing so would benefit the poor and middle class more than the wealthy. And of course they argue that; it would be weird for progressives to support a deeply regressive policy. At least, it would be weird if you don’t think that a sizable chunk of the progressive movement is a borderline cult that lost radio contact with reality some time in the mid-2010s. Though I think I’ve been very clear that I do think that.

To my reading, the evidence is overwhelming that student debt forgiveness with no means testing and no cap on how much is forgiven would mostly benefit the well-off. But some researchers and advocates are parsing data in ways that say otherwise; I consider what they’re doing to be the social science equivalent of standing on your head, squinting, and looking at data reflected in seven mirrors in an attempt to see what you want to see. The effect is an intellectual smoke screen that tries to convince people that something false is true…

The fact that many progressives support a highly regressive policy would be confusing if we didn’t know how we got here. But we do know how we got here: Bernie Sanders ran for president in 2016 promising free college for all. He won the support of many young people and did surprisingly well. Bernie either sparked or capitalized on a trend in progressive circles to rally around pithy, absolutist slogans — “Medicare for all”, “abolish ICE”, “defund the police” — of which “cancel student debt” was one. By 2020, both Sanders and Elizabeth Warren had made debt cancellation a centerpiece of their presidential campaigns. Also, at some point progressives convinced themselves that this is a race issue, because of course they did.

This puts progressives in the awkward position of advocating a policy that mostly benefits highly educated, upwardly mobile, and, yes, mostly white2 people. It is also possible that somebody — or even literally everybody — noticed that progressives tend to be highly educated, upwardly mobile, and, yes, mostly white. Must be a coincidence!

Given this context, of course progressives are desperate to muddle the debate. Their staunch resistance to any caps3 or means testing — which would be inelegant but would help target relief to the poor and middle class — makes it completely obvious that the real end game is to hand a big pile of cash to the type of person who votes for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. That’s a pretty bad look, so it makes sense that their main tactic is to basically throw a smoke bomb on the ground and hope that people get confused. This tactic will probably succeed in giving progressives the psychological cover they need to convince themselves that they’re a champion for the poor while they carry water for the rich, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us need to be fooled.

2) Great stuff from Derek Thompson on Florida, Disney and the parties today:

To review, today’s culture-war death spiral is being accelerated by reactive polarization on both sides. Republicans, freaked out by what they see as cultural disempowerment, are yanking politics right; Democrats, freaked out by what they see as political disempowerment, are pulling institutions left.

I know that by typing the words both sides in the previous paragraph, I have summoned the ancient curse of a thousand tweeted screenshots by media watchers. So let me state something as clearly as possible. As a liberal Millennial, I don’t think liberal Millennials urging companies to take political stands is remotely as bad as Republican activists urging politicians to, say, ban math books on the grounds that cartoons of gay parents amount to sexualized “grooming.” Personally, I find the former defensible and the latter detestable. But as a political observer, I ought to note plainly that both of these things are extraordinary appeals to power, that these appeals to power are effective, and that liberals’ effectiveness moving companies left and conservatives’ effectiveness moving state politics right are two forces turning in a gyre of unyielding grievance. The possibility that the right is polarizing harder and for worse reasons than the left doesn’t change the fact that both sides are polarizing.

***

The political scientist Ronald Inglehart famously wrote that as societies get richer, voters care less about economic (material) issues and more about social and cultural (post-material) issues. With rising material well-being, we climb Maslow’s hierarchy to the top of the pyramid, get woozy with altitude sickness, and start ranting at each other about language. This is how we get Florida setting its economic and tax policy by first looking at which companies are saying the right words.

Who is allowed to say what? In the post-material future coming into focus, this is the only political question that matters. It is certainly the question that matters in the Disney-DeSantis showdown. “I am the most free-market person on the right … I think more freedoms for businesses are good,” the conservative personality Ben Shapiro said recently on his popular podcast, about the Florida fracas. “However,” he said to Disney, “if you decide to just become a woke corporation that does the bidding of your Democratic taskmasters, don’t be surprised if you get clocked by a legislative two-by-four. Eff around and find out.”

What a refreshingly blunt statement: Freedom of speech is good, but my political enemy’s speech is punishable by law. This is right-wing economic policy for a post-material age: Conservative companies are allowed to talk, and leftist employees are invited to listen.

Years ago, Republicans were critical of college-campus Democrats for their embrace of “safe spaces.” But maybe the right wasn’t contemptuous of safe spaces, just envious.Why merely a safe room, or a safe campus? Mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bit bigger, darling. Why not an ideologically safety-proofed corporation? Or state? Why not fire the entire federal bureaucracy, as Ohio’s Senate candidate J. D. Vance proposed, and make the government a safe space for right-wing populism?

You might think I’ve strayed from the crux of the Disney-DeSantis mess. But I think we’re at the heart of it. The specific events of this political crisis are less important than the moral of the story. Who is allowed to say what? Disney effed around and found out for itself: Post-materialism rules everything around us.

3) A thoughtful conservative take on Socio-emotional learning:

While the aims of SEL may be commonsensical and bipartisan in the abstract, the community of educational advocates, funders, researchers, and leaders who shape the practical reality of SEL share notions of “commonsensical” and “bipartisan” that are out of whack with those of most Americans who don’t live in the Acela corridor or on the Pacific Coast. 

It can be tough for those outside of education to appreciate just how casually woke the complex of education advocates, funders, scholars, and trainers are. (Interestingly, teachers themselves are generally much more moderate than these influentials.) Ninety-nine percent of the education reformers funded by the Gates Foundation support Democratic causes and candidates. At the nation’s top 20 schools of education, half the faculty study “diversity.” Just the other day, the doyens at the National Council of Teachers of English urged English teachers “to decenter book reading and essay writing” (wait, what?) and instead work to “identify and disrupt the inequalities of contemporary life, including structural racism, sexism, consumerism, and economic injustice.”

The result is that advocates and trainers have, almost by default, infused their cultural assumptions and biases into SEL. AEI’s Max Eden has pointed out that, in the past few years, CASEL has actively redefined core concepts to keep pace with woke dogma. CASEL’s notion of “self-awareness” now encompasses “identity” (as defined in terms of “intersectionality”). “Self-management” now incorporates “resistance” and “transformative/justice-oriented” citizenship. In its “Roadmap to ReOpening,” CASEL stipulates that “self-awareness” now entails “examining our implicit biases” and “self-management” requires “practicing anti-racism.” As Eden notes, none of this is “morally or politically neutral.”

Asking teachers to cultivate character is one thing; telling fourth-grade teachers that they all need to embrace “trauma-informed teaching” is another. Serious research on cortisone levels and student anxiety gets scrambled together with research-free calls for affinity spaces. There’s serious research, but it also gets misapplied by foundations, education professors, and teacher trainers to justify all manner of free-floating silliness.

4) Nice explanation of the dog breed and behavior research:

After conducting owner surveys for 18,385 dogs and sequencing the genomes of 2,155 dogs, a group of researchers reported a variety of findings in the journal Science on Thursday, including that for predicting some dog behaviors, breed is essentially useless, and for most, not very good. For instance, one of the clearest findings in the massive, multifaceted study is that breed has no discernible effect on a dog’s reactions to something it finds new or strange.

This behavior is related to what the nonscientist might call aggression and would seem to cast doubt on breed stereotypes of aggressive dogs, like pit bulls. One thing pit bulls did score high on was human sociability, no surprise to anyone who has seen internet videos of lap-loving pit bulls. Labrador retriever ancestry, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have any significant correlation with human sociability.

This is not to say that there are no differences among breeds, or that breed can’t predict some things. If you adopt a Border collie, said Elinor Karlsson of the Broad Institute and the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, an expert in dog genomics and an author of the report, the probability that it will be easier to train and interested in toys “is going to be higher than if you adopt a Great Pyrenees.”

But for any given dog you just don’t know — on average, breed accounts for only about 9 percent of the variations in any given dog’s behavior. And no behaviors were restricted to any one breed, even howling, though the study found that behavior was more strongly associated with breeds like Siberian huskies than with other dogs.

 
And yet, in what might seem paradoxical at first, the researchers also found that behavior patterns are strongly inherited. The behaviors they studied had a 25 percent heritability, a complex measure which indicates the influence of genes, but depends on the group of animals studied. But with enough dogs, heritability is a good measure of what’s inherited. In comparing whole genomes, they found several genes that clearly influence behavior, including one for how friendly dogs are.
 
What the study means is that dog behaviors are strongly inherited, but that the genes that shape whether your dog is friendly, aggressive or aloof date from long before the 19th century when most modern breeds, like those recognized by the American Kennel Club, were created. Breeding since then has been primarily for physical characteristics.

5) Nature! “An Anaconda’s Play Date With Dolphins Took a Strange Turn: Why were Bolivian river dolphins swimming around with a large predatory snake in their mouths? “There are so many questions,” one researcher said.”

Bolivian river dolphins were spotted toying with a Beni anaconda in August 2021.

Bolivian river dolphins were spotted toying with a Beni anaconda in August 2021.Credit…Omar M. Entiauspe Neto, Steffen Reichle, Alejandro dos Rios

6) Nature again! “Deadly Venom From Spiders and Snakes May Cure What Ails You: Efforts to tease apart the vast swarm of proteins in venom — a field called venomics — have burgeoned in recent years, leading to important drug discoveries.”

TUCSON, Ariz. — In a small room in a building at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the invertebrate keeper, Emma Califf, lifts up a rock in a plastic box. “This is one of our desert hairies,” she said, exposing a three-inch-long scorpion, its tail arced over its back. “The largest scorpion in North America.”

This captive hairy, along with a swarm of inch-long bark scorpions in another box, and two dozen rattlesnakes of varying species and sub- species across the hall, are kept here for the coin of the realm: their venom.

Efforts to tease apart the vast swarm of proteins in venom — a field called venomics — have burgeoned in recent years, and the growing catalog of compounds has led to a number of drug discoveries. As the components of these natural toxins continue to be assayed by evolving technologies, the number of promising molecules is also growing.

“A century ago we thought venom had three or four components, and now we know just one type of venom can have thousands,” said Leslie V. Boyer, a professor emeritus of pathology at the University of Arizona. “Things are accelerating because a small number of very good laboratories have been pumping out information that everyone else can now use to make discoveries.”

It is a striking case of modern-day scientific alchemy: The most highly evolved of natural poisons on the planet are creating a number of effective medicines with the potential for many more.

7) Jesse Wegman on the minoritarian Supreme Court:

This didn’t happen by accident: Republicans have spent the past several years twisting the court into an aggressive right-wing supermajority for precisely this purpose. Remember that one of Donald Trump’s major selling points in the 2016 campaign was his vow that if elected, he would ensure Roe was overturned “automatically.” It hasn’t been automatic, but if the holding in the draft opinion stands, it will mark an astonishing moment in our history: the elimination of an existing constitutional right, one that millions of American women (not to mention the men who impregnated them) have relied on for nearly half a century…

The second takeaway from Monday’s leak: Listen to them. Republicans have been saying for decades that they planned to overturn Roe v. Wade the first chance they got. Now that they finally have the chance, they appear to be running with it.

Keep in mind that five of the six justices in the right-wing majority were appointed by presidents who took office after losing the popular vote. This doesn’t mean they are less legitimate than the other four justices. But it might counsel at least a modicum of moderation and humility when approaching hot-button social and political issues that divide the country, as Justice Alito acknowledges is the case with abortion.

Instead the justices are grabbing everything off the shelves while they can. In the process, they are running roughshod over decades of Supreme Court standards regarding the conditions for overturning longstanding precedent. For example, has the world changed significantly since the original ruling? An overwhelming majority of Americans still support a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy in at least some circumstances, so no. What has changed? Nothing except the makeup of the court’s majority itself, the most nakedly partisan crop of justices in memory.

8) Great stuff from Jill Lepore on Alito’s use of history:

About as wholly speculative as the question of who leaked this decision is the history offered to support it. Alito’s opinion rests almost exclusively on a bizarre and impoverished historical analysis. “The Constitution makes no express reference to a right to obtain an abortion, and therefore those who claim that it protects such a right must show that the right is somehow implicit in the constitutional text,” he argues, making this observation repeatedly. Roe, he writes, was “remarkably loose in its treatment of the constitutional text” and suffers from one error above all: “it held that the abortion right, which is not mentioned in the Constitution, is part of a right to privacy, which is also not mentioned.”

Women are indeed missing from the Constitution. That’s a problem to remedy, not a precedent to honor.

Alito cites a number of eighteenth-century texts; he does not cite anything written by a woman, and not because there’s nothing available. “The laws respecting woman,” Mary Wollstonecraft wrote in “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” in 1791, “make an absurd unit of a man and his wife, and then, by the easy transition of only considering him as responsible, she is reduced to a mere cypher.” She is but a part of him. She herself does not exist but is instead, as Wollstonecraft wrote, a “non-entity.”

If a right isn’t mentioned explicitly in the Constitution, Alito argues, following a mode of reasoning known as the history test, then it can only become a right if it can be shown to be “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” As I have argued, the history test disadvantages people who were not enfranchised at the time the Constitution was written, or who have been poorly enfranchised since then. Especially important is the question of who was enfranchised at the time of the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, in 1868, the nation’s second founding, since many arguments defending abortion rights (and many other rights, too) turn on the equal-protection and due-process clauses of that amendment. Here, too, Alito is baffled to discover so little about abortion and women. Referring to the advocates for Jackson Women’s Health Organization and to amicus briefs like one signed by the American Historical Association, Alito writes, “Not only are respondents and their amici unable to show that a constitutional right to abortion was established when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, but they have found no support for the existence of an abortion right that predates the latter part of the 20th century—no state constitutional provision, no statute, no judicial decision, no learned treatise.”

He might have consulted the records of the U.S. Senate from the debate over the Fourteenth Amendment, when Jacob Howard, a Republican senator from Michigan, got into an argument with Reverdy Johnson, a Democrat from Maryland. Howard quoted James Madison, who had written that “those who are to be bound by laws, ought to have a voice in making them.” This got Johnson terribly worried, because the Fourteenth Amendment uses the word “person.” He wanted to know: Did Howard mean to suggest that women could be construed as persons, too?

mr. johnson: Females as well as males?

mr. howard: Mr. Madison does not say anything about females.

mr. johnson: “Persons.”

mr. howard: I believe Mr. Madison was old enough and wise enough to take it for granted that there was such a thing as the law of nature which has a certain influence even in political affairs, and that by that law women and children are not regarded as the equals of men.

Alito, shocked—shocked—to discover so little in the law books of the eighteen-sixties guaranteeing a right to abortion, has missed the point: hardly anything in the law books of the eighteen-sixties guaranteed women anything. Because, usually, they still weren’t persons. Nor, for that matter, were fetuses.

8) Olga Khazan on intellectual humility and Covid (with a nice shout-out to the Scout Mindset):

Many of us have updated our beliefs about COVID at some point in the past two years, even if we haven’t said so publicly. Perhaps you started out worried that the coronavirus was easily transmitted via surfaces, then you discarded that fear upon further evidence. Maybe you are a major infectious-disease specialist who at first thought that young, healthy people didn’t need boosters, then decided they should get them after all. Maybe you committed the ultimate noble flip-flop: You overcame your skepticism of vaccines and opted to get vaccinated.

 

Confessing that we’ve changed our opinion is hard, and not only because we don’t like feeling stupid, or looking stupid, or being exiled from certain circles of Twitter. “If I admit I’m wrong, then I have a harder time relying on my own judgment every time I make a decision or have an opinion,” says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and the author, most recently, of Think Again“I’m admitting that my convictions about the world are often incorrect, and that that makes the world a little bit scarier to live in.”

People get especially rigid in frightening and unpredictable situations. The pandemic has made many of us “seize and freeze in order to restore that sense of control,” Grant told me. The restaurants that are still using QR codes rather than paper menus—ostensibly for COVID reasons—are perhaps practicing a little terror management alongside their cost cutting…

One thing that allows people like Smith to talk so openly about changing their mind is a loose attachment to their opinions. “Don’t let your ideas become part of your identity,” said Grant, the organizational psychologist…

According to Grant, the best way to keep an open mind in an unclear situation is to do just this: Think like a scientist. (The other, lesser ways to think are like a “preacher, prosecutor, and politician,” which are what they sound like.) The writer Julia Galef calls this “the scout mindset,” as opposed to the “soldier mindset.” The scout and scientist mindsets are approximately the same thing: “The motivation to see things as they are, not as you wish they were,” she writes in her eponymous book.

Thinking like a scientist, or a scout, means “recognizing that every single one of your opinions is a hypothesis waiting to be tested. And every decision you make is an experiment where you forgot to have a control group,” Grant said. The best way to hold opinions or make predictions is to determine what you think given the state of the evidence—and then decide what it would take for you to change your mind. Not only are you committing to staying open-minded; you’re committing to the possibility that you might be wrong.

9) Jeff Maurer on abortion:

What about scrapping the filibuster and passing something with 50 votes? That won’t happen soon for Democrats; Manchin and Sinema would have to change their position on the filibuster, and Manchin and Casey would have to change their position on abortion (unless Democrats can pick up Murkowski and Collins, which they probably can’t). Chuck Schumer has announced that the Senate will hold a roll call vote on abortion so that “every American will get to see on which side every senator stands.” Surely, this will be the moment that the progressive left will come to understand: You can’t pass legislation if you don’t have enough votes. It’s not about “standing up” or “fighting” — it’s about votes. This will definitely stop extremely stupid people on Twitter from winging about how they’re never voting for a Democrat again because Democrats can’t get anything done, which, of course, is a major factor keeping Democrats from getting anything done. And I hope the sarcasm in the last few sentences is apparent, because I really don’t know how to lay it on any thicker.

Republicans can’t pass an abortion ban with Biden in the White House, so their focus will be on 2024. If you think that Republicans will keep the filibuster because they’ve spent the past few years singing its praises, then I find your faith in their integrity downright adorable. You’re like Bart Simpson with Krusty the Clown — you just never stop believing! That being said, Republicans didn’t scrap the filibuster when they had a narrow majority in 2016, reportedly because a few in the GOP caucus wanted to keep it. They’ll probably need a majority in the mid-50s to get rid of it, but if they do well in 2024, that will be an option.

About half of the country will probably live in places where abortion is illegal for at least the next few years. This is a somewhat strange outcome in a country where various polling methods continually find solid majorities supporting legal abortion. The wild card in my calculations remains the chaos theory component: Will the politics of abortion change now that abortion opponents can write their beliefs into law? Will large numbers of Republicans suddenly decide that — um, on second thought, an outright ban seems extreme, so maybe just banning abortion in some cases would be better? We’ll see. Americans haven’t voted for politicians who possess the power to make major changes to abortion laws for 50 years. With that being true, there’s only so much that the numbers can tell us about what will happen next.

10) Interesting stuff here! “Evolution Didn’t Wire Us for Eight Hours of Sleep: Chimps sleep nine hours a night. Cotton-top tamarins sleep about 13. What happened to humans?”

Research has shown that people in nonindustrial societies—the closest thing to the kind of setting our species evolved in—average less than seven hours a night, says David Samson, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. That’s a surprising number when you consider our closest animal relatives. Humans sleep less than any ape, monkey, or lemur that scientists have studied. Chimps sleep about nine and a half hours out of every 24. Cotton-top tamarins sleep about 13. Three-striped night monkeys are technically nocturnal, though, really, they’re hardly ever awake—they sleep for 17 hours a day.

Samson calls this discrepancy the human sleep paradox. “How is this possible, that we’re sleeping the least out of any primate?” he says. Sleep is known to be important for our memory, immune function, and other aspects of health. A predictive model of primate sleep based on factors such as body mass, brain size, and diet concluded that humans ought to sleep about nine and a half hours out of every 24, not seven. “Something weird is going on,” Samson says.

Research by Samson and others in primates and nonindustrial human populations has revealed the various ways that human sleep is unusual. We spend fewer hours asleep than our nearest relatives, and more of our night in the phase of sleep known as rapid eye movement, or REM. The reasons for our strange sleep habits are still up for debate but can likely be found in the story of how we became human…

Humans, then, seem to have evolved to need less sleep than our primate relatives. Samson showed in a 2018 analysis that we did this by lopping off non-REM time. REM is the sleep phase most associated with vivid dreaming. That means we may spend a larger proportion of our night dreaming than primates do. We’re also flexible about when we get those hours of shut-eye.

To tie together the story of how human sleep evolved, Samson laid out what he calls his social-sleep hypothesis in the 2021 Annual Review of Anthropology. He thinks the evolution of human sleep is a story about safety—specifically, safety in numbers. Brief, flexibly timed REM-dense sleep likely evolved because of the threat of predation when humans began sleeping on the ground, Samson says. And he thinks that another key to sleeping safely on land was snoozing in a group.

“We should think of early human camps and bands as like a snail’s shell,” he says. Groups of humans may have shared simple shelters. A fire might have kept people warm and bugs away. Some group members could sleep while others kept watch.

“Within the safety of this social shell, you could come back and catch a nap at any time,” Samson imagines. (He and Yetish differ, however, on the prevalence of naps in today’s nonindustrial groups. Samson reports frequent napping among the Hadza and a population in Madagascar. Yetish says that, based on his own experiences in the field, napping is infrequent.)

11) Brownstein on the counter-majoritarian Supreme Court:

The supreme court has set itself on a collision course with the forces of change in an inexorably diversifying America.

The six Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices have been nominated and confirmed by GOP presidents and senators representing the voters least exposed, and often most hostile, to the demographic and cultural changes remaking 21st-century American life. Now the GOP Court majority is moving at an accelerating pace to impose that coalition’s preferences on issues such as abortion, voting rights, and affirmative action.

On all of these fronts, and others, the Republican justices are siding with what America has been—a mostly white, Christian, and heavily rural nation—over the urbanized, racially and religiously diverse country America is becoming.

The Court seems to be pulling the United States back into a prior era without regard for changing notions and understandings of equity, equality, and fairness,” Sarah Warbelow, the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, told me. “It is about almost trying to maintain a 1940s, 1950s view of what the United States is and what its obligations are to its citizens.”

