Quick hits (part I)

1) Michael Tomasky on DeSantis:

He’s declared himself the field marshal of a cultural civil war. A decade or so ago, this too would have scared me. But in today’s United States, my bet is that most people don’t want to live in an intolerant society that basically outlaws abortion and bans books and allows nearly anybody to carry a permit-less firearm and gives the state the right to take children away from their parents in the name of “freedom.” I think that’s a loser—provided Joe Biden and the Democrats directly and aggressively challenge this twisted idea of freedom, should DeSantis emerge the GOP nominee, and advance an alternative definition of their own.

Why has DeSantis chosen this course? I offer to you the following five explanations:

1. He lives deep inside an echo chamber where everyone he ever talks to is terminally online and fully in agreement that “wokery” will spell the end of civilization.

2. He thinks that it polls well (it actually doesn’t, for the most part, but pollsters can cook numbers however they want).

3. His wife, Casey, urges him in this direction. She is said to hold an unusual amount of power in the relationship and has spent the past few years cosplaying as a first lady.

4. He’s of the mind that all of this has worked for him so far. (Although his approval numbers aren’t great—he’s just above the waterline in a recent YouGov/Economist poll, but a hefty 26 percent had a very unfavorable view of him, six points higher than the very favorable number.) 

5. He genuinely believes all this.

Don’t discount that last one. All politicians do certain things to please the base. But the zeal with which DeSantis has taken on these fights suggests a man obsessed. Molly Ball, in her insightful profile of DeSantis in last week’s Time, quotes an adviser: “He has a providential belief that he will talk sincerely about. He believes he is exactly where God planned him to be at all times.” That’s not a guy who spends countless hours watching focus groups.

Whatever his motivation, the question we care about most is whether this brand of moral-panic politics can get a hard right-winger into the White House in 2022. Never say never in a country that elected Donald Trump president, but I don’t think America wants that. It’s not simply that large majorities support more liberal abortion rights than DeSantis’s draconian six-week law or oppose permit-less concealed carry (on transgender issues, the polling is more ambiguous, but I seriously doubt your average person thinks the state ought to be able to steal a transgender child away from their parents, which is now the law in Florida). It’s also that DeSantis is in people’s faces incessantly, making them choose sides.

2) Chait on standardized tests:

3) I actually finally took a look at the whole Catalist take on the 2022 elections.  It’s really good:


The 2022 election defied conventional wisdom and historical trends. In a typical midterm election year with one-party control of the presidency, House and Senate, the incumbent party would expect major losses. Instead, Democrats re-elected every incumbent senator and expanded their Senate majority by a seat, won the overwhelming majority of heavily contested gubernatorial elections, gained control of 4 state legislative chambers, and only narrowly lost the U.S. House.

Democrats won in the majority of heavily contested races, with electorates in these contests looking more like the 2020 and 2018 electorates than a typical midterm. Unlike recent midterms, which were wave elections with across-the-board, national swings, there was less of a national trend in the 2022 midterm. In this analysis we will present national results based on the U.S. House vote, where Republicans outperformed Democrats, as well as analysis from states that had highly contested races, according to the non-partisan Cook Political Report, where Democrats outperformed Republicans. Unlike other recent midterm years, our analysis shows a stark contrast between the electorate in areas with one or more highly contested House, Senate or gubernatorial races versus those with less contested races. 

Gen Z and Millennial voters had exceptional levels of turnout, with young voters in heavily contested states exceeding their 2018 turnout by 6% among those who were eligible in both elections.1 Further, 65% of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 supported Democrats, cementing their role as a key part of a winning coalition for the party. While young voters were historically evenly split between the parties, they are increasingly voting for Democrats. Many young voters who showed up in 2018 and 2020 to elect Democrats continued to do the same in 2022. 

Extreme “MAGA” Republicans underperformed. Across heavily contested Senate, Gubernatorial, and Congressional races, voters penalized “MAGA” Republicans. Candidates who were outspoken election deniers did 1 to 4 points worse than other Republicans, contributing to their losses in important close races. Of course, election denial is one of many extreme positions associated with “MAGA” Republicans, so this analysis likely reflects relatively extreme stances on other issues, including abortion rights, as well as Republicans such as Kari Lake (Arizona gubernatorial) and Doug Mastriano (Pennsylvania gubernatorial) who ran relatively insular campaigns. 

Women voters pushed Democrats over the top in heavily contested races, where abortion rights were often their top issue. After Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court overturned abortion rights, a disproportionate number of women voters registered to vote in states with highly contested elections. At the same time, polls showed Democratic women and men indicating they were more engaged in the election. While relative turnout by gender remained largely stable, Democratic performance improved over 2020 among women in highly contested races, going from 55% to 57% support. The biggest improvement was among white non-college women (+4% support).

Democrats largely retained their winning 2020 coalition in heavily contested races, with some exceptions. Turnout and support among voters by race, education, gender, and other demographic factors remained relatively stable in heavily contested races. Such stability does not usually occur between presidential and midterm years, demonstrating how the Democratic coalition blunted a Republican “red wave.” One notable shift includes Black voters. While they continued to play an outsized role in contributing to Democratic victories, Black turnout largely fell in contested races. Meanwhile, Democratic support among Black voters rose in Southern states with heavily contested elections, but fell in less contested states.

4) I hate the NHL offside reviews that find somebody was offsides by 1 inch a good 30 seconds before the goal was scored. It’s just so stupid.  But Jack Han with a really good explanation on how getting rid of offsides completely would probably ruin the sport. 

5) Some interesting social science:

What explains the contents of political belief systems? A widespread view is that they derive from abstract values, like equality, tolerance, and authority. Here, we challenge this view, arguing instead that belief systems derive from political alliance structures that vary across nations and time periods. When partisans mobilize support for their political allies, they generate patchwork narratives that appeal to ad-hoc, and often incompatible, moral principles. In the first part of the paper, we explain how people choose their allies, and how they support their allies using propagandistic tactics. In the second part, we show how these choices and tactics give rise to political alliance structures, with their strange bedfellows, and the idiosyncratic contents of belief systems. If Alliance Theory is correct, then we need a radically different approach to political psychology—one in which belief systems arise not from deep-seated moral values, but from ever-shifting alliances and rivalries.

6) I am quite convinced that climate protesters who pull stunts like this are only setting the cause back, “Trevi Fountain water turns black in Rome climate protest”

7) Great stuff from Ryan Burge, “Given the Rise of the Nones, Why Aren’t Democrats Winning Most Elections? Why Secularization Does Not Lead to Perpetual Liberal Government”

There are still more White Christians than nones in the United States. White Christians used to be fairly mixed politically. In the 1970s, a majority of them were Democrats and about a third were Republicans. In the 1980s, the average White church was evenly mixed, about 45% from both parties.

Today? An entirely different story. Now, just a third of White Christians align with the Democratic Party, while a majority now say that they are Republicans. It’s almost been a complete reversal from the early 1970s.

The Democrats have gained a ton of new voters from the rise of the nones. They have also lost a ton of voters with the defection of millions of White Christians. (Whether this is a function of vote switching or generational replacement is a debate for a different time.)…

But here’s another part of the puzzle, too. In the 2022, 6% of folks were atheists, 6% were agnostics, and another 23% were nothing in particular. That means that two-thirds of nones are not atheist/agnostic. And that’s a problem when it comes to election day.

To put this in context, in 2020 there were nearly as many nothing in particulars who said that they voted for Trump as there were atheists who said that they voted for Biden.

While atheists are the most politically active group in the United States in terms of things like donating money and working for a campaign, the nothing in particulars are on another planet entirely…

They were half as likely to donate money to a candidate compared to atheists. They were half as likely to put up a political sign. They were less than half as likely to contact a public official.

This all points to the same conclusion: they don’t vote in high numbers. So, while there may be a whole bunch of nothing in particulars, that may not translate to electoral victories because:

  1. They aren’t overwhelmingly Democrats.

  2. Many of them probably don’t vote.

8) I love when people take an appropriately expansive approach to cost/benefit analysis.  And the costs of mass shootings are just so much bigger than we typically discuss. Katelyn Jetelina:

Impact on survivors

As you can imagine, survivors suffer from mental health problems following mass shootings. This is particularly the case among children with direct exposure (heard gunshots, saw bodies, saw the gunman) or risk factors (pre-event traumatic exposure). Scientific literature shows school shootings result in:
  • Increases in prescription antidepressants up to two years

  • High levels of PTSD; after a 1988 elementary school shooting, the prevalence of PTSD among child survivors reached 91% 14 months after the mass shooting

  • Declines in overall health and well-being

  • Engagement in more risky behaviors

These traumatic experiences can bleed into children’s education and employment years later. After school shootings, children experience:

  • Increased absenteeism and grade repetition

  • Lower rates of high school graduation, college enrollment, and college completion

  • Lower employment and earnings at ages 24-26

  • Decreased test scores in math and English that persist for up to three years post-shooting…

  • Impact on survivors’ parents


    Then there are the parents of the survivors. Those who get a call or text message that there was a mass shooting without knowing whether their child is okay. They are tasked with helping their child cope with this trauma. Parents of survivors report:

    • Reduced general well-being; in fact, we see the effect on parents regardless of whether their child was in the tragedy

    • Increased levels of PTSD—nightmares, flashbacks, severe anxiety; in one study, one in two parents of elementary school survivors reported PTSD

    • Increase in other psychological diagnoses for years to come, as seen among parents and siblings in Norway after a mass shooting…

Bottom line

There are tremendous costs to mass shootings, even for those not directly involved. These tragic events, like in Uvalde, set off a cascade of collective traumas that result in physical, mental, and emotional impairment for thousands; far more extensive and for far longer than critics portray. If you’re feeling it like me, you’re not alone.

9) What’s using all the water from the Colorado river?  It not nuts.  55% goes to livestock feed.  Eat less meat!

10) Tom Nichols on the Republican primaries:

The United States desperately needs a normal presidential election, the kind of election that is not shadowed by gloom and violence and weirdos in freaky costumes pushing conspiracy theories. Americans surely remember a time when two candidates (sometimes with an independent crashing the gates) had debates, argued about national policy, and made the case for having the vision and talent and experience to serve as the chief executive of a superpower. Sure, those elections were full of nasty smears and dirty tricks, but they were always recognizable as part of a grand tradition stretching all the way back to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams—rivals and patriots who traded ugly blows—of contenders fighting hard to secure the public’s blessing to hold power for four years…

Such an election, however, requires two functional political parties. The Republicans are in the grip of a cult of personality, so there’s little hope for a normal GOP primary and almost none for a traditional presidential election. Meanwhile, Republican candidates refuse to take a direct run at Donald Trump and speak the truth—loudly—to his voters; instead, they talk about all of the good that Trump has done but then plead with voters to understand that Trump is unelectable. (Hutchinson, who is unequivocal in his view of Trump, has been an honorable exception here and has called for Trump to drop out.)…

These Republicans are likely waiting for a miracle, an act of God that takes Trump out of contention. And by “act of God,” of course, they mean “an act of Fani Willis or Jack Smith.” This is a vain hope: Without a compelling argument from within the Republican Party that Fani Willis and Jack Smith or for that matter, Alvin Bragg, are right to indict Trump—as Bragg has done and Willis and Smith could do soon—and that the former president is a menace to the country, Trump will simply brush away his legal troubles and hope he can sprint to the White House before he’s arrested.

No one is going to displace Trump by running gently. A candidate who takes Trump on, with moral force and directness, might well lose the nomination, but he or she could at least inject some sanity into the Republican-primary process and set the stage for the eventual recovery—a healing that will take years—of the GOP or some reformed successor as a center-right party. DeSantis would rather be elected as Trump’s Mini-Me. (It might work.) Hutchinson has tried to speak up, but too quietly. Haley, like so many other former Trump officials, is too compromised by service to Trump to be credible as his nemesis. Tim Scott is perfectly positioned to make the case, but he won’t.

A Republican who thinks Trump can be beaten in a primary by gargling warm words such as electability is a Republican in denial. Trump is already creating a reality-distortion field around the primary, as he will again in the general election. Is it possible that the GOP base would respond to some fire and brimstone about Trump, instead of from him? We cannot know, because it hasn’t been tried—yet.

11) You know I only pay tangential attention to urban housing issues (mostly because a lot of people I follow are really into it), but this was quite interesting: “How DC densified”

12) I don’t think I’ve ever read anything John Stuart Mill has written, but insofar as I’m familiar with the guy, always considered myself a fan. Definitely more so after reading this nice Richard Reeves essay on Mill and his latest detractors:

Mill’s view on tradition and custom, then, is that they are very likely to contain the wisdom of the ages, of the accumulated weight of human experience and, yes, of experiments in living. That’s why it would be absurd to ignore them, and why they have a presumptive claim to our deference. But Mill also insists that we should not follow tradition and custom blindly. We should “use and interpret experience.” Mill believes that customs and traditions not only can change over time, but that they should. The alternative, which is Deneen’s only defensible position, is that somebody somewhere should decide, at some point in time, that our traditions and customs be cast in stone. 

Deneen is wrong about Mill, and thus wrong about liberalism, and therefore wrong about everything.

Even though the post-liberals are unwilling to engage with the real Mill, as opposed to their ersatz version, it is a testament to his lasting value that he is still the primary target. Mill spent his life thinking about and working for a society that could balance the value of continuity with the necessity for innovation and progress. Again, nobody said it was easy, a lesson we seem to be learning all over again. But if we need inspiration, we’ll always have Mill. 

13) I’ve long been skeptical of High School debate (the more I learn about it, the worse it seems to look). But damn is this ridiculous, “At High School Debates, Debate Is No Longer Allowed: At national tournaments, judges are making their stances clear: students who argue ‘capitalism can reduce poverty’ or ‘Israel has a right to defend itself’ will lose—no questions asked.”  Lest you think this is just anti-woke propaganda, you need only read the debate judge’s own statements on their judging philosophy:

First, some background. Imagine a high school sophomore on the debate team. She’s been given her topic about a month in advance, but she won’t know who her judge is until hours before her debate round. During that time squeeze—perhaps she’ll pace the halls as I did at the 2012 national tournament in Indianapolis—she’ll scroll on her phone to look up her judge’s name on Tabroom, a public database maintained by the NSDA. That’s where judges post “paradigms,” which explain what they look for during a debate. If a judge prefers competitors not “spread”—speak a mile a minute—debaters will moderate their pace. If a judge emphasizes “impacts”—the reasons why an argument matters—debaters adjust accordingly. 

But let’s say when the high school sophomore clicks Tabroom she sees that her judge is Lila Lavender, the 2019 national debate champion, whose paradigm reads, “Before anything else, including being a debate judge, I am a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist. . . . I cannot check the revolutionary proletarian science at the door when I’m judging. . . . I will no longer evaluate and thus never vote for rightest capitalist-imperialist positions/arguments. . . . Examples of arguments of this nature are as follows: fascism good, capitalism good, imperialist war good, neoliberalism good, defenses of US or otherwise bourgeois nationalism, Zionism or normalizing Israel, colonialism good, US white fascist policing good, etc.” 

How does that sophomore feel as she walks into her debate round? How will knowing that information about the judge change the way she makes her case?

Traditionally, high school students would have encountered a judge like former West Point debater Henry Smith, whose paradigm asks students to “focus on clarity over speed” and reminds them that “every argument should explain exactly how [they] win the debate.” 

In the past few years, however, judges with paradigms tainted by politics and ideology are becoming common. Debate judge Shubham Gupta’s paradigm reads, “If you are discussing immigrants in a round and describe the person as ‘illegal,’ I will immediately stop the round, give you the loss with low speaks”—low speaker points—“give you a stern lecture, and then talk to your coach. . . . I will not have you making the debate space unsafe.” 

Debate Judge Kriti Sharma concurs: under her list of “Things That Will Cause You To Automatically Lose,” number three is “Referring to immigrants as ‘illegal.’ ”

Should a high school student automatically lose and be publicly humiliated for using a term that’s not only ubiquitous in media and politics, but accurate?

14) This is great. Gift link. “See why AI like ChatGPT has gotten so good, so fast”

15) This is a truly amazing scientific advance.  I think it portends great things for the future. “Brain Implants Allow Paralyzed Man to Walk Using His Thoughts”

16) So good from Jeff Maurer: “When Politics is Just Virtue Signaling”

The politics of performance is never the politics of progress. It can’t be, because progress isn’t the goal — the goal is to enhance one’s status. It’s a politics of ostentatious culture war nonsense that’s content to fight the same battles indefinitely because the purpose isn’t to win; the purpose is just to show which side you’re on.

There’s no denying that virtue signaling has become a big part of progressive politics. Sometimes, it feels like it’s the whole ballgame; La Sombrita was one of those times. I find virtue signaling obnoxious whether it’s left, right, or center, but it strikes me as obnoxious and antithetical when it comes from the left. I think conservatism is compatible with virtue-signaling wankery: After all, when you’re unable to stand athwart history yelling “stop!”, dragging the national dialogue into some stupid fight about woke M&Ms will work almost as well. But I think progressives should be more purposeful. We’re trying to build the future, not conserve the past, so we need to convince people that we have a clear vision and good ideas. Unfortunately, we often devolve into unhinged virtue signaling, like this truly bananas floor speech from a state Senator in Nebraska (the speech flies off the rails and crashes into an orphanage around 1:30).

This type of cultish lunacy squanders trust that’s difficult to win back. To most people, progress means things like better functioning services and a higher standard of living. When they see their public officials engaging in a pattern of activist-babble virtue signaling — while real needs go unmet — they suspect that those officials can’t deliver results. And they’re probably right, because the only “result” the official is seeking is “popularity among their peers”.

(and yes, watch the video, it’s insane!!)

17) So wrong… “Indiana board fines doctor for discussing rape victim’s abortion”

Indiana’s medical licensing board decided late Thursday to discipline a doctor who made headlines last year for performing an abortion for a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim, saying she violated state and federal privacy laws by discussing the case with a reporter. The board gave Caitlin Bernard, an OB/GYN and an assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine, a letter of reprimand and ordered her to pay a $3,000 fine for violating ethical standards.

The board cleared Bernard on two other counts, determining that she did not improperly report child abuse and that she is fit to practice medicine.

For nearly a year, Indiana’s Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) pursued punishment for Bernard, who carried out the abortion in June 2022, less than a week after Roe v. Wade was struck down, enacting trigger laws…

Bernard broke patient privacy laws by telling an Indianapolis Star reporter about the patient’s care, the board decided Thursday night after a roughly 14-hour hearing that ended shortly after 11:30 p.m. Bernard’s lawyers argued that she properly reported the incident to an Indiana University Health social worker and did not run afoul of privacy laws when she discussed the patient’s case in a general and “deidentified” manner that is typical for doctors…

Mahler, who used to work for the federal Office of Civil Rights, said Bernard violated HIPAA when she told a colleague general details of the case at a rally, and when she did the same to a reporter, disclosing information that Mahler said could have conceivably identified the 10-year-old.


But the HIPAA expert called by Bernard’s attorneys disagreed.

“The information that she shared was age, gender and state,” said Paige Joyner, who has done hundreds of HIPAA risk assessments and also used to work in the Office of Civil Rights. “That’s not protected health information. There was nothing that was individually identifiable.”

18) This is terrific, “What Gen Z teens like me are getting wrong about mental health”

I grew up with a mom who’s a therapist, which meant that feelings moved through the air in our home like oxygen. It’s not that we talked about feelings all the time, or that I’d say something about my day and she’d ask, “How do you feel about that?”

Instead, it was more that no matter what I felt — sad, worried, mad, confused, lonely, whatever — it was never something to fix or make disappear. The world didn’t stop when I was unhappy or uncomfortable. It was never a big deal. I’d just have to feel whatever I felt — good or bad — and that, my mom believed, was the key to emotional health.

But this isn’t what I saw in many of my friends’ families. Ironically, it was homes with no therapists in them where feelings were constantly monitored. If friends were upset that a teacher gave them a bad grade, or they were left out of a social event, their parents would spring into action. First, they’d try to fix it — by talking to the teacher, or calling another parent — and if that didn’t work, they’d try to cheer up their kids by letting them have extra screen time or distracting them with a trip to the mall or allowing them to take off for what schools started calling a mental health day…

Ever since the surgeon general sounded the alarm on youth mental health in 2021, parents and educators have been trying to figure out how to help teens in my generation who are struggling amid rising rates of depression and anxiety. That’s an understandable goal. What worries me, though, is the possibility that many in my generation are confusing mental health issues with normal discomfort, to the point that the term “mental health” is becoming so diluted that it’s starting to lose meaning.

Social media play a large role in this, promoting pseudo-technical and pathologizing language — often leading to cancellation — as the antidote to emotional discomfort. Someone disagrees with you? They’re “gaslighting” you! Someone has the “wrong” point of view or perspective? They’re “toxic”! Someone declines to do what you ask? They have “no boundaries”! Instead of talking through these situations or trying to understand another perspective better, we run away to the supposed comfort of not having to deal with them. Click — they’re blocked…

All of the warnings are well-intentioned and supposedly in service of our mental health. And of course, many people my age face mental health stressors that go far beyond the disappointments and conflicts of daily life. Anxiety and depression are serious concerns that need to be addressed, and treatment should be encouraged and accessible.

But I wonder if, more broadly, we’re normalizing an almost hyper-vigilant avoidance of anything uncomfortable. By insisting that the mere mention of something difficult is bad for our mental health, are we protecting ourselves from emotional damage — or damaging ourselves emotionally? Are we really that emotionally fragile, or are we teaching ourselves to become more fragile than we actually are?

Wrapping up with a little twitter

19) Great thread on conservatism in America vs. the UK:

20) Amazing finding.  Get your Shingles vaccine!

21) Show up and try.



Quick hits (part II)

1) deBoer, “Pick a Practical Major, Like French”

We may be on the verge of a recession, or we may already be in one. After decades of slack labor markets and anemic wage growth, for an all-too-brief period the post-COVID-lockdown world saw a tight job market and employers actually competing for workers. But with inflation high and the Fed having raised rates aggressively, many are projecting a serious downturn that will surely hurt workers. Under those conditions, it’s more important than ever that college students take practical majors. Like French.

Yes, French. The major that’s so often derided as the height of impractical folly, the interest of people who want to fritter their time away reciting poetry and watching New Wave cinema, in fact revolves around a skill that has a great chance to be invaluable in the coming half-century: the ability to communicate in one of the fastest-growing languages in the world. Though it’s barely discussed in American news and commentary, central and west Africa — that is to say, Francophone Africa — has seen a population explosion in recent decades that’s arguably the biggest in the world. And while birth-rate growth in the region has started to level off, declining birth rates or outright declining populations across the world mean that the French-speaking part of Africa will play a huge role in determining humanity’s future. The French language rises with it. To put things in relative terms, the Francophone world, where as many as 525 million people live, is larger than the entire European Union. And where population growth happens, economic importance tends to follow…

The broader point here is simple: We have a prevalent concept of the “practical college major” in our society, but that concept is vague, not buttressed with evidence, and shifts according to whim and prejudice. And the ultimate point of stressing the practicality of certain majors while denigrating the frivolity of others is to blame people for economic conditions they can’t control.

The first and most basic problem with the notion of the practical major is that practicality is not a static, timeless quality. Consider the story of the pharmacy major in the mid 2010s. As a very telling New Republic story from 2014 spells out, the popularity of pharmaceutical studies could stand as a cautionary tale when it comes to the very concept of the practical major, of the educational “safe haven.” In the 2000s and 2010s, dozens of new schools of pharmacy were opened thanks to the perception that pharmacy was a safe field for young graduates. Thousands of newly minted pharmacists flooded the market. Somehow, administrators in higher education were surprised to find that these new graduates had a harder time finding a good job than previous generations. But this is an inevitable outcome of telling young people an academic field is a practical choice, since you’re making that field more attractive and thus increasing the competition they have to face in the labor market.

The point isn’t that the pharmaceutical industry became a uniquely bad field to be in — it wasn’t. The point is that a supposedly safe field became less friendly to new entrants over time. And it happened fairly quickly, in a world where economic data is often lagging and where it can take four or more years to get credentialed into a given field. What were the current pharmacy majors supposed to do when it became clear there would be a lot of competition for jobs after all? Quit halfway through their majors, after investing years and tens of thousands of dollars?

For another example of the folly of practicality, look at the major of business, a serious field for serious people — or maybe not. People are often surprised when I tell them that many of the career-outcome metrics for business majors are middling at best. After all, what could be a more intuitively practical major than business? The problem is that business is by far the most popular major in American higher education; each year, we graduate something like 350,000 students with bachelor’s degrees in the field. That means that, if you’re one of those students, you’re graduating into a labor market where you have an immense amount of competition. That inevitably depresses your career prospects. (Supply and demand applies to educated labor.) “Practicality” has nothing to do with it.

Or we might look at petrochemical engineering, where the job market tracks the notoriously volatile price of oil. Sample 2015 headline: “Petroleum engineering degrees seen going from boom to bust.” Working for oil companies seems like the definition of a practical, even mercenary ambition to me. And yet that superficial practicality is no match for macroeconomic conditions individuals can’t control.

2) You better believed I enjoyed reading about completely out of control Institutional Review Boards in Scott Alexander’s substack:

IV. Hard Truths


Doctors are told to weigh the benefits vs. costs of every treatment. So what are the benefits and costs of IRBs?

Whitney can find five people who unexpectedly died from research in the past twenty-five years. These are the sorts of cases IRBs are set up to prevent – people injected with toxic drugs, surgeries gone horribly wrong, the like. No doubt there are more whose stories we don’t know. But as for obvious, newsworthy cases, there are ~2 per decade. Were there more before Ellis’ 1998 freakout and the subsequent tightening of IRB rules? Whitney can’t really find evidence for this.

What are the costs? The direct cost of running the nation’s IRB network is about $100 million per year. The added costs to studies from IRB-related delays and compliance costs is about $1.5 billion/year. So the monetary costs are around the order of $1.6 billion.

What about non-monetary costs? Nobody has fully quantified this. Some Australian oncologists did an analysis and found that 60 people per year died from IRB-related delays in Australian cancer trials. 6,000 people died from delays in ISIS-2, and that was just one study. Tens of thousands were probably killed by IRBs blocking human challenge trials for COVID vaccines. Low confidence estimate, but somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 Americans probably die each year from IRB-related research delays.

So the cost-benefit calculation looks like – save a tiny handful of people per year, while killing 10,000 to 100,000 more, for a price tag of $1.6 billion. If this were a medication, I would not prescribe it.

Whitney doesn’t want a revolution. He just wants to go back to the pre-1998 system, before Gary Ellis crushed Johns Hopkins, doctors were replaced with administrators, and pragmatic research ethics were replaced by liability avoidance. Specifically:

  • Allow zero-risk research (for example, testing urine samples a patient has already provided) with verbal or minimal written consent.

  • Allow consent forms to skip trivial issues no one cares about (“aspirin might taste bad”) and optimize them for patient understanding instead of liability avoidance.

  • Let each institution run their IRB with limited federal interference. Big institutions doing dangerous studies can enforce more regulations; small institutions doing simpler ones can be more permissive. The government only has to step in when some institution seems to be failing really badly.

  • Researchers should be allowed to appeal IRB decisions to higher authorities like deans or chancellors

These make sense. I’m just worried they’re impossible.

3) Bruni on MTG:

I don’t keep up with Marjorie Taylor Greene’s tweets, having decided long ago that there were more pleasant and constructive uses of time, like lighting fire to my eyelashes. But I’m rethinking that judgment now. M.T.G. really does have something to say — or, rather, to tell us.

She tweeted a doozy the other day. Actually, she routinely tweets doozies, which I realized when I caught up with her Twitter account, bingeing on it the way I would an overlooked HBO Max series, if the series were an endless sequence of garish sights and ghastly sounds that robbed me of my will to live. This tweet garnered headlines — that’s how I came to it — and deservedly so. Audaciously, incoherently, M.T.G. used it to try to turn Jack Teixeira, the 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard accused of leaking national security secrets, into a victim.

The leaks in question divulged classified information about U.S. surveillance of Russia that’s vital to our assistance to Ukraine, where there are true victims, an entire ravaged country of them. And Teixeira’s alleged actions didn’t seem to have any high-minded prompt. He’s more post-adolescent punk than principled dissident by my read.

But then my lens isn’t M.T.G.’s. I don’t wear her thick, cracked goggles of grievance, which reveal Teixeira as a martyr.

“Teixeira is white, male, christian, and antiwar,” she tweeted, capitalizing on her professed faith without properly capitalizing it. “That makes him an enemy to the Biden regime.” Her tweet, wanting for a good copy edit, went on to beseech its readers: “Ask yourself who is the real enemy? A young low level national guardsmen? Or the administration that is waging war in Ukraine?”

President Biden isn’t waging war in Ukraine. That’s what Vladimir Putin is doing. And Teixeira’s gender, color and religion have nothing to do with his arrest and looming prosecution, nor are they relevant to a legitimate, necessary debate about the degree, nature, costs and long-term usefulness of our aid to Ukrainians.

But they have everything to do with the manner in which an alarming fraction of Americans regard and respond to political developments today. They look for evidence of offense to, and persecution of, whatever group of people they identify with. They invent that proof when it’s not there; when it is, they upsize it. Either way, their predetermined sense of grievance is the prism through which all is passed and all is parsed. It’s their Rosetta stone. It’s their binky.

M.T.G.’s tweet is an extreme example from a self-infatuated extremist, but it’s an example nonetheless. A reckless brat is arrested, President Biden arches an eyebrow, a bluebird falls from the sky: M.T.G. can see the lefty secularism and reverse racism — the wokeness, in a polarizing word — in any turn of events.

So can many others on the right, which has no monopoly on willful misreads, but is currently conducting a scary and profoundly dangerous master class on them. Witness their conspiracy theories, their militias, their actions on — and then revisionism about — the Jan. 6 rioting. Witness the evolution of Donald Trump’s blather, which leans ever more heavily on the insistence that investigations of him are really attacks on his supporters, who confront the same horrible oppression that poor Airman Teixeira does.

Witness less flamboyant versions of this paranoid mind-set. Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, has built his brand around identifying the supposed threats to non-woke traditionalists and crafting or calling for measures that foil and punish their liberal oppressors. He trades aspiration for retribution, optimism for resentment.

He, too, wears goggles of grievance. They’re just a little bit lighter than M.T.G.’s. A little bit looser. And they’re not lined in fur.

4) This is good, “Why the Anti-Anti-Trumpers Need Ron DeSantis: His getting the 2024 GOP nomination would, they hope, validate their actions—and their inaction—since 2016”

TO UNDERSTAND WHY THIS SEGMENT of Republicans is so DeSantis-needy, let’s briefly revisit the typology of the GOP following its crackup. Donald Trump’s election and presidency split the conservative intelligentsia—the writers, think tankers, attorneys, professors, influencers, strategists, policy wonks, and other “thought leaders”—into three broad groups.

First, there were those who said “Never Trump” and meant it, opposing both the man and his movement.

Second, at the other end are some you could call “semi-fascist.” Openly anti-democracy, they try to harness Trumpist populism to their own ends. Think tankers at the Claremont Institute call for an American Caesar. The American Conservative praises Vlad the Impaler, arguing that America needs a leader “willing to be the bad guy.” Billionaire Peter Thiel argues that freedom is incompatible with democracy, and funds a variety of causes and candidates (J.D. Vance, Blake Masters, etc.). Fox News host Tucker Carlson belongs here too, with his Russia-friendly coverage of the Ukraine war, and promoting the “great replacement” conspiracy theory.

Third, there’s what is probably the largest category: the rationalizers. Here you’ll find many media figures, donors, political operatives, and politicians. Loyal partisans, committed culture warriors, and anyone chasing the MAGA audience, appealing to small donors, seeking proximity to power, or just trying to stick with the team.

Some of these accepted Trump as the avatar of the American right, and backed him until after his presidency when they could cheer a Republican challenger. Others went anti-anti-Trump, professing to disapprove of the president, and rarely defending him outright, but rarely criticizing him either, focusing instead on attacking his critics.

Rationalizers criticized Trump on background to reporters, but not in public. Or they’d express disagreement in public, but merely on political strategy, not principle. Or maybe, when things got egregious, they’d say something on principle. But not too strenuously—down that road lies excommunication, as with former Rep. Liz Cheney—and usually with caveats that Democrats are worse.

No matter what happened, no matter what they said in public or private, the rationalizers kept coming back. They could not, would not make a public break with the party or a final break with Trump.

Which brings us back to Ron DeSantis. The rationalizers need the Republican presidential nomination to go to DeSantis to validate their choice.

To show that their words, actions, and inaction since 2016 were shrewd and insightful, not obsequious and cowardly.

To demonstrate that they were engaged in a wise, noble effort to hold together the party for the good of the country.

It would let them move on from the Trump period without reckoning with their role in it.

5) Lots of good stuff on how to study better.  Gift link. 

Students don’t know much about how they learn.

In one study, researchers asked college students to select which of two scenarios would lead to better learning. For example, students were asked to compare creating one’s own mnemonic with using one the teacher provides. (Creating your own is better, previous research shows.)

For two of the six scenarios, students picked the worse strategy as often as the better one. For the other four, most students actually thought the worsestrategy was superior.

How could they be so misinformed? You would think that after years of studying and then seeing their test results, students would figure out which methods work and which don’t.

Students get studying wrong because they don’t assess whether a method works in the long run. Instead, they pay attention to whether the method is easy to do and feels like it’s working while they’re doing it.

By analogy, suppose I were trying to get stronger by doing push-ups. You watch me train, and are surprised that I’m practicing push-ups on my knees. When you suggest that push-ups on my toes are a better exercise, I reply: “I tried that, but I can do lots more on my knees. And this way they’re not so hard!”

Students try to learn by doing the mental equivalent of push-ups on their knees.

For example, student surveys show that rereading notes or textbooks is the most common way students prepare for a test. Rereading is easy because the mind can skitter along the surface of the material without closely considering its meaning, but that’s exactly why it’s a poor way to learn. If you want to learn the meaning — as most tests require you to — then you must think about meaning when you study.

Yet, insidiously, rereading feels effective.

Rereading a textbook makes the content feel familiar. But judging that content is familiar and knowing what it means — being able to describe it, being able to use that knowledge when you think — are supported by different processes in the brain. Because they are separate, familiarity can increase even if knowledge of the meaning doesn’t increase. That’s what’s happened when a person looks very familiar but you can’t identify her.

And so, as students reread their textbooks, the increasing familiarity makes them think they are learning. But because they are not thinking about the meaning of what they read, they aren’t improving the knowledge that actually builds understanding.

Psychologists have developed much better ways to study, some of them counterintuitive. For example, if you’ve only partially learned some material, trying to remember it is a better way to solidify that fragile learning than studying more.

6) I’m not a vegetarian, but I definitely try to a lot less meat these days.  It’s good for animals and good for the planet:

In the United States and beyond, giant agribusiness corporations continue raising animals in ways that disregard their welfare, never allowing pigs or chickens to walk outside, crowding hens who lay eggs into cages that prevent them from stretching their wings and breeding chickens to grow so fast that their immature leg bones struggle to bear their weight.

Boycotting this monstrous abuse of billions of animals each year is a powerful reason for not eating meat, but the outsize contribution of meat and dairy products to climate change is for me now an equally urgent part of shifting to a plant-based diet. But we need not be hard-line about avoiding all animal products. If everyone chose plant-based foods for just half their meals, we would have fewer animals suffering, and a tremendously better shot at avoiding the most dire consequences of climate change.