In this backward-facing crusade, the majority may be risking the kind of political explosion that rocked the Court at two pivotal earlier moments in American history, the 1850s and 1930s. In each of those decades, a Supreme Court that also was nominated and confirmed primarily by a political coalition reflecting an earlier majority similarly positioned itself as a bulwark against the preferences of the emerging America. In the 1850s, the Court tried to block the new Republican Party’s agenda to stop the spread of slavery just as the Abraham Lincoln–era GOP was establishing itself as the dominant political force in the free states; in the 1930s, the Court sought to derail newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s agenda to manage the economy, regulate business, and expand the social safety net just as his New Deal electoral coalition was beginning decades of electoral dominance.

Though the legal battles of the 1850s, the 1930s, and today turn on different policies and personalities across three different centuries, they ultimately raise the same question: How long will rising generations allow what Roosevelt called the “dead hand” of a Court rooted in an earlier time to block their priorities? …

Immigration tells a similar story. The share of Americans born abroad has been steadily rising toward its highest level since the Melting Pot era at the turn of the 20th century. But Trump in 2020 won only two of the 20 states with the highest percentage of foreign-born residents, according to census figures, and Republicans hold only four of their 40 Senate seats. The GOP tilts toward the places least affected by immigration: Trump won 17 of the 20 states with the lowest share of foreign-born residents, and those same states elected 33 of the 50 GOP senators. Combined, those 20 low-immigration states account for only a little more than one-fifth of the nation’s total population.

The same contrast extends to measures of economic change. Republicans dominate the states with the fewest college graduates but struggle in those with the most, as well as in the states where the highest share of the workforce is employed in science, engineering, and computer occupations, all defining industries of the new knowledge economy. The 22 states with the biggest share of such workers have elected just six Republican senators, while fully 31 of the GOP’s Senate caucus represent the 20 states with the smallest share of such employment, according to census figures. Republicans are much stronger in states that rely on the powerhouse industries of the 20th century: agriculture, energy extraction, and manufacturing.

Centered in these places least affected by all the transitions remaking 21st-century America, what I’ve called the Republican “coalition of restoration” has developed a much more critical view of social and demographic change than the rest of society. In PRRI polling, for instance, although two-thirds of Republicans say abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances, 70 percent of all other Americans say it should remain legal in all or most cases. While a 55 percent majority of Republicans say small-business owners should be permitted to deny service to same-sex couples on religious grounds, almost three-fourths of everyone else disagrees. And while about three-fourths of Republicans say discrimination against white people is now as big a problem as bias against Black people, more than two-thirds of everyone else rejects that idea.

Yet on these fronts and others, the GOP-appointed Court majority appears ready to tilt the law sharply toward the coalition of restoration’s preferences. Warbelow, of the Human Rights Campaign, said that by declaring its intention to reconsider earlier rulings on abortion, affirmative action, and perhaps other fronts such as public prayer, the GOP majority is inverting the Court’s usual motivation for revisiting precedent. Historically when the Court has done so, she said, “it has been to rectify past wrongs in a way that creates greater rights for all Americans. But the cases that the Court is now considering … are not about expanding rights; they are about restricting rights [and] perpetuating a very narrow view of who should be able to operate fully within the world.”

12) Adam Serwer, “Alito’s Plan to Repeal the 20th Century”

That is the significance of the draft Supreme Court opinion leaked to Politico, which shows that the right-wing majority on the Court intends to discard Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, landmark precedents guaranteeing the constitutional right to abortion. The justices can change their minds before judgments are issued, but their opinions are drafted after they’ve taken an initial vote on the cases themselves. The draft likely reflects the direction of the final decision, even if the scope of that decision changes.

The draft, written by Justice Samuel Alito, is sweeping and radical. There is no need to dwell too long on its legal logic; there are no magic words that the authors of prior opinions might have used in their own decisions that could have preserved the right to an abortion in the face of a decisive right-wing majority on the Court. The opinion itself reads like a fancy press release from a particularly loyal member of the GOP Senate caucus. Alito’s writing reflects the current tone of right-wing discourse: grandiose and contemptuous, disingenuous and self-contradictory, with the necessary undertone of self-pity as justification. Alito, like the five other conservative justices, was placed on the Court by the conservative legal movement for the purpose of someday handing down this decision. These justices are doing what they were put there to do.

Alito claims to be sweeping away one of the great unjust Supreme Court precedents, such as Dred Scott v. Sanford, which held that Black people had no rights white men were bound to respect, or Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld racial segregation. But in truth, Alito is employing the logic of Plessy, allowing the states to violate the individual rights of their residents in any way their legislatures deem “reasonable,” as the opinion in Plessy put it. Homer Plessy’s argument was that the segregation law violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights, and that those rights should not be subject to a popularity contest in every state in the union; what Alito describes as a “restrictive regime” of constitutional protection for abortion rights is the kind of safe harbor Plessy himself sought…

The implications of this ruling are therefore tremendous. Notwithstanding the reality that being a woman does not mean being pro-abortion-rights, all over the world the right to decide when and whether to give birth is tied to the political, social, and economic rights of women as individuals. That right is likely to be severely curtailed or to vanish entirely in at least 26 states if this decision takes effect. If the draft becomes the Court’s decision, however, it would have implications for more than just abortion. In the U.S., the rights of many marginalized groups are tied to the legal precedents established in the fight for abortion rights. This opinion, if adopted, provides a path to nullifying those rights one by one.

“The majority can believe that it’s only eviscerating a right to abortion in this draft,” Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told me, “but the means by which it does so would open the door to similar attacks on other unenumerated rights, both directly, by attacking the underpinnings of those doctrines, and indirectly, by setting a precedent for such an attack.”

13) Leonhardt on American K-12 Education:

Today, I’m going to focus on a positive and mostly overlooked trend in American education. For years, you’ve probably been hearing that our schools are in crisis. And K-12 education in the U.S. certainly has problems. But it has also been improving for much of the past few decades, according to several crucial metrics.

Starting in the late 1990s, the math skills of students in elementary and middle schools began to improve. A few years later, reading skills started improving, too….

[Sorry, NYT graphs don’t copy over well, but they’re good]

Racial gaps in reading skills also shrunk during this period.

As Thomas Kane, a Harvard professor of education and economics, says about the recent educational progress, “It may be the most important social policy success of the last half century that nobody seems to be aware of.” …

There appear to be two main causes.

First, many states began to emphasize school accountability starting in the 1990s. Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas and other states more rigorously measured student learning and pushed struggling schools to adopt approaches that were working elsewhere. The accountability movement went national in the 2000s, through laws signed by George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The timing of the test-score increases is consistent with this story, as researchers at the Brookings Institution have noted. As you can see in the charts above, the biggest gains came shortly after states began holding schools more accountable for student learning. In more recent years, the gains leveled off. This pattern suggests that schools made some important changes in response to accountability policies but then struggled to maintain the pace of improvement.

A second major cause of increased learning seems to have been school funding: It rose during the 1990s and early 2000s. States with especially sharp increases included Michigan, Nebraska, New York and Vermont, according to Kenneth Shores of the University of Delaware and Christopher Candelaria of Vanderbilt.

Typically, the funding increases were larger for low-income schools than for high-income schools. That may help explain why racial gaps in reading and math skills declined.

“Exposure to higher levels of public K-12 spending when you’re in school has a pretty large beneficial effect on the adult outcomes of kids,” Kirabo Jackson, an economist at Northwestern University, has said. “Those effects are much more pronounced for children from low-income families.”

Of course, there are caveats to the recent trends in educational progress. The racial gaps, while smaller, are still large. Reading scores did not rise as much as math scores (perhaps because reading is more heavily influenced by students’ lives outside of school, while math is mostly taught at school). High-school test scores did not rise as much as middle-school or elementary-school scores. And some forms of accountability backfired, leading schools to focus more on test-taking than on actual learning.

14) And Jessica Grose builds off this in her parenting newsletter:

Last month, Florida rejected dozens of math textbooks because, the state found, they “included references to critical race theory” or had “inclusions of Common Core” or “the unsolicited addition of social emotional learning.” The New York Times reporters Dana Goldstein and Stephanie Saul reviewed 21 of the rejected books and said that while “in most of the books, there was little that touched on race,” they did include aspects of S.E.L., which they described as “a practice with roots in psychological research that tries to help students develop mind-sets that can support academic success.”

S.E.L. is the latest front in the educational culture wars, and it’s painted as a kind of gateway drug to critical race theory by its opponents. Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank, told Goldstein and Saul that while S.E.L. seems uncontroversial, “in practice, S.E.L. serves as a delivery mechanism for radical pedagogies such as critical race theory and gender deconstructionism.”

As a parent, I read this and felt completely exhausted. Partly because I don’t care all that much about whether textbooks explicitly address social and emotional learning. Good teachers, those who care about all of the students in their classes, incorporate these concepts whether they’re spelled out in a textbook. My fourth grader constantly tells me that “practice makes progress,” instead of “practice makes perfect,” because her school is teaching her to keep working at something even if she isn’t great at it right off the bat.

What I care deeply about is whether my kids are learning the math they are supposed to be learning at their grade level. And I find that very little of the recent political battles over what schools are teaching actually focuses on how American students are doing compared with students in other parts of the world. While most of these culture war conversations are kick-started from the right, there are also unpopular ideas from the left that draw backlash, like recommending against accelerated math in middle school and making standardized college entrance exams optional — despite only 14 percent of Americans believing that standardized tests shouldn’t be a factor in college admissions decisions, according to Pew Research…

He said that while we still “stink” compared with similarly developed countries, “we have made huge, huge moves forward in improving the math education of our students.” Decades ago, teachers were trying to cram too many topics into every year of instruction, leading to curriculums that were a “mile wide and an inch deep,” Schmidt told me. In the 1990s, “except for the elite 20 percent, the seventh and eighth grade was still doing arithmetic, when the rest of the world, even the more developing countries, were covering the beginnings of algebra and geometry. We estimated our curriculum was two years behind much of the rest of the world.”

While our curriculum is now more aligned with the rest of the world’s, we haven’t necessarily seen the impact of it. When I asked Schmidt why, he said that it’s probably because of a number of factors, one being that our education system has very little control at the federal level, so it’s tough to know how well any set of standards is being applied more locally. You can see for yourself how well your state is doing on a website, The Nation’s Report Card, which shows how each state ranks on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is given in the fourth, eighth and 12th grades.

Educational inequality remains a huge problem for the United States, and for a 2015 study, Schmidt and his co-authors looked at PISA test data from more than 300,000 students in 62 countries. There were only 10 countries where the gap between rich and poor students was greater than in the United States. A surprising — to me — takeaway from the study, published on the Michigan State website:

As the United States continues lagging behind many other countries in math and science, domestic policy often focuses on “good schools” versus “failing schools.” But Schmidt said this approach might be too narrow. The study found that most of the variation in student performance occurs within — and not between — schools.

If we lived in a sane political environment, we would be talking about this finding. We could discuss how we could emulate countries that are “both relatively high performing and equitable,” according to Schmidt’s study, such as Poland, Finland and Estonia. We would be having conversations about states with higher-than-average test scores for all children and try to figure out what they’re doing right and replicate it. But we don’t. As he put it to me, the culture war right now “has nothing to do with whether these kids learn mathematics, and it’s irrelevant and a waste of time.”

15) Juliette Kayyem on Biden and Covid:

The implicit policy, in short, is: You do you.

The coronavirus is here to stay, and Americans vary quite a lot in how much they care about that fact. Biden appears to understand this dynamic far better than his public-health team does. Despite his vows to “follow the science,” he was far ahead of federal regulators in pushing for booster shots last fall—to the point that two top FDA vaccine experts resigned. Some scientists wanted to wait for more data about the benefits of boosters; others argued the U.S. government should concentrate on winning over Americans who had not yet been persuaded to get their first shot. But Biden plunged ahead, having apparently concluded that the benefits of offering more protection to Americans who are deeply concerned about their own chance of contracting the virus or passing it along to others outweighed any downside.

That instinct has not entirely prevailed. The FDA’s needlessly long delays in approving vaccines for children younger than 5 suggest that regulators are misjudging many parents’ mood. Meanwhile, many public-health experts continue to fume over what looks to them—accurately—as the Biden administration’s growing emphasis on accommodating individual preferences rather than promoting collective solutions to the coronavirus.

Yet the reliance on society-wide solutions, including mask mandates, social-distancing rules, and school and business closures, began when options were limited, the consequences of coronavirus infection were severe, and treatments were unavailable. The White House’s implicit policy today reflects the rightsizing of the COVID-19 crisis. The arrival of the coronavirus triggered an unprecedented federal effort to contain its spread and mitigate its effects, economic and otherwise. Now the COVID response is starting to look normal—that is, more consistent with federal responses to past calamities—even if life has not returned to the pre-pandemic status quo…

In my field, we define a crisis as a consequential disruption—such as a hurricane, an earthquake, or an oil spill—that comes as a surprise and requires immediate steps to protect the general public. In most disasters, the United States follows a simple template: Local authorities are the first to arrive; the state coordinates how people and resources are used; the federal government supports those efforts as needed. This reflects our constitutional design. The Tenth Amendment gives the powers not expressly delegated to the federal government—powers that include public safety and public health—to the states, which then delegate many of those to localities. The virus upended this pattern as it swept across the nation, creating our first 50-state disaster.

The kinds of crises that require federal assistance, even if in just one state, also tend to reveal longer-term vulnerabilities, such as economic precarity, racial and ethnic prejudice, and unequal access to health care. Some emergency measures may be helpful in addressing these ills. In my own experience, though, the federal government has always scaled down its disaster response before the underlying conditions are cured. There is a difference between a crisis and a persistent policy problem. Some may argue that the abandonment of broad mask mandates is premature, but “not now” is a hard time frame to maintain as the risk of death wanes for anyone who chooses to be vaccinated.

To treat the crisis phase of the pandemic as complete is not the same as declaring that the country’s battle against COVID is over or that many Americans’ unmet needs are irrelevant. It is to say that many of the persistent systemic problems revealed by the coronavirus can be addressed, if our elected representatives choose, without requiring a declared emergency as a pretext for action…

During the pandemic, a saying emerged: You may be done with the virus, but the virus isn’t done with you. This is a cute turn of phrase, but it sounds dated now. Because the coronavirus may never be done with you, whether you are done with it becomes mostly your call. Will you get a booster—or a second booster? When will you wear a mask? Should you attend a party? You know the risks. You do you.

16) Michelle Goldberg, “The Death of Roe Is Going to Tear America Apart”

Very soon, if the Supreme Court really discards Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision partly upholding it, we will have two wildly different abortion regimes in this country. About half the states are expected to mostly prohibit abortion; according to the Guttmacher Institute, in 11 states there won’t even be exemptions for rape and incest. A bill moving through the Louisiana Legislature would allow prosecutors to charge those having abortions with homicide.

Blue states, meanwhile, are casting themselves as abortion sanctuaries. Oregon lawmakers recently passed a bill to create a $15 million fund to help cover abortion costs, including for those traveling to the state for the procedure. Something similar is in the works in California. Abortion clinics in Illinois, bordered by several states where abortion is likely to be made illegal, are preparing for a huge influx of patients.

The right won’t be content to watch liberal states try to undermine abortion bans. As the draft of a forthcoming article in The Columbia Law Review puts it, “overturning Roe and Casey will create a novel world of complicated, interjurisdictional legal conflicts over abortion. Instead of creating stability and certainty, it will lead to profound confusion because advocates on all sides of the abortion controversy will not stop at state borders in their efforts to apply their policies as broadly as possible.”

Already, a Missouri lawmaker has introduced a measure that would let private citizens sue anyone who helps a Missouri resident get an out-of-state abortion. More such proposals will probably follow. Under a Texas law passed last year, people in other states sending abortion pills through the mail to Texas residents could be extradited to face felony charges, though the authorities in liberal states are unlikely to cooperate.

In anticipation of such legislation, Connecticut just passed a law meant to shield doctors and patients. Among other things, it ensures that no one can be extradited to another state for performing or obtaining an abortion that’s legal in Connecticut, and ensures that people sued under a law like the one proposed in Missouri could countersue to recover their costs.

Experts don’t know how these kinds of interstate battles are going to play out because there’s so little precedent for them. If you’re searching for close parallels, said Ziegler, “you’re looking at fugitive slave cases, because there are not many times in history when states are trying to tell other states what to do in this way.” The point is not that abortion bans are comparable to slavery in a moral sense, but that they create potentially irreconcilable legal frameworks.

17) And this is a cool, fun, interactive website about a study on randomness.  Worth your time.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Leonhardt on Manchin and Sinema:

Sinema’s objections …

Senator Kyrsten SinemaSarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

For all of Manchin’s Democratic Party apostasy, he has regularly sided with the party’s attempts to raise taxes on corporations and the rich. He opposed the Trump tax cut of 2017, and he has said he supports substantial tax increases as part of Biden’s agenda (even if he does not want to go as far as Biden does).

If Democrats had to worry only about Manchin and not Sinema, they might be able to raise taxes on top incomes, investments and corporations. “You all know, the entire country knows, that I’m opposed to raising the corporate minimum tax rate,” Sinema said at a recent event hosted by business lobbyists in Arizona.

As a result, a compromise proposal that the White House released in October, with at least tentative support from Sinema, dropped the major tax increases on which Biden campaigned. In their place, the proposal included a collection of smaller tax increases, like a 5 percent surcharge on household income above $10 million. Sinema is also more hostile to some forms of corporate regulation than Manchin is.

In the long term, Sinema’s 1990s-style moderation arguably creates bigger problems for the Democratic Party than Manchin’s policy views do. Taxes on the wealthy and corporations are historically low, and raising them is central to paying for Democratic plans for expanding social programs, reducing inequality and lowering the budget deficit.

Sinema’s approach is particularly vexing to many Democrats because a more populist, progressive Democrat could probably win Arizona too, as Matthew Yglesias of Substack has pointed out. Arizona’s other senator, Mark Kelly, is also a Democrat and has largely supported Biden’s agenda — which, polls show, is popular in the state and nationwide.

Manchin, by contrast, represents West Virginia, a state that Biden lost by nearly 39 percentage points. If Manchin didn’t defy his party, a Republican would probably hold his Senate seat. His prominent opposition to the bill has helped his approval rating soar in West Virginia, Morning Consult reported this week.

… and Manchin’s

Despite all this, many Democrats are more frustrated now with Manchin than with Sinema. She is at least willing to negotiate in consistent ways, they say. Manchin seems to have changed his position multiple times over the past several months.

Many Democrats aren’t sure that he will agree to any deal. He may instead see blocking a bill as his best path to re-election in 2024. “There’s real fear inside the building that Manchin’s stonewalling will run out the clock,” one White House adviser told The Washington Post.

To be fair, other Democrats deserve some responsibility for the lack of Senate passage. Party leaders wasted time on an obviously doomed voting-rights bill this year, and they have sometimes seemed to ignore Manchin’s objections to Biden’s agenda.

Manchin, for example, has made clear that he opposes a large increase in the child tax credit, viewing it as a disincentive to work. Other Democrats have responded by repeatedly arguing that he is wrong on the merits rather than recognizing that they are not going to change his mind — and that they need his vote.

2) In theory, I should take this up, but I really like our specialization of labor in my marriage, “A Smarter Way to Divide Chores? Couples who share every task, rather than having their own separate to-do lists, tend to be more satisfied with their relationship.”

3) A lot of speculation it seems more so than anything actionable, but, still, a really interesting idea, “Alterations in microbiota of patients with COVID-19: potential mechanisms and therapeutic interventions”

The global coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is currently ongoing. It is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). A high proportion of COVID-19 patients exhibit gastrointestinal manifestations such as diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. Moreover, the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts are the primary habitats of human microbiota and targets for SARS-CoV-2 infection as they express angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2) and transmembrane protease serine 2 (TMPRSS2) at high levels. There is accumulating evidence that the microbiota are significantly altered in patients with COVID-19 and post-acute COVID-19 syndrome (PACS). Microbiota are powerful immunomodulatory factors in various human diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, cancers, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and certain viral infections. In the present review, we explore the associations between host microbiota and COVID-19 in terms of their clinical relevance. Microbiota-derived metabolites or components are the main mediators of microbiota-host interactions that influence host immunity. Hence, we discuss the potential mechanisms by which microbiota-derived metabolites or components modulate the host immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Finally, we review and discuss a variety of possible microbiota-based prophylaxes and therapies for COVID-19 and PACS, including fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), probiotics, prebiotics, microbiota-derived metabolites, and engineered symbiotic bacteria. This treatment strategy could modulate host microbiota and mitigate virus-induced inflammation.

4) Older post from Jesse Singal recently made free.  Very good stuff, “Should You Be Allowed To Disagree With Your Progressive Colleagues”

It read, “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care? An explanation of the idea by doctors for doctors in this user-friendly podcast from the great [Mitchell Katz] and [Ed Livingston].”

People took umbrage at “no physician is racist.” On the one hand, I understand — it’s a weird thing to say. On the other, it seems impossible to me that JAMA was arguing there is literally not a racist physician in the country. Who believes this? Rather, I think the tweet was an attempt to get at the distinction between individual-level and structural-racism — as in, again, There can still be racism in medicine even in the absence of individually racist doctors.

Anyway, ‘reasonable’ and ‘Twitter’ do not mix, so people within medicine started freaking out at how horribly offensive the tweet was. Then some of them listened to the podcast episode itself and decided that it was basically a war crime. The low point came when a tweet calling the podcast episode potentially ‘violent’ got hundreds of retweets. (If you do a Twitter search for “JAMA racism” you’ll see a mix of over-the-top stuff and reasonable critiques too — I’m not trying to claim this was entirely frothing madness, and of course people are allowed to disagree with a podcast and to point out its flaws.)

The genuine trouble began when Administrators from the UCLA health system got involved. If you are not familiar with this species, Administrators are a group whose job is to sweep in and respond to perceived controversy, in theory to protect an institution’s good standing but in practice always making things much, much worse. And much more ridiculous. This group, Administrators, has been busy lately — they were most recently spotted inside The New York Times, insisting Donald McNeil, Jr. not give The Daily Beast the full, highly exculpatory account of his actions in Peru — that he instead cede to that publication’s overblown charges of racism and ‘apologize’ for them, which he refused to do in that manner. 

In this case, Administrators published a statement expressing just how horrifically outraged they were by what happened. You can read it here, and it is festooned with the names of some of the most important people in the UCLA health system: John Mazziotta (Vice Chancellor, UCLA Health Sciences), Kelsey Martin (Dean, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA) Johnese Spisso (President, UCLA Health), Clarence H. Braddock III (Vice Dean for Education and Executive Director of the Anti-racism Roadmap, Geffen School), Medell Briggs (Interim Chief, Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at UCLA Health), and Lynn K. Gordon (Emeritus Senior Associate Dean, Office of Equity and Diversity Inclusion, Geffen School).

The note apologizes for the tweet and goes on to explain that “While the podcast itself set out to illustrate ‘how structural racism worsens health outcomes,’ it has unintentionally served as an important lesson on implicit bias and ‘white fragility,’ and has demonstrated the harm we can cause when we fail to acknowledge the life-threatening realities of structural and interpersonal racism in medicine.” Interestingly, the Administrators link to a glowing essay about the book White Fragility written by a white woman on staff at the New Yorker who loved it, not the withering critique written by a brown man who found it condescending. (No evidence is provided to explain why the podcast constituted white fragility or implicit bias, though on the other hand DiAngelo’s definition of white fragility honestly boils down to “a reaction to a conversation about race by a white person that someone claims is white fragility,” since denial of white fragility is evidence of white fragility, so I guess the claim is prima facie true. Guilty as charged, Ed Livingston!)

Having asserted that this 15-minute podcast caused harm, the Administrators promise to address it. Because while on the one hand, “we respect each individual’s right to express his or her own opinions,” on the other hand, this was just too terrible an event to leave unmolested by a UCLA bureaucracy with an insatiable appetite for justice-doing: 

On behalf of DGSOM and UCLA Health leadership, we write to acknowledge the harms inflicted, and to help begin to repair them, at a minimum through solidarity. We have also spoken with Dr. Livingston and will be facilitating a Restorative Justice session with his department and the DGSOM Office of Equity and Diversity Inclusion.

Presumably, this Restorative Justice session is not optional. 

Because, again, what happened here — a 15-minute podcast episode which risked exposing students, faculty, or staff to measured skepticism of the concept of structural racism — was so potentially traumatic, the note closes by reminding everyone that there are Resources Available: “As we look ahead, we remain committed to recognizing and addressing all forms of bias and racism and to fostering dialogue that pushes us to transcend our discomfort in service of becoming an anti-racist organization. We encourage those seeking support to utilize the mental health and well-being resources available to you.”

5) This seems like good advice from Arthur Brooks, “How to Stop Freaking Out: If you can prevent your emotions from taking over in the face of stress, you can avoid a lot of regret and set a good example for others.”

Whenever I hear about these incidents, I think of the best life advice I ever got, from my older brother: “Don’t freak out.” He was giving me a parenting tip, but really, it applies to everything in life. Freaking out—“emotional flooding,” in social-science jargon—never seems to make matters better, and we nearly always regret it. The fact that freak-outs may be happening with particular frequency right now is an opportunity to understand the phenomenon in ourselves and learn to manage our emotions better. If we do, we will be equipped with a skill that helps us be better friends, parents, spouses, and professionals, even when the pandemic is nothing but a distant memory.

The psychologist John Gottman defined emotional flooding as an automatic physical and mental response to an unexpected negative reaction by another, usually close person, an encounter we can perceive as a threat. Our brain triggers ineffective and disorganized responses as we prepare to do battle or run away. The experience likely involves the amygdala, the part of the brain that automatically produces basic emotional responses to outside signals, including danger. When strongly stimulated, the amygdala takes control of your mental processes, for good (you outrun a tiger) or ill (you get yourself arrested on an airplane). That can lead you to do and say things that surprise you, which the author Daniel Goleman calls “amygdala hijack” in his 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence. The phenomenon is observable in fMRI scans; when someone is exposed to stressful stimuli, their amygdala lights up like a Christmas tree.

Emotional flooding might have helped your Pleistocene ancestors survive, but it is maladapted to most modern interactions. Political differences hardly ever qualify as a big threat. Nor do most interactions with our families. No parent ever went to bed saying “I wish I had yelled more at my kids today,” and research shows that flooding is a strong predictor of hostile discipline. My relationship with my kids always suffered when I succumbed to a freak-out; it flourished when I did not. As I learned to master my amygdala over the years, I noticed a strange thing: My kids seemed to be studying me most acutely in the moments after they said or did something that could have led to amygdala hijack—but didn’t.

Beyond hurting personal relationships at home and creating all kinds of difficulties out in the world, emotional flooding significantly impairs decision making. In a study published in 2020 in the Journal of Family Psychology, scholars observed 233 couples during a problem-solving exercise focused on topics known to generate conflict (such as money, appreciation for each other, and sex). The couples in which at least one partner reported experiencing flooding were the same ones whom the researchers judged to be less effective in finding solutions to their conflict. This is hardly a revolutionary finding, but important nonetheless. It says that our automatic reaction to conflict is at odds with our interests…

To be metacognitive in moments of high stress and difficult emotions takes practice. It requires allowing time to pass between the onset of your feelings and your expression of your feelings. Taking a step back gives your executive brain a chance to choose your reaction instead of just falling into one. Here are three practices that make this possible.

1. Count to 30 (and imagine the consequences).

“When angry, count ten, before you speak,” Thomas Jefferson wrote. “If very angry, an hundred.” Research has shown that this strategy works well under certain circumstances; for example, people with low self-control responded more quickly and aggressively to an insult than those with higher self-control. Imposing a 30-second response delay on everyone reduced their aggression significantly, but only when there were negative consequences (having to perform a task) to being aggressive.

Say you receive an insulting email from a client at work, and want to fire back an indignant response. Don’t write back yet. Instead, slowly count to 30; imagine your boss reading the exchange (which she might); then imagine seeing the person face-to-face after he reads your response. Your response will be better.

2. Observe your feelings.

The Buddha taught his followers in the Maha-satipatthana Sutta that, to manage emotions, one must observe them as if they were happening to someone else. In this way, one can understand them and let them pass away naturally instead of letting them turn into something destructive.

Try this yourself when you have a strong disagreement with your partner or a friend and are feeling angry. Sit quietly and think about the feelings you are experiencing. Observe the anger as if it were happening to someone else. Then say to yourself, “I am not this anger. It will not manage me or make my decisions for me.” This metacognition will leave you calm and empowered.

3. Write it down.

You may have noticed that when you are upset, if you write about what you are feeling, you immediately feel better. Journaling is in fact one of the best ways to achieve metacognition, which in turn creates emotional knowledge and regulation, which provide a sense of control. Recent research shows this very clearly. In one study published in 2020, undergraduates who were assigned structured self-reflective journaling were better able to understand and regulate their feelings about learning.

If you are, for example, in a relationship that is souring against your wishes, don’t use a confrontational approach right off the bat. Instead, take a few days to record what is happening as accurately as possible, as well as your reaction to it. Write down different ways you might react constructively, based on different possible responses from the other person. You will find that you are calmer and better able to cope with the situation, even if it feels unfixable.

I’m certainly not great at it, but I will say that mindfulness meditation has allowed me to, with much greater frequency, be metacognitive in times of high stress and pull back from the freakout.  Certainly not always, but definitely more than before.

6) Sorry, but headlines like this piss me off as if Facebook is a complete awful cesspit with only a single redeeming value (building community through FB groups), “The Only Good Thing Left About Facebook” I ran into a couple of friends at a crafts fair yesterday and our interpersonal interaction was all the better because of all we’ve been sharing with each other on Facebook (wordle, cute puppies, etc.) since we last saw each other.  My FB friends are often happy to talk about Sarah’s soccer team when I see them in person as I always post updates there.  Of course, FB is flawed, but, there’s so much goodness if you just use it the right way.

7) Chait, “Liberals Can’t Win a Culture War Without a Good Defense Democrats didn’t cede the communism issue to McCarthy.”

Don’t dodge culture wars; win them” is a slogan that has begun circulating on the left. Jamelle Bouie makes a more considered version of the case in a recent column. Here’s how he begins:

Almost 60 years ago, the historian Richard Hofstadter described what he saw as the true goal of McCarthyism. “The real function of the Great Inquisition of the 1950s was not anything so simply rational as to turn up spies or prevent espionage,” he wrote, “or even to expose actual Communists, but to discharge resentments and frustrations, to punish, to satisfy enmities whose roots lay elsewhere than in the Communist issue itself.”

I also find this precedent to be instructive, though I think the implications might lead in a somewhat different direction than many other culture-war enlisters would like to take it.

During the McCarthy era, liberals widely grasped Hofstadter’s point that McCarthy’s main target was not communism but liberalism. He wished to use allegations of communist subversion to discredit the New Deal. In that sense, the episode was very similar to modern culture-war issues: an emotional hot-button appeal that allows the Republican Party’s right wing to change the subject into more favorable topics than popular liberal economic policy, on which Democrats enjoyed solid majority support.

But liberals, just like today, were split bitterly over what to do about this. The question that divided them was how to defend liberalism by separating it from communism — or by standing in solidarity with communism.

The underlying dilemma they faced was that while McCarthy was a compulsive liar who massively exaggerated the scale of communist subversion, the problem was not entirely phantasmal. The Soviets did have an active spy network, and it did penetrate the U.S. government. Indeed, one reason the public was so easily whipped into a frenzy of paranoia is that news stories revealed disturbing instances of Soviet penetration. Soviet spy Klaus Fuchs helped Stalin develop a nuclear weapon much faster than his government could have on its own — or that the West expected it to. Communist agents working for Moscow made real headway in left-wing political movements ascendant in the 1930s…

The lesson here is that winning a culture war contains both an offensive and a defensive component. You can’t assume that you can frame the fight on your own chosen terms. If your allies are taking unpopular positions that the voters notice, you are giving your opponents an opening.

On the broad suite of issues the right is using today to wage a culture war, its accusations, like McCarthy’s, mostly consist of lies. Indeed, to the extent that Republicans endorse clearly hysterical claims about grooming, or open the door to wild lawsuits against teachers who tell their students they’re gay, they give Democrats an opportunity to turn these attacks to their advantage.

On the other hand, there are some examples of schools embracing radical pedagogy or whacky DEI concepts. Christopher Rufo might be an utterly unprincipled operative, but his nationwide search for examples of government agencies, states, and school districts incorporating radical ideas does turn up some real examples. One of the lessons of the McCarthy episode is that smear artists occasionally manage to accuse the guilty along with the innocent.

When these examples do materialize, temptation on the left is to withhold criticism of any of this excess and fight Republicans on their lies. This no-enemies-to-the-left tactic makes Democrats hostage to the most radical positions within their coalition.

The intracoalitional sweet spot is to deflect criticism of your radical allies. Deflection simultaneously gives uncomfortable moderates permission not to take any stance on the thing in question while allowing radicals to defend it as a positive good. But the price of intracoalitional peace is that it disables any brakes on the extremists.

One way to lose a culture war is to refuse to fight it. Another way to lose it is to let your allies do a lot of unpopular things and then allow the country to believe the only way to stop them is to vote you out of power.

8) Katherine Wu, “Breed doesn’t have that big an effect on a dog’s personality.”

Experts agree that dog behavior is the product of a multitude of factors—among them genes, development, socialization, and environment; they disagree on the ratios, the measurements, the ways in which they swirl together. The key ingredient in every recipe, though, is always us: the people who fancy themselves the arbiters of what makes a dog a dog. The sway of breed, even over personality, is not fiction—our species has made sure of that. But its influence isn’t just over dogs, and it’s not as simple as we might like to think…

To untangle the gene-behavior snarl, researchers first need to find lots and lots of dogs—thousands, tens of thousands, the more the better—to represent enough diversity in both behavior and genetics, and draw connective tissue between them. Morrill, Lord, and their colleagues recently wrapped up one such gargantuan study, one of the most sprawling and in-depth to date. They distributed behavioral surveys to the human companions of roughly 20,000 dogs, asking the same sorts of queries that psychologists use to suss out personality in people, with a canine-focused kick: Does your dog behave fearfully toward unfamiliar people? Cower during storms? Ignore commands? Get pushy with other dogs? They then whole-genome-sequenced the saliva of about 2,000 of those dogs, and searched the DNA for signatures that might help explain the owners’ answers. Unlike other studies of its ilk, Morrill’s also took care to enroll a lot of mutts—dogs whose appearance and personality are “naturally shuffled up,” she said.

The team’s findings confirmed that some aspects of canine behavior do seem quite heritable—and sometimes even echo kennel-club dogma. Work, it turns out, is a pretty good motivator, and several of the traits with genetic ties were probably the ones that kept a lot of early dogs employed. Many herder dogs, for instance—border collies and the like—remain very herder-y. They’re still, on average, more likely than other pups to comply with human commands, be curious about their surroundings, and make an enthusiastic bid for toys. Retrievers, too, seem to have fetching written in their genes; it was “the most heritable behavior we could find in our study,” Morrill said. A few other patterns might be similarly rationalizable: Great Pyrenees, which originated as livestock guardians, tended to be tougher to rattle than other dogs. Beagles, historically tasked with zooming after prey, generally trended toward being headstrong. Centuries of career focus have clearly left a legacy in canine genes. And in at least a few ways, some breeds are still what humans bred them to be.

The further behaviors drift outside the professional arena, though, the trickier they can be to assess, and the trickier their genetic roots are to nail down. Owners might reliably describe how their dogs go bounding after balls, but they might have a less objective sense of whether their canine is especially apt to be calm or skittish, aloof or clingy, assertive or easygoing—all traits that can fall victim to the vagaries of human perception. Scientists seeking a bit more objectivity will sometimes try out laboratory experiments: Someone interested in gauging timidness, for example, can put a dog in a pen with an unfamiliar object, such as an unnervingly plush robotic cat, and watch how much it wigs. But not all behavioral quirks, or dogs, lend themselves to tests in a weird building staffed by strangers, where it’s easy for animals to completely lose their cool. And few researchers are willing to do that thousands of times over for a giant genetic study, already weighed down by time and cost. None of that makes behavior data useless—just tougher to interpret, and then straightforwardly explain.

9) This is so cool, “Which Animal Viruses Could Infect People? Computers Are Racing to Find Out. Machine learning is known for its ability to spot fraudulent credit charges or recognize faces. Now researchers are siccing the technology on viruses.”

Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University, has started to worry about mousepox.

The virus, discovered in 1930, spreads among mice, killing them with ruthless efficiency. But scientists have never considered it a potential threat to humans. Now Dr. Carlson, his colleagues and their computers aren’t so sure.

Using a technique known as machine learning, the researchers have spent the past few years programming computers to teach themselves about viruses that can infect human cells. The computers have combed through vast amounts of information about the biology and ecology of the animal hosts of those viruses, as well as the genomes and other features of the viruses themselves. Over time, the computers came to recognize certain factors that would predict whether a virus has the potential to spill over into humans.

Once the computers proved their mettle on viruses that scientists had already studied intensely, Dr. Carlson and his colleagues deployed them on the unknown, ultimately producing a short list of animal viruses with the potential to jump the species barrier and cause human outbreaks.

In the latest runs, the algorithms unexpectedly put the mousepox virus in the top ranks of risky pathogens.

“Every time we run this model, it comes up super high,” Dr. Carlson said.

Puzzled, Dr. Carlson and his colleagues rooted around in the scientific literature. They came across documentation of a long-forgotten outbreak in 1987 in rural China. Schoolchildren came down with an infection that caused sore throats and inflammation in their hands and feet.

Years later, a team of scientists ran tests on throat swabs that had been collected during the outbreak and put into storage. These samples, as the group reported in 2012, contained mousepox DNA. But their study garnered little notice, and a decade later mousepox is still not considered a threat to humans.

If the computer programmed by Dr. Carlson and his colleagues is right, the virus deserves a new look.

“It’s just crazy that this was lost in the vast pile of stuff that public health has to sift through,” he said. “This actually changes the way that we think about this virus.”

Scientists have identified about 250 human diseases that arose when an animal virus jumped the species barrier. H.I.V. jumped from chimpanzees, for example, and the new coronavirus originated in bats.

Mousepox!!  You heard it here first.

10) Miscarriage is brutal enough.  Now many over-zealous anti-abortion laws are making it even worse.

In December, I wrote a newsletter with the headline, “Overturning Roe Will Make Miscarriage Care Worse.” I pointed out that because the options that doctors have to end a miscarriage that doesn’t happen on its own — medication or surgery — are the same ones involved in an abortion, outlawing abortion would have a chilling effect on medical providers, as evidenced by cases in countries such as Malta and Poland where abortion is severely restricted.

Doctors wind up being afraid to conduct any procedure that may be misconstrued as an illegal abortion, even when they’re treating patients who miscarry. Women can then wind up with little choice about how their miscarriages end, sometimes simply having to wait to miscarry “naturally,” which may take weeks and risk their health in the process.

But Roe v. Wade didn’t have to fall for a slew of anti-abortion bills to make their way through state legislatures: Texas’ ban on abortion after six weeks was the first to become law, in September. As my Times colleagues Kate Zernike and Adam Liptak explained a few weeks ago, “The Texas law, which several states are attempting to copy, puts enforcement in the hands of civilians. It offers the prospect of $10,000 rewards for successful lawsuits against anyone — from an Uber driver to a doctor — who ‘aids or abets’ a woman who gets an abortion once fetal cardiac activity can be detected.”

There are situations where fetal cardiac activity is detected, but the fetus would not survive outside the womb, or a continued pregnancy would put a woman’s life at risk. As I wrote last year, women in Ireland, Italy and Poland have died of sepsis in such situations. In the past few months, legislators in FloridaIdahoOklahomaMississippiMissouri and Wyoming have either introduced or passed laws severely restricting abortion. As Zernike points out in a March report about these laws, “Most bills have provisions to allow abortion to save the life of the mother. But even on that, states are cracking down.”…

It’s appalling to me that the onus should be on a woman who is experiencing a miscarriage to avoid potential prosecution, but that’s where we are. Politico recently published an article suggesting that many Americans are under-informed about the scope and speed of the changes already happening. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2022 legislative sessions, 33 abortion restrictions have been enacted in nine states, and a stunning 536 restrictions have been introduced in 42 states. A Democratic operative told Politico, “Most voters still haven’t connected the dots to the looming federal change and mistakenly think Roe is almost untouchable.” This misconception needs to be corrected right now.

 

11) This is such a cool science story.  The fact that I now know our official second is pegged to the rotation of the earth in 1957 is going to come up a lot in my future conversations, “Get Ready For the New, Improved Second: Scientists are preparing to redefine the fundamental unit of time. It won’t get any longer or shorter, but it will be more precise — and a whole lot more powerful.”

Modern civilization, it is said, would be impossible without measurement. And measurement would be pointless if we weren’t all using the same units.

So, for nearly 150 years, the world’s metrologists have agreed on strict definitions for units of measurement through the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, known by its French acronym, B.I.P.M., and based outside Paris.

Nowadays the bureau regulates the seven base units that govern time, length, mass, electrical current, temperature, the intensity of light and the amount of a substance. Together, these units are the language of science, technology and commerce.

Scientists are constantly refining these standards. In 2018, they approved new definitions for the kilogram (mass), ampere (current), kelvin (temperature) and mole (amount of substance). Now, with the exception of the mole, all of the standards are subservient to one: time.

“All the units now are not autonomous units, but they are all depending on the second,” said Noël C. Dimarcq, a physicist and the president of the B.I.P.M.’s consultative committee for time and frequency.

That means that conceptually, if clumsily, you could express other units, such as weight or length, in seconds.

“You go to the grocery and say, ‘I would like not one kilogram of potatoes, but an amount of seconds of potatoes,’” Dr. Dimarcq said.

Yet now, for the first time in more than a half-century, scientists are in the throes of changing the definition of the second, because a new generation of clocks is capable of measuring it more precisely…

In the case of cesium 133, the frequency is nearly 9.2 billion ticks per second — 9,192,631,770, to be precise. The length of the second used in the experiment was based on the length of the day in 1957 when the original scientific experiments were taking place, and was derived from measurements of Earth, the moon and stars. By 1967, metrologists at the B.I.P.M. had set the natural resonance frequency of cesium 133 as the official length of the second.

Despite that cesium-based definition, astronomical time and atomic time are still inextricably conjoined. For one thing, atomic time occasionally needs to be adjusted to match astronomical time because Earth continues to change its pace at an irregular rate, whereas atomic time remains constant. When atomic time gets nearly one second faster than astronomical time, the timekeepers stop it for a moment, allowing Earth to catch up — they insert a leap second in the year. So while the duration of the second doesn’t change, the duration of a minute occasionally does. After an initial insertion of 10 leap seconds in 1972, timekeepers now add a leap second to atomic time roughly every year and a half.

In addition, as weird as it may seem, we still tick through 1957-era seconds, even with our modern atomic clocks. That’s because the natural resonance frequency of cesium 133 was measured in 1957 and locked to the duration of the astronomical second in that year, a fact that will not change even when the second is redefined once more.

12) Oh, and measuring kilograms ultimately based on seconds?  Yes, definitely takes more than a few paragraphs and some really complicated science.

13) Harvard was a major institution in 18th century Massachusetts when slavery was legal. Therefore, I don’t find this headline the least bit surprising or something that should have particularly substantial implications for Harvard today.  “Harvard leaders and staff enslaved 79 people, university finds: The school said it had benefited from slave-generated wealth and practiced racial discrimination”  Slavery was a great evil that permeated colonial America and the post-Colonial South.  Pretty much every major institution from that era shares in that stain. I’m just not sure what a precise accounting like this accomplishes.  

14) Greg Sargent, “A young Democrat’s viral takedown demands a ‘wokeness’ rethink”

“Wokeness is a problem and we all know it,” James Carville recently told Vox in his inimitably splenetic way. The veteran strategist called on Democrats to distance themselves from “faculty lounge bulls—” and to undo their image as an “urban, coastal, arrogant party.”