Meat and dairy production are major sources of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculates that releasing into the atmosphere a ton of methane will, over a century, raise the temperature of our planet by 28 times as much as releasing a ton of carbon dioxide. That would be bad enough, but the impact is even more lopsided in the shorter term: Because methane breaks down much more rapidly than carbon dioxide, over 20 years, that ton will warm the planet as much as 84 tons of carbon dioxide…

This means we can do something for the planet every time we eat. And if Americans were to replace 50 percent of all animal-based foods with plant-based alternatives by 2030, that alone would help them get a quarter of the way toward hitting the U.S. climate target under the Paris agreement.

Admittedly, slowing climate change would be much easier — and fairer — if governments were to tax animal products in proportion to the damage they do to the climate. But in the absence of meat and dairy taxes, the power lies with those who consume animal products, and with the institutions that provide food for many of us.

7) OMG do I hate seemingly every damn electronic interaction asking for a tip now.  Tips are quite appropriate for tipped employees or to reward a person/business for an extra good job.  But, no, you don’t get a tip just because you sold me a donut!

You might be wondering why I, a tech columnist, would write about tipping. The reason is that tipping is no longer just a socioeconomic and ethical issue about the livelihoods of service workers.

It has also become a tech problem that is rapidly spiraling out of control thanks to the proliferation of digital payment products from companies like Square and Toast. Since payment apps and touch screens make it simple for merchants to preset gratuity amounts, many businesses that didn’t ordinarily ask for tips now do.

And many consumers feel pressured to oblige or don’t notice the charges. This phenomenon — known as “guilt tipping” — was compounded in recent years when more privileged professionals shelled out extra to help essential workers weather the pandemic. But even as businesses have somewhat returned to normal, the gratuity requests have remained steadfast.

Tipping practices may become part of a broad government crackdown on so-called junk fees, extra costs that businesses tack on to products and services while adding little to no value. The Federal Trade Commission, which announced an investigation into the practices last year, said people could experience “junk fee shock” when companies used deceptive tech designs to inflate costs at the end of a purchase.

I have felt the pain and awkwardness of seemingly arbitrary tip requests. I was recently taken aback when a grocery store’s iPad screen suggested a tip between 10 percent and 30 percent — a situation that was made more unpleasant when I hit the “no tip” button and the cashier shot me a glare.

When a motorcycle mechanic asked for a gratuity with his smartphone screen, I felt pressured to tip because my safety depended on his services. (It still felt wrong, because I had already paid for his labor.)

I shared these instances, along with stories I had read all over the web about consumers outraged by abnormal tipping requests, with user-interface experts who work on tech and financial products. All agreed that while it was good that payment services had increased gratuities for service workers who rely on them, the technology created a bad experience when consumers felt coerced by businesses that didn’t normally expect tips…

A broader issue remains: When businesses that don’t ordinarily get tips use technology to present a tipping screen, they require the consumer to opt out.

“It’s coercion,” Mr. Selker said.

On the bright side, the gratuity screens are not considered deceptive, said Harry Brignull, a user-experience consultant in Britain, because the “custom tip” and “no tip” buttons are roughly the same size as the tipping buttons. If the opt-out buttons were extremely difficult to find, this would be an abusive practice known as “dark patterns.”

Still, if people feel unfairly pressured into tipping in situations where gratuity is unnecessary, government agencies like the Federal Trade Commission should examine that concern through a regulatory lens, Mr. Brignull said.

The F.T.C. did not immediately return requests for comment.

I recommend approaching tipping the same way that you might approach technology: Be wary of the defaults, and decide when it’s right to opt out.

8) Fine particulate matter in air is really bad for you. And there’s a lot of it in subways. 

THERE ARE PEOPLE in this world who, out of sheer curiosity, carry around scientific instruments so they can measure levels of potentially harmful airborne particulates—tiny clumps of matter that may be breathed in. “We’re sort of air pollution nerds, right?” says Terry Gordon, an environmental health scientist at New York University.

Some years ago, a colleague of his got a shockingly high reading on a particulate monitor when he entered a subway station in New York. “He thought it was broken,” recalls Gordon. But it wasn’t. That reading inspired a much-discussed study, published in 2021, on particulate concentrations in various subway stations in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and other locations in the northeastern US.

It’s just one of numerous recent papers that have documented particulate pollution in subway and metro systems around the world—reflecting a growing concern that city commuting could carry a health risk. Earlier this month, prosecutors in Paris opened a criminal investigation over allegations that air pollution in the capital’s metro was endangering people’s lives. Not only that, the operator of the underground railway system there, RATP, has been accused of deliberately underreporting pollution levels—which it denies.


The fact that particulates are present in metro systems, often at concentrations many times those found at street level, is undeniable. The rubbing of metal wheels on tracks, or brakes on wheels, shears off tiny metal particles that get kicked up into the air as trains move. The question is how the dusty tunnels of the world’s metro systems compare on this point—and whether science reveals any genuine health risks for people who travel or work in these environments. Long-term exposure to particulate matter is known to be linked to a variety of heart and lung problems, as well as premature death.

Gordon, though, was surprised to hear about the legal case in Paris. “Paris is nothing compared to London,” he says. And no metro stations anywhere, he adds, are as particulate-prone as those in and around New York—at least according to his research.

9) This was really interesting on human longevity:

JEAN-MARIE ROBINE IS not impressed by your centenarian grandma. Sure, she’s sprightly for her age, but how unusual is making it to 100, really? Robine is a demographer and longevity researcher, and in his home country of France alone there are 30,000 centenarians; 30 times more than there were half a century ago. Add up all the centenarians worldwide and you get to 570,000—an entire Baltimore’s worth of extremely long-lived humans. Having a birthday cake with 100 candles is nice, but nowadays it’s nothing special.

To really pique Robine’s interest we need to up the longevity stakes a little. He is an expert in supercentenarians: people who live to 110 or even longer. In the 1990s Robine helped validate the age of the oldest person who ever lived. Born in 1875, Jeanne Calment lived through 20 French presidents before dying in 1997 at the age of 122, five months, and 15 days. Since then Robine has become a collector of the super long-lived, helping run one of the largest and most-detailed databases of extremely old people.

For Robine, each supercentenarian is a crucial datapoint in the quest to answer a big question: Is there an upper limit to the human lifespan? “There are still many things we don’t know. And we hate that,” says Robine. But there is an even more fundamental question that undercuts the whole field of longevity research. What if—in our quest to push the limits of human lifespan—we’re looking for answers in all the wrong places?


If you’ve ever read an interview with a supercentenarian, there is one question that will inevitably come up: What’s the secret? Well, take your pick. The secret is kindness. Not having children. Connecting with nature. Avoiding men. Or, being married. Smoking 30 cigarettes a day. Not smoking 30 cigarettes a day. Drinking whisky. Abstaining from alcohol altogether. We mine the lives of the super-old for hints on how we should live our own.

But this is the wrong way to approach the question, says Robine. His style is to step back, take a look at how many supercentenarians there have been, and figure out when they lived and died. The limits of human longevity won’t be found by looking at individuals, he believes, but by examining super-long-lived people collectively. It’s a statistical puzzle: to crack it, you need to know exactly how many people died at age 111, 112, 113, and so on, to work out the likelihood that a supercentenarian won’t make it to their next birthday.

In 1825, the British mathematician Benjamin Gompertz published one of the first attempts to calculate the limits of human longevity following this approach. Armed with birth and death records from Carlisle and Northampton, Gompertz calculated how someone’s risk of dying changed as they got older. Gompertz found that after a person hit their late twenties, their risk of dying in the subsequent year kept going up, year after year. But at age 92 something curious happened. Their annual chance of death leveled off at 25 percent per year. This finding was odd. It suggested to Gompertz that there was no upper limit to human aging. Theoretically, he mused, there was nothing in his data suggesting that humans couldn’t live for many, many, centuries—just like the lives of the patriarchs in the Bible.

But statistics is a cruel science, and Gompertz knew that too. According to his data, the risk of dying at age 92 was so high that you would need an unthinkably large number of humans to reach that age before you found just one person who lived to 192. Three trillion humans, to be precise—30 times more than have ever been born. And yet Gompertz found himself hampered by his dataset. So few humans made it past the age of 90 that it was hard for him to really know what mortality rates were like at very advanced ages. Did his results point toward some insurmountable limit to human lifespan, or just a temporary cap that could be lifted with advancements in medicine?

Modern demographers have picked up where Gompertz left off, sometimes with surprising results. In 2016 Jan Vijg and his colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York concluded that mortality rates past the age of 100 start to rise rapidly, putting a cap on human lifespan of around 125 years. Two years later another group of demographers, this time led by Elisabetta Barbi at Sapienza University in Rome, came to the opposite conclusion. She argued that human death rates increase exponentially up until age 80, at which point they decelerate and then level-off after age 105. Barbi’s research raised the tantalizing prospect that there is no upper limit to human lifespan at all, just like Gompertz wondered.

If mortality rates really do plateau at a certain age, then extreme longevity is just a numbers game, Robine says. Say you had 10 people reach the age of 110, and the risk of any of them dying each subsequent year had plateaued at 50 percent. You’d expect five of them to reach the age of 111, two or three to reach 112, one or two of them to reach 113, just one to reach 114, and no one to make it to 115. To have a good shot of someone reaching 115, you need to double the number of people making it to age 110, and so on. In other words, the upper limit on lifespan is just a factor of how many people survived the previous year. But these numbers all hinge on exactly what and where the mortality plateau is. The problem is, the data available for calculating this isn’t very good.

10) Really enjoyed this about Bud Light and worrying about what products you buy:

You may have caught wind of what followed: widespread outrage from social conservatives, calls for boycotts of the beer by country stars and rappers (including Kid Rock, who released a video in which he destroyed cases of Bud Light with an assault weapon), a significant drop in Bud Light’s sales in one week and the loss of about $5 billion in market capitalization. This week, Bud Light’s owner announced that two of its executives were taking a leave of absence.

Other than some passing discomfort for shareholders, everything about what I hope no one will be tempted to call Bud Light-gate has an air of unreality. In addition to Bud Light, InBev owns Corona, Stella Artois, Michelob, Beck’s, Modelo and many other beer brands. Given the sweeping homogenization of global corporate culture and business practices, InBev’s politics are roughly the same as those of all major companies: a combination of cutthroat economic libertarianism and progressive human resources-style “sensitivity” with which few Americans wholly identify.

Despite the passionate claims about its unique identity and its conservative political profile, the only value driving Bud Light, or any other consumer good available on a global scale, is the remorseless logic of shareholder value. That makes it hard to coherently express your politics with your beer preferences.

11) With the Ed Sheeran court case, a really cool audio interactive feature on some really big music copyright cases.  The truth is, this is just hard. 

12) Was not at all surprised to read smartphone sales are way down.  Why buy a new one?!

Much of the slowdown is likely due to a confluence of pandemic-related economic factors like  chaotic supply lines and skyrocketing inflation. But another aspect that could explain why fewer people are buying phones is that, for the most part, phones are perfectly fine. Modern smartphones have plateaued, both in terms of their design and the capabilities of their software, and the future of phones is likely to involve slow, iterative improvements rather than big leaps that warrant faster upgrades.

13) Somehow, elephant seals manage to get by on 2 hours of sleep a day. 

14) Be very suspicious of polls showing high numbers for third party candidates (unless it’s 1992 and it’s Ross Perot)


Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Brian Beutler: on Clarence Thomas and Democratic weakness:

In fairness to Democrats, they have also asked Chief Justice John Roberts to investigate Thomas internally, so it’s not like they’re casting a narrow net in the vain hope that Republicans might do the right thing. 

But more on that in a minute. Before we wring our hands over the Democrats’ apparent indifference, we should be of one mind about Thomas’s conduct, why it warrants an aggressive response, and what such a response might accomplish.   

For decades, while posing as the Supreme Court’s everyman, Thomas has accepted lavish gifts, vacations, and private-jet flights, worth millions of dollars, from the Republican megadonor Harlan Crow. Then—in violation of federal law—he elected to conceal the financial relationship. We learned all of that thanks to the excellent reporting of Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski of ProPublicaAnd we know they have Thomas dead to rights, because he hasn’t denied any of it. Rather, he has sought to defend his behavior with what you might generously call lawyerly deception. Here’s the key part of the public statement he issued in response to the revelations:

Harlan and Kathy Crow are among our dearest friends, and we have been friends for over twenty-five years. As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them. Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.

I added the emphasis to identify the points of deceit. Reading his statement, you might imagine that when Thomas became a justice, he wondered what to do about his dear and generous friend Harlan who, while very rich, and very conservative, had no particular interest in the composition of the federal bench or what considerations enter the minds of Supreme Court justices when they interpret and make law. 

But that’s not so. Twenty-five years ago, Thomas had already been a justice for several years, which means he only befriended Crow after becoming one of the most powerful officeholders in the world. We don’t know when Thomas sought guidance from his similarly lawless colleagues, or which jurists he sought it from, but we know he voluntarily disclosed these gifts until the Los Angeles Times first began reporting on this improper relationship in 2004, at which point the disclosures stopped. Then note the past-tense voice when he claims Crow “did not have business before the court.” That is conspicuously not the same as saying he “did not and does not have business before the court,” or “has never had business before the court.” We don’t know, because Thomas left too much unsaid, but at best this means Crow had no business before the court in or around 2004 when Thomas and his buddies on the bench all agreed he didn’t have to follow any rules. 

A truer statement and timeline would have left a much different impression: That years after he became a justice, a right-wing influence peddler with a fortune and recurring business before the court befriended and began spending vast sums of money on him; that he disclosed these gifts for several more years before the press got wind of it, at which point he went looking for affirmation that it was OK to keep accepting the gifts without disclosing them.

This would be intolerable even if it were Thomas’s first offense, but his offenses are serial. His entanglement with Crow alone has seen straight up cash flow into his wife Ginni’s pockets and his own. As I was writing this we learned that Crow secretly paid above market value to purchase property from Thomas, parcels that included Thomas’s parents house, where they continued to maintain residence while Crow covered their property taxes. 

Meanwhile, Ginni resides at the center of a sprawling network of right-wing activists who encouraged and participated in efforts to overthrow the government after the 2020 election. Knowing that her communications about the attempted coup might end up in the hands of investigators and the public, Thomas cast the sole dissenting vote against requiring disclosure of Trump administration records to the House January 6 Committee. No recusal. Her involvement, and his desire to cover it up, at least hinted at his awareness of, or even complicity in, an effort to overturn American democracy. It all could easily have formed the basis of a tidy impeachment inquiry. Instead, then as now, Democrats in Congress let it be. They contented themselves with impotent calls for Thomas to recuse himself in future insurrection cases, and for a statutory code of ethics to bind the justices going forward. 

Democrats subsequently lost the House, removing impeachment as an option altogether. But that hasn’t left them powerless. They still have a significant bully pulpit. They could use it to insist (ineffectively, perhaps, but at real cost to Thomas and the GOP) that Thomas resign; that his defenders are complicit in selling the Court to right-wing billionaires; that a court that tolerates this cozy style of bribery and deception can not be trusted with as much power as it has. And they could back that up with a credible threat to investigate Thomas’s conduct more deeply, including through the use of subpoena power. 

A few righteous House Democrats have indeed called on Thomas to resign, but the ones best positioned to make this a painful problem for Thomas and Republicans have all ducked. As alluded to earlier, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin’s first instinct was to pass the buck to John Roberts—”Chief Justice Roberts needs to take the important first step here as the chief justice of the Supreme Court, to restore the integrity of that court with a thorough and credible investigation of what happened with Justice Thomas,” Durbin said—while vaguely promising to “act.”  Initially, eight senators signed a letter to Roberts pressing him to relieve them of this hot potato. Subsequently, under wilting criticism, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee wrote to Roberts again, urging him (again) to investigate this issue himself, but advising him that “the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing regarding the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards.” One hearing! On ‘Supreme Court Ethics!’ Maybe!

So, for now, a buck passed and a box checked. 

We thus witnessed the perverse spectacle of Republicans feigning more outrage in defense of their poor, beleaguered friend Clarence Thomas, and his right to be corrupt, than Democrats directed at Thomas for the extent of his corruption. Republicans felt freer than they might have to treat Thomas as the victim of a smear campaign, because Democrats did not respond in proportion to the seriousness of the matter. Republicans would have you believe they’d be totally cool with George Soros sending Ketanji Brown Jackson to various beach resorts on his private planes (NB: they would lose every last ounce of their shit) because they didn’t have to worry about their opponents calling them liars, complicit in the corruption of the American government.





2) Freddie deBoer takes up some satire on leftists and crime and it’s brilliant:

A: We need to do something about our rotten criminal justice system.

B: Absolutely. We need major reform – police reform, sentencing reform, reform of our jails and prisons, robust programs for rehabilitation and reintegration.

A: No, we need to tear it all down. Defund the police, abolish prisons, and end the carceral state.

B: You know, if I thought that the Water & Sewer department was terribly corrupt, violent, and racist, I’d be very invested in Water & Sewer reform. I’d find Water & Sewer reform to be a moral necessity. I’d advocate for major Water & Sewer reform. But I wouldn’t say “Water & Sewer can’t be reformed, we need to let shit flow through the streets.” It seems like a major and unjustified leap in logic.

A: Sorry. Reform won’t do. Defund, disarm, decarcerate! No police!

B: Won’t that lead to a lot of crime and much lower living standards?

A: Not if we address need. Poverty is the ultimate cause of all crime.

B: Of all crime?

A: Yes.

B: But the vast majority of poor people aren’t committing crimes.

A: Crime is complex and multivariate.

B: If poverty is the ultimate cause of all crime, how is crime complex or multivariate?

A: … because. 

B: Remember when that MLB pitcher’s old tweets resurfaced recently?

A: Yes. That damn racist.

B: Well, I get why copying and pasting rap lyrics with the n-word in them and tweeting it is offensive. I don’t condone it. But he was a teenager when he sent those tweets, and you were saying that he should lose all of his endorsement deals. And you also thought that an actor who was caught on camera calling someone a “slut” should never work again.