This was widely treated as a breakthrough moment in the debate over whether Democrats have a “wokeness” problem. It was approvingly quoted by not one, but two major New York Times writers.

So I contacted Carville to ask what he thought of Mallory McMorrow.

McMorrow, a Democratic state senator in Michigan, delivered an epic takedown of a GOP colleague on Tuesday that continues to go viral. It included forceful pushback against Republicans over laws stigmatizing gay and trans children and families, and a searing moral defense of treating them respectfully.

“Enormously effective piece of communication,” Carville told me. “There’s really no comeback to it.”

Carville’s endorsement of this approach suggests how this McMorrow moment might push the stale “wokeness” debate in a more salutary direction. It might prod Democrats to rethink their responses to GOP attacks along these lines.

The 35-year-old McMorrow’s ire was triggered by a Republican colleague’s fundraising pitch describing McMorrow as a “groomer.” Be sure to watch McMorrow’s full response:

You’ll note that McMorrow didn’t sound defensive or offer mealy-mouthed, hairsplitting fact-checks. She didn’t capitulate to the Republican framing of these matters for a second.

Instead, McMorrow laid bare her deepest convictions and explained how they lead her to her positions on gay and trans rights, and why basic human decency demands them. Importantly, she made this about what Republicans are doing.

15) A good question in Science, “Are Pan-Coronavirus Vaccines Possible?”

There’s no reason why broader coronavirus vaccines should be impossible to develop. It’s been hard to do against influenza, but those viruses have a constant mix-and-match changeover mechanism in their surface proteins that coronaviruses don’t share, fortunately, so the cases aren’t directly comparable. At the same time, there’s no reason for it to be easy, or for our most plausible ideas to be the ones that work. We have to do the work and go out and try them. Onward!

16) Everybody is talking about this and it’s full of good stuff, so here’s a free link, “How Tucker Carlson Stoked White Fear to Conquer Cable”

Quick hits (part II)

1) Fun list of 50 best romantic comedies.  Definitely the right call that “When Harry met Sally” takes the top spot.

2) The human brain. Damn, “She Was Missing a Chunk of Her Brain. It Didn’t Matter”

EG, who has requested to go by her initials to protect her privacy, is missing her left temporal lobe, a part of the brain thought to be involved in language processing. EG, however, wasn’t quite the right fit for what the scientists were studying, so they referred her to Evelina Fedorenko, a cognitive neuroscientist, also at MIT, who studies language. It was the beginning of a fruitful relationship. The first paper based on EG’s brain was recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia, and Fedorenko’s team expects to publish several more.

For EG, who is in her fifties and grew up in Connecticut, missing a large chunk of her brain has had surprisingly little effect on her life. She has a graduate degree, has enjoyed an impressive career, and speaks Russian—a second language–so well that she has dreamed in it. She first learned her brain was atypical in the autumn of 1987, at George Washington University Hospital, when she had it scanned for an unrelated reason. The cause was likely a stroke that happened when she was a baby; today, there is only cerebro-spinal fluid in that brain area. For the first decade after she found out, EG didn’t tell anyone other than her parents and her two closest friends. “It creeped me out,” she says. Since then, she has told more people, but it’s still a very small circle this is aware of her unique brain anatomy.

Over the years, she says, doctors have repeatedly told EG that her brain doesn’t make sense. One doctor told her she should have seizures, or that she shouldn’t have a good vocabulary—and “he was annoyed that I did,” she says. (As part of the study at MIT, EG tested in the 98th percentile for vocabulary.) The experiences were frustrating; they “pissed me off,” as EG puts it. “They made so many pronouncements and conclusions without any investigation whatsoever,” she says…

Remarkably, EG’s sister is missing her right temporal lobe and is largely unaffected by it, suggesting there’s likely some genetic component to the early childhood strokes that can explain the missing brain regions, Fedorenko says. Next up, the team wants to use both EG and her sister—who has also volunteered to be studied—to try to understand how social and emotional processing takes place predominantly in the right hemisphere. In fact, the whole family is getting involved. A third sibling and EG’s father have also had their brains scanned, although it turns out they each have two intact temporal lobes—or a “boring brain,” as EG dubs it. A fourth sibling will be scanned in the near future. For a long time, it had never occurred to EG that anybody would want to study her, so she is just glad that the neuroscience field has been able to learn something from her brain. “And I hope that it will also take some stigma away from atypical brains,” she says.

3) I’m a huge fan of reading aloud.  Alas, my kids are mostly done with it, but it’s definitely one of the joys of parenthood:

A miraculous alchemy occurs when one person reads to another, transforming the simple stuff of a book into powerful fuel for the heart, brain, and imagination. In The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of DistractionMeghan Cox Gurdon discusses the scientific benefits – and joys – of reading aloud. This month, we were lucky enough to talk to Meghan about the importance of reading aloud, something that is a big part of our #ShareAStorycampaign, which encourages parents, carers, siblings and friends to read to one another for at least 10 minutes a day…

You carried out a lot of scientific and behavioural research. How did you research your books? And what was the most fascinating bit of information about reading aloud that you came across?
People who work at the cliff-face of clinical research tend to be wonderfully generous with their time and expertise. They want the world to know about their work, and are happy to share their findings with writers like me. I learned so many arresting things: That the language circuits in a new baby’s brain spring to life at the sound of a mother’s voice; that a child’s receptive vocabulary (what he understands) may be as many as 3 years ahead of his expressive vocabulary (what he can say); that a child’s ability to pay calm attention at 4 predicts whether he will graduate from university by the age of 25…

Reading aloud is not just for children and your book encourages readers to share stories with adults and the elderly. What are some of the benefits of reading aloud to older readers?
For older people, as for young ones, there’s a brain-kindling aspect, to start: Exciting research at the University of Liverpool, for instance, suggests that reading poetry aloud can help Alzheimer’s sufferers by stimulating their neural pathways. There’s a social aspect: It is a way for people to connect when age or illness makes conversation awkward or impossible, offering a balm for the heart and consolation for lonely.

4) New word for the vocabulary– snarge. “‘Snarge’ Happens, and Studying It Makes Your Flight Safer: When a bird collides with an airplane, determining its species can help prevent future collisions. To do that, scientists need snarge.”

5) As you know, I hate tipping.  Just charge me an appropriate price for a service and don’t expect me to pay your employees!  Now, where employee income is largely dependent upon wages (like restaurant servers who literally get lower wages because of expected tips), of course I’m a good tipper.  But, I hate the tipping creep where all sorts of services just ask you to pay them extra money when there’s no reason to.  NYT: “To Tip, or Not to Tip? Automated payment and the spread of tipping to every corner of the food-service business have helped workers weather the pandemic. But some consumers feel overwhelmed.”

6) I suspect I will be talking about Tucker Carlson and testicle tanning as one of the ultimate signs of the decline of the American right, years from now. Dana Milbank, “Why Tucker Carlson wants men to aim lasers at their private parts”

McGovern recommends that you “expose yourself to red-light therapy and the Joovv” — a brand of red light — “that we were using in the documentary.”

“It’s testicle tanning,” McGovern agrees, “but it’s also full-body red-light therapy.”

Carlson, the most-watched Fox News host, sums it up: “So, obviously, half the viewers are now like, ‘What? Testicle tanning — that’s crazy.’ But my view is, okay, testosterone levels have crashed and nobody says anything about it. That’s crazy.”

No, this is what’s crazy. To the extent declining testosterone levels are a problem, the correct solution would be to address a major cause: rising obesity. Instead of shining a red light on your private parts, dear Fox News viewer, turn off Tucker Carlson, get off the couch and go exercise.

But Carlson isn’t primarily hawking a genital-lighting device; he’s really touching all the erogenous zones of the Trumpian right.

There’s perceived loss of national pride: Carlson sees testosterone collapsing in “American men” (it’s a worldwide phenomenon). There’s paranoia about the government: “The NIH doesn’t seem interested in this at all,” Carlson says, impersonating some presumed official from the National Institutes of Health saying “it’s not a big deal” (the topic is widely studied). There’s paranoia about the media: McGovern claims the benefit of red-light therapy “isn’t being picked up on or covered” and says “there’s a lot of people out there that don’t trust the mainstream information.”

There’s the usual racist fearmongering: After the trailer shows several fit White bodies, the first Black body to appear is obese (as President John F. Kennedy intones that “there is nothing, I think, more unfortunate than to have soft, chubby, fat-looking children”), and an image from a street riot is used to convey “weak” America. There’s obsession with gender and sexuality: A shirtless man throws a javelin that turns into a flaming rocket; a man squeezes a cow’s udder; and other men, several also shirtless, exercise, fire a gun, wrestle, flip a tractor tire, swing an ax, swallow raw eggs and, of course, stand naked in front of red lights.

There’s the Trump right’s celebration of masculinity as aggression rather than chivalry or gentlemanliness, a notion promoted lately by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka. In the trailer, words appear on the screen over President Biden stumbling on Air Force One’s stairs and Democratic senators kneeling in tribute to George Floyd: “Good times made weak men; weak men made hard times.”

Above all, there’s the unwavering faith in junk science — or, as Carlson’s “expert” calls it, “bromeopathy” (apparently a form of homeopathy in which you get advice from friends). Red-light treatment is used for various skin conditions, and it’s not impossible a man can boost his testosterone by plunking down four figures to aim such a device at his nether regions. But, as Marc Goldstein, a Weill Cornell Medicine male fertility expert told the publication Inverse, the claim lacks “convincing scientific evidence or properly done studies.”

7) I really like this, “Let Your Kids Be Bad at Things: When parenting becomes about perfectionism, you’re missing the point.”

8) Yes, we should totally let our kids be more independent at younger ages here in America.  But I got bored of the Japanese television show that’s kicking off all these essays in about five minutes.

9) Cathy Young is a heterodox thinker I’ve discovered through twitter.  I really like this, “The Messy Politics of Teaching Gender”

The controversy over Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which severely curbs the ability of public schools to teach about sexual orientation or gender identity, has brought the spotlight on the extent to which the culture wars over public schools now have to do with transgender identities and the recent dramatic shifts in liberal and progressive views on the subject. Unfortunately, this controversy replicates an all-too-familiar pattern: Conservatives respond to a real problem—in this case, progressive overreach in proselytizing simplistic and strongly disputed beliefs on a contentious issue to often-young schoolchildren—in ham-fisted ways, resulting in accusations of both bigotry and speech suppression; liberals circle the wagons and deny that there is any real problem, attributing the conservative moves solely to intolerance and reactionary backlash against social progress; over-the-top accusations proliferate on both sides; and the chances of productive conversation dwindle from slim to none.

Make no mistake: Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, which was signed by Republican culture warrior and likely presidential aspirant Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 28 and takes effect on July 1, is bad law. True, it does not prohibit anyone from saying the word “gay” in or out of public schools, and the groups paying for those “Say Gay” billboards in Florida could definitely find a better use for their money. On the face of it, the text of the bill may even seem reasonable: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” But it’s not clear whether, for instance, the prohibition on sexual orientation “instruction” in K-3 would cover such things as a parent volunteer during a class activity mentioning a same-sex spouse, or the use of any book or cartoon with a gay character.

The “age-appropriate[ness]” in later grades could also be a thorny issue—especially since, like some other recent social-issues legislation, the bill empowers ordinary citizens to serve as enforcers by suing. Given how stupid the culture wars have gotten, that’s worrisome.

It is also true that the anecdote DeSantis used as a justification for the bill—a supposed incident in which schoolteachers encouraged a 13-year-old student to explore a transgender identity without the parents’ knowledge or consent—turns out to have been substantially misreported: It seems that in reality, school staff was fully cooperative with the parents. (One of the bill’s provisions requires such cooperation, except in cases of a credible risk of abuse, when the child is making potentially life-altering decisions.)

But that doesn’t mean concerns about gender-identity extremism in educational settings are all made up.

Right now, for instance, these concerns are being aired in my own “blue” state of New Jersey as  health and sex education standards passed into law statewide in 2020 and now being implemented by local school boards have drawn objections not only from Republicans and conservatives but from some Democrats and moderates. For the moment, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, has announced that the guidelines are being reviewed by the Department of Education and stressed that parents will always have the right to opt their children out of the lessons.

What’s so controversial? While some of the objections have focused on elementary-school materials that include overly explicit descriptions of sexual anatomy, proposed lesson plans dealing with gender identity issues have been a particular lightning rod. Thus, a cartoon video on “Puberty and Transgender Youth” suggested by one local school board as potential viewing material for fifth graders casually discusses the use of puberty blockers and shows a character experiencing anxiety because of by bodily changes (and apparently using a chest binder to hide developing breasts) and getting an injection of puberty blockers.

Meanwhile, a sample lesson plan recommended by that same school board for first graders instructs teachers to ask children how they know what gender they are, then explain the concept of gender identity as “that feeling of knowing your gender,” and elaborates:

You might feel like you are a boy, you might feel like you are a girl. You might feel like you’re a boy even if you have body parts that some people might tell you are “girl” parts. You might feel like you’re a girl even if you have body parts that some people might tell you are “boy” parts. And you might not feel like you’re a boy or a girl, but you’re a little bit of both. No matter how you feel, you’re perfectly normal!

A second-grade lesson from the same curriculum more specifically identifies “male genitals” and “female genitals,” but also offers this disclaimer: “There are some body parts that mostly just girls have and some parts that mostly just boys have. Being a boy or a girl doesn’t have to mean you have those parts, but for most people this is how their bodies are.” (While the Washington Post has pointed out that these lessons plans are not mandatory but are simply offered as potential resources, they are still among the approved material for the curriculum.)…

Are parents reactionary if they think the claim that sex at birth is established by the doctor “making a guess” is not only terrible science, but a highly confusing message for children whose sense of themselves and the world is still developing and for whom the boundaries between fantasy and reality may be still unstable? (Like many other children, I went through an “I’m a boy” phase when I was 7, not long after other phases in which I was a dog, the goddess Artemis, a prehistoric cave child, and a variety of fairly-tale characters of different sexes and species.) Or if they think that the schools should not be in the business of endorsing puberty-blocking drugs whose long-term effects are still poorly understood?

Other parents who are not GOP activists from Florida but suburban liberals from places like Stamford, Connecticut have pushed back against reading materials like The Pants Project, a book about a transgender boy assigned in grades 3 to 5. The objections have been not only to overly sexualized material—the main character, Liv, muses at one point, “Last week, Chelsea loudly told Jade that she’d seen a bulge in my underwear (I wish!)”—but to “gender stereotypes”: the book, one mother complained, seemed to imply that all girls are girly and that wearing pants, as Liv hankers to do, is a boy thing…

A full analysis of today’s gender identity debates is certainly beyond the scope of this article. However, it is worth noting that extremism in the transgender rights movement is being increasingly challenged across the political spectrum. Jonathan Rauch has recently written a thoughtful essay on the subject for the American Purpose, arguing that the movement needs to reject ultra-radicalism the way the gay rights movement did to win its civil rights victories. The Los Angeles Times last week reported on clinical psychologist Erica Anderson, who is herself transgender and has worked with numerous transgender patients; Anderson has broken ranks with the trans advocacy community by arguing that too many teenagers are being rushed into transitioning and that being transgender or “genderqueer” has, in some cases, become a trendy thing among progressive young people. Science journalist Jesse Singal, who is no one’s idea of a conservative or a right-winger, has been writing for several years about the bad science and bad ideas of radical trans advocacy.

There has been extreme and genuinely bigoted rhetoric about transgender people, both from the right and from radical feminists—but there has also been a disingenuous and deeply counterproductive campaign to equate all dissent from transgender-movement orthodoxy with bigotry and hate. It is entirely possible to believe that transgender identities are valid and worthy of social respect and that gender transition is in many cases the best solution to gender dysphoria, and yet also to believe that transgender advocacy in its current form raises many difficult issues that are far from settled—including hard questions related to gender transition for minors.

Unfortunately, our toxic political scene is the worst possible arena to address these complicated issues. Right now, the right is screaming “groomer” at anyone who believes sexuality and gender identity should be even mentioned in a school setting, while the left is screaming “murderer of trans kids” at anyone who thinks we should be careful about letting a 16-year-old get a mastectomy to fit a male or nonbinary gender identity. The moderate voices are essential—but too often they are getting drowned out. Today, responsible liberals and centrists are well aware of the bigotry and extremism of the anti-trans right; but they should pay more attention to the intolerance and extremism of the militant trans-advocacy left.

10) It’s good that the Supreme Court ruled that, yes, the military can require soldiers to be vaccinated for Covid.  But, plenty disturbing that somehow Gorsuch, Thomas, and Alito think themselves above this chain of command.

11) Really enjoyed this from Derek Thompson, “A Stanford Psychologist Says He’s Cracked the Code of One-Hit Wonders: What separates Blind Melon from Shania Twain?”

For decades, psychologists have puzzled over the ingredients of creative popularity by studying music, because the medium offers literally millions of data points. Is the thing that separates one-hit wonders from consistent hitmakers luck, or talent, or some complex combination of factors? I did my best to summarize their work in my book, Hit Makers. This month, the Stanford psychologist Justin Berg published a new paper on the topic and argued that the secret to creative success just happens to hinge on the difference between “No Rain” and Shania Twain.

Berg compiled a data set of more than 3 million songs released from 1959 to 2010 and pulled out the biggest hits. He used an algorithm developed by the company EchoNest to measure the songs’ sonic features, including key, tempo, and danceability. This allowed him to quantify how similar a given hit is to the contemporary popular-music landscape (which he calls “novelty”), and the musical diversity of an artist’s body of work (“variety”).

“Novelty is a double-edged sword,” Berg told me. “Being very different from the mainstream is really, really bad for your likelihood of initially making a hit when you’re not well known. But once you have a hit, novelty suddenly becomes a huge asset that is likely to sustain your success.” Mass audiences are drawn to what’s familiar, but they become loyal to what’s consistently distinct.

Blind Melon’s “No Rain” rated extremely low on novelty in Berg’s research. Dreamy, guitar-driven soft rock wasn’t exactly innovative in 1992. According to Berg, this was the sort of song that was very likely to become a one-hit wonder: It rose to fame because of a quirky music video, not because the song itself stood out for its uniqueness. After that hit, the band struggled to distinguish their sound from everything else that was going on in music.

By contrast, Twain’s breakout hit rated high on novelty in Berg’s research. She was pioneering a new pop-country crossover genre that was bold for her time but would later inspire a generation of artists, like Taylor Swift. “Twain is a great fit for the model, because her blending of pop and country was so original before she had her breakout,” Berg told me. After her second album, he said, her novelty, which had previously been an artistic risk, helped her retain listeners. She could experiment within the kingdom of country-pop without much competition from other artists, and this allowed her to dominate the charts for the next decade.

Berg’s research also found that musical variety (as opposed to novelty) was useful for artists before they broke out. But down the line, variety wasn’t very useful, possibly because audience expectations are set by initial hits. “After the first hit, the research showed that it was good for artists to focus on what I call relatedness, or similarity of music,” he said. Nobody wants Bruce Springsteen to make a rap album.

This second finding about the benefits of early variety is similar to a model of creativity known as explore-exploit. The Northwestern University economist Dashun Wang has found that artists and scientists tend to have “hot streaks,” or tight clusters of highly successful work. When he looked closer at what preceded these hot streaks, he found a similar pattern. First, artists and scientists would “explore,” or experiment with a bunch of different ideas, styles, jobs, or topics, before they really got in the zone. Then they would “exploit,” or productively focus on one particular area.

Berg’s and Wang’s research suggests three rules of thumb that may come in handy for creative work.

First, extremely new ideas are unlikely to initially find a large audience. But if they break through, artists and entrepreneurs may find that uniqueness is an asset, the same way that Twain’s country-pop hybrid style switched from a burden to a benefit after her first hit. Second, early-career exploration can pay dividends in the long run. This is as true of the broader labor force as it is in music. A 2014 study of young workers found that people who switch jobs more frequently early in their career tend to have higher incomes in their prime working years. Third, the difference between one-hit wonders and hitmakers isn’t just novelty; it’s also focus, or what Berg called “relatedness.” Hot streaks require creative people to mine deeply when they find something that works for them.

But where does Chumbawamba fit into this?!

12) Why would Jay Wright retire from college basketball?  This sounds good:

I joked often this winter that when I talk to college basketball coaches these days, the conversations feel less like interviews and more like therapy sessions. That doesn’t seem so funny now that the sport is losing one of its leading men just when it needs him most. Put simply, the job is exhausting — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The travel is a killer. The parents wear you out. The press is always on your ass. The fans shout obscenities from the bleachers and hurl insults on social media. Your wife gets harassed at the grocery store, your kids get teased at school, and your very livelihood is dependent on the whims of 19- and 20-year-old kids who are under enormous pressure to succeed, and quickly. If things don’t go their way, they’re on to another school or off the pros. And you’re out of a job.

Coaching is a great job but a lousy profession. It pays well if you make it big, but it also chews you up and spits you out, because there’s always fresh meat on the way.

13) NYT on the subway shooter, “Why No One Died When a Gunman Opened Fire on the Subway: Luck and poor marksmanship appear to have saved the victims of the subway attack.”

Also, he was using a handgun, not an assault rifle.  I guarantee you some of these people would be dead if had been using an AR-15.

14) This is good, “THE UNSEEN SCARS OF THOSE WHO KILL VIA REMOTE CONTROL”

In the Air Force, drone pilots did not pick the targets. That was the job of someone pilots called “the customer.” The customer might be a conventional ground force commander, the C.I.A. or a classified Special Operations strike cell. It did not matter. The customer got what the customer wanted.

And sometimes what the customer wanted did not seem right. There were missile strikes so hasty that they hit women and children, attacks built on such flimsy intelligence that they made targets of ordinary villagers, and classified rules of engagement that allowed the customer to knowingly kill up to 20 civilians when taking out an enemy. Crews had to watch it all in color and high definition.