A: That’s right. We’re trying to build an accountability culture here.

B: So you’re a minimalist when it comes to punishing actual crimes, but when it comes to handing down social punishment, you’re a maximalist.

A: …yes?

B: Does that make sense? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to have a conception of forgiveness and accountability that applies to both the public and private domains? Like, “we should be more forgiving towards people who commit crimes AND people who violate identity norms” makes sense to me. “We should be less forgiving to people who commit crimes AND people who violate identity norms” makes sense to me. But “we should be an absurdly punitive culture when it comes to violating social prohibitions, but effectively anarchists when it comes to violating legal prohibitions” seems bizarre and unworkable to me.

A: Why!

B: Well, I think the basic reality of human life is that we’re fallible. We don’t do the right thing, often. So we need society to create incentives and punishments to urge people towards the right kind of behavior. In the kind of society you’re envisioning, we aren’t creating those incentives and punishments to encourage lawful behavior, and so people will break the law. I don’t believe that people are essentially self-policing; I don’t believe that all people are basically good. I think most people are basically good, but some very much are not, and the ones who aren’t will prey on those who are if we don’t do anything. It’s sad but it’s a fact of life. You ever see the show Deadwood? There’s no police force in Deadwood. The result isn’t a utopia of people being good to each other; it’s a vicious place where the strong do whatever they want and the weak suffer. That’s what life was like before state-imposed order, the most powerful warlord took whatever he wanted and everyone else suffered. That’s reality. In a state of nature, human beings rob and rape and kill. So you have to have some sort of formal system of crime and punishment. That’s why I’m not a libertarian or anarchist. And I find it very weird that a lot of ostensible leftists have essentially adapted right-wing libertarian visions of law and order. But it’s really weird that those same people are also so eager to basically unperson those who say offensive things! Of course there should be social prohibitions against racism and similar types of offense, but it feels like the left is impossibly sensitive to those social mores and totally insensitive to the costs of having someone stick a gun in your face and take your car. If a woman goes on Twitter and says, “my boss just called me sexy,” people there will do everything they can to cost that man his job. If that same exact woman says, “I just got carjacked,” people with hammers and sickles in their bios will laugh at her and tell her that crime is just something you have to accept, and anyway she was rich enough to own a car so she’s privileged. It’s so bizarre. I just don’t get the consistent principles at play here. It all seems so fickle and arbitrary.

A: Look, I’m gonna level with you here. Like the vast majority of leftists who have been minted since Occupy Wall Street, my principles, values, and policy preferences don’t stem from a coherent set of moral values, developed into an ideology, which then suggests preferred policies. At all. That requires a lot of reading and I’m busy organizing black tie fundraisers at work and bringing Kayleigh and Dakota to fencing practice. I just don’t have the time. So my politics have been bolted together in a horribly awkward process of absorbing which opinions are least likely to get me screamed at by an online activist or mocked by a podcaster. My politics are therefore really a kind of self-defensive pastiche, an odd Frankensteining of traditional leftist rhetoric and vocabulary from Ivy League humanities departments I don’t understand. I quote Marx, but I got the quote from Tumblr. I cite Gloria Anzaldua, but only because someone on TikTok did it first. I support defunding the police because in 2020, when the social and professional consequences for appearing not to accept social justice norms were enormous, that was the safest place for me to hide. I maintain a vague attachment to police and prison abolition because that still appears to be the safest place for me to hide. I vote Democrat but/and call myself a socialist because that is the safest place for me to hide. I’m not a bad person; I want freedom and equality. I want good things for everyone. But politics scare and confuse me. I just can’t stand to lose face, so I have to present all of my terribly confused ideals with maximum superficial confidence. If you probe any of my specific beliefs with minimal force, they will collapse, as those “beliefs” are simply instruments of social manipulation. I can’t take my kid to the Prospect Park carousel and tell the other parents that I don’t support police abolition. It would damage my brand and I can’t have that. And that contradiction you detected, where I support maximum forgiveness for crime but no forgiveness at all for being offensive? For me, that’s no contradiction at all. Those beliefs are not part of a functioning and internally-consistent political system but a potpourri of deracinated slogans that protect me from headaches I don’t need. I never wanted to be a leftist. I just wanted to take my justifiable but inchoate feelings of dissatisfaction with the way things are and wrap them up into part of the narrative that I tell other people about myself, the narrative that I’m a kind good worthwhile enlightened person. And hey, in college that even got me popularity/a scholarship/pussy! Now I’m an adult and I have things to protect, and well-meaning but fundamentally unserious activists have created an incentive structure that mandates that I pretend to a) understand what “social justice” means and b) have the slightest interest in working to get it. I just want to chip away at my student loan debt and not get my company’s Slack turned against me. I need my job/I need my reputation/I need to not have potential Bumble dates see anything controversial when they Google me. Can you throw me a bone? Neither I nor 99% of the self-identified socialists in this country believe that there is any chance whatsoever that we’ll ever take power, and honestly, you’re harshing our vibe. So can you please fuck off and let us hide behind the BLM signs that have been yellowing in our windows for three years?

B: Honesty at last.

3) This is really interesting, “Income and emotional well-being: A conflict resolved”

Do larger incomes make people happier? Two authors of the present paper have published contradictory answers. Using dichotomous questions about the preceding day, [Kahneman and Deaton, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107, 16489–16493 (2010)] reported a flattening pattern: happiness increased steadily with log(income) up to a threshold and then plateaued. Using experience sampling with a continuous scale, [Killingsworth, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 118, e2016976118 (2021)] reported a linear-log pattern in which average happiness rose consistently with log(income). We engaged in an adversarial collaboration to search for a coherent interpretation of both studies. A reanalysis of Killingsworth’s experienced sampling data confirmed the flattening pattern only for the least happy people. Happiness increases steadily with log(income) among happier people, and even accelerates in the happiest group. Complementary nonlinearities contribute to the overall linear-log relationship. We then explain why Kahneman and Deaton overstated the flattening pattern and why Killingsworth failed to find it. We suggest that Kahneman and Deaton might have reached the correct conclusion if they had described their results in terms of unhappiness rather than happiness; their measures could not discriminate among degrees of happiness because of a ceiling effect. The authors of both studies failed to anticipate that increased income is associated with systematic changes in the shape of the happiness distribution. The mislabeling of the dependent variable and the incorrect assumption of homogeneity were consequences of practices that are standard in social science but should be questioned more often. We flag the benefits of adversarial collaboration.

4) Like the above, found this in Scott Alexander’s monthly links and it’s so good, “Some anomalies/questions which are not necessarily important, but do puzzle me or where I find existing explanations to be unsatisfying.”

5) Always here for microbiome research:

For the new global analysis of microbiomes, Segata, Valles-Colomer, and their colleagues honed their tools enough to recognize previously unknown species and different strains of the same species. Using these tools, they examined more than 9,700 samples of stool and saliva from 20 countries on five continents, representing communities with very diverse lifestyles and covering the full range of the human lifespan and many different living arrangements. They traced more than 800,000 strains of microbes between families, roommates, neighbors, and villages and calculated what percentage of shared species were the same strain.

As they expected, they found that the most sharing of strains happened between mothers and infants in the first year of life—about 50 percent of the shared species found in the infants’ guts were strains that spread from the mother. The mother’s influence diminished with time—slipping from 27 percent at age 3 to 14 percent by age 30—but didn’t disappear. Some elderly people in China were shown to still share strains with their surviving centenarian mothers.

For Veena Taneja, an immunologist at the Mayo Clinic who was not involved in the study, one of the more surprising tidbits in the findings was that although infants born vaginally shared more strains with their mothers than infants born by C-section did, this difference vanished by three years of age. “People make a big deal out of it” that babies born via C-section might be more at risk for certain diseases, she said. But the findings suggest that maybe it “should not be a big thing.”

(That view was corroborated by a new study published this month in Cell Host & Microbe. It found that babies born via C-section received less of their mother’s microbiomes than babies born vaginally, but that they didn’t miss out because they received more microbes from breast milk.)

As we get older, a sizable portion of our microbiomes continues to come from the people we live with or near. Unsurprisingly, the study by Segata and colleagues found that spouses and other physically intimate partners shared a lot of microbes: 13 percent of the gut species they shared were of the same strain, as were 38 percent of their shared oral species.

But people who lived together platonically weren’t far behind, at 12 percent for shared gut species and 32 percent for shared oral species. That’s because, as Segata, Valles-Colomer and their team found, the single most important determinant of transmission was time spent together. People living under one roof shared the most strains, but even people living in the same village tended to have more strains in common than people separated by greater distances. The frequency of strain sharing was consistent across different societies, but the team did confirm previous findings that people in non-westernized countries tend to have more diverse microbiomes.

The researchers also found that strains held in common could be lost over time. Twins growing up together had about a 30 percent strain-sharing level that dropped to about 10 percent after 30 years of living apart.

Segata thinks it’s likely that most of the other strains of shared species also come from other people—primarily from close contacts like friends or coworkers, but maybe also from people we encounter far more briefly and casually. (Pets, however, are probably not big contributors: Segata said that animals mostly harbor microbial species that don’t typically colonize or persist in us.)

The findings are the strongest evidence to date that we share parts of our microbiomes with the people we spend the most time with. The fact that the authors were able to see this pattern of transmission across the globe, and not just in a single population, was “striking,” said Ilana Brito, an associate professor in biomedical engineering at Cornell University. These data sets are extremely noisy, with many mutations happening across these different organisms, she added. But the team successfully uncovered “the signal across the noise.”

It’s not clear how microbiome organisms spread between people. Kissing and sex explain some of it, but microbes could also be transmitted through droplets spewed by coughs and sneezes, or they could be picked up from contaminated surfaces. There’s also still a lot to learn about which microbes are more easily spread than others. Answering that question is critical for understanding the implications of the idea that microbiome organisms can spread.

6) Loved reading about the tiny spit of land in Australia that was one of the few places of dry land on earth where one could see the latest total solar eclipse:

For the tens of thousands of astrophotographers, eclipse chasers and cosmically minded tourists contemplating the best site from which to view Thursday’s total solar eclipse, the town of Exmouth, perched on a finger of land jutting from Australia’s west coast, was the simplest solution to a problem of extreme scarcity.

The narrow ribbon across the planet from which the eclipse could be seen crossed land in just four places: the remotest reaches of East Timor and Western Papua, in Indonesia; freckle-like Australian islands, one of which is controlled by the oil company Chevron; and Exmouth, a tiny tourist destination and former U.S. naval base 770 miles from the nearest city…

Every year, Exmouth sees a regular influx of a few thousand vacationers, drawn by its pristine reef and resident whale sharks. But to accommodate a mass of 20,000 or 30,000 visitors required years of planning and millions of dollars in state support that went toward infrastructure updates, hundreds of portable toilets, dozens of additional emergency workers, the clearing of five acres of forestland and a 1.5-million-gallon water tank.

“It sounds pretty daunting, doesn’t it?” said Darlene Allston, a top local official.

In many instances, hotels and other tourism operators first learned of the eclipse from savvy tourists who booked their accommodations four or more years earlier. When someone emailed the town’s visitor center in 2018 seeking a booking, “We thought it was a joke at first,” said Jessica Smith, who worked there.

7) Charges are being dropped against Alec Baldwin.  It’s almost like he never should’ve been charged. 

8) Lots of cool ideas from Ethan Mollick on how to use Bing GPT to help teachers/professors.  I tried it out with American Government concepts, and, yeah, it worked really well. 

9) Relatedly.

10) After Damar Hamlin was revived on the field with CPR and an AED I decided I was not going to put off a CPR class any longer.  I’ve put it off so long because I knew it would be less than an hour of material in 2-3 hours.  And, yes, exactly that, but I’m really glad I took the class.  Meanwhile, an interesting story on whether home AED’s may be worth it.  On a society level, totally fails a cost/benefit because the events are so rare, but, nonetheless, it can absolutely make the key difference in some cases. 

On the evening of Jan. 15, 2021, in a remote Arizona desert town, Christine Benton saved a life.

She and her husband, Brian Benton, were traveling the country in a recreational vehicle and had parked near other R.V.ers at a winery in Willcox. As the couple were eating dinner, someone started shouting from an R.V. behind them. A woman had collapsed and was in cardiac arrest. She had no pulse. Frantic, her husband called 911 while two other people started cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

“She looked like she was gone,” said Ms. Benton, a retired paramedic firefighter.

But Ms. Benton had made a consequential decision before she and her husband started out: She had bought a personal automated external defibrillator, or A.E.D., which can shock a person’s heart back to life if it suddenly stops beating. Her plan was to to keep it with her, just in case. It was expensive, it was highly unlikely she would ever use it and her husband was hesitant. But she was adamant.

“If I were ever in a situation where I could save a life and I didn’t have an A.E.D., I could never live with myself,” she told her husband at the time.

As a firefighter, Ms. Benton had been trained to use a defibrillator. She knew that if someone’s heart stopped, a rescuer should start CPR immediately, pushing hard and rhythmically on the chest, while another rescuer went to get an A.E.D. As soon as that second rescuer returned, the A.E.D. should be used…

But emergency medicine specialists are divided on whether it makes sense for anyone to buy one.

They know that A.E.D.s in public places like airports, where thousands of people pass by every day, can make a difference and they urge people to use them if they see someone who needs help. In the U.S., 85 to 90 percent of people who have sudden cardiac arrests do not survive and many cannot be revived, often because resuscitation attempts start too late.

But the situation is different in the home.

For one, there is the expense — the devices often cost more than $1,000, making them far less affordable to the average person than home medical devices like a blood pressure monitor or a pulse oximeter. While there are efforts to develop cheaper A.E.D.s, they are still underway, according to Monica Sales, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

The price is not the only thing that gives some specialists pause. The odds are so stacked against a dramatic save that it has proved impossible to show that personal A.E.D.’s make a difference.

An estimated 1,000 people a day in the U.S. have sudden cardiac arrests, in which the heart stops beating and the person is technically dead. But that represents a minuscule portion of the American population.

Even people at high risk of a sudden cardiac arrest were not helped by home A.E.D.s, a large study showed. It involved 7,001 people who had previously had heart attacks and who were randomly assigned to receive an A.E.D. or to be in a control group.

Despite the huge number of study participants, very few had cardiac arrests and, even when they did, the arrests often did not occur at home or were not witnessed. In the end, just eight people in each group were resuscitated at home. The authors concluded that even if the study’s size were doubled, there would be too few events to detect an effect of home A.E.D.s.

11) Drum on DeSantis:

Ron DeSantis is blowing it. Initially, his pitch was simple: I’m an anti-woke conservative but I’m not crazy like Donald Trump.

But that’s evolved considerably over the past few months. DeSantis was doing fine as long as he attacked the soft underbelly of liberal sex, gender, and race politics: trans kids in sports; queer theory in AP classes; teaching gay acceptance to third graders; puberty blockers for adolescents; and so forth. These are all things that produce a fair bit of angst among not just MAGA conservatives, but also moderates and independents.

But banning discussion of gender identity completely? Taking over a public university because he didn’t like its curriculum? Banning abortion at six weeks? Going to war with Disney as an act of state-sponsored revenge? Claiming that the Federal Reserve is trying to mount an economic coup using digital currency?

Some of these seem like transparent pandering. Some seem like dangerous extremism. Some are flat-out conspiracy theory lunacy. And some, like the Disney war, are scaring the business wing of the Republican Party, which tolerates the GOP’s culture war agenda only as long as they’re left out of it.

DeSantis is acting like the United States is just an extension of the most conservative parts of Florida. It’s not, and DeSantis has put himself into a pickle. He’s obviously too weak and insecure to deny anything to the MAGA cesspool, and this is ruining his chances of appealing to anyone else. He needed to appear strong enough to control the MAGA beast, not become its kept man.

12) And Chait:

A little over four years ago, Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign appeared to be, if not inevitable, then at least like the most strongly positioned candidacy to win her party’s nomination. The former Harvard professor had won over a large segment of the progressive intelligentsia with her impressive array of domestic-policy proposals. But the enthusiasm of activists and intellectuals seemed to augur a groundswell of support from the base that never arrived.

The Warren precedent sprung to mind when Florida governor Ron DeSantis yesterday ventured to South Carolina, where he railed against the “woke mind-virus,” which he defined, perhaps unhelpfully, as “a form of cultural Marxism.” These are terms and concepts that have ricocheted across the conservative elite, especially Republicans trapped in New York, Washington, Silicon Valley, and other citadels of liberal elitism, where teachers and human-resource staffers have grown enamored of Robin DiAngelo–speak. But is this worldview, and the jargon DeSantis uses to express it, actually familiar to the voters? Are Republicans in South Carolina truly in a state of despair over “cultural Marxism”?

DeSantis’s struggles have consumed the national media and inspired sundry explanations. Perhaps his misanthropy is the problem. (“He doesn’t like talking to people, and it’s showing,” one supporter complained to the Washington Post.) Maybe the issue is that Donald Trump was indicted. Maybe it’s his refusal to engage the mainstream media. Or maybe his struggles are a passing phase, willed into existence by a campaign press corps that quadrennially seizes on any wisp of momentum, positive or negative, and blows it up into a self-perpetuating narrative, before getting bored and overcorrecting the other way. (DeSantis’s new image as an inept loser is difficult to square with his 19-point victory in Florida last year.) But the deepest problem may be that he has simply brain-poisoned himself into an abstract worldview that his constituents don’t recognize.

13) I’m a little obsessed with weather apps (I have four on my phone and mostly swear by Accuweather).  I love that Charlie Warzel actually wrote about them! 

Technologically speaking, we live in a time of plenty. Today, I can ask a chatbot to render The Canterbury Tales as if written by Taylor Swift or to help me write a factually inaccurate autobiography. With three swipes, I can summon almost everyone listed in my phone and see their confused faces via an impromptu video chat. My life is a gluttonous smorgasbord of information, and I am on the all-you-can-eat plan. But there is one specific corner where technological advances haven’t kept up: weather apps.