15) Damn, the full-on censorious book-banning of conservatives is just completely nuts.  (And, yet, that does not excuse the censoriousness of campus leftists, just because it’s worse), “Censorship battles’ new frontier: Your public library: Conservatives are teaming with politicians to remove books and gut library boards”

Wallace’s list was the opening salvo in a censorship battle that is unlikely to end well for proponents of free speech in this county of 21,000 nestled in rolling hills of mesquite trees and cactus northwest of Austin.

Leaders have taken works as seemingly innocuous as the popular children’s picture book “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak off the shelves, closed library board meetings to the public and named Wallace the vice chair of a new library board stacked with conservative appointees — some of whom did not even have library cards.

With these actions, Llano joins a growing number of communities across America where conservatives have mounted challenges to books and other content related to race, sex, gender and other subjects they deem inappropriate. A movement that started in schools has rapidly expanded to public libraries, accounting for 37 percent of book challenges last year, according to the American Library Association. Conservative activists in several states, including Texas, Montana and Louisiana have joined forces with like-minded officials to dissolve libraries’ governing bodies, rewrite or delete censorship protections, and remove books outside of official challenge procedures…

Leila Green Little, a parent and board member of the Llano County Library System Foundation, said her anti-censorship group obtained dozens of emails from country officials that reveal the outsize influence a small but vocal group of conservative Christian and tea party activists wielded over the county commissioners to reshape the library system to their own ideals.

In one of the emails, which were obtained through a public records request and shared with The Washington Post, Cunningham seemed to question whether public libraries were even necessary.

“The board also needs to recognize that the county is not mandated by law to provide a public library,” Cunningham wrote to Wallace in January.

16) From a few years ago, but anybody who knows rich people knows this to be so true, “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? Turns Out It’s Just Chance.: The most successful people are not the most talented, just the luckiest, a new computer model of wealth creation confirms. Taking that into account can maximize return on many kinds of investment.”

17) This is also true, “Enough About Climate Change. Air Pollution Is Killing Us Now.”

In the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, doctors noticed a surprising silver lining: Americans were having fewer heart attacks.

One likely reason, according to an analysis published last month by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, is that people were inhaling less air pollution.

Millions of workers were staying home instead of driving to work. Americans were suddenly burning a lot less gas. And across the country, the researchers found that regions with larger drops in pollution also had larger drops in heart attacks.

The menace of air pollution doesn’t command public attention as it did in the 1960s, when thick smog yellowed urban skies. But evidence has piled up in recent years that the real progress the United States has made in reducing air pollution isn’t nearly good enough. Air pollution is a lot deadlier than we previously understood — and, in particular, studies like the analysis of heart attacks during the pandemic show that the concentrations of air pollution currently permitted by federal policy are still far too high.

In an assessment of recent research, the World Health Organization concluded last year that air pollution is “the single largest environmental threat to human health and well-being.”

The low quality of the air that we breathe should be regarded as a crisis. It also presents an opportunity. The existential threat of climate change has come to dominate debates about environmental regulation. Proposals to curb emissions, once presented as public health measures, are now billed as efforts to limit global warming.

The solution to both threats is the same: We need to stop burning fossil fuels, preferably yesterday. But there is cause to wonder whether a greater focus on the immediate dangers posed by air pollution, rather than the more distant specter of global warming, might help to muster the necessary support for changes that are going to be expensive and disruptive.

18) Great thread from Noah Smith on climate optimism.

 

Just clean the air already!!

Back in 2020 when I first started learning about the importance of ventilation and filtration (and UVC technology) in reducing respiratory virus transmission, I was really optimistic that we would learn, invest in and deploy these technologies, and make healthier indoor environments that would more than pay off in their costs by the substantial improvements in human health.

Silly me.

Conor Friederdorf with a nice piece on “The Simple Anti-COVID Measures We’re Not Taking” which, of course, addresses the air issue:

There’s the proven utility of deploying better ventilation

And Columbia University flags technology that appears to make indoor air as safe as outdoor air:

A new type of ultraviolet light that may be safe for people took less than five minutes to reduce the level of indoor airborne microbes by more than 98%, a joint study by scientists at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and in the U.K. has found. Even as microbes continued to be sprayed into the room, the level remained very low as long as the lights were on. The study suggests that far-UVC light from lamps installed in the ceiling could be a highly effective passive technology for reducing person-to-person transmission of airborne-mediated diseases such as COVID and influenza indoors.

But rather than pushing to develop and deploy new technologies and approaches, Americans are still focused on arguing about masks

[Also, yes, Operation Warp Speed for nasal vaccines!!]

Relatedly, I really appreciate that this NPR story is one of the few places that admits there’s a trade-off in higher energy costs to cleaner air.  Worth it!!  But a real tradeoff because… physics:

Circulating fresh air helps flush viruses out of vents so they don’t build up indoors. But there’s a downside: higher cost and energy use, which increases the greenhouse gases fueling climate change. “You spend more because your heat is coming on more often in order to warm up the outdoor air,” Ward said.

Ward said his program can afford the higher heating bills, at least for now, because of past savings from reduced energy use. Still, cost is an impediment to a more extensive revamp: Ward would like to install more efficient air filters, but the buildings — some of which are 30 years old — would have to be retrofitted to accommodate them.

But, what presumably uses way less energy than heating cold (cooling hot) fresh air, is to deploy UVC technology to kill pathogens in the air.  The amazing thing is we’ve already had this technology in use in some locations for decades.  Honestly, it seems to me that it would be such a good investment to put this in every school building in America. 

Donald Milton (one of the people I’ve learned a lot about clean air from on twitter) and others with a very nice NYT op-ed making the case for the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of this technology.  I’m in!

There’s a better way to hold indoor events without masks, and it doesn’t rely on vaccines and rapid tests. Vaccinations can prevent the worst possible outcomes of Covid-19 but cannot always prevent infections. Pre-event testing is imperfect, and for it to be most effective, people need to test right before entering an event.

Putting this much of the onus of infection control on individuals is unlikely to work well to prevent superspreading and lets hosts of large events off the hook for keeping their attendees, workers and others safe. Instead, there are ways that building owners can make indoor environments safer by disinfecting indoor air. One of the best technologies to do so — germicidal ultraviolet light — has been studied for decades and can now be used safely…

The risk of catching diseases transmitted through the air like Covid, measles, tuberculosis and likely many other respiratory infections, including the flu, depends in large part on the amount of infectious viruses — or bacteria in the case of TB — in the air we breathe. The number of these germs in indoor air is controlled by two things: the rate at which infected people in a room exhale germs and the rate at which infectious germs are removed from the air.

Ventilation and filtration can remove germs floating indoors either by blowing them out of the building and replacing the air with fresh outdoor air or by capturing them while moving the indoor air through a filter. At two air changes per hour, which is commonly provided in large buildings, a little more than half of the existing germs are removed every 30 minutes. At six air changes per hour, which is common in hospital rooms and classrooms with multiple portable HEPA air filters, a little more than half of the germs are removed every 10 minutes.

That’s good, but there are a couple of challenges. Methods that move air through rooms can be energy intensive, expensive and noisy. A highly infectious person with the coronavirus could add enough germs to the air to infect over 16 people every minute, or over 900 people per hour, although in practice some of those viral doses would not find a person to infect. Omicron may now be approaching the infectiousness of the measles virus, the most contagious respiratory virus known; one highly infectious person can exhale enough measles virus to infect 93 people per minute, or over 5,500 per hour. Removing half that amount of virus every 10 minutes may make superspreading events smaller, but it’s not enough to prevent them in large indoor gatherings. That’s where air disinfection with germicidal ultraviolet light, or GUV, comes in.

GUV can easily and silently kill half of the germs floating in indoor air every two minutes or less. It was developed and tested beginning in the 1930s using some of the same technology in fluorescent light fixtures. It is still commonly used in TB wards, as well as some major hospital systems and homeless shelters…

Americans have long been able to turn on the tap with confidence that drinking the water will not give us cholera or another illness. Like drinking clean water, breathing sanitary indoor air, especially in crowded public places, will prevent respiratory epidemics. Outbreaks will become much easier to control without economic disruption and politicization. Ventilation and filtration will make important contributions to reducing transmission in homes and offices. Disinfecting the air can make higher-risk settings for superspreading — like conference rooms, restaurants, meat- and poultry-packing plants, nursing homes, prisons and more — safer.

GUV is commercially available right now, and building owners and operators should be encouraged to adopt it through subsidies and tax incentives. We can end superspreader events and make public events and dining safer for everyone. What are we waiting for?

Yes, yes, yes!!!  Let’s invest in this.  Let’s pas the right incentive policies.  Let’s make this happen!

Quick hits (part II)

Happy Easter!

1) I watched about 5 minutes of “Old Enough” on Netflix before I got bored. But it’s a great starting off point for Jessica Grose’s latest parenting newsletter:

An aggressively adorable reality show that’s been on for decades in Japan recently hit Netflix. It’s called “Old Enough!” and it depicts Japanese little ones, some as young as 2, taking their first solo journeys (the show’s original title is translated as “My First Errand”). ..

In addition to being utterly charmed by how cute the show is, my response was: This wouldn’t fly in the United States. If there were an American version, parents who allowed their children to appear would probably be framed as irresponsible, or the kids would be shown to need parental support at every turn.

It’s not just Japan. In much of the rest of the world, kids are allowed to do more solo at earlier ages. Dan Kois, who wrote a book about traveling the world with his 9- and 11-year-olds, said, “Our experience in most of the places we lived in the course of that year, children, especially middle-grade children, were given enormous amounts of freedom that were totally incomprehensible” to the average American. In the Netherlands, for instance, Kois said that kids rode their bikes to school by themselves.

Though I knew American parents were more protective than some parents in other countries, I was surprised at the extent of the protectiveness. According to a 2012 analysis of a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the mean age at which American adults believed a child could be left at home alone was 13, bathe alone was 7 and a half, bike alone was around 10.

American norms seem also to have become more protective over time…

Experts peg the 1980s and 1990s as when American parenting started becoming more conservative in this way. Lenore Skenazy, the founder of Free-Range Kids and the president of Let Grow, an organization that advocates children having more freedom, said that a shift began, understandably, when child abductions were getting a lot of national media coverage. Etan Patz and Adam Walsh became household names, and rather than thinking of these cases as horrific anomalies, parents began to think of child kidnapping as something more common than it is.

Skenazy said that poorly defined child neglect laws also play a role. Many parents have told me they want to give their kids more freedom, but worry that if they let their 9-year-old go to the park alone, for example, they might wind up getting a call from child protective services. (Skenazy notes that this kind of thing really happens.) Others might make the argument that there’s not much downside to being extra cautious, but research suggests something more complicated — a 2021 paper in the Journal of Family Psychology found that too much parental involvement may lead to worse self-regulation among kindergartners. In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson argues that part of the reason American teenagers are so anxious is that their bubble-wrapped childhoods can leave them without a sense of competence.

America is vast, and parents know their kids and their specific neighborhoods best — I’m not about to send my 5-year-old to the bodega by herself quite yet. But I hope watching “Old Enough!” will make more American parents consider the possibility that our cultural norms need a reset, or at least a rethink.

2) To me great art/literature is great because it speaks to the human condition.  Of course, there are culturally unique and specific aspects of the human condition, but what’s awesome is that a book written hundreds or thousands of years ago can still speak to people today or that a novel about being a child soldier in Africa can have a profound impact on a middle-class American.  It’s speaking to our shared humanity that makes great art.  Thus, I really enjoyed this portion of a conversation between Yascha Mounk and Classics professor, Roosevelt Montás:

Then there is this other aspect of it that is very dangerous. You alluded to this condescending notion that people who are from certain cultures, or certain racial or ethnic minorities, somehow don’t have the human apparatus to connect to big fundamental questions that some other student or individual does. My wife is an American white woman, and this culturally responsive approach to teaching easily falls into something like the idea that Dante is appropriate for her, but not for me. You know, “Give Roosevelt Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Junot Diaz, and give Leigh Plato and Aristotle.” There is a reductionist and narrowness and ultimately a condescension to that attitude that pervades education. I think we have done more damage than good by incorporating that type of thinking into our curriculum. I, as a high school student, found Plato to be very affirming. I found that Plato affirmed the deepest aspects of my identity. By Plato I mean Socrates, really—at least the figure that Plato gives us of Socrates. That had nothing to do with my ethnicity and with my language and with my culture; it had something to do more fundamentally with my sense of self, with the possibilities of living in a society. This happens over and over again—I see students are able to connect with, say, Dante, not because Dante is Italian and because it’s rooted in medieval Catholic theology; there’s something else in Dante, a point of connection that makes Dante no closer to an Italian American than to a Dominican American. 

Mounk: One of the things that I find weird about this, as you’re saying, is that the logical implication of “Only Spanish or Latino literature will appeal to somebody from the Dominican Republic,” is that only English people are truly going to get Shakespeare, which is deeply offensive. Though, when it comes to somebody like Socrates, it’s also the weird metaphysics that’s going on. Socrates lived so long ago, in a society that was so different from either the New York of 1985 or the Dominican Republic of 1985. Which of those two societies was closer to Socrates? I have no way to begin to answer that question. So there’s an odd idea, when you think about transhistorical white identity, where suddenly, the kid with roots that are not at all in Greece, living in a highly technologically, economically complex and diverse society in the 21st century, somehow is supposed to be just like Socrates. It’s just such a weird way of thinking about what it is to be human and how our contemporary identities map onto the past. 

Montás: And the sad thing is that it involves a certain kind of reductionism and essentialism that was invented, historically, as a tool of oppression. This notion of whiteness and blackness and this cultural essentialism develops in the service of racial supremacism, exploitation, enslavement, and absolute dehumanization of the other. Today, the logic is adopted so easily into a discourse that poses itself as progressive, anti-racist, and social justice-oriented. I don’t really question the intentions of people who advance this, but I do think that they are making a fundamental mistake and reproducing the categories that are the exact same tools that produce the oppression that they’re fighting.

3) Sometimes you talk to a journalist for half an hour and they use one boring, anodyne quote.  Other times, they make it worth your while.  Love how the quotes here very much capture how I actually speak about politics, “North Carolina primary bids watched by nation”

Steven Greene, a professor of political science at North Carolina State University, told Courthouse News that Budd probably didn’t lose any headway by not participating in the debate. 

He is financially formidable and is likely “Trumpy” enough to maintain a substantial Republican following, Greene said. 

The professor describes McCrory as more of an “old-guard, pre-Trump, reagan-era conservative,” while describing Budd as more of an “own-the-libs Republican.” 

“He has a potent national brand,” Greene said of Cawthorn, adding,” He’s aligned with Trump and in many ways, he represents what the Republican Party is all about right now.”

The young representative was recently reprimanded by GOP leadership for making public claims unflattering to the party, including tales of “orgy” invites.

That doesn’t matter either, Greene said. 

“Republican primary voters will be willing to overlook problematic statements,” he said, including Cawthorn’s recent statements siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukrainian leadership in the ongoing invasion.

He says Republican primary voters in the state are energized by Trump-esque rhetoric like that of Cawthorn’s. 

Plus, he said, “any Republican candidate with a pulse” is likely to win the majorly conservative 11th District over the Democratic challengers hoping to keep Cawthorn from gaining reelection in November. 

4) Lots of interesting facts/charts checking out here from Pew, “10 facts about today’s college graduates”

A line graph showing that since 2000, the share of Americans with a bachelor's degree has increased across all races and ethnicities

A chart showing that among household heads with at least a bachelor's degree, those with a college-educated parent are typically wealthier and have greater incomes

5) Edsall, ‘Trump Poses a Test Democracy Is Failing.”  This is all just so damn depressing the number of people who so readily choose power, owning-the-libs, negative partisanship, tax cuts or whatever over, you know… democracy.

Ordinary citizens play a critical role in maintaining democracy. They refuse to re-elect — at least in theory — politicians who abuse their power, break the rules and reject the outcome of elections they lose. How is it, then, that Donald Trump, who has defied these basic presumptions, stands a reasonable chance of winning a second term in 2024?

Milan W. Svolik, a political scientist at Yale, anticipated this question in his 2019 paper “Polarization versus Democracy”: “Voters in democracies have at their disposal an essential instrument of democratic self-defense: elections. They can stop politicians with authoritarian ambitions by simply voting them out of office.”

What might account for their failure to do so?

In sharply polarized electorates, even voters who value democracy will be willing to sacrifice fair democratic competition for the sake of electing politicians who champion their interests. When punishing a leader’s authoritarian tendencies requires voting for a platform, party, or person that his supporters detest, many will find this too high a price to pay.

In other words, exacerbated partisan competition “presents aspiring authoritarians with a structural opportunity: They can undermine democracy and get away with it.”

Svolik and Matthew H. Graham, a postdoctoral researcher at George Washington University, expand on Svolik’s argument and its applicability to the United States. Supporters of democracy, they contend in their 2020 paper “Democracy in America? Partisanship, Polarization, and the Robustness of Support for Democracy in the United States,” can no longer rely on voters to serve as a roadblock against authoritarianism:

We find the U.S. public’s viability as a democratic check to be strikingly limited: only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices, and their tendency to do so is decreasing in several measures of polarization, including the strength of partisanship, policy extremism, and candidate platform divergence.

Graham and Svolik cite survey data demonstrating that “Americans have a solid understanding of what democracy is and what it is not” and can “correctly distinguish real-world undemocratic practices from those that are consistent with democratic principles.”…

Despite this awareness, Graham and Svolik continue,

only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices when doing so goes against their partisan identification or favorite policies. We proposed that this is the consequence of two mechanisms: first, voters are willing to trade off democratic principles for partisan ends and second, voters employ a partisan ‘double standard’ when punishing candidates who violate democratic principles. These tendencies were exacerbated by several types of polarization, including intense partisanship, extreme policy preferences, and divergence in candidate platforms.

The authors have calculated that “only 3.5 percent of voters realistically punish violations of democratic principles in one of the world’s oldest democracies.”

6) The latest Jonathan Haidt everybody is talking about America as a modern-day Babel being ruined by social media (I haven’t actually read it yet, I’ll get around to it in my hardcopy Atlantic).

Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three. To see how, we must understand how social media changed over time—and especially in the several years following 2009.

7) I hate the LA Times paywall that gives you not a single article and diminishes their ability to have a national influence.  But, at least the journalist made a nice twitter thread here:

8) This is kind of cool. “Why Rome?”

Rome rose from obscurity to become a vast, prosperous and durable empire. It first outgrew the other Latin cities mainly due to its location as a nexus and its proximity to the wealthy Etruscans (75% confidence). If this is not the case, Rome does not get hegemony over Latium (70% confidence).

Roman culture then spread primarily through conquest (95% confidence). A key reason that this worked was the Romans’ unusually expansive and inclusive notion of citizenship, which increased its labour force, suppressed rebellious tendencies and gave conquered peoples a stake in the Roman venture (70% confidence). If this is not the case, the Romans don’t expand outside the Italian peninsula (60% confidence).

9) Chait, “Why Ketanji Brown Jackson Will Be the Last Democratic Justice for a Long Time The Court is getting more partisan and much harder to change.”

The important news from Jackson’s confirmation was not that Democrats managed to seat a justice; their possession of a Senate majority and the presidency made that a foregone conclusion. The news was that Democrats would not get another justice confirmed without controlling the Senate.

When McConnell announced in 2016 that he would not permit a hearing for any Supreme Court nominee put forward by Barack Obama, his stated rationale was that it would be improper for the Senate to confirm anybody during an election year. An army of conservative pundits came forward to vouchsafe this rationale. “Only once in U.S. history (in 1888) has the Senate acted before Election Day to confirm a justice who was nominated in the last year of a presidential term by a president of the opposing party,” insisted National Review’s Dan McLaughlin.

It was perfectly obvious at the time that McConnell had simply concocted an arbitrary time frame, but conservatives put up a great show in pretending the distinction between election-year nominees and justices nominated other times had real meaning. But McConnell is now dispensing with the pretext and openly refusing to commit to holding hearings for a Democratic Court nominee at all, election year or no. As far as I can tell, the number of conservatives who disagree with him is zero.

The old norms governing Supreme Court nominations generally meant that a well-qualified jurist from within that party’s mainstream would command overwhelming approval from senators in both parties. But that expectation relied on the shared belief that judges were ideologically unpredictable. (Because, indeed, they were.)

In the new world, confirming a Supreme Court justice is just like passing any other part of the president’s agenda: You either have a majority of the votes in Congress or you don’t get it. It will now become routine for Supreme Court seats to stay vacant for years until one party controls the presidency and the Senate.

In practical terms, this will make it nearly impossible for Democrats to take back the Court in the near future. 

10) I was at the Hurricanes 3-0 loss to the Red Wings and they just killed the Red Wings in every metric except, of course, the one that counts. Led me to a bit of dive into the various advanced metrics and I quite like this one that shows plain old scoring chances % as a better metric than high danger chances for percentage.

11) Noah Smith and Matt Yglesias with a fascinating and thoughtful debate on defense spending.

12) And a really interesting interview on the military threats in space:

What are those biggest threats?

Our primary potential adversaries are China and Russia, which have clearly already demonstrated multiple ways that they would hold our space capabilities at risk. We’ve seen this in 2007, when China tested an anti-satellite missile that blew up one of their own satellites. By the way, today we’re still tracking thousands of pieces of debris from that test. That represents a threat to safety and navigation in space. Not a good event. 

And then, most recently, Russia did the same thing on the 15th of November last year, blew up one of their satellites. And now we have hundreds more pieces of debris that we’re tracking because of that. In addition, they continue to develop other capabilities: satellite and navigation signal jamming capabilities; directed energy capabilities from the ground that could be used to dazzle, disrupt, or even damage satellites in low earth orbit, and so on. 

So why are China and Russia doing this? Because they see what space means to modern warfare, and how dependent our terrestrial forces are on space capabilities. And they want to hold them at risk, because they’re actually afraid of the capabilities that our space assets bring to bear.

13) Great guest essay on the nurse convicted of a crime for a medical mistake.

But some are more devastating. RaDonda Vaught, a former Tennessee nurse, is awaiting sentencing for one particularly catastrophic case that took place in 2017. She administered a paralyzing medication to a patient before a scan instead of the sedative she intended to give to quell anxiety. The patient stopped breathing and ultimately died.

Precisely where all the blame for this tragedy lies remains debated. Ms. Vaught’s attorney argued his client made an honest mistake and faulted the mechanized medication dispensing system at the hospital where she worked. The prosecution maintained, however, that she “overlooked many obvious signs that she’d withdrawn the wrong drug” and failed to monitor her patient after the injection.

Criminal prosecutions for medical errors are rare, but Ms. Vaught was convicted in criminal court of two felonies and now faces up to eight years in prison. This outcome has been met with outrage by doctors and nurses across the country. Many worry that her case creates a dangerous precedent, a chilling effect that will discourage health care workers from reporting errors or close calls. Some nurses are even leaving the profession and citing this case as the final straw after years of caring for patients with Covid-19.

14) I don’t get why we can’t just have Ukrainian refugees give their dogs rabies shots at the border, “Ukrainians Face New Hurdle at U.S. Border: No Dogs: Federal health guidelines limit the entry of pets from countries like Ukraine with a high incidence of rabies. For some refugees, the rule has been devastating.”

15) No game-changer, but still a cool technological development, “The F.D.A. authorizes the first Covid-19 breath test.”

16) There had been a lot of hope for Vitamin D and Covid. Evidence is pretty clear, though, there’s just nothing there.  

17) The case for prescribing Paxlovid to low-risk Covid patients.

18) How they managed to build monasteries like this on top of rock formations hundreds of years ago just astounds me.

19) Yeah, we’re not getting to zero Covid.  But science just keeps on making progress, “Sabizabulin Cuts COVID-19 Death; Trial Stopped Early Due to Efficacy”

Positive results were announced from a phase 3 trial evaluating sabizabulin in hospitalized COVID-19 patients at high risk for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Sabizabulin is an oral cytoskeleton disruptor that blocks microtubule trafficking. The investigational treatment is expected to provide both antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects, thereby treating both the SARS-CoV-2 infection and the cytokine storm and septic shock that lead to ARDS.

The double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT04842747) included approximately 210 patients hospitalized with moderate to severe COVID-19 (WHO Ordinal Scale for Clinical Improvement score of at least 4) who were at high risk for ARDS and death.

Patients were randomly assigned 2:1 to receive sabizabulin orally once daily for up to 21 days or placebo. Both treatment arms were allowed to receive standard of care, which included remdesivirdexamethasone, anti-interleukin 6 (IL6) receptor antibodies, and Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors. 

The primary endpoint was the proportion of patients who died by day 60. The key secondary endpoint was the proportion of patients who were alive without respiratory failure at day 15, day 22, and day 29.

An interim analysis showed that treatment with sabizabulin resulted in a clinically and statistically meaningful 55% relative reduction in deaths in the intent to treat population (P =.0029). The mortality rates for the sabizabulin and placebo groups were reported to be 20% and 45%, respectively. As for safety, sabizabulin was well tolerated with no clinically relevant safety concerns compared with placebo. According to the Company, secondary efficacy endpoints are still being analyzed.

20) Two things that are true.  Black Lives Matter is an important and worthy social movement. Black Lives Matter as an organization is basically scamming people. 

21) I’ve never actually been all that much of a fan of Louis C.K., but damn does a sub-headline like this annoy me, “Some comedians are questioning how the Recording Academy saw fit to bestow an award to someone who had admitted to sexual misconduct.”

Presumably because the voters thought he had the best comedy album.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Fascinating post from Katelyn Jetelina on “original antigenic sin”

Original antigenic sin (OAS)

When we come in contact with a virus or get a vaccine for the first time, our immune system develops a repertoire of tools. One of those tools is B-cells, which are antibody factories. Each B-cell makes a single antibody shape, and they can pump out huge quantities of antibodies if needed. If you come in contact with another variant, B-cells can evolve and modify the antibodies they create for a new variant. This is just like factories that can modify their product on the line.

The immune system wants to clear a threat in the fastest way possible. Responses based on memory (as opposed to modifying the antibodies) work fastest, so B-cells get to work pumping out antibodies of shapes they’ve seen before. This is called “imprinting.” Imprinting in and of itself is neither good nor bad. It simply reflects that a person’s first exposure to a virus can have a noticeable effect on their later responses to variants of that same virus.

Original antigenic sin (OAS) is a special type of imprinting. In OAS, prior memory can interfere and even prevent you from generating antibodies against new variants. How this occurs is not well understood. 

But we do know that OAS occurs with some other viruses, like the flu. For example, the first flu infection you get as a child has been shown to impact the way you react to flu variants later in life. While it could induce a less than optimal response, it can also be good and provide a more robust response. The figure below displays this phenomenon nicely.

Say a 2 year old is infected with the flu with A-D shapes on the virus. So, that child makes antibodies with A-D shapes. But then, at 5 years old, they are exposed to another variant with shapes A, C, E, and F. Because of the first exposure, only antibodies for shapes A and C respond. Even though there are only two shapes recognized, they provide a much stronger response than originally. Then, say at 20 years old, that same person is exposed to a virus with shapes A, D, E, and G. Because of the very first exposure (at 2 years old), antibodies A and D are recalled to fend off the infection; antibodies against E and G do not get made. 

Figure 11.34 from Murphy K, Weaver C. Janeway’s Immunobiology. 9th ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2016

During the 1918 flu pandemic, we also saw very worrisome epidemiological signs of OAS. Those who were previously infected by the Russian flu (i.e. a different type of swine flu) did significantly worse during the pandemic than those not previously infected by the Russian flu.

Because we’ve seen OAS with other viruses, it’s theoretically possible with SARS-CoV-2. And scientific studies are now coming through…

Bottom line

After two years of vaccines and the virus significantly mutating, there is no definitive evidence of OAS in humansbeing an important concern for COVID-19.

Without knowing the future, decisions must continuously weigh benefits with risks we know right now. Evidence from Israel shows meaningful benefit of a fourth mRNA dose (or second booster) against severe disease among older adults. We need to be responsive to the needs of our immune systems to protect us from this virus. The reality is, for someone who needs a booster, the theoretical concern of OAS is not a strong enough reason to not get it.

2) Did you know you can have the aura of a migraine without actually getting the headache?  Neither did I.  But, far as we can tell, that’s what happened to me last Sunday night.  (To be fair, I had a completely modest, run-of-the-mill headache a couple hours later, but not something you’d normally associate with a migraine). 

3) It really is amazing how extraordinarily gullible people can be in the name of politics: “Why Are Seemingly Functional Adults Falling for the ‘Furries’ Myth?”

A Nebraska state senator, Bruce Bostelman, last month warned of an alarming new variety of deviance making its way into the state’s schools. “It’s something called furries,” he said. Schoolchildren, Bostelman claimed, were identifying as cats or dogs. “They meow and they bark.” And educators, indulging them, “are wanting to put litter boxes in the schools for the children to use,” said Bostelman.

Perhaps needless to say, none of this was true. Bostelman later apologized for spreading falsehoods, saying, “It was just something I felt that if this really was happening, we needed to address it and address it quickly.”

What interests me is why he thought this was really happening, and not just in decadent enclaves like New York City or San Francisco, but in his own Midwestern backyard.

Part of the answer is surely social media. As The Associated Press reported, the rumor, a mockery of transgender identification, has persisted in a Facebook group called Protect Nebraska Children. The same rumor has cropped up in Iowa, where a school superintendent had to send out a letter to students and parents debunking it; in Michigan, where a parent brought it up at a school board meeting; and in Wisconsin, where it was spread by a conservative radio host.

4) Jeff Maurer with a good take on problem gambling:

Basically: Sports apps offer an engrossing and user-friendly betting experience. Perhaps too engrossing and user-friendly. In many ways, they draw from the same design playbook that now has Twitter and Facebook backpedaling. People who want to slow the impulsive use of social media apps often talk of “friction”, i.e. inserting steps that a user has to take before completing an action. The idea is that users would have to act deliberately instead of responding impulsively to induced mania, which is a change that Facebook and Twitter often resist, because that induced mania has made them some of the richest companies in the world.

The concept of friction might help reduce problem gambling. One good thing about legal gambling is that we can take steps to give people the ability to tap the breaks when they feel things veering out of control. But in order to do that, we have to actually do that. And right now, we sort of haven’t; we have definitely done the part where we legalize gambling and create clever, high-budget ad campaigns, but the part where we develop common sense support infrastructure is lagging behind.

So, here are some things we should probably consider doing.

1. Responsible gaming provisions should exist and have teeth…

2. We should expand treatment for gambling addiction…

3. We should consider banning credit cards on gambling apps.

This would be a big move; sportsbooks would hate this. And it would annoy ordinary users — they’d have to use bank accounts or something similar. But it’s harder to get deep in the hole when you don’t have fast access to credit.

In 2020, the UK banned using credit cards to place bets. Gambling, of course, is as deeply embedded in British culture as train wine or wearing flip flops in 50 degree weather. Whenever a Premier League team is sponsored by a company that you’ve never heard of, that’s a gambling app. So, there were surely a few punters who threw a wobbly when this regulation passed, but the UK is trying it, so we’ll see how it goes.

I’m comfortable with — even enthusiastic about — using the UK as a lab rat. We should have good data within a few years; the UK, unlike the US, does have a federal agency dedicated to problem gambling, which makes data collection easier. Before long, we’ll have a sense of whether banning credit cards is a meaningful step that helps keeps things under control or a late-era-Covid style pointless annoyance that does nothing.

5) Watched Tick, Tick… Boom on Netflix.  This week.  So good.  I’ve never seen “Rent” but I sure want to now.  

6) Well, what started out as just a funny kind of story about a fox loose on the Capitol grounds is not so funny.  It’s rabid and it’s been biting people. (Okay, it was rabid). 

7) I really like Yglesias‘ (free post) pragmatic take on Joe Manchin:

Emotions matter in politics

On an intellectual level, none of this is very controversial.

  • Everyone understands that if Manchin said tomorrow, “I’m sick of arguing with you people, I’m resigning on Friday,” that would be a disaster for progressive politics.

  • Everyone who’s not insane understands that if the Democratic nominee in 2018 had been Not-Manchin, Democrats would have lost the seat and would not have the majority today.

  • Everyone also understands that whatever disappointment they may feel about the current state of the Biden legislative agenda, everything would be worse if Mitch McConnell were Majority Leader.

But I do think the emotional landscape matters as well as the intellectual one.

Progressives — by which, to be clear, I mean mainstream Democratic Party advocacy groups and the mainstream Democratic Party politicians they support, not “the Squad” or left-wing factionalists — overwhelmingly do not have an emotional stance of gratitude toward and appreciation of Joe Manchin. They instead have an emotional stance of anger. That manifests not just in lashing out on Twitter (which is unfortunate but not that significant), but in things like the bizarre decision last year to pivot the whole legislative strategy toward trying to jam Manchin up on a voting rights bill in a way that generated lots of people calling him racist but no voting rights legislation.

A much smarter strategy would have been to cave to all his demands and try to pass a Manchin-friendly version of Build Back Better.

Today, we are still limping toward the inevitable outcome of passing a reconciliation bill that Joe Manchin likes. But with several additional months of delay, high inflation prints, and intra-party ill will, his demands have gotten worse. Among the circuit of people whose politics are centered on being mad at Joe Manchin, that’s just further proof that he’s a bad guy. But the fact of the matter is that the day Warnock and Ossoff won in Georgia, the art of the possible flipped from “what Mitch McConnell is willing to do” to “what Joe Manchin is willing to do,” and every hour of every day that was not spent in polite, friendly conversation aimed at making sure all his needs were met was a wasted hour.

The way back is more Manchinism

It also matters for the future. In 2022, Democrats stand a very high chance of losing the Senate. Then in 2024, even if they have a good year and Biden is re-elected, they will almost certainly lose their existing seats in Ohio, Montana, and West Virginia. And there’s no easy road to recovery from there. Realistically, Democrats are going to need to nominate candidates who are as distant from the progressive base as Manchin is, but instead of running them in states like WV where Trump got 68 percent of the vote, they’ll run them in states like North Carolina (50%), Florida (51%), Texas (52%), Iowa (53%), Ohio (53%), South Carolina (55%), Kansas (56%), Indiana (57%), and Missouri (57%).

All these states are quite conservative. Trump did not win Florida by a large margin, but he won it narrowly in the context of losing the national popular vote by 4.5 percentage points.

But those are the states that you need to compete in to secure a majority. If Democrats held six of those 18 seats instead of one, they’d be much better off today. And while that doesn’t mean running carbon copies of Manchin for all of them, it does mean running candidates who have a structurally similar relationship to the base of the party. Not “moderates” in the sense of “agree with Joe Biden that we shouldn’t defund the police or do socialism,” but “moderates” in the sense of “have several high-salience disagreements with the mainstream leadership of the Democratic Party while also agreeing on some other topics.”

8) This was great, “Ke Huy Quan: From Short Round to Romantic Lead in Just Four Long Decades: A child star in the 1980s, he hit a dry patch and turned to stunt work in the 2000s. Now he has returned to acting in a part that blends his action and drama chops.” (Indiana Jones fans will remember him as Short Round)

9) Modern academia, “Help Wanted: Adjunct Professor, Must Have Doctorate. Salary: $0. After protests, U.C.L.A. took down a job posting that offered no pay. But it turns out colleges often expect Ph.D.s to work for free.”  Here’s the thing– yes, this is nuts and exploitative.  Yes.  But, also, from a purely economic perspective, UCLA actually does have qualified people willing to teach their class for no monetary compensation.  You can see why that’s appealing.  And people do this because there is surely non-monetary value in getting to say you taught at UCLA.  But, yeah, not great.  

10) I was in Chicago for a PS conference and made a too-brief trip to the Art Institute.  Towards the end I realized I had not seen JMW Turner yet and finally did in the very last gallery I went to before they kicked me out at 4:58.  And then yesterday morning I read this.  I’ve never made a trip just for an art exhibition.  But, damn would I love to go to Boston and see this, “J.M.W. Turner: The Romantic Turns Reformist: Britain’s commander of the churning waves was also a painter of technology and industry. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston shows how he reshaped an art form.”

11) Drum:

It’s a well-known fact that in the United States rich people have much longer life expectancies than poor people. Much of this is attributed to our private health care system, which does a lousy job of treating the uninusured and underinsured.

That got me curious: do other countries with national health care systems do better? In a nutshell, not really:

The rich live about ten years longer than the poor in the US. In France it’s about 12 years. The UK and Belgium are a little over 9 years. Only Sweden, at around 4 years, does significantly better.

The numbers in the chart above are taken from various sources, not all of which agree with each other, and in some cases are roughly extrapolated from education levels, which are a decent but imperfect proxy for income differences. Don’t take any of them as gospel.

That said, they’re in the right ballpark. The problem of low lifespans for the poor is universal and has little to do with the details of health care systems. It’s much more foundational than that, and it’s one reason why increasing retirement ages is a bad idea. It might help put pension systems like Social Security on a sounder footing, but it does so on the backs of the poor. Raising the retirement age to 68 takes a much bigger toll on someone who will live to age 76 than it does to someone who will live to age 88.

12) This seems… not great:

Using data across countries and over time we show that women are unhappier than men in unhappiness and negative affect equations, irrespective of the measure used – anxiety, depression, fearfulness, sadness, loneliness, anger – and they have more days with bad mental health and more restless sleep. Women are also less satisfied with many aspects of their lives such as democracy, the economy, the state of education and health services. They are also less happy in the moment in terms of peace and calm, cheerfulness, feeling active, vigorous, fresh and rested. However, prior evidence on gender differences in global wellbeing metrics – happiness and life satisfaction – is less clear cut. Differences vary over time, location, and with model specification and the inclusion of controls especially marital status. We also show that there are significant variations by month in happiness data regarding whether males are happier than females but find little variation by month in unhappiness data. It matters which months are sampled when measuring positive affect but not with negative affect. These monthly data reveal that women’s happiness was more adversely affected by the COVID shock than men’s, but also that women’s happiness rebounded more quickly suggesting resilience. As a result, we now find strong evidence that males have higher levels of both happiness and life satisfaction in recent years even before the onset of pandemic. As in the past they continue to have lower levels of unhappiness. A detailed analysis of several data files, with various metrics, for the UK confirms that men now are happier than women.

13) Spencer Greenberg and the power of question wording in surveys.  I think this is going into my syllabus for public opinion.

14) Really interesting stuff from Noah Smith, “The long economic war against Russia: A plan: Beyond financial sanctions: How to cripple the Russian death machine for good.”

The more fundamental factor here is that the world is still buying a ton of Russian oil and gas. Oil exports have dropped somewhat, but oil is inherently fungible — Russia will simply reroute the tankers elsewhere. And high-ish prices — oil has dropped a bit but is still around $100 — are cushioning that blow. Also, switching away from Russian oil does impose some costs on European economies, so it’s hard to do overnight.

Natural gas is far harder to reroute than oil, since this requires constructing new pipelines to Asia (currently, very few such pipelines exist). But a number of EU countries are very reliant on this gas, most notably Germany, which produces about 15% of its total energy consumption from Russian gas. Naturally they’re squeamish about shutting off the taps instantaneously.

Thus we’re seeing the limitations of financial sanctions. Ultimately, if Russia can keep selling fossil fuels to the world, it can keep getting foreign exchange. So in order to prosecute a long economic war against Russia, we need to look beyond financial sanctions.

I see four basic things the West can do:

  1. Export controls

  2. Weaning Europe off of Russian gas

  3. Draining Russia of smart and competent people

  4. Reducing oil prices by switching to electric vehicles

15) We can, should, and need to be doing so much better.  The return on investment here is just off the charts.  And yet. “We need to be developing vaccines for the next pandemic — right now: Scientists have a strong idea of which types of viruses could cause an outbreak. We can fund vaccines and treatments for them now.”

16) This is so cool. “Meet DALL-E, the A.I. That Draws Anything at Your Command”

OpenAI, one of the world’s most ambitious artificial intelligence labs, researchers are building technology that lets you create digital images simply by describing what you want to see.

They call it DALL-E in a nod to both “WALL-E,” the 2008 animated movie about an autonomous robot, and Salvador Dalí, the surrealist painter.

OpenAI, backed by a billion dollars in funding from Microsoft, is not yet sharing the technology with the general public. But on a recent afternoon, Alex Nichol, one of the researchers behind the system, demonstrated how it works…

When he asked for “a teapot in the shape of an avocado,” typing those words into a largely empty computer screen, the system created 10 distinct images of a dark green avocado teapot, some with pits and some without. “DALL-E is good at avocados,” Mr. Nichol said.

Image
DALL-E generated this image from a command for “cats playing chess.”
Credit…OpenAI

When he typed “cats playing chess,” it put two fluffy kittens on either side of a checkered game board, 32 chess pieces lined up between them. When he summoned “a teddy bear playing a trumpet underwater,” one image showed tiny air bubbles rising from the end of the bear’s trumpet toward the surface of the water.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Really fascinating profile of Covid misinformation purveyor, Robert Malone, who has been falsely claiming he invented mRNA vaccine technology (yes, he did help in some key research, but that’s it). Anyway, a really interesting case of a sense of grievance metastasizing into something truly awful:

The coronavirus pandemic has “given rise to a class of influencers who build conspiracy theories and recruit as many people into them as possible,” said Emerson T. Brooking, a resident senior fellow for the Atlantic Council who studies digital platforms. “These influencers usually have a special claim to expertise and a veneer of credibility.”

In extended interviews at his home over two days, Dr. Malone said he was repeatedly not recognized for his contributions over the course of his career, his voice low and grave as he recounted perceived slights by the institutions he had worked for. His wife, Dr. Jill Glasspool Malone, paced the room and pulled up articles on her laptop that she said supported his complaints.

The example he points to more frequently is from his time at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego. While there, he performed experiments that showed how human cells could absorb an mRNA cocktail and produce proteins from it. Those experiments, he says, make him the inventor of mRNA vaccine technology.

“I was there,” Dr. Malone said. “I wrote all the invention.” …

The idea that he is the inventor of mRNA vaccines is “a totally false claim,” said Dr. Gyula Acsadi, a pediatrician in Connecticut who along with Dr. Malone and five others wrote a widely cited paper in 1990 showing that injecting RNA into muscle could produce proteins. (The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work by injecting RNA into arm muscles that produce copies of the “spike protein” found on the outside of the coronavirus. The human immune system identifies that protein, attacks it and then remembers how to defeat it.)

But Dr. Malone was not the lead author on the paper and, according to Dr. Acsadi, did not make a significant contribution to the research. While the paper stated that the technology could “provide alternative approaches to vaccine development,” Dr. Acsadi said none of the other authors would claim that they invented the vaccine.

“Some of his work was important,” said Dr. Alastair McAlpine, a pediatric infectious disease doctor based in Vancouver, British Columbia, “but that’s a long way away from claiming to have invented the technology that underpins the vaccines as we use them today.”

2) My favorite Finn (narrowly beating out Sebastian Aho) shared this on twitter, “Is Finland really the happiest country in the world? Finns weigh in.”

For the fifth year in a row, Finland has been named the happiest country in the world by the United Nations-sponsored World Happiness Report. And for the fifth year in a row, I’m surprised. I lived in Finland for a year as a student in the Rotary Youth Exchange program from 2001 to 2002. It was a life-changing experience. I made incredible Finnish friends. I drank too much vodka. I pet a reindeer in Lapland. I saunaed, ice swam and rolled in the snow naked until my pink body looked like a honey-baked ham. It was certainly one of the happiest years of my life. But my Finnish friends? Well, I’m not entirely sure they’ve ever been that happy.

The thing about the Finns, in my experience, is they’re one of the most reserved people on the planet. Blatant signs of glee are not in their playbook…

“Finns have a subdued happiness,” agrees Katja Pantzar, an expert on the topic and author of “Everyday Sisu: Tapping into Finnish Fortitude for a Happier, More Resilient Life.” Pantzar was born in Finland before her family moved to Australia and finally Vancouver, B.C., where she grew up. When an opportunity to work for Finnair’s in-flight magazine came up 20 years ago, she returned to her homeland and has never looked back. In fact, she’s so enthusiastic about the Finnish lifestyle — including its frequent trips to the sauna and its bike-friendly city planning — that she’s written two books on the topic. And she has a special insight into the Finnish psyche. “They might be totally satisfied, but they don’t have the same body language, like smiling,” she says. But don’t let Finns’ poker faces fool you. If the World Happiness Report is to be believed, Finns are masking a deep contentment built on an appreciation for a society that puts the public good first.