Weather forecasts are always a game of prediction and probabilities, but these apps seem to fail more often than they should. At best, they perform about as well as meteorologists, but some of the most popular ones fare much worse. The cult favorite Dark Sky, for example, which shut down earlier this year and was rolled into the Apple Weather app, accurately predicted the high temperature in my zip code only 39 percent of the time, according to ForecastAdvisor, which evaluates online weather providers. The Weather Channel’s app, by comparison, comes in at 83 percent. The Apple app, although not rated by ForecastAdvisor, has a reputation for off-the-mark forecasts and has been consistently criticized for presenting faulty radar screens, mixing up precipitation totals, or, as it did last week, breaking altogether. Dozens of times, the Apple Weather app has lulled me into a false sense of security, leaving me wet and betrayed after a run, bike ride, or round of golf…

Weather apps are not all the same. There are tens of thousands of them, from the simply designed Apple Weather to the expensive, complex, data-rich Windy.App. But all of these forecasts are working off of similar data, which are pulled from places such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. Traditional meteorologists interpret these models based on their training as well as their gut instinct and past regional weather patterns, and different weather apps and services tend to use their own secret sauce of algorithms to divine their predictions. On an average day, you’re probably going to see a similar forecast from app to app and on television. But when it comes to how people feel about weather apps, these edge cases—which usually take place during severe weather events—are what stick in a person’s mind. “Eighty percent of the year, a weather app is going to work fine,” Matt Lanza, a forecaster who runs Houston’s Space City Weather, told me. “But it’s that 20 percent where people get burned that’s a problem.” 

Lanza explained the human touch of a meteorologist using the example of a so-called high-resolution forecasting model that can predict only 18 hours out. It is generally quite good, he told me, at predicting rain and thunderstorms—“but every so often it runs too hot and over-indexes the chances of a bad storm.” This model, if left to its own devices, will project showers and thunderstorms blanketing the region for hours when, in reality, the storm might only cause 30 minutes of rain in an isolated area of the mapped region. “The problem is when you take the model data and push it directly into the app with no human interpretation,” he said. “Because you’re not going to get nuance from these apps at all. And that can mean a difference between a chance of rain all day and it’s going to rain all day.”

But even this explanation has caveats; all weather apps are different, and their forecasts have varying levels of sophistication. Some pipe model data right in, whereas others are curated using artificial intelligence. Peter Neilley, the Weather Channel’s director of weather forecasting sciences and technologies, said in an email that the company’s app incorporates “billions of weather data points,” adding that “our expert team of meteorologists does oversee and correct the process as needed.”

Weather apps might be less reliable for another reason too. When it comes to predicting severe weather such as snow, small changes in atmospheric moisture—the type of change an experienced forecaster might notice—can cause huge variances in precipitation outcomes. An app with no human curation might choose to average the model’s range of outcomes, producing a forecast that doesn’t reflect the dynamic situation on the ground. Or consider cities with microclimates: “Today, in Chicago, the lakefront will sit in the lower 40s, and the suburbs will be 50-plus degrees,” Greg Dutra, a meteorologist at ABC 7 Chicago, told me. “Often, the difference is even more stark—20-degree swings over just miles.” These sometimes subtle temperature disparities can mean very different forecasts for people living in the same region—something that one-size-fits-all weather apps don’t always pick up.

14) And it also pointed me to this site, which I love, that compares the accuracy of various weather apps for your location (and my two favorite Accuweather and Weather Underground are at the top for Cary). 

15) Loved this Thomas Pueyo thread on maps (if you are on twitter you should totally follow him!)

16) Lots of great advice from Jeremy Faust on seasonal allergies.  I had no idea you could really pound the Zyrtec on those bad allergy days (but definitely not the eye drops). 

17) Drum on the Bud Light ridiculousness:

Every year, Bud Light spends more than $100 million on marketing. Of that, maybe a few million goes to social media. Of that, a small fraction goes to deals with social media influencers. And of that, a few thousand dollars recently went to Dylan Mulvaney, a trans woman who racked up something like 10 million followers on TikTok by putting up daily videos of her transition during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, after a meeting with Joe Biden, Mulvaney became a right-wing target. So she was already on their radar two weeks ago when she posted a cutesy Instagram video for Bud Light during March Madness. This led to a week of outrage from Fox News and calls for a conservative boycott of Bud Light. National Review editor Rich Lowry says there’s a lesson to be learned:

It would be a good outcome here if it becomes obvious to everyone that Bud Light made a mistake, and if big companies resolve not to do the same in the future.

Just so I have this straight: Lowry’s view is that no American corporation should ever hire a transgender person as part of a promotional campaign. Or am I missing something? Are there any other demographic groups that corporate America should also steer clear of?

18) EJ Dionne, “Gun absolutists don’t trust democracy because they know they’re losing”

Gunned-down children don’t seem to change the political equation on guns. Neither do dead teachers. Are parents petrified to send their sons and daughters to school? Tough. I expect the next new slogan on right-wing T-shirts will be: “Arm the Kids!


Speaking to the National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis on Friday, former president Donald Trump didn’t go quite that far. But he did suggest that we “arm some of these teachers.” Former vice president Mike Pence similarly pledged to place “armed resource officers in every public and private school in America.” There’s big government for you.


That the Republican Party is now wholly owned by the gun lobby was witnessed not only by the eagerness of Pence, Trump and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson to pander in person at the gathering self-described as “14 acres of guns & gear.” Other would-be 2024 GOP nominees — among them, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) — felt obligated to bow before the gun worshipers by video.

The nonsense floated in Indianapolis — based on the idea that our national addiction to high-powered weaponry has nothing to do with America’s unique mass shooting problem — speaks to a deep ailment in our democracy. It has both partisan and (perverse) philosophical roots.

The GOP’s conversion to gun absolutism is the heart of the problem. But politics doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It often follows from cultural and moral innovations.

For roughly four decades, American conservatism has identified firearms as a marker of a manly rejection of urban cosmopolitanism and gun ownership as a right more important than any other. As DeSantis said in his video, the right to bear arms is “the foundation on which all our other rights rest” and essential to Americans’ “ability to rule themselves.”

19) Pretty persuaded by this, “Harper: Why the NBA needs to ban the charge (because it’s stupid and needs to go away)”

The charge is stupid and needs to go away. Now put your pitchforks away and let me explain.

The charge isn’t really a basketball play. I know we’ve tricked ourselves through lore and grainy black-and-white clips that this is a true sacrifice when trying to play defense. It’s really not, especially not anymore. Not with today’s athleticism. The charge is a bailout call for the defense. It’s a game of Three-Card Monte where you’re encouraging collisions as if this were some kind of goal-line stand in football. The alternative would make for a better basketball product, but the league seems so set in its ways on whether or not to change the rule (or even consider it) that it’s willing to create bad situations time and time again.

Two of the biggest stars in the NBA got hurt on Sunday because of players attempting to take charges. Ja Morant fell hard when Anthony Davis tried to take a charge in Game 1 of Grizzlies-Lakers. He hurt his wrist and his status in this series is “in jeopardy,” according to the Grizzlies’ point guard…

In both instances, you have players looking to slide into position at the last second, hoping to con the referee into thinking they were in legal guarding position the entire time to gain the call. By the time Morant is taking off, Davis is still sliding into position. It’s insane to me that this would be rewarded, but I can also recognize it’s a bang-bang play that could go either way on the call. In the case of Giannis, he’s off the ground completely when Love slides into position, and his fall to the ground was contorted enough to have him land right on his back.

20) This interactive WP feature on recycling is pretty cool. Gift link. 

21) What a great idea, “California Wants to Cover Its Canals With Solar Panels”

A new state-funded project in the San Joaquin Valley hopes to find a new way to build drought resilience. The idea is simple: Cover the state’s canals and aqueducts with solar panels to both limit evaporation and generate renewable energy.

“If you drive up and down the state, you see a lot of open canals. And after year after year of drought it seemed an obvious question: How much are we losing to evaporation?” said Jordan Harris, co-founder and chief executive of Solar AquaGrid, a company based in the Bay Area that’s designing and overseeing the initiative. “It’s just common sense in our eyes.”

The California Department of Water Resources is providing $20 million to test the concept in Stanislaus County and to help determine where else along the state’s 4,000 miles of canals — one of the largest water conveyance systems in the world — it would make the most sense to install solar panels. The project is a collaboration between the state, Solar AquaGrid, the Turlock Irrigation District and researchers with the University of California, Merced, who will track and analyze the findings.

“This hasn’t been tried in the U.S. before,” said Roger Bales, an engineering professor at U.C. Merced who specializes in water and climate research. “We want these to eventually be scaled across the western U.S., where we have a lot of irrigated agriculture and open canals.”

California’s efforts got a jump start from a 2021 study published by Bales and his colleagues, who determined that covering the state’s canals with solar panels could reduce evaporation by as much as 90 percent and save 63 billion gallons of water per year — enough to meet the residential water needs of more than two million people.

22) Hell of an essay, “My Transplanted Heart and I Will Die Soon”

My 35 years living with two different donor hearts (I was 25 at the time of the first transplant) — finishing law school, getting married, becoming a mother and writing two books — has felt like a quest to outlast a limited life expectancy. With compulsive compliance, I adhered to the strictest interpretation of transplant protocols. I honored my gifts of life with self-discipline: not one pat of butter; not one sip of alcohol; running mile after mile hoping to stave off vasculopathy, an insidious artery disease that often besets transplanted hearts within about 10 years…

Organ transplantation is mired in stagnant science and antiquated, imprecise medicine that fails patients and organ donors. And I understand the irony of an incredibly successful and fortunate two-time heart transplant recipient making this case, but my longevity also provides me with a unique vantage point. Standing on the edge of death now, I feel compelled to use my experience in the transplant trenches to illuminate and challenge the status quo.

Over the last almost four decades a toxic triad of immunosuppressive medicines — calcineurin inhibitors, antimetabolites, steroids — has remained essentially the same with limited exceptions. These transplant drugs (which must be taken once or twice daily for life, since rejection is an ongoing risk and the immune system will always regard a donor organ as a foreign invader) cause secondary diseases and dangerous conditions, including diabetes, uncontrollable high blood pressure, kidney damage and failure, serious infections and cancers. The negative impact on recipients is not offset by effectiveness: the current transplant medicine regimen does not work well over time to protect donor organs from immune attack and destruction.

My first donor heart died of transplant medicines’ inadequate protection of the donor heart from rejection; my second will die most likely from their stymied immune effects that give free rein to cancer…

Transplantation is no different from lifelong illnesses that need newer, safer, more effective medicines. Improvements in drug regimens are needed for lupus, Parkinson’s and a host of others. The key difference is that only in transplantation are patients expected to see their disease state as a “miracle.” Only in transplant is there pressure to accept what you’ve been given and not dare express a wish, let alone a demand, for a healthier or longer life.


The side effects of transplant immunosuppression can be sickening day to day, as my small posse of stalwart organ recipient girlfriends knows well; we talk about the vomit bags stashed in our purses, the antacid tablets we tuck into our front pockets for quick-nibble access at a cocktail party or when giving a presentation at work. We’ve encouraged one another to be inventive and keep finding little fixes or at least ameliorations.

Yet over time, each of us tolerate significant challenges and damage, the kind that prompt us to call late at night in tears, reeling from the intractable infections that land us in emergency rooms and hospital beds, the biopsies that pluck pieces of our donor organs leaving us scarred and shaken, the skin cancers that blossom rapidly beside an eyelid or ear. We’ve learned that there can be no clearing every single cancer cell with a suppressed immune system; we will get cut again, and again and again.

But with rattled resolve, we push one another to squeeze laughter out of our common experiences, recounting in mimicking tones all the doctors and all the ways they’ve said to us: “You have taken too much of those medicines for too long. Things are bound to go sideways.”

23) I hope Freddie deBoer isn’t talking to me.  I feel like I’m actually funny.  But, maybe…

I pretty quickly figured out that outside of the weird social architecture of high school, I just wasn’t a particularly funny guy. I’m not exactly known for my great self-knowledge, but this was one of the times in my life when I suddenly and definitively understood myself. On reflection I came to realize that the conditions at high school were never going to be replicated. In particular, being funny in high school classes had these inherent advantages:

  1. There was a captive audience of just the right size, say 12-20.

  2. Within that captive audience were other personalities to bounce off of.

  3. The actual task at hand was usually very dry and boring.

  4. We were teenagers.

  5. Some of us liked school more, some less, but we were all forced to be there.

  6. There was a central authority figure who functioned as a natural and perfect foil, someone to be the butt of jokes.

  7. The fact that we were forced to be there, and that the authority figure’s power over us was to some degree arbitrary, made fighting back with humor feel like a battle for freedom and dignity.

Now, with time I have come to regret just how much of my adolescence I spent fucking with my teachers. For one thing, this was part of my total nosedive in academics that started in middle school, where I went from perfect grades as an elementary school student to constantly failing classes in high school. (Meaning that I performed best when it mattered least and performed worst when it mattered most.) But the bigger issue is that eventually I came to realize that my teachers were, with some exceptions, good people who were doing their best and had an essential task to perform, a task I made a little harder with my constant interruptions and defiance. In fairness, both my bad grades and my snottiness were symptoms of the fact that I was a profoundly wounded person at that point of my life. Still, I only ever gave a handful of teachers an easy time in four years of high school, and those I’m sure were because I perceived some sort of integrity in them that was probably based on entirely unfair and fickle criteria. The trouble was that the sense that the teacher was the locus of unjust authority was somewhat overpowering – it lent a sense of moral struggle to the behavior that was also getting me approval and popularity. I made villains out of people who were just trying to do their jobs, in a way that was convenient for me but felt like noble resistance.

I know this probably all sounds obscure, but I think it connects to broader issues within the world of humor. For example, you’ll find that in comedies the villain is very rarely complex or sympathetic. Comedy is great for exploring nuance but also thrives on having a deserving target. My teachers played that role in my own personal excuse architecture.

All of this windup is for a plainly self-aggrandizing purpose: I find that many people have failed to have the same moment of self-realization I had around college age. I think one of the perpetually aggravating conditions of American culture in 2023 is the feeling that everyone is trying to be a comic all the time. Through cultural and technological evolution we’ve created major social incentives for everyone to act like a comedian as well as digital platforms on which to perform. The trouble, to return to a theme, is that we haven’t and can’t democratize comedic talent. I wrote a piece about a year ago called “Perhaps the Barriers to Entry for Creative Work Have Become Too Low.” Some people got pretty salty about that piece and its title. But I think my main point was sympathetic: the tools to make and share movies or music or writing or video games have become so accessible that people aren’t sufficiently developing their craft before they find an audience. And, yes, the meaner point is that some people just aren’t very good at what they do, but they persist for years anyway because doing so is so low-cost. I think that’s sort of where we are with humor, only at a much bigger scale; many people seem to believe that adult conversation mostly involves people throwing wisecracks at each other, over and over again. As Willy Staley says in this piece on the decline of Twitter, “Who doesn’t want to be the person who can make everyone laugh at a dinner party?”

24) Paul Waldman, “Our new terror: The ‘law-abiding’ gun owner who is ready to kill”

I’m afraid of mass shootings. I’m afraid of getting caught in the crossfire of some stupid beef. I’m afraid of gun-wielding, right-wing extremists. But increasingly, I’m also afraid of the people who believe themselves to be “good guys” with guns, gripped with terror of the world around them and ready to kill.

That so many gun owners are consumed with fear is not an accident. It is a central part of the ideology propagated by conservative media outlets and gun advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association.


The message is hammered home again and again: The world is full of homicidal maniacs coming to kill you and your family. In the words of NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, “every day of every year, innocent, good, defenseless people are beaten, bloodied, robbed, raped and murdered.” Criminals, gangs, home invaders, terrorists, antifa — they’re all coming for you. So if your doorbell rings, you’d better have a gun in your hand when you answer.

The recent NRA convention in Indianapolis was touted by the group as “14 Acres of Guns & Gear!” But it might as well have been “14 Acres of Guns & Fear!” Former president Donald Trump told the crowd that liberals “want to take away your guns while throwing open the jailhouse doors and releasing bloodthirsty criminals into your communities.” One speaker after another echoed that idea.

This has become the core of the gun industry’s marketing efforts in recent years: to convince potential buyers that sooner or later (probably sooner), they will be the victims of violent crime. The only question is whether they’ll be able to kill their attackers before they’re killed first.

When the marketing isn’t talking about home invasions and street assaults, it focuses on what former gun industry insider Ryan Busse calls “fear-based tactical culture,” in which gun owners are encouraged to imagine themselves as paramilitary operatives facing down urban rioters. Gun owners are now significantly more likely to cite protection from crime as the reason they own guns than they were 20 years ago.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Drum often writes of the “hack gap” and it’s on full display this week, “Who takes the law more seriously? A natural experiment can tell us.”

We have recently run an excellent natural experiment about the rule of law:

On Tuesday, Donald Trump was indicted on 34 counts of business fraud. Response was partisan, of course. Republicans unanimously blasted the legal basis for the case as both trivial and wrongheaded. Democrats . . . were split. Some defended the legal reasoning but others agreed the case was iffy.

On Friday, a federal judge in Texas ruled that the FDA had wrongly approved the abortion pill mifepristone two decades ago and ordered it taken off the market. Again, response was partisan. Democrats unanimously blasted the judge’s legal reasoning as specious and biased. Republicans . . . unanimously supported the judge.

By any sensible standard, the mifepristone ruling was farcical. The judge plainly struggled to invent a plausible argument that would allow him to make abortion pills illegal, and in the end he failed. So he just went with what he had.

And so far, Republicans are 100% behind him. He accomplished the right goal, and nothing else matters.