3) Though I’m a huge fan of classic rock, I’ve never been a particular fan of the guitar solo.  Yes, there’s some great ones, but, it too easily leads to self-indulgence.  That said, quite enjoyed this NYT audio-embedded essay, “Why We Can’t Quit the Guitar Solo”

4) This learning pit metaphor is great:

When Hunter, 6, started first grade last autumn, he struggled to match letter sounds with the shape of letters on paper. He found writing letters hard and writing words even harder. “It felt bad,” he said recently.

But Hunter also knows how to articulate what is happening when things get frustrating. “Your brain grows at the bottom,” he said. It’s a phrase that refers to the bottom of the learning pit, an imaginary place where students in Hunter’s class in Illinois have been taught to go when something they are learning gets difficult. Hunter also knows what he needs to get out of the pit — hard work, his friends, his teacher — and what it feels like when he climbs up and out on the other side (“excited”).

The learning pit as a metaphor is one of several common educational strategies that lean into the idea that struggle is something to be embraced. It was conceived in the early 2000s by James Nottingham when he was a teacher in a former mining town in Northern England. He saw that his students, many of whom were low income and lived in communities with high unemployment, avoided leaving their comfort zones. He wanted to encourage his students to get comfortable with being a little uncomfortable.

At a moment when students are reeling from two years of pandemic learning and isolation from their peers, the idea of intentionally making young people uncomfortable may seem misguided. But manyeducators and learning scientists say that now, as students look to rebuild academic confidence, is a crucial moment for teachers and parents to step back when learning gets hard and to be explicit that the challenge offers rewards.

 

“It becomes a way of articulating what might in the past have been humiliating and uncomfortable and discouraging,” Dr. Dweck said.

The idea that struggle is vital to learning is well-established, she added. John Hattie, the director of the Melbourne Educational Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, in Australia, spent 15 years studying the educational factors that most influence learning. In 2017, he published “10 Mindframes for Visible Learning,” which identified the factors that work best to accelerate learning. One is striving for challenge and not “just doing your best.”

Teachers in the United States and Britain have found that the learning-pit metaphor comes with conceptual handles that are easy to grasp. A student struggling with a math problem can say to the teacher, “I am in the pit with this” — an easier thing for a child to admit than “I don’t understand.” And a teacher can prepare students to “go into the pit,” as if on a spelunking adventure…

Mr. Nottingham, the founder and executive director of The Challenging Learning Group, an education company, said: “My purpose is, instead of giving them clarity, it’s creating confusion, or cognitive wobble. Like when you are learning to ride a bike and it wobbles — I am trying to create that mental wobble so they have to think about it more.”

Mr. Nottingham identified three mental states that students occupy when learning something new: relatively comfortable, relatively uncomfortable and panicked. Too many parents and educators intervene when learning gets uncomfortable, denying students a chance to stretch enough to deepen their learning, he said. It’s counterproductive,” he said, like trying to help a child learn to ride a bike by holding onto the back of the seat to navigate every bump, hole or obstacle…

Dr. Kapur recently co-wrote a meta-analysis analyzing 53 studies from the past 15 years that examined which teaching strategy was more effective: providing direct instruction on how to complete a problem before practicing it, or providing well-designed questions to provoke thinking on a concept before introducing knowledge about how to tackle it.

The first strategy is widely accepted; teachers have little time to spare, and it is easier to tell students what to do and then have them practice. The latter method seems wildly inefficient: Why let students waste time and develop wrong ideas when a teacher is there to show the “right” way? But Dr. Kapur found that students — in middle school, high school and college, from North America, Europe and Asia — performed better when they had to struggle first. Problem-solving practice before learning a concept was significantly more effective than the converse — learning the concept first and then practicing. “We are taking the science of human cognition and learning,” Dr. Kapur said, “and designing failure-based experiences to help kids learn better.”

5) Few things in nature more cool than a starling murmuration.  Great photo feature.

A murmuration at the De Houtwiel nature reserve.

6) I really think we’re going to be able to amazing diagnostics with AI some day not too far in the future:

Imagine a test as quick and easy as having your temperature taken or your blood pressure measured that could reliably identify an anxiety disorder or predict an impending depressive relapse.

Health care providers have many tools to gauge a patient’s physical condition, yet no reliable biomarkers — objective indicators of medical states observed from outside the patient — for assessing mental health.

But some artificial intelligence researchers now believe that the sound of your voice might be the key to understanding your mental state — and A.I. is perfectly suited to detect such changes, which are difficult, if not impossible, to perceive otherwise. The result is a set of apps and online tools designed to track your mental status, as well as programs that deliver real-time mental health assessments to telehealth and call-center providers.

Psychologists have long known that certain mental health issues can be detected by listening not only to what a person says but how they say it, said Maria Espinola, a psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

With depressed patients, Dr. Espinola said, “their speech is generally more monotone, flatter and softer. They also have a reduced pitch range and lower volume. They take more pauses. They stop more often.”

Patients with anxiety feel more tension in their bodies, which can also change the way their voice sounds, she said. “They tend to speak faster. They have more difficulty breathing.”

Today, these types of vocal features are being leveraged by machine learning researchers to predict depression and anxiety, as well as other mental illnesses like schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. The use of deep-learning algorithms can uncover additional patterns and characteristics, as captured in short voice recordings, that might not be evident even to trained experts.

“The technology that we’re using now can extract features that can be meaningful that even the human ear can’t pick up on,” said Kate Bentley, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

7) Enjoyed this (free) Yglesias post on the popularism debate

This style of thinking set the stage for a primary campaign that was dominated by activists asking candidates to endorse ideas like:

  • A national ban on hydraulic fracturing

  • A national ban on private health insurance

  • A repeal of the statute that makes it a felony to enter the United States without proper paperwork

  • A moratorium on deportations

  • A repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for abortion

But in no plausible universe would a fracking ban would get 60 votes in the Senate. And while activists were hoping to reform the filibuster, the concerns that filibuster reform might lead to an effort to pass a national fracking ban only made reform less likely. Getting the presidential nominee to campaign in favor of a ban on fracking was not going to lead to a ban on fracking. What it could lead to was the re-election of Donald Trump and/or worse down-ballot performance for congressional Democrats. And that would lead to worse climate policy, not better.

You could run down this whole list and reach the same conclusion.

I’m not sure how big of a difference it made that Joe Biden flip-flopped and endorsed Hyde Amendment repeal. But I was sure on the day he did it that repeal of the Hyde Amendment was legislatively impossible and that, by pushing the party to adopt an unpopular stance, the cause of abortion rights had become more imperiled rather than less. Much more imperiled? No. The number of lost votes attributable to any one unpopular stance is usually going to be small. But the sign of the effect is predictably negative.

And that is popularism. It is an almost childishly silly thing to argue about. But I believe that it is counterproductive to progressive causes to push candidates in tough races to take high-salience public stances in favor of unpopular progressive causes. Instead, you should encourage candidates to embrace popular progressive causes and allow them to make tactical retreats from fights where conservatives have public opinion on their side…

The mobilization myth

This mobilization idea is incorrect, as I have written several times.

Just mathematically speaking, you need to mobilize two non-voters to obtain the same value as convincing a single voter to switch parties, so to the extent that you face a choice between these two things, it is clearly better to focus on persuasion. But when making messaging choices, you actually don’t face a tradeoff because sporadic voters are more moderate than regular voters. The people who vote all the time are more engaged with the political system, more ideological in their thinking, and more extreme in their views. There may be a tradeoff in terms of resource allocation — which population should you target for mailers or online ads or whatever — but in terms of message, there is no tradeoff. You want to portray yourself as a moderate politician with popular stances on issues.

Indeed, as Hall & Thompson showed in a very nice paper a few years back, extreme candidates mobilize their opponents’ base and hurt themselves.

Of course certain specific issues that are clearly coded as left-wing are nonetheless very popular. Price control for prescription drugs is one that gets kicked around a lot, and though it doesn’t get as much attention in D.C., the capping of credit card interest rates has a similar quality. And many of Democrats’ most unpopular views (support of affirmative action in college admissions, for example) are not the subject of factional controversy.

But back to 2020: activists were not demanding that candidates take clearer positions in favor of prescription drug price controls or capping credit card interest rates. They were specifically asking candidates to come out — in public, in high-salience venues like debates — in favor of ideas that were both unpopular and wildly unrealistic in legislative terms. And I still don’t know why. My suspicion is that the whole popularism debate has become so poisoned in part because the groups themselves realize that this was an error and don’t like to admit it or be reminded of it. And to an extent, I sympathize. I have had the experience of being loudly and publicly wrong, and it is unpleasant to have to admit error, publicly or privately, and annoying to be reminded that you were wrong.

Nonetheless, they were wrong. And the people reinforcing the norm that it’s wrong to criticize left-wing activists are contributing to poor public comprehension of this topic, a topic that I will admit is of only limited contemporary relevance.

8) Pretty sure I reviewed this research at some point (honestly, some times it all blurs together).  Anyway, interesting

Despite evidence that infants affect families’ economic and social behaviors, little is known about how young children influence their parents’ political engagement. I show that U.S. women with an infant during an election year are 3.5 percentage points less likely to vote than women without children; men with an infant are 2.2 percentage points less likely to vote. Suggesting that this effect may be causal, I find no significant decreases in turnout the year before parents have an infant. Using a triple-difference approach, I then show that universal vote-by-mail systems mitigate the negative association between infants and mothers’ turnout.

9) Interesting idea… arranged friendship, “A Creative Solution to ‘the Friendship Desert of Modern Adulthood’ “I knew many old couples who had happy and loving arranged marriages. I thought, If it worked for them, why couldn’t it work for friendships?”

This week she talks with three women who are part of a group experimenting with “arranged friendship.” Inspired by the arranged marriages common in her home country of Iran, Ari Honarvar brought together a group of relative strangers who decided to commit upfront to be friends through thick and thin. In this interview, they discuss “the friendship desert of modern adulthood” and the oasis that this experiment created for them…

Julie Beck: How did you get the idea for approaching friendship this way?

Ari Honarvar: When I moved to California with my husband and my six-month-old, I really struggled meeting friends. All parents wanted to talk about was their kids. I wanted to have something else to talk about. I was like, Where’s my village?

I tried all these different community-building activities. I combined activism with hanging out with friends. I organized weekly potlucks. At one point I put an ad on Nextdoor and got our neighbors to go for a walk and get to know each other better. But I still didn’t have many intimate friends.

That’s how I came up with the idea of arranged friendships. I grew up in Iran, and I knew many old couples who had happy and loving arranged marriages. I thought, If it worked for them, why couldn’t it work for friendships?

10) Great stuff from Melinda Wenner Moyer.  Wish I had read some version of this 20 years ago, “Consequences Versus Punishments”

Logical consequences are like natural consequences in that they, too, directly stem the choice your kid made — but they’re similar to punishments in that they’re engineered by the parent to have an immediate effect. They are, ultimately, gentle constraints that require kids to recognize and take responsibility for their behavior. A parent using logical consequences might sound like this:

  • Since you’re not taking care of your library books, I’m going to have to take them away from you to prevent them from getting damaged.

  • You weren’t able to leave the play date when I asked you to, so we aren’t going to have time to go to the playground before dinner.

  • Because you started yelling for me before it was wake-up time, I’m too tired to make pancakes. We’ll have cereal instead.

Research is starting to suggest that logical consequences are at least, if not more, effective than mild punishments. One recent meta-analysis found, for instance, that logical and natural consequences were among the most effective ways to shape kids’ behavior, above and beyond disciplinary strategies like time-outs and ignoring bad behavior. In another recent study, kids who were surveyed said that logical consequences and mild punishments would probably be equally effective in shaping their behavior, but they said they would prefer the use of logical consequences.

There are a few reasons why logical consequences might have an edge over punishments. One is that they are less likely than punishments to make kids feel angry and ashamed and are more likely to encourage empathy. Research suggests that, perhaps because punishments sometimes feel unpredictable and unfair, they make kids feel upset and resentful, which then prevents them from being able to consider their parents’ perspective. In other words, kids who are punished turn their focus on themselves, rather than on the effects their choice had on others. I can’t believe Dad grounded me! It’s so unfair! They might not learn much from the punishment, other than to conclude that Dad is a jerk.

Logical consequences, on the other hand, help to focus kids on the effects their choice had on others, which promotes perspective-taking. In a 2019 study, researchers showed 9- to 12-year-olds a handful of cartoon vignettes, some of which showed parents employing logical consequences with kids and others which showed parents employing mild punishments. Then they asked the kids questions about how the scenarios might affect them if they were the child in the cartoon. The kids said they would feel less angry, and better be able to consider their parents’ perspective, if they experienced logical consequences rather than punishments. In a follow-up study, the researchers surveyed teens, who said the same thing.

This perspective-taking is crucial: If you’ve read my book, you know there’s lots of research showing that the ability to take another person’s perspective, what’s called theory of mind, is a crucial foundation for the development of compassionate and generous behavior. We want our kids to think of themselves as part of a larger whole, and for them to consider how their choices and actions might impact those around them.

Compared with punishments, logical consequences more clearly communicate why the behavior or choice was unacceptable, too, since the consequence is directly linked to the choice they made.

11) Such a terrific conversation between Yascha Mounk and Randall Kennedy on race.  Kennedy’s take on critical race theory is about the best I’ve read:

Kennedy: Well, first of all, when we use the term “critical race theory,” we need to be very careful about exactly what we are talking about. When I hear the term now I put quotation marks around it immediately, because when people (especially those attacking it from the right) make references to it now, they’re often making references to a boogeyman that they have created to advance their political aims. They have created something that is unattractive, completely doctrinaire, that they can mobilize against. That’s the boogeyman version of critical race theory. Now, there is another version of critical race theory that would be writings and speeches by a wide range of people, those with whom I’m most familiar being people in legal academia. And indeed, I think it’s right to say that it was within legal academia that this term really took off: the writings of people like Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Mari Matsuda, Charles Lawrence, Derek Bell, Gary Peller, others. 

What do I think about their work, that stems from the 1980s and has gone under the banner of critical race theory? I have various responses to it. Let me start off with my positive response. My positive response is that the people who call themselves critical race theorists are onto a very important point. The central point of critical race theory is that racism is deeply embedded in American life—indeed, virtually ubiquitous. That, it seems to me, is correct. I know plenty of people who do not call themselves critical race theorists, but who would embrace the proposition that racism has been and is to this day a central feature of American life, whether we’re talking about the most public aspects of American life (voting, office holding, jury service) to the most intimate spheres of American life (friendship, sex, adoption, marriage). Fine—I applaud that. I have no problem with that. Now, are there other features with which I do have problems? Yes. There are a variety of features of critical race theory with which I have problems. One that was pretty fundamental, had to do with the relationship between status and thought. 

One of the writings that was probably my introduction to this thing that is now known as critical race theory was an article by a guy named Richard Delgado—I think it was called “The Imperial Scholar.” Basically, the point of the article was that white legal academics, most of whom were liberals, had in his view colonized academia, including race relations law, such that they refer only to one another, they debated with one another, but they ignored and implicitly put down scholars of color. That was the claim. And in elaborating his point, he said, “this is bad,” (and, of course, if it were true, I would agree), but then he went on to say that not only is this bad insofar as it is excluding people on a non-meritocratic basis, but he went on to suggest that it’s also bad because, after all, minority scholars have more of a claim to attention than whites because of their status; minority scholars have more insight because they’re minorities. They have more insight into American racial problems, and so they should actually be given more credence because of their racial identity. No. I’m very much against that. Because if you go along with that, that means that racial identity now becomes an intellectual credential. It means that we can appropriately put boundary lines in the realm of culture. And I’m totally against all of that. You write about a subject and then I want to read what you have written, and if you have written something that is great and insightful, then fine. I don’t care if you’re white, I don’t care if you’re American. Maybe you’re from some other place. I don’t care! I don’t think that these identities constrict our ability to know things. Identity becoming a part of knowledge certification—to the extent that that was part of CRT, I disagreed and disagreed very strongly.

There was another aspect of critical race theory which prompted me to disagree, and it’s very relevant to discussions going on today. There were certain critical race theorists—notice that I said “certain,” because there are a lot of people who are critical race theorists, and they disagree among themselves (I’m not saying that there’s some sort of monolithic CRT, or that they all believe the same things)—who believe, for instance, that there has been no appreciable racial change in the United States of America. “What we have today is neo-slavery”—as far as I’m concerned, that idea is untenable. One person who was very important in developing this idea was a colleague and a friend of mine, Derek Bell—The Permanence of Racism. And he applauded the second reconstruction—the civil rights movement—but basically said, “Ultimately, white folks stayed on top.” Now, I guess it all depends on what counts for you as appreciable change. The fact that there was a black American who was the president of the United States for eight years? For me, that counts as appreciable change. Is it revolutionary? Does it mean that everything is changed? No. Does it mean that because Barack Obama became president of the United States that we don’t have a racial problem in the United States now? No. It didn’t mean any of those things. But did it mean that racial beliefs, racial habits, racial conduct had changed in my lifetime? Yes.

And finally, I disagreed with some critical race theorists who, in my view, are all too inattentive to the importance of protections for civil liberties. And of course, it’s ironic to say this now, since critical race theory is under attack by people who want to erase critical race theory. And I defend critical race theory, and defend it to the -nth degree. Why? Because I believe in freedom of thinking. I believe in freedom of teaching. I believe in freedom of listening. I want the critical race theory to be available to people, even though in certain dimensions, I disagree with it very strongly. But we need to defend intellectual pluralism. And I think some people in critical race theory have not been as attentive to the importance of the defense of intellectual pluralism as they ought to have been.

12) And a good excerpt from Yglesias on Katherine Page Harden, genetics, and policy implications:

I’ve been thinking on and off about this topic for a while.

One thing that’s odd about it is that Harden’s most controversial point is that published studies in the academic literature say that intelligence is a bit more than 60 percent heritable in genetic terms. But this is actually very close to the estimate given by the lay public. And I’ve certainly noticed that in casual conversation among parents, people generally expect children to be good at the same things their parents are good at — including, per this survey, perhaps overestimating the extent to which athleticism is heritable.

So in an interesting sense, the heritability of intelligence thesis really isn’t that controversial. But it is often ignored in academic social science where people will ask facts about inequality or social stratification without attempting to consider the obvious confounding influence of the fact that most children are close genetic relatives of the parents who raise them.

To draw out all the policy implications of these genetic insights would take way more space than I have here.

So I just want to note one particularly salient idea that I think has scared people off the whole subject, which is that Charles Murray infamously argued that because intelligence is heritable, all efforts to reduce racial inequality are at best doomed and at worst counterproductive. As I’ve previously written at length, this involves at least a half-dozen logical leaps and fallacies and is directly contradicted by evidence in favor of lots of specific equity-advancing initiatives. Given that the geneticists actual estimate of heritability here is not far off from what laypeople already believe, I don’t think there are substantial political benefits to stigmatizing discussion of the science and it would be better to directly stake the case for egalitarian policies on the basis of the evidence in their favor, which is quite real.

13) I find this fascinating, “Are some people resistant to COVID-19? Geneticists are on the hunt.
Thousands of people repeatedly exposed to the virus never got sick. Scientists hope their DNA may hold clues to new kinds of treatments.”

The COVID Human Genetic Effort started recruiting volunteers last year, with a focus on healthcare workers who were exposed to the virus but didn’t get infected, and healthy adults living in a household with a spouse or partner who got sick and experienced moderate or severe COVID-19 symptoms, like Kaoukaki. 

The scientists hypothesized that if these individuals were repeatedly exposed and still escaped infection, they were more likely to carry a mutation that confers resistance to the virus.

One promising target is the gene that codes for the human ACE2 receptor and those that regulate its expression on cell surfaces. The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 must bind to ACE2 to enter cells and infect them. A mutation that alters its structure and expression might block the virus from binding and prevent infection. 

So far, ACE2 seems to be our best bet, says Jean-Laurent Casanova, a geneticist at Rockefeller University who is part of the COVID Human Genetic Effort. Genetic variations that allow ACE2 to function normally but disrupt its interaction with the virus—”these would be good candidate genes,” he says.

It’s possible, though, that there are other biological factors aside from the ACE2 receptor that could explain why some people didn’t develop a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Some people may possess a robust immune system that produces antiviral proteins called type I interferons, which limit the virus from replicating in human cells. They’re the body’s first line of defense and appear even before antibodies form against the virus. 

Another hypothesis is that immune cells called memory T cells that may have formed during previously encountered coronaviruses, like those that cause the common cold, help limit SARS-CoV-2 infection in certain patients.

In 2020, prior to the vaccine rollout, one study found greater presence of memory T cells in healthcare workers who were exposed to the virus but who didn’t develop COVID-19.

The memory T-cells may have cleared the virus very quickly for a few people. But it’s no guarantee these people will be protected from future infections. “In fact, we know some have gone on to get infected with more infectious variants and/or perhaps with a higher dose of the virus,” says Mala Maini, a viral immunologist at the University College London and one of the study authors.

If their study does turn up clues to genetic resistance, Casanova hopes that information could be used to develop therapeutics against COVID-19, similar to the CCR5 inhibitors designed to treat HIV infections. But decisions to develop these therapies, Casanova says, will depend on the nature of the mutated genes discovered.

14) Jeff Maurer on Florida’s don’t say gay law and bad faith from left and right

Despite Kilmeade’s rock-solid argument that the bill is “smart” because it comes from the Florida state legislature’s Republican caucus — that fabled haunt of philosopher kings! — I think this is an extremely bad law. Its backers are trying to invoke the specter of a hyper-woke kindergarten teacher illuminating the dark corners of alternative lifestyles — I picture an apple-cheeked Teach for America volunteer pointing to a poster that says “Bukkake Etiquette in a Gender-Fluid Octo-cule.” In reality, the law would prohibit all sorts of reasonable classroom interactions, or at least it might — embroil yourself in a soul-crushing lawsuit to find out! Kilmeade distills the bill’s warped thinking with this statement:

“If you’re talking about sex and sexuality to kindergartners, first graders, second graders, and third graders — think about that! — who’s got the other side of that issue? Please, define it well and say: You need your kindergartner talking about sex.”