2) This is just wild.  Things really need to change on so many campuses, “A Black DEI Director Canceled by DEI”

This month, I was fired from my position as faculty director for the Office of Equity, Social Justice, and Multicultural Education at De Anza Community College in Cupertino, Calif.—a position I had held for two years. This wasn’t an unexpected development. From the beginning, my colleagues and supervisors had made clear their opposition to the approach I brought to the job. Although I was able to advance some positive initiatives, I did so in the face of constant obstruction.

What made me persona non grata? On paper, I was a good fit for the job. I am a black woman with decades of experience teaching in public schools and leading workshops on diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism. At the Los Angeles Unified School District, I established a network to help minority teachers attain National Board Certification. I designed and facilitated numerous teacher trainings and developed a civic-education program that garnered accolades from the LAUSD Board of Education.

My crime at De Anza was running afoul of the tenets of critical social justice, a worldview that understands knowledge as relative and tied to unequal identity-based power dynamics that must be exposed and dismantled. This, I came to recognize, was the unofficial but strictly enforced ideological orthodoxy of De Anza—as it is at many other educational institutions. When I interviewed for the job in August 2021, there was no indication that I would be required to adhere to this particular vision of social justice. On the contrary, I was informed during the interview process that the office I would be working in had been alienating some faculty with a “too-woke” approach that involved “calling people out.” (After I was hired, this sentiment was echoed by many faculty, staff, and administrators I spoke to.) I told the hiring committee that I valued open dialogue and viewpoint diversity. Given their decision to hire me, I imagined I would find broad support for the vision I had promised to bring to my new role. I was wrong…

From the beginning, efforts to obstruct my work were framed in terms that might seem bizarre to those outside certain academic spaces. For instance, simply attempting to set an agenda for meetings caused my colleagues to  accuse me of “whitespeaking,” “whitesplaining,” and reinforcing “white supremacy”—accusations I had never faced before. I was initially baffled, but as I attended workshops led by my officemates and promoted by my supervising dean, I repeatedly encountered a presentation slide titled “Characteristics of White-Supremacy Culture” that denounced qualities like “sense of urgency” and “worship of the written word.” Written meeting agendas apparently checked both boxes.

3) Fantastic deBoer post.  It’s hard to take just an excerpt that captures the spirit.  Trust me and read all of it and you won’t regret it.

I thought of that experience when I read this piece on adoption by Larissa MacFarquhar in the New Yorker. It is, I think, a pitch-perfect example of the contemporary tendency to simply wish away any sort of necessity other than moral or political necessity. The essay is a relentless chronicle of all of the ills of adoption, why adoption is alienating and traumatic for the adopted child, how adoption scars adoptees for life, divides them from their cultures, leaves the without an identity…. Yet what MacFarquhar says in parentheses and half-sentences is the most important point of all – that adoption is inherently a response to the unavoidable tragedies of human life, a necessarily imperfect solution to very real and persistent problems. Because MacFarquhar is dedicated to framing her story as the kind of simplistic victim narrative that has so much presence in contemporary magazine writing, reflecting on the fact that adoption is inevitable and necessary would get in the way. To the degree that adoptive parents are represented in the piece at all they’re implied to be clueless at best, indifferent and ignorant colonizers who snatch up children who aren’t theirs without caring about the consequences. Almost entirely undiscussed is the fact that the world houses both children who need homes and loving and nurturing adults with homes to share. That’s why adoption exists. That’s always been why adoption exists. Kids need parents and parents need kids. No facile trauma narrative can change that basic arithmetic.

This is very sad but true: some parents are shitty, abusive people who shouldn’t raise kids, and some birth parents just don’t want their children. That’s reality.

MacFarquhar of course trots out the hoary old nostrum that interracial adoption is wicked, not just complicated but actively malign. What the reader must ask for themselves (and which the average reader won’t consider at all) is the question, why has interracial adoption been common in the past? And the answer to that question is very simple: there have been more Black children in need of adoption than prospective Black adoptive parents. I mean, obviously. Of course we can talk about the sociological and economic conditions that have traditionally left Black parents more likely to give children up for adoption than to adopt, and we can lament them. I lament them. But Black kids need homes, and there’s historically been too few Black families for them. So too with adoption from Asian countries, which as the piece says have fallen off a cliff in the past two decades: there were more poor Asian kids who needed homes than there were homes to go to in their countries of origin. Again, you can discuss the global conditions that led to so many Chinese and Korean and other kids who needed adopting in the late 20th century all you want. Go right ahead. It doesn’t change the fact that in material terms untold thousands of Asian children had their lives dramatically improved through the adoption process. Including, yes, by being adopted into white families.

There’s a profound, obviously-motivated incuriosity in MacFarquhar’s piece about what the alternatives are for most children who end up adopted. The general options are childhoods spent in orphanages, in foster care, or in some cases back with birth parents who have various problems like drug addiction or a tendency to violence. There are of course dedicated and compassionate people working in orphanages and foster care. But is MacFarquhar really under the impression that those options are systematically superior to adoption? The requirements to adopt have only gotten more strict over time. Adoptive parents as a class are richer and more stable than the average American family, again owing to ever-more-exacting standards. The dream is for all kids to end up back with their birth parents, who are without exception stable, financially secure, and kind. But that’s only a dream. Some birth parents are too violent, some are too addicted, some are too mentally ill, and some are too dead. Meanwhile the essay is casually insulting to adoptive parents everywhere, barely deigning to consider their point of view at all. Some people are infertile, thanks to genetics or illness or happenstance. Should they really be barred forever from raising children? When so many of them feel so deeply and passionately that they can raise a human life in safety and comfort? Yeah, it’d be best if they could just have their own babies. And it would be nice if every birth parent was capable of raising kids the way they deserve to be raised. It would also be nice if no dogs ever died. But they do.

4) Good NYT piece on the latest in AI images.  I was regularly fooled by Midjourney.  It’s just so damn good now. “Can We No Longer Believe Anything We See?”

5) Chait, “Clarence Thomas and the Ethical Disaster of the Supreme Court Undisclosed gifts from billionaires won’t even embarrass the right.”

One of the oddest features of the American constitutional order is that it cedes the greatest level of power to the branch of government with the weakest ethical constraints. The judicial branch can, by majority vote, override any law passed by the other two branches, even those requiring supermajority support. Yet the justices of the Supreme Court, whose authority is total, do not even need to follow the ethical rules imposed on lower-ranking judges. The assumption, if there is any, is that, having ascended to the highest point in the legal-political hierarchy, the forces of corruption and influence that tug at everybody else within the system cease to operate.

The most glaring example of the Supreme Court’s ethical vacuum is Clarence Thomas. The right-wing justice has operated, in conjunction with his wife, in the center of a network of conservative activists whose project is indistinguishable from his legal work. The most recent of a string of revelations about Thomas’s disregard for ethical norms comes from ProPublica, which reports that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of luxury trips from businessman, right-wing activist, and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow.

Thomas did not disclose any of these gifts, a failure that “appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress, and federal officials to disclose most gifts,” two ethics-law experts tell ProPublica. But the important thing to understand is that there is no enforcement mechanism at all for these ethical norms. They are essentially a suggestion. Thomas did not bother responding to ProPublica’s questions, and there is no reason to believe he will face any consequences or change his behavior in any way…

One singularly unethical justice might be a containable problem. But Clarence Thomas is not seen by conservatives as an embarrassment they’re stuck with. To the contrary, they celebrate him as their moral beacon. At a tribute at the Heritage Foundation, Mitch McConnell called Thomas “a legal titan” and “the brightest possible north star.” Ron DeSantis described Thomas as the “greatest living justice.”..

The Republican Party believes that Thomas’s seamless integration of conservative-movement activism with the Supreme Court’s singularly powerful and unaccountable role in public life represents the finest and purest workings of the republican form of government. As we peer into a future of unbroken conservative control of the courts for perhaps decades to come, we should take seriously their professions of admiration for Thomas and his open contempt for the idea any ethical obligations might constrain his power.

6) No, this won’t become a law, but it’s just embarrassingly dumb, “NC senators propose eliminating participation trophies for youth sports: The bill, filed Thursday, would require that trophies in leagues operated under the authority of a local government be “based on identified performance achievements.””  The world changes.  Trophies don’t mean what they used to and now mostly mean you participated in something, not that you won.  Deal.

7) You know this is up my alley:

Diet modulates the gut microbiome, which in turn can impact the immune system. Here, we determined how two microbiota-targeted dietary interventions, plant-based fiber and fermented foods, influence the human microbiome and immune system in healthy adults. Using a 17-week randomized, prospective study (n = 18/arm) combined with -omics measurements of microbiome and host, including extensive immune profiling, we found diet-specific effects. The high-fiber diet increased microbiome-encoded glycan-degrading carbohydrate active enzymes (CAZymes) despite stable microbial community diversity. Although cytokine response score (primary outcome) was unchanged, three distinct immunological trajectories in high-fiber consumers corresponded to baseline microbiota diversity. Alternatively, the high-fermented-food diet steadily increased microbiota diversity and decreased inflammatory markers. The data highlight how coupling dietary interventions to deep and longitudinal immune and microbiome profiling can provide individualized and population-wide insight. Fermented foods may be valuable in countering the decreased microbiome diversity and increased inflammation pervasive in industrialized society.

8) I’ve really been meaning to do a whole post on the evil AR-15, based on the Washington Post’s great series, but I haven’t had the chance.  This is a tremendous article with great visuals you absolutely must check out.  Gift link. “The Blast Effect:
This is how bullets from an AR-15 blow the body apart”

9) Love, love, love this post from Brian Klass and I know a bunch of you will, too, “The Greatest Fluke of All-Time
All complex life—including humanity—owes its existence to a single accidental merger that happened just once in the history of our planet.”

That growing scientific consensus leads, unavoidably, to a puzzle. If life can emerge repeatedly, and survive unimaginably harsh conditions, then why can’t we see it elsewhere beyond Earth? Why haven’t we been visited by aliens, and why don’t our telescopes ever seem to detect extraterrestrial forests?

Nick Lane has helped establish an answer to that question—with plenty of evidence to back it up. The emergence of life, it seems, wasn’t necessarily nature’s improbable bottleneck. Rather, the bottleneck came from the power plants within our cells. That microbial power plant makes complex life possible.

Here’s the magical, awe-inducing bit: complex cells that give rise to complex life, powered by a microbial power plant, emerged precisely once. We’re direct descendants of that singular, unique fluke.

Without it, we’d all be stuck as bacteria—and your ability to read this sentence, or my ability to write it, would be rather undermined. (If you’re ever feeling bored because there’s nothing on TV, remember that you only narrowly escaped from the dull existence of life as a bacterium).

Perhaps life has arisen repeatedly on other planets, popping up over and over across the vast endlessness of space. But odds are that most of it is stuck in simple mode, never evolving into the complexity of, as Darwin put it, “endless forms most beautiful.” That would provide a compelling answer to the puzzle; life abounds beyond Earth, but it’s mostly stuck at low levels of complexity, so it’s invisible to us.

If, as the name of this newsletter suggests, living life is like wandering through a garden of constantly forking paths, well, this was arguably the biggest fork in the history of life on Earth.

How did it happen?

III: Mergers and Acquisitions


About two billion years ago, two microbes bumped into each other, but one of them ended up shacking up inside the other. They produced an endosymbiont, which is the fancy biology term for an organism that lives within the body or cells of another organism. (If you want the technical detail, the working theory suggests that this microbial merger happened between a bacterium and a member of the Archaea lineage, a single-celled prokaryote).

What likely happened was strange, but miraculous. The bacterium set up shop inside the other microbe. The bacterium then became the mitochondria within the other cell. The powerhouse of complex life was born.

The theory suggests that this merger gave rise to the eukaryotes, a club that you’re a member of, even if you’ve never paid your dues. Eukaryotes are organisms with cells that contain a nucleus and other membrane-bound organelles. All animals, plants, fungi, etc., are eukaryotes. That decisive trait, about how our cells are organized, connects you to me, but it also connects us to everything from manatees to mushrooms…

Why am I, a political scientist by training, writing about the evolution of mitochondria? There are two answers — one more banal, the other grander. The banal reason is that I find it fascinating. Every birth, every death, every war and invention, the entirety of the human saga, may be traced back to a microscopic evolutionary accident that has happened just once in billions of years. How humbling a thought!

But the more intellectual reason is that it highlights the uncertainty and messiness of life—not just of life in general, but of our lives. Everything we read tells us why something happened. The stock market plunged today because of an earnings report, or Trump became president because of a backlash against globalization. We crave simple explanations that fulfill two crucial criteria:

  1. One identifiable cause produced one identifiable effect;

  2. We know it to be true, with certainty, or can convince ourselves that we do.

The real world isn’t like that. Social science is an inherently flawed project because it too often requires meeting those two criteria even when it’s impossible to do so. Take the unimaginable complexity of life and cram it into a neat and tidy equation if you’re an economist, or a neat and tidy narrative if you’re a historian. We love the word because.

The origin of complex life on Earth, likely derived from the greatest fluke of all-time, reminds us of a profound but often forgotten truth: sometimes there is no because. Things just happen, often with extraordinary consequences. And occasionally, in those moments, all you can really do is marvel at it with a sense of awe, as I do when I contemplate that hidden hero that made our lives possible: the accidental mitochondria.

10) And I’ll wrap up with some good stuff from twitter:


11) Happy Easter!


Quick hits (part II)

1) This was really good on the myth of the Alpha Wolf:

Different wolf populations have packs of different sizes, but the basic structure is the same: a mom, a dad, and their offspring. Sometimes the one-year-olds set out on their own, hoping to find a mate and start their own pack; sometimes they stick around and, as yearlings, help raise the next set of pups. As Kira Cassidy, an associate research scientist with a National Park Service research program in Yellowstone, explained, “The wolves generally in those dominant positions are not there because they fought for it. It’s not some battle to get to the top position. They’re just the oldest, or the parents. Or, in the case of same-sex siblings, it’s a matter of personality.” Cassidy specializes in wolves’ sociality, both within and between packs. Wolves do fight one another—in Yellowstone, where humans can’t hunt them, fights are the primary cause of mortality—but most fights are between packs, for territory. “In Yellowstone, maybe because there’s a lot to eat and it’s a protected area, our packs are larger, more complex family units,” she said. Where conditions are harsh, a wolf pack might number four—two parents, two pups—because so few pups survive. In Yellowstone, a pack often includes aunts, uncles, and sometimes even more than one breeding pair.

Cassidy said that one finding that surprised her came when she looked into battles between packs. She suspected that pack size would be important in determining victors. “We found that even more important than pack size was whether a pack had an old individual, male or female,” she said. At six years old, a Yellowstone wolf is considered an elder—only about one in five lives to that age. “If they have one or two older individuals, they are more likely to win—which was not what we’d expected to find.”

After that, she looked into the literature on other animals, and discovered similar findings. In times of droughts, elephant herds with a matriarch older than thirty-five do better. When there’s a salmon shortage, orcas follow the grandmother. “In the pack fights, we see that the elders don’t panic,” Cassidy said. “It seems to match up with this idea of them having past knowledge that helps the pack. They can ease their pack mates and bring them together. Or maybe the older ones help the pack avoid fights that they know they can’t win—which brings up their winning rate over all.”…

The Schenkel study that gave rise to the terminology began in 1934, looking at wolves living at the Basel Zoological Garden. The conditions, as described in the study, were rough: “Up to ten wolves were kept together in a small area with a floor space of approximately 10 metres by 20 meters.” Not only were the wolves in captivity but they had been brought in from different zoos, and were unrelated to one another. This might be the equivalent of studying the human family by observing the culture of prisoners in a holding cell. Schenkel noted that “this space as a whole was regularly defended against the zookeeper by the whole pack.”

2) An interesting argument that they way schools teach books does not foster a love of reading (I’m very grateful that my 12-year old daughter loves reading– I wish her brothers read more, but they could be worse)

What I remember most about reading in childhood was falling in love with characters and stories; I adored Judy Blume’s Margaret and Beverly Cleary’s Ralph S. Mouse. In New York, where I was in public elementary school in the early ’80s, we did have state assessments that tested reading level and comprehension, but the focus was on reading as many books as possible and engaging emotionally with them as a way to develop the requisite skills. Now the focus on reading analytically seems to be squashing that organic enjoyment. Critical reading is an important skill, especially for a generation bombarded with information, much of it unreliable or deceptive. But this hyperfocus on analysis comes at a steep price: The love of books and storytelling is being lost.

This disregard for story starts as early as elementary school. Take this requirement from the third-grade English-language-arts Common Core standard, used widely across the U.S.: “Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.” There is a fun, easy way to introduce this concept: reading Peggy Parish’s classic, Amelia Bedelia, in which the eponymous maid follows commands such as “Draw the drapes when the sun comes in” by drawing a picture of the curtains. But here’s how one educator experienced in writing Common Core–aligned curricula proposes this be taught: First, teachers introduce the concepts of nonliteral and figurative language. Then, kids read a single paragraph from Amelia Bedelia and answer written questions.

For anyone who knows children, this is the opposite of engaging: The best way to present an abstract idea to kids is by hooking them on a story. “Nonliteral language” becomes a whole lot more interesting and comprehensible, especially to an 8-year-old, when they’ve gotten to laugh at Amelia’s antics first. The process of meeting a character and following them through a series of conflicts is the fun part of reading. Jumping into a paragraph in the middle of a book is about as appealing for most kids as cleaning their room.

But as several educators explained to me, the advent of accountability laws and policies, starting with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and accompanying high-stakes assessments based on standards, be they Common Core or similar state alternatives, has put enormous pressure on instructors to teach to these tests at the expense of best practices. Jennifer LaGarde, who has more than 20 years of experience as a public-school teacher and librarian, described how one such practice—the class read-aloud—invariably resulted in kids asking her for comparable titles. But read-alouds are now imperiled by the need to make sure that kids have mastered all the standards that await them in evaluation, an even more daunting task since the start of the pandemic. “There’s a whole generation of kids who associate reading with assessment now,” LaGarde said.

3) I agree with Drum on this, “How about if we indict Donald Trump for something serious?”

I would really like to see Donald Trump indicted over his efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia. The problem is that it would be a tough case since Trump was savvy enough to avoid saying outright, “Hey, just invent the extra votes I need.” Still, everyone knows that’s exactly what he meant, and it’s a serious crime. Trump deserves to go to prison for that.

Ditto for the classified documents case. The problem is not that Trump took the documents when he left office. That might have been a mistake, after all. The problem is that even when he knew he had classified documents in his possession and he knew that the government wanted them back, he refused to return them. That’s why the FBI had to get a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago. Trump deserves to go to trial for that too.¹

But you go to war with the charges you have, not with the charges you wish you had. And right now, the charges we have are related to payoffs Trump made to a porn star. Here’s my understanding of the case:

  • In 2006 Trump (allegedly) had an affair with Stormy Daniels. This is not illegal.
  • Daniels threatened to tell her story while Trump was running for president in 2016. This is not illegal. (Not for Trump, anyway.)
  • Trump agreed to pay her off. This is not illegal.
  • But Trump wanted to keep it a secret, so he asked Michael Cohen to handle the payoff money. Trump would then reimburse Cohen. This is not illegal.
  • Trump reimbursed Cohen via payments from the Trump Organization. If this were a public company, that would be illegal. But it’s not, so apparently it isn’t.
  • However, in order to maintain the secrecy, the payments to Cohen were labeled “legal expenses.”

And that’s illegal. Moreover, you can argue that the payoff was a campaign expense that Trump didn’t report. That would be illegal too.

So the case against Trump is this: In order to keep his payoff of a blackmailer secret, he had it labeled as a legal expense.

This strikes me as pretty trivial, and I have my doubts that a jury would convict Trump if it goes to trial. We should probably save our legal firepower for something more serious.

And like it or not, public opinion matters too. One of the mistakes that Republicans made in their impeachment jihad against Bill Clinton was misjudging public opinion. To them, Clinton lied under oath, and a lie is a lie. It was an open and shut case.

But the public never really agreed. To them, it mattered what the lie was about. In Clinton’s case, he was lying about having an affair with a White House aide. To most people, this seemed (a) not all that big a deal, (b) completely unrelated to his fitness as president, and (c) something that of course he lied about. Anybody would. Come on.

Democrats may be making the same mistake here. To us, Trump falsified his business records, and a lie is a lie. It’s an open and shut case.

But the public, as usual, will care what the lie was about. They’re likely to think it’s (a) not all that big a deal, (b) completely unrelated to his fitness as president, and (c) something that of course he lied about. He was being blackmailed! Come on.

So tread carefully here.

4) This story is just nuts.  You read the headline and think its exaggerating. But nope. “This Principal Investigated a Sexting Incident. So the Police Charged Him With Possessing Child Porn.”

A Brush, Colorado, man is facing 12 years in prison for possessing child pornography. Even more fraught is that no one, including the government, thinks he had child pornography.

At least not in any traditional sense. Bradley Bass allegedly ran afoul of state law when he was found with explicit images of a local girl. But the 32-year-old high school principal came to have those photos in the course of a school sexting investigation carried out as a part of his job. The girl says she isn’t a victim of Bass’ and both she and her parents have pled with law enforcement to stop the prosecution.

Those requests have fallen on deaf ears. The law criminalizes possessing such photos, even if someone comes to have them while conducting a probe. There is one notable exception, however: “peace officers or court personnel in the performance of their official duties.” In other words, when law enforcement carries out such an investigation, it’s OK. When Bass carried out a similar investigation, he was hit with the potential of more than a decade behind bars, sex offender status, and the loss of his kids and job.

5) I read this headline and thought surely one of these was leaded gasoline. Indeed. “The Brilliant Inventor Who Made Two of History’s Biggest Mistakes

Each of these innovations offered a brilliant solution to an urgent technological problem of the era: making automobiles more efficient, producing a safer refrigerant. But each turned out to have deadly secondary effects on a global scale. Indeed, there may be no other single person in history who did as much damage to human health and the planet, all with the best of intentions as an inventor.

What should we make of the disquieting career of Thomas Midgley Jr.? There are material reasons for revisiting his story now, beyond the one accidental rhyme of history: the centennial of leaded gasoline’s first appearance on the market in 1923. That might seem like the distant past, but the truth is we are still living with the consequences of Midgley’s innovations. This year, the United Nations released an encouraging study reporting that the ozone layer was indeed on track to fully recover from the damage caused by Midgley’s chlorofluorocarbons — but not for another 40 years.

6) Recently came across this idea of “primal world beliefs” on a podcast. I think it is a very, very cool idea:

Your beliefs about a place strongly impact your behavior while in that place. For example, if you see a place as a battleground, you’re jumpy and ready to fight. If you see a place as a playground, you play. You feel good. You make friends.

What happens if you see the whole world as a battleground? Just like beliefs about local contexts, world beliefs could impact us, but constantly. If that’s true, then depression, success, optimismextraversion—honestly, most parts of psychology people care about—could be affected…

But all primals are not equally important. Most collapse for statistical and conceptual reasons into three big ones:

1. Safe World Belief

Those low on Safe world belief see the world as dangerous. These people don’t necessarily feel more scared or threatened in response to dangers, they are just of the honest opinion that there’s a lot more danger out there than the rest of us suspect—from germs to sharks to terrorism to getting insulted. So being alert seems responsible, and relaxing isn’t a great idea. Better safe than sorry.


Those high on Safe world belief see really dangerous threats as few and far between. Thus, they feel that constant vigilance is neurotic, risk is not that risky, and, in general, people should calm down.

Grey Matter Group
Source: Grey Matter Group

Safe world belief is very strongly correlated to things like greater trust, higher agreeableness, and lower depression. Interestingly, men and women on average see the world as equally Safe. In fact, Safe is correlated surprisingly little to actual experiences of danger. This suggests that Safe world belief may be more like a lens used to interpret our life than a mirror reflecting what our life has been.


2. Enticing World Belief

Those low on Enticing world belief see the world as dull. In their view, truly beautiful and fascinating things are rare. Therefore, treasure-hunting, social exploration, risk-taking, and so forth, are only appropriate when it’s a sure bet.

Those high on Enticing world belief are of the opinion that treasure is around every corner, in every person, under every rock, and that beauty permeates everything. Therefore, exploration and appreciation are not naïve. It’s simply the rational way to live.

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Grey Matter Group
Source: Grey Matter Group

Enticing is very strongly correlated to things like curiosity, gratitude, and happiness. Like SafeEnticing is uncorrelated to wealth or privilege; anyone can see the world as Enticing.

3. Alive World Belief

Those low on Alive world belief see the world as a machine with no awareness or intentions. Since the universe never sends messages, it makes no sense to try and listen for any. Just as machine parts are interchangeable, so too are people: the world doesn’t need you for anything special.


Those high on Alive world belief think everything happens for a purpose and listen constantly for those purposes. To them, life is a relationship with an active universe that animates events, communicates, and has a role for each of us to play.

Grey Matter Group
Source: Grey Matter Group

Alive is strongly correlated to things like spirituality and having purpose in life. Though religious people tend to see the world as Alive, plenty of non-religious people do, too.

You can probably guess that I see the world as safe, enticing, and mechanistic.  Fun quiz here

7) Paul Waldman, “How much does charisma matter? DeSantis is putting it to the test.”

Liberals are horrified by Ron DeSantis, both in terms of what he has done so far as governor of Florida and what he might do as president. But many take comfort in this frequently repeated idea: Whatever his appeal to the Republican base, DeSantis is so lacking in charisma that winning the presidency would be exceedingly difficult.

This observation has come from both DeSantis’s critics and admirers. He is “reserved and dry” and has a challenge “forging connections with people.” He’s “pinched and humorless.” He “just doesn’t have the charisma to command a national political stage.” He “has the charisma of a pair of cargo shorts.”

It hasn’t seemed to hurt him so far, though. He was narrowly elected governor in 2018, reelected by a large margin in 2022 and has become the most prominent contender for the 2024 presidential nomination not named Donald Trump.

Ever since German sociologist Max Weber theorized about charisma in the early 20th century, scholars have considered its impact on politics — though many struggle to define it. Some describe it as “personal magnetism.” Others locate it in the bond between the leader and their followers; as historian David A. Bell wrote, “charisma is not just an individual quality but a relationship.” It only exists insofar as others perceive it.

Even if Republican voters are attracted to DeSantis, they don’t seem to be getting swept off their feet. They like what he’s done in Florida; they like his crusades against liberals; and they think he would be a smarter, more disciplined version of Trump. It’s all exceedingly rational.

Yet all those who made it to the White House in recent decades have possessed at least one of two kinds of charisma. On the personal level, many had a charm that enabled them to connect with people individually.That was especially true of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The other form of charisma was a more distant version — the kind you can see through your TV or on a jumbotron. They could hold a rapt crowd in their hands and move them emotionally. That was especially true of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.

8) Yglesias on poverty: “Don’t overthink poverty in the United States”

American anti-poverty programs do a lot to reduce poverty


What shifts my read of Desmond’s work from “somewhat annoyed” to “actually angry” is his claim that the United States has made no progress against poverty in 50 years.

That’s just not true. It is true that there are flaws in the way the official poverty measurement is calculated, and I assume this is why Desmond mentions an additional metric called the Supplemental Poverty Measure. But then he implies, without quite saying so, that SPM poverty hasn’t fallen either, which also isn’t true:

In the past 50 years, scientists have mapped the entire human genome and eradicated smallpox. Here in the United States, infant-mortality rates and deaths from heart disease have fallen by roughly 70 percent, and the average American has gained almost a decade of life. Climate change was recognized as an existential threat. The internet was invented.

On the problem of poverty, though, there has been no real improvement — just a long stasis. As estimated by the federal government’s poverty line, 12.6 percent of the U.S. population was poor in 1970; two decades later, it was 13.5 percent; in 2010, it was 15.1 percent; and in 2019, it was 10.5 percent. To graph the share of Americans living in poverty over the past half-century amounts to drawing a line that resembles gently rolling hills. The line curves slightly up, then slightly down, then back up again over the years, staying steady through Democratic and Republican administrations, rising in recessions and falling in boom years.

What accounts for this lack of progress? It cannot be chalked up to how the poor are counted: Different measures spit out the same embarrassing result. When the government began reporting the Supplemental Poverty Measure in 2011, designed to overcome many of the flaws of the Official Poverty Measure, including not accounting for regional differences in costs of living and government benefits, the United States officially gained three million more poor people. Possible reductions in poverty from counting aid like food stamps and tax benefits were more than offset by recognizing how low-income people were burdened by rising housing and health care costs.

I’m concerned that this passage won’t come in for the vigorous criticism it deserves. Desmond is a big deal in scholarship and the New York Times Magazine is a big deal in journalism, and most people aren’t going to want to call them out for how irresponsible this is. It’s also not the kind of academic/journalistic error that conservative or “heterodox” people like to get mad about — Tucker Carlson isn’t going to do a segment about how irresponsible it is.

But I am.

Over the past 50 years, the United States has spent a considerable amount of money on new programs designed to lift the living standards of low-income people. The reason this hasn’t reduced OPM poverty is that OPM poverty excludes those benefits by definition. The SPM includes them, and the SPM does in fact show poverty falling over time. Desmond elides this by saying that SPM poverty indicates a higher rate than OPM poverty, but that’s neither here nor there. A time series of the SPM shows a Great Society drop, then a Clinton drop, and then an Obama drop. When the welfare state expands, SPM poverty goes down…

An expansive welfare state is expensive

I think the best answer is that just as all kids in America are entitled to K-12 schooling whether or not we think their parents have made great life choices, all kids in America should be entitled to some basic material living standards. There should be a monthly child allowance for all kids, probably one that starts quite large, then tapers when the kid hits kindergarten and again when the kid turns 14 or 15. You should get this allowance whether you’re rich or poor or anything in between; we can make the system progressive through taxes.

A program like that would be relatively simple to get people signed up for because eligibility is easy to determine.

It would avoid any “poverty trap” or “welfare dependency” perverse incentives, and I would hope it would minimize the toxic pitting of people against each other based on their circumstances in life. Kids have needs — policy should account for that. And just as Social Security massively reduces elder poverty without being “an anti-poverty program,” a Social Security benefit for kids would massively reduce poverty among children.

The problem is that while it’s analytically simple and easy to describe, it comes with a hefty price tag. I don’t think it would be costly in economic terms to finance a program like this with broad-based taxes. Indeed, in a lot of ways I think it would be superior to the current practice of bolting together a jumble of different programs for families. But the numbers involved are big and scary, GOP elites think it’s a bad idea, and Democratic Party advocacy groups who like this idea generally have higher priorities.

So policy entrepreneurs are left trying to improve life for low-income people with a mix of means-tested programs that are either in-kind (SNAP) or work-linked (EITC) and really sweating the details to try to maximize the benefits of scarce program dollars. That work is very complicated and technical because these programs all have their own legislative histories and design parameters, and some of them interact with each other.

But to say that the state of American anti-poverty programs is complicated is very different from saying that the persistence of poverty itself is complicated. Poverty persists because straightforward, highly effective solutions are politically untenable in the short term, leaving people in the trenches to deal with a very complex situation. Part of the role of those of us in the article-writing community should be to clarify this, not to layer new levels of complexity onto it.

9) Patricia Schroeder was awesome.  I used to assign a great excerpt from her memoir to my Gender & Politics class, “Patricia Schroeder, Feminist Force in Congress, Dies at 82”

10) Honestly, it seems truly crazy to me that people would honestly think women are more erratic than men. “Guess Which Sex Behaves More Erratically (at Least in Mice): A new study finds male mice more unpredictable than females, challenging century-old assumptions used to exclude females from research because of their hormones.”

For decades, male mice have been the default in scientific experiments that test new drugs or examine the connections of the brain. The reason? Female mice, which experience a four- to five-day cycle of fluctuating ovarian hormones, were thought to be too complicated. Accounting for the hormonal changes was viewed as too cumbersome and too expensive.

But the estrous cycle has little to do with how female mice behave, according to a new study that used machine-learning software to track the second-to-second behavior of animals exploring an open space. Male mice actually exhibited more erratic behavior than females did.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology on Tuesday, challenges century-old stereotypes that kept female animals out of laboratory research — and, until the 1990s, barred women from clinical trials.

The new research is “tipping all of these assumptions about sex differences and the influence of hormones on their head,” said Rebecca Shansky, a behavioral neuroscientist at Northeastern University and a co-author of the new study.

11) “Parental Nonadherence to Health Policy Recommendations for Prevention of COVID-19 Transmission Among Children”


People are not always honest about their medical information1 or adherent to medical recommendations,2 including the public health measures (PHMs) against COVID-19 (eg, not reporting symptoms, breaking quarantine).3 During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents experienced greater increases in stress compared with nonparents due to additional child-related PHMs (eg, school closings, quarantine rules for children).4 We examined the prevalence of misrepresentations of and nonadherence to COVID-19–related PHMs by parents regarding their children (eg, breaking quarantine rules by sending their child to school so that the parent can work), their reasons, and associations of individual characteristics with these behaviors.


This survey study recruited a national, nonprobability sample of US adults through Qualtrics for an online survey about COVID-19 experiences (participation, 1811 of 2260 [80.1%]) from December 8 to 23, 2021. The survey asked whether parents had ever engaged in 7 types of misrepresentation and nonadherence behaviors regarding COVID-19 PHMs for their children (Table 1) and reasons for these behaviors (Table 2). Additional methodological information is published elsewhere.3 The University of Utah Institutional Review Board deemed the study exempt and granted a waiver of informed consent owing to no risk or minimal risk to participants. The study followed the AAPOR reporting guideline.

The final sample consisted of 1733 US adults. The analyses included the 580 parent participants (33.5%) who had children younger than 18 years living with them during the pandemic. Race and ethnicity data were collected because COVID-19 and public health measures disproportionately impacted individuals from underserved populations. Descriptive statistics examined the prevalence of and reasons for misrepresentation and nonadherence, and multiple logistic regression was used to explore potential associated characteristics. Significance was set at 2-sided α = .05 with P values adjusted using Holm-Bonferroni correction. Analyses were performed using R Studio, version 1.4.1106 (R Program for Statistical Computing).


Among the 580 participants, the mean (SD) age was 35.9 (8.8) years; 403 (70.2%) identified as women compared with 171 (29.5%) men and 6 (1.0%) other or missing. In terms of race and ethnicity, 80 participants (13.8%) were Hispanic, 5 (0.9%) non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaskan Native, 14 (2.4%) non-Hispanic Asian, 86 (14.8%) non-Hispanic Black, 389 (67.1%) non-Hispanic White, 5 (0.9%) more than 1 race, and 1 (0.2%) White with no ethnicity specified.

One hundred fifty participants (25.9%) reported misrepresentation and/or nonadherence in at least 1 of 7 behaviors; the most common behaviors were not telling someone who was with their child that they thought or knew their child had COVID-19 (63 of 263 [24.0%]) and allowing their child to break quarantine rules (67 of 318 [21.1%]) (Table 1). The most common reason was wanting to exercise personal freedom as a parent. Additional reasons included wanting their child’s life to feel normal and not being able to miss work or other responsibilities to stay home (Table 2). In an exploratory multiple logistic regression, no characteristics (eg, education, religiosity) were associated with misrepresentation or nonadherence.


In this survey study of US parents, one-quarter engaged in misrepresentation or nonadherence regarding PHMs for their children. The most common reason was to preserve parental autonomy. Additional reasons included wanting to resume a normal life for their child and the inability to miss work or other responsibilities, among other reasons.

These results suggest that some PHMs implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19 may have been compromised due to misrepresentation and nonadherence by parents on behalf of their children, contributing to COVID-19–related morbidity and mortality. In addition, some children appear to have received a vaccine that was not fully tested and approved in their age group.

12) This story is wild! “Last year, a fox broke into a bird enclosure in D.C. and killed 25 flamingos. The zoo refused to let him strike again.”