This is simple: Sex and sexuality are two different things. Sex is out-of-bounds in early education. Sexuality — meaning sexual orientation or gender identity — is simply a thing that exists in the world. Forbidding any mention of it in the classroom would be like excluding talk of birds. The policy wonks at Fox & Friends and Rupert Murdoch’s Obvious Choice for President 2024 Ron DeSantis are conflating two things that happen to have the same root word. It’s like someone saying “I can’t believe you gave my kid either crystal meth or Crystal Pepsi!” Well, which was it? Those are two very different things: One is a toxic controlled substance, and the other…is crystal meth! (#ClassicJokeStructure)

There’s something very familiar about the tactics the right is using to sell this bill (and its doppelganger in Ohio). The combination of ill-defined rules and draconian punishments for those who violate those rules invokes similar fear-inducing strategies used by some on the left. The Twitter left may or may not have pioneered this suite of below-the-belt tactics — I’m not aware of any copyright claims in this area — but they’ve certainly used them. And now the revanchist right seems to be running the same play. Here’s how it works.

Step 1: Create extremely vague rules…

Step 2: Pair the vague rules with Draconian enforcement mechanisms.

Some on the left have developed a bad habit of waving away severe social and career penalties for minor infractions of perceived norms. The composer who got blackballed due to an innocuous Instagram post? No big deal. The utility worker who was fired for allegedly making a white power gesture (even though he’s not white)? He’ll get some other job. There’s a subset of Twitter that views the fact that JK Rowling and Al Franken aren’t pelted with rotten garbage everywhere they go as hard proof that punishments haven’t gotten out of hand…

Step 3: Use viral content — especially things taken out of context — to energize your supporters…

Step 4: Lob extremely serious charges at anyone who disagrees with you.

If you disagree with the activist left, you’re going to get called a bigot. It’s a fait accompli at this point; the left throws around charges of bigotry like a vendor slinging bags of peanuts at a ballgame. It’s an effective tactic because being called a racist, sexist, or homophobe is a very serious charge. Most people will bend over backwards to avoid it, even if it’s bullshit.

In the circles I run in, pedophilia is also a very serious charge. Which might be why some conservatives are firing it at their opponents; DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw recently accused the Florida bill’s opponents of either being pedophiles or pedophile-friendly (which I guess would make them pedophile-philes). She even (unintentionally?) borrowed the language of the social justice left by saying “silence is complicity”. So, to clarify our present-day linguistic markers: “silence is complicity” = Fox News conservative. “Silence is violence” = social justice left. “Silence is golden” = 8th grade class trip chaperones. “Silence is a sound” = Simon & Garfunkel.

Pushaw’s charge is another data point in what seems to be a trend of conservatives calling their opponents soft on pedophilia. Josh Hawley recently made the completely unfounded case that Ketanji Brown Jackson gives light sentences to pedophiles. In the Fox & Friends clip at the beginning of this article, Kilmeade asks “who’s got the other side of that issue?”, with the obvious intimation that only child molesters are on the other side. This seems to be the state of our political debate: Both sides sling the most serious charges they can think of at their opponents and hope that some of it will stick. I would normally write a hyperbole joke here, i.e. “What’s next? People accusing politicians of running a cannibalistic child sex ring?” except that literally already happened, so I don’t know where we go from here.

15) This is such a good article.  You’re getting the gift link, “The remarkable brain of a carpet cleaner who speaks 24 languages”

16) Nice story from the local news on my research, “New PSA shows Trump telling supporters to get vaccinated. And it’s working.”

The Covid vaccine trifecta

Well, I’ve hit the vaccine trifecta.  As most of you probably recall, I’m in the J&J trial.  As soon as I could boost last fall, I topped off with the Moderna, as evidence was very clear that adding mRNA to J&J was more effective than another J&J.

Despite some evidence that this combination, though only two shots, was surprisingly effective, I’ve really been wanting that additional shot, in large part due to a variety of data that Stanford MD PhD Michael Lin has been sharing on this issue. 

So, now that I’m on the wrong side of 50, I could at least get some benefit as the new CDC guidelines allow for an additional booster for those 50+.  I really put some thought into whether I should try and time this for the best, but Katelyn Jetelina largely dissuaded me:

We are clearly in a lull right now. Because antibodies wane, should I wait for the next wave and/or for fall?

A fourth dose can certainly be delayed. But there are a few challenges with this:

  1. Timing is difficult. I would caution against trying to time a booster right before a wave. Like Dr. Bob Watcher said, it would be like trying to time the stock market. We know that this virus continues to mutate and a variant of concern could pop up. We also know that boosters take time to work to their full potential. Finding a timing sweet spot of boosting before a wave is possible, but potentially risky with not much added benefit.

  2. Uncertain future. The current booster debate eerily reminds me of the booster debate last fall. Many scientists and clinicians said there wasn’t enough evidence for boosters. I even saidI’m not convinced that I (a healthy, young person) needs it (…) but I will stand in line come September if it’s recommended. But, boy, were we lucky to have boosters before Omicron arrived. Just like with last fall, we don’t know what the future holds. But we can prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

  3. Next move after delaying. We will likely have a fall/winter wave given that coronaviruses thrive in winter. I’m hopeful that fourth dose boosters will be durable. If not, we may need another booster or an updated vaccine formula before winter. If you delay a fourth dose now, what should you do then? There’s considerable benefit to sticking to the recommended CDC schedule. The science and future recommendations won’t be following any other timeline. If you go rogue, future decisions may be difficult to navigate.

And, as for mixing it up by adding the Pfizer, I went with her advice on that, too (especially given all I have read on heterologous prime boosting):

Which booster should I get?

Consider mixing your fourth dose. If you got three doses of Pfizer then get Moderna for your fourth dose. Or vice versa.

While Moderna and Pfizer are both mRNA vaccines, they are not identical and have subtle but meaningful differences. (See my previous post: Moderna vs. Pfizer: Is there a difference?)

This was confirmed yesterday from another peer-reviewed study. Scientists found that while the two different shots have the same impact on neutralizing antibodies, they have a different impact on Fc-functional antibodies, which target the whole surface of the spike protein. They also had a different impact on T-cell mechanisms. If you mix vaccines you have the potential to maximize protection.

(The rest of this Jetelina post is also full of great information on boosters)

Rachel Gutman also had a very good article on boosters and likewise addressed the timing issue:

What about the risk of getting a booster now, and therefore missing out on the full effects of some new and better COVID vaccine in the next four months? For now, this doesn’t seem like a significant concern. New vaccines that have been tailored to the altered spike proteins of the Omicron variant so far don’t appear to work any better than the original formulas. And any new vaccine based on something other than the spike protein won’t be affected by an encounter with our existing shots, Wherry said. Yale’s Iwasaki, who works on mucosal vaccines, said that many designs might even be made stronger by a recent vaccination or infection. If we do get a truly unfamiliar variant and need a truly new vaccine to combat it, producing and distributing one would probably take more than four months anyway.

The rest of the article also addresses some of the potential fears of over-boosting and explains why they are not actually problems.

So, hooray for being over 50?  And, I’m really curious just how much benefit there is to the trifecta like I have– I honestly wonder if anyone will even study that.  But, from what I’ve learned, I do imagine there’s some real benefit.

And once those under-50 readers of mine get permission for that next booster?  Do it and mix it up.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) I know a good number of you are going to find this one really interesting, “What the ‘Active Grandparent Hypothesis’ Can Tell Us About Aging Well: The need for healthy, active grandparents who can help with child-rearing may be encoded in our genes.”

Why is physical activity so good for us as we age? According to a novel new theory about exercise, evolution and aging, the answer lies, in part, in our ancestral need for grandparents.

The theory, called the “Active Grandparent Hypothesis” and detailed in a recent editorial in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that in the early days of our species, hunter-gatherers who lived past their childbearing years could pitch in and provide extra sustenance and succor to their grandchildren, helping those descendants survive. The theory also makes the case that it was physical activity that helped hunter-gatherers survive long enough to become grandparents — an idea that has potential relevance for us today, because it may explain why exercise is good for us in the first place.

Most of us probably think we already know why we should exercise. We have ample evidence that physical activity of almost any kind improves heart health, reduces the risks and severity of multiple diseases and in many ways just makes us feel better…

Early humans had to move around often to hunt for food, the thinking goes, and those who moved the most and found the most food were likeliest to survive. Over eons, this process led to the selection of genes that were optimized by plentiful physical activity. Physical activity likewise appears to jump-start various cell processes controlled by genes that help to promote health. In this way, evolution favored the most active tribespeople, who tended to live the longest and could then step in to help with the grandchildren, furthering active families’ survival.

In other words, exercise is good for us, they point out in their new paper, because long ago, the youngest and most vulnerable humans needed grandparents, and those grandparents needed to be vigorous and mobile to help keep the grandkids nourished.

Crucially, the new Active Grandparents paper also delves into what it is about physical activity that makes it still so necessary for healthy aging today. For one thing, moving around uses up energy that might otherwise be stored as fat, which, in excess, can contribute to diseases of modern living, such as Type 2 diabetes, Dr. Lieberman and his co-authors write.

Activity also sets off a cascade of effects that strengthen us. “Exercise is a kind of stress,” Dr. Lieberman told me. It slightly tears muscles and strains blood vessels and organs. In response, a large body of exercise science shows, our bodies initiate a variety of cellular mechanisms that fix the tears and strains and, in most cases, overbuild the affected parts. “It’s as if you spill coffee on the floor, clean it up, and your floor winds up cleaner than it was,” Dr. Lieberman said. This interior overreaction probably is especially important when we are older, he continued. Without exercise and the accompanying repairs, then, aging human bodies work less well. We wear down. We cannot care for the grandkids.

Fundamentally, Dr. Lieberman said, lack of exercise during aging explains why there is a difference between the human life span — how many years we live — and health span — how many of those years we remain in generally good health.

2) Good stuff here, “Teachers In America Were Already Facing Collapse. COVID Only Made It Worse” though I’m here for this anecdote:

“Five years ago, it was an issue in that it was kids just texting each other,” said M., an art teacher in Northern Virginia who requested going by her first initial to speak freely. Now, she says, she’s observed more passive content consumption in lieu of communication. “​​I was watching one student make their way through the entire third and fourth season of Bojack Horseman,” she said.

3) More of this, please, “Colorado Approves Law That Gives Kids ‘Reasonable Independence'”

Colorado has now become the fourth state to pass what was originally dubbed the Free-Range Parenting Law when Utah passed it in 2018.  Texas and Oklahoma followed suit last year.

But Colorado is the first blue state to pass the legislation. That’s great, because at Let Grow, the nonprofit that grew out of Free-Range Kids, we have always maintained that childhood independence is a bipartisan issue. Many Republicans appreciate our work to promote can-do kids and keep the government out of everyday family decisions, and many Democrats appreciate the same exact thing.

The new law narrows the definition of neglect, making it clear that a child is not neglected simply because a parent lets them engage in normal childhood activities, like playing outside without adult supervision or staying home alone for a bit.

4) This thread on why it’s so hard to supply Urkaine with weapons systems is so good.

5) Don’t fall for this, “A Sinister Way to Beat Multifactor Authentication Is on the Rise”

6) This was pretty interesting, “This Rap Song Helped Sentence a 17-Year-Old to Prison for Life”

Tommy Munsdwell Canady was in middle school when he wrote his first rap lyrics. He started out freestyling for friends and family, and after two of his cousins were fatally shot, he found solace in making music. “Before I knew it, my pain started influencing all my songs,” he told me in a letter. By his 15th birthday, Mr. Canady was recording and sharing his music online. His tracks had a homemade sound: a pulsing beat mixed with vocals, the words hard to make out through ambient static. That summer, in 2014, Mr. Canady released a song on SoundCloud, “I’m Out Here,” that would change his life.

In Racine, Wis., where Mr. Canady lived, the police had been searching for suspects in three recent shootings. One of the victims, Sémar McClain, 19, had been found dead in an alley with a bullet in his temple, his pocket turned out, a cross in one hand and a gold necklace with a pendant of Jesus’ face by his side. The crime scene investigation turned up no fingerprints, weapons or eyewitnesses. Then, in early August, Mr. McClain’s stepfather contacted the police about a song he’d heard on SoundCloud that he believed mentioned Mr. McClain’s name and referred to his murder.

On Aug. 6, 2014, about a week after Mr. Canady r­­eleased “I’m Out Here,” a SWAT team stormed his home with a “no knock” search warrant. Lennie Farrington, Mr. Canady’s great-grandmother and legal guardian, was up early washing her clothes in the kitchen sink when the police broke through her front door. Mr. Canady was asleep. “They rushed in my room with assault rifles telling me to put my hands up,” he recalled. “I was in the mind state of This is a big misunderstanding.” He was charged with first-degree intentional homicide and armed robbery.

Prosecutors offered Mr. Canady a plea deal, but he refused, insisting he was innocent. “Honestly, I’m not accepting that,” he told the judge. He decided to go to trial.

I have been reporting on the use of rap lyrics in criminal investigations and trials for more than two years, building a database of cases like Mr. Canady’s in partnership with the University of Georgia and Type Investigations. We have found that over the past three decades, rap — in the form of lyrics, music videos and album images — has been introduced as evidence by prosecutors in hundreds of cases, from homicide to drug possession to gang charges. Rap songs are sometimes used to argue that defendants are guilty even when there’s little other evidence linking them to the crime. What these cases reveal is a serious if lesser-known problem in the courts: how the rules of evidence contribute to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

7) Hell of a NYT interactive (using the gift link for this), “How Kyiv Has Withstood Russia’s Attacks”

8) This is cool, “The Farthest Star Sheds New Light on the Early Universe: A cosmic fluke helped Hubble spy Earendel, a giant star at the edge of the known universe that could tell us more about what happened after the Big Bang.”

Earendel’s discovery offers a glimpse into the first billion years after the Big Bang, when the universe was just 7 percent of its current age. At 12.9 billion light-years away, it smashes the previous record of 9 billion, which was also set by Hubble when it observed a giant blue star called Icarus in 2018.

Until now, the smallest objects seen at this distance have been clusters of stars inside early galaxies. “It’s quite crazy that we can see a star that far away,” says Guillaume Mahler, from the Center of Extragalactic Astronomy at Durham University in the United Kingdom, who was part of an international team that worked on the research. “No one would have hoped that we would have been able to see it.”

In fact, Earendel might be the farthest star we are ever able to see because spotting it was only possible thanks to what NASA astronomer Michelle Thaler calls “a coincidence of stellar proportions.” The star happened to be perfectly lined up with both Hubble and a kind of natural zoom lens offered by a huge galaxy cluster that sits between Earth and Earendel. Through a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, this cluster, called WHL0137-08, acted as a magnifying glass, warping the fabric of space and amplifying the light of distant objects behind it. “This cluster of galaxies is actually producing this wonderful lens, kind of a natural telescope—a telescope made of space itself,” Thaler says.

That amplified Earendel’s light by a factor of thousands and allowed Hubble to see farther than ever before. “It’s an incredible distance. And what’s special about it is, because the light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach us, we’re seeing the universe practically as a baby,” says Becky Smethurst, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the research. She and others liken the phenomenon of gravitational lensing to the bright patterns of light at the bottom of a swimming pool, which are created by ripples of water on the surface catching and concentrating the sunlight.

9) Jeffrey Sachs on a really interesting free speech case.  Also, Oberlin [eye roll]

10) Psychology Today, ‘Are Sex Differences in Mate Choice Really Universal?” Yes.

A few things stood out about the findings, reported in an article in Psychological Science. First, in every society Walter and colleagues examined, women placed more importance on financial prospects than did men (see the Figure). Second, men in most societies placed more emphasis on a woman’s physical attractiveness, but this was not universal. The sex difference was close to zero in a couple of the societies, and very slightly reversed in a couple of others. Third, the biggest difference, one that held in all societies studied, was that women were married to older men (and conversely men were married to younger women). This difference varied according to participants’ age, and was very small for people around 20 years old, but got substantially larger as people got older (in line with findings that Keefe and I collected from numerous societies three decades age, and which I discussed in the post “When statistics are seriously sexy).

In the new data set, Walter and colleagues did not replicate the finding that physical attractiveness was more desired in countries with higher levels of disease-carrying microbes and parasites. That might be because, since the time of the earlier studies, less developed countries have progressed greatly in health care, and vaccinations for formerly deadly diseases have become nearly universal (as discussed by Hans Rosling, see “10 biases that blind us to a world getting better“).
 

Walter and colleagues did not find much support for the idea that sex differences in mate preferences are related to a country’s level of gender inequality. They did find that the age gap between men and their wives was greater in countries with greater inequality. This correlation may or may not inform us about causation — age gaps are lower in countries where women are less likely to age rapidly, due to lower birth rates and better health care, and women in those countries are also better educated, which means that they marry slightly later, rather than in their teens. Nevertheless, the general tendency for women and men to differ more over the lifespan held true across societies.

11) Really interesting free Yglesias post on theories of history, Ukraine, etc.

Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man” and Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order” annoyed seemingly everyone when they came out in the early ‘90s. And yet, something about their core arguments was compelling enough that people still reference them both decades later.

I’ve been thinking about these books in the context of the war in Ukraine and the varied responses from countries around the world. The scale of the mobilization against Russia certainly has a “history is back” flavor. Fukuyama fans maintained throughout the Global War on Terror that his book never argued that historical events would stop occurring, but it did argue that a certain flavor of big picture ideological contestation was a thing of the past. And while the volume of sanctioning against Russia is certainly a big deal, it is meaningfully contested. Russia has a powerful ally in China, a durable relationship with India, and many countries around the world who just don’t think a showdown over Ukraine is worth the cost.

But many wealthy states do see Russian aggression against Ukraine as worth upending the global economy, and if you had to characterize these countries, I think the idea of “the West” — complete with the seemingly bizarre gerrymander that assigns Portugal to the same cultural group as Australia rather than Brazil — is useful. So score one for the Clash of Civilizations? Perhaps not.

The current resurgence of great power politics throws into relief the extent to which the civilizations thesis doesn’t hold up in detail. In particular, if you want to understand what’s going on in Ukraine, Fukuyama’s Neo-Hegelian view sheds much more light on the matter than framing the conflict as a war between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

12) Wow, this was such an interesting piece on the important role that Stuart Sutcliffe played in the early Beatles before his untimely death. 

13) And lots of interesting discussion about this online this week, “Mackenzie Fierceton was championed as a former foster youth who had overcome an abusive childhood and won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Then the University of Pennsylvania accused her of lying.”

14) Twitter is a weird place. This is now far and away my most engaged-with tweet ever.

Also, amusing to me the number of people defending this about how awful it is to pump gas, etc.

15) Speaking of insane, how did I not know about this movie?

16) Speaking of craziness, how did I not know about this, “Flamingo No. 492 Is Still on the Run 17 Years Later: A fisherman’s sighting in March confirmed that a flamingo that fled a Kansas zoo in 2005 has defied the odds to live a Pixar-worthy life in the wilds of Texas.”

17) Because people make meth out of pseudoephedrine they started selling OTC decongestants that don’t actually work.  I love this, “The Uselessness of Phenylephrine

All this means that even if pseudoephedrine were more freely available, it might not be as much of an illegal article of commerce as it was twenty years ago.

But be that as it may: the fact remains that its alleged replacement, phenylephrine, is of no real use and does not deserve its FDA listing. There’s no reason to think that it’s a safer compound than pseudoephedrine or one with fewer side effects – if you can get enough of it into your blood, you’ll probaby have a rather similar profile. The only reason it’s sold is to have some alternative to offer consumers, even if it’s a worthless one. There have been several attempts over the years to do something about this (here’s an earlier one from the authors of the current paper), but absolutely nothing has happened. Perhaps the agency does not wish to be put in the position of having nothing available than can be put out on the open shelves, and perhaps the pharmacies themselves prefer things as they are as well. It’s for sure that the companies producing phenylephrine-containing products like the current situation a lot better than the alternative. But for people who actually want to be able to breath for a while as we enter allergy season, wouldn’t it be better just to stop pretending and to stop wasting everyone’s time and money?

18) There’s people I disagree with and they make me think.  And then there’s people I just disagree with like Roxanne Gay. No, people should be able to take a joke. “Jada Pinkett Smith Shouldn’t Have to ‘Take a Joke.’ Neither Should You.”

19) Not surprising, “How you think about physical pain can make it worse: It’s not all in your head. But a promising new approach to treatment may offer relief to many sufferers of chronic pain.”

Chronic pain afflicts some 20 percent of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The devastating consequences of addiction to opioid painkillers—which in 2019 alone killed nearly 50,000 people in the United States—have motivated researchers to look for innovative treatments beyond new drugs. Research on alternative approaches is “absolutely exploding,” says Padma Gulur, director of the pain management strategy program at the Duke University Health System. “All of us are looking for non-opioid, and frankly non-pharmacological, options” to avoid unwanted side effects and addiction, she says.

One promising area of research is looking at the way “catastrophizing” about pain—thinking it will never get better, that it’s the worst ever, or that it will ruin your life—plays a central role in whether these predictions come true. This effect is very different from the dismissive “it’s all in your head” comments chronic-pain patients sometimes hear from doctors when they can’t pinpoint a physical cause, says Yoni Ashar, a psychologist at Weill Cornell Medical College and coauthor of the study in which Waldrip participated. Some contemporary researchers even dislike the term “catastrophizing” since it can imply the thinker is at fault.

“You can have very real, debilitating pain without any biomedical injury in your body because of changes in the pain processing pathways,” Ashar says. It turns out, he says, that “the main organ of pain is actually the brain.” And that’s why for some sufferers, treatments like pain reprocessing therapy seem to help.

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