At the back of Bird House, the fox may have noted the way the 74 flamingos ambled across their nearly 10,000-square-foot enclosure. Something about their movements may have struck him as curious. Great hunters of birds, foxes have cognitive processes that may contain an algorithm alerting them when an animal’s wings aren’t working. In the wild, some flamingos power up to Andean peaks or glide, pelicanlike, for miles along the coast. But not these flamingos. They were permanently grounded when zoo staffers removed their flight feathers three days after they were born, to make sure they wouldn’t escape their enclosure.

Wing clipping is cruel in part because it shrinks a bird’s world: A land animal’s range is a two-dimensional shape on a map, but a flying being can explore a truly voluminous chunk of the Earth’s atmosphere. Grounded birds are also more vulnerable to mass slaughter. If a fox came upon a flamingo flock in the wild, he’d be lucky to get his teeth into one before the rest flew away. But the zoo’s flamingos would never fly away, even under direct attack. They couldn’t. They were trapped like hens in a coop…

Flamingos are large birds; some weigh nearly half of an adult male fox. Their size did not deter him. “Foxes are the ultimate opportunists,” Dan Rauch, a wildlife biologist for D.C., told me. “They’re happy to make meals of field mice, snakes, Canada geese, and everything in between.” Keeping low to the ground, the fox would have moved toward the birds in quick, measured steps. If he saw one of the birds glance in his direction, he would have stilled every muscle. When he got within leaping range, an adrenal thrill would have surged through his limbs. Feeling playful, like a kit romping around in the den again, he would have sprung forward in a lethal pounce.

13) This book review from Scott Alexander is just something else:

Around the wide world, all cultures share a few key features. Anthropologists debate the precise extent, but the basics are always there. Language. Tools. Marriage. Family. Ritual. Music. And penis-stealing witches.

Nobody knows when the penis-stealing witches began their malign activities. Babylonian texts include sa-zi-ga, incantations against witchcraft-induced impotence. Ancient Chinese sources describe suo yang, the penis retracting into the body because of yin/yang imbalances. But the first crystal-clear reference was the Malleus Maleficarum, the 15th-century European witch-hunters’ manual. It included several chapters on how witches cast curses that apparently (though not actually) remove men’s penises…

So as a nature documentary, The Geography of Madness is kind of a bust. Still, Bures rescues it with some great analysis of culture-bound mental illness.

A culture-bound mental illness is one that only affects people who know about it, and especially people who believe in it. Often it doesn’t make sense from a scientific point of view (there’s no such thing as witches, and the penis can’t retract into the body). It sometimes spreads contagiously: someone gets a first case, the rest of the village panics, and now everyone knows about it / believes in it / is thinking about it, and so many other people get it too.

Different cultures have their own set of culture-bound illnesses. Sometimes there are commonalities – many cultures have something something penis something witches – but the details vary, and a victim almost always gets a case that matches the way their own culture understands it.

THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT MAKING IT UP. I cannot stress this enough. There are plenty of examples of people driving metal objects through their penis in order to pull it out of their body or prevent the witches from getting it or something like that. There is no amount of commitment to the bit which will make people drive metal objects through their penis. People have died from these conditions – not the illness itself, which is fake, but from wasting away worrying about it, or taking dangerous sham treatments, or getting into fights with people they think caused it. If you think of it as “their unconscious mind must be doing something like making it up, but their conscious mind believes it 100%”, you will be closer to the truth, though there are various reasons I don’t like that framing.

In Rajasthan, India, people come to the hospital with gilahari (lizard) syndrome. Patients say a lizard-like mass, sometimes visible as a skin swelling, is crawling around the body. They express terror that it will reach their airway and suffocate them.

Japanese people may contract jikoshu-kyofu, a debilitating fear that they have terrible body odor. No amount of reassurances by friends and psychiatrists can convince these people that they smell normal, nor will any number of deodorants or perfumes make them comfortable.

The French suffer from bouffée délirante, where a perfectly healthy person suddenly becomes completely psychotic, with well-formed hallucinations and delusions – then recovers just as suddenly, sometimes over hours or days. This is not how psychosis works anywhere except France and a few former French colonies.

Traditional Chinese medicine monitors the balance between yin and yang. The male orgasm can deplete yang, and sure enough in China (but nowhere else) some men suffer traditional symptoms of yang depletion after they orgasm. “The symptoms can last weeks to months after a single orgasm, [and include] chills, dizziness, [and] backache”.

The phrase “run amok” comes from Malaysia, where it referred to a specific phenomenon: some person who had been unhappy for a long time would suddenly snap, kill a bunch of people, then say they had no memory of doing it. Malaysian culture totally rolls with this and doesn’t hold it against them; the unhappiness is a risk factor for possession by a tiger spirit, which commits the killings. Although Malays have been doing this since at least the 1700s, there are some fascinating parallels with modern US mass shootings that suggest the damn tiger spirits have finally made it to the US common psychological origins.

14) NYT, “Conservatives Aim to Build a Chatbot of Their Own: After criticizing A.I. companies for liberal bias, programmers started envisioning right-wing alternatives, making chatbots a new front in the culture wars.”

15) Terrific from Josh Barro, “Why Won’t the Editors of Nature Follow the Data and Listen to the Science?”

So why does Nature still believe that “science” must speak out?

 Theirnew editorial never explains why. It rehashes arguments about why Trump (and other right-wing leaders like Jair Bolsonaro and Viktor Orban) are bad. But it does not even try to marshal an argument for why actions like running their pro-Biden editorial constitute a useful response to that badness:

The study shows the potential costs of making an endorsement. But inaction has costs, too. Considering the record of Trump’s four years in office, this journal judged that silence was not an option…

At a time when the world needed to unite to deal with these and other global threats, he took an axe to international relationships, pulling the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement and the United Nations science agency, UNESCO. He moved to defund the World Health Organization, and he walked away from a deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) that the United States had carefully negotiated with Europe, China and Russia to prevent Iran’s government from enriching weapons-grade uranium. It is hard not to think of a worst-case scenario for public health, climate change or nuclear security had Trump remained in office today…

Nature doesn’t often make political endorsements, and we carefully weigh up the arguments when considering whether to do so. When individuals seeking office have a track record of causing harm, when they are transparently dismissive of facts and integrity, when they threaten scholarly autonomy, and when they are disdainful of cooperation and consensus, it becomes important to speak up.

For people who prattle on about the importance of listening to the science, the editors of Nature sure haven’t done that here — they have looked at scientific evidence that the thing they did had effects counter to their own stated objectives, and they have cast that evidence aside, responding with a conclusory argument that “silence is not an option.”

Of course, there is the real reason the editors of Nature felt they had to run the Biden endorsement editorial: It made them feel good.

Freddie deBoer had a useful post last week about the word “woke” and what exactly people mean when they throw it around. It’s not my favorite word — I agree with Freddie that it would usually be more clear to talk about “social justice politics” — but I think he’s right that the problem with the vagueness and slipperiness with “woke” isn’t that much greater than problems with other terms like “liberal” or “moderate.” Lots of political terms mean different things to different people while still being a useful shorthand when discussing trends and tendencies in our politics.

In explaining what he thinks “woke” means, I think Freddie is right to focus on the fact that “woke” politics is inherently performative — more about holding the right views than about doing anything to turn those views into policy. He wrote:

“Wokeness” centers “the personal is political” at the heart of all politics and treats political action as inherently a matter of personal moral hygiene — woke isn’t something you do, it’s something you are. Correspondingly all of politics can be decomposed down to the right thoughts and right utterances of enlightened people. Persuasion and compromise are contrary to this vision of moral hygiene and thus are deprecated. Correct thoughts are enforced through a system of mutual surveillance, one which takes advantage of the affordances of internet technology to surveil and then punish. Since politics is not a matter of arriving at the least-bad alternative through an adversarial process but rather a matter of understanding and inhabiting an elevated moral station, there are no crises of conscience or necessary evils.

Nature’s idea that they had an obligation to speak out against Trump in the forum they control — that “silence is not an option” — flows directly from this idea that the purpose of politics is to declare good moral ideas. By this measure, Nature’s editorial endorsing Joe Biden was a success; it demonstrated that Nature’s editors have the right moral commitments and that they hate Donald Trump for the right reasons. That the editorial persuaded readers of the wrong thing — to listen less to the scientists at Nature — is immaterial, because woke politics is not about convincing people and influencing their behavior; it’s about separating the morally upright from the deplorable.

16) Excellent post from Emily Oster on the calculations involved in thinking about when to get a mammogram.

17) Loved this from Derek Thompson on how to think about AI:

Recently I gave myself an assignment: Come up with a framework for explaining generative AI, such as ChatGPT, in a way that illuminates the full potential of the technology and helps me make predictions about its future.

By analogy, imagine that it’s the year 1780 and you get a glimpse of an early English steam engine. You might say: “This is a device for pumping water out of coal mines.” And that would be true. But this accurate description would be far too narrow to see the big picture. The steam engine wasn’t just a water pump. It was a lever for detaching economic growth from population growth. That is the kind of description that would have allowed an 18th-century writer to predict the future.

Or imagine it’s 1879 and you see an incandescent light bulb flutter to life in Thomas Edison’s lab in New Jersey. Is it a replacement for whale oil in lamps? Yes. But that description doesn’t scratch the surface of what the invention represented.  Direct-current and alternating-current electricity enabled on-demand local power for anything—not just light, but also heat, and any number of machines that 19th-century inventors couldn’t even imagine.

Maybe you see what I’m getting at. Narrowly speaking, GPT-4 is a large language model that produces human-inspired content by using transformer technology to predict text. Narrowly speaking, it is an overconfident, and often hallucinatory, auto-complete robot. This is an okay way of describing the technology, if you’re content with a dictionary definition. But it doesn’t get to the larger question: When we’re looking at generative AI, what are we actually looking at? …

Here is another analogy that comes to mind, grandiose as it might initially seem. Scientists don’t know exactly how or when humans first wrangled fire as a technology, roughly 1 million years ago. But we have a good idea of how fire invented modern humanity. As I wrote in my review of James Suzman’s book Work, fire softened meat and vegetables, allowing humans to accelerate their calorie consumption. Meanwhile, by scaring off predators, controlled fire allowed humans to sleep on the ground for longer periods of time. The combination of more calories and more REM over the millennia allowed us to grow big, unusually energy-greedy brains with sharpened capacities for memory and prediction. Narrowly, fire made stuff hotter. But it also quite literally expanded our minds.

Our ancestors knew that open flame was a feral power, which deserved reverence and even fear. The same technology that made civilization possible also flattened cities. The ancient myths about fire were never simple. When Prometheus stole it from the gods, he transformed the life of mortals but was doomed to live in agony. The people building artificial general intelligence today don’t need media mythmaking to inflate their ego; they already clearly believe in the humanity-altering potential of their invention. But it is a complex thing, playing at Prometheus. They have stolen from the realm of knowledge something very powerful and equally strange. I think this technology will expand our minds. And I think it will burn us.


Quick hits (part I)

[Well, damn, could’ve sworn I cued this up for a standard Saturday 6:00 ET posting, but it didn’t happen.  So, here you go 6 hours late]

1) Noah Smith on the case for banning (or forcing a foreign buyer) Tik Tok. It’s damn compelling:

It’s important to point out that it’s not clear how much this propaganda matters right now. We have plenty of evidence that biased media outlets can change people’s votes, opinions, and behavior. But it’s less clear whether subtle algorithmic nudges on video platforms are capable of effectively shifting the opinions of whole populations; research into the much-feared possibility of YouTube right-wing radicalization hasn’t found any measurable effect.

But it’s clear that in an emergency situation like a conflict over Taiwan, the effect of TikTok propaganda might be much greater; the Chinese government could easily lean on ByteDance to block TikTok content in support of Taiwan, preventing it from developing the kind of sympathetic international audience that Ukraine developed following Russia’s invasion. An increasing number of Americans, including a quarter of young people, regularly get news from TikTok:

I'm pretty sure that short video apps are a terrible place to get news, even without any CCP propaganda.
Source: Pew

And in such an emergency, with TikTok spreading Chinese government messaging to much of the American population at a critical moment, it would be very hard to ban the app. Not only would the courts probably hold up an emergency ban (as they held up Trump’s attempted ban in 2020), but the app’s users and influencers represent a major constituency. Right now, TikTok is attempting to fight the ban by shipping a bunch of influencers to Washington D.C.

In other words, even if the TikTok issue seems largely symbolic right now, the app’s dominance of American media gives China’s government a considerable amount of option value in the event of a crisis. TikTok could become really important, really fast. We shouldn’t let things get to that point. So that’s the best argument in favor of banning it now; it gives us lead time to navigate the legal aspects of the ban, to psychologically prepare the American people for the realization that this app isn’t going to be around forever, and to force the app’s defenders to exhaust their political capital now.

As for the downsides of a TikTok, there really aren’t many. Even if TikTok doesn’t get sold to a non-Chinese buyer, there are plenty of other very similar video apps Americans can use. Ad if none of those satisfy, I’m sure someone can whip up a TikTok clone very quickly and make a lot of money. In short order, users will be back to browsing the exact same videos. The only people who lose out will be the few who spent years building up big followings on TikTok; but this could actually be a good thing, since social media influencer hierarchies tend to get ossified after a while, so clearing out the old would create opportunity for everyone else. A reset of social media status every once in a while could be a good thing.

2) Wiiliam Hanage on lessons from Covid:

GAZETTE: Is the path ahead more of what we’ve been seeing: Milder surges as the years go by?

HANAGE: This is what I think more than 80 to 90 percent of folks in the field would say: Absent a black-swan event like a super variant of some kind, we expect diminishing waves in terms of severe outcomes. It may be a bumpy road sometimes, but overall, we expect the trend to be down because people will keep encountering the virus, they will keep upping their immune response, their T cells will be extremely active at preventing severe illness. Most specialists expect it to become like one of the other seasonal coronaviruses. But we don’t know how long that’s going to take…

GAZETTE: Are we doing enough, as a society, to think about pandemic lessons?

HANAGE: I don’t think we are, and that’s allowing people to frame narratives in ways that minimize it. We are getting more received wisdom that particular interventions did or didn’t work.

For instance, quality masks as an intervention definitely work for individuals if you are wearing them correctly. Masks at a community level can work, though it does not necessarily mean they will. But by getting into the tizzy that we have over them — for reasons which are mostly not scientific — we are actively getting in the way of future responses to infectious disease emergencies.

Handwashing turned out to not be a big deal for COVID — it doesn’t really spread via the fomite route. But that is not going to help you in the future if you’re worried about Shigella. There’s received wisdom now that school closures were overkill. Even if they were, that would be true only some of the time for this virus, and if we have a flu pandemic next, flu tends to spread a lot in younger kids and age groups in schools.

We’re also getting relitigation of lockdowns — a phrase which I’d never liked. Lockdowns were never expected to completely expel the virus, but they were expected to slow it down, and the actions that were taken in the spring of 2020 meant the virus did not arrive and get started in places like Florida or Arizona until the summer. That meant that when people there got sick, they could be treated with dexamethasone, which, by then, we knew would work because a trial had been done. So those people who got infected then had a better chance than they would have had in the spring. A delay, even if only for a few months, can save a lot of lives. And amazingly, just six months after that, we had multiple vaccines.

3) Nate Cohn is usually just a polling guru, but I think his take on “woke” is spot-on (and it’s so tiresome to have “woke” liberals always complaining that it really means just being against racism and sexism):

On class and economics, it’s easy to delineate the new left. Mr. Sanders helpfully embraced the democratic socialism label to distinguish himself from those who would incrementally smooth out the rough edges of capitalism. It’s harder to distinguish the new left from Obama-era liberals on race, gender and sexuality. There is no widely shared ideological term like democratic socialism to make it easy.

And yet the differences between Obama-era liberals and the new left on race, sexuality and gender are extremely significant, with big consequences for American politics.

Here are just a few of those differences:

  • The new left speaks with righteousness, urgency and moral clarity. While liberals always held strong beliefs, their righteousness was tempered by the need to accommodate a more conservative electorate. Mr. Obama generally emphasized compromise, commonality and respect for conservatives, “even when he disagreed.”

    As Obama-era liberalism became dominant, a more righteous progressive discourse emerged — one that didn’t accommodate and even “called out” its opposition. This was partly a reflection of what played well on social media, but it also reflected that progressive values had become uncontested in many highly educated communities.

  • The new left is very conscious of identity. Obama-era liberals tended to emphasize the commonalities between groups and downplayed longstanding racial, religious and partisan divisions. Mr. Obama was even characterized as “post-racial.”

    Today’s new left consciously strives to include, protect and promote marginalized groups. In everyday life, this means prioritizing, trusting and affirming the voices and experiences of marginalized groups, encouraging people to share their pronouns, listing identities on social media profiles, and more. This extension of politics to everyday life is a difference from Obama-era liberalism in its own right. While the Obama-era liberals mostly focused on policy, the new left emphasizes the personal as political.

    Today’s new left is conscious of identity in policymaking as well, whether it’s arguing against race-neutral policies that entrench racial disparities or advocating race-conscious remedies. Obama-era liberals rarely implemented race-conscious policies or mentioned the racial consequences of racially neutral policies.

  • The new left sees society as a web of overlapping power structures or systems of oppression, constituted by language and norms as much as law and policy. This view is substantially informed by modern academic scholarship that explains how power, domination and oppression persist in liberal societies.

    Indeed, almost everything debated recently — critical race theory, the distinction between sex and gender, we can go on — originated in academia over the last half-century. Academic jargon like “intersectional” has become commonplace. It can be hard to understand what’s going on if you didn’t read Judith Butler, Paulo Freire or Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in college.

    Academic scholarship is also the source of the expanded, academic meanings of “trauma,” “violence,” “safety” and “erasure,” which implicitly equate the psychological harm experienced by marginalized groups with the physical harms of traditional illiberal oppression.

    This does not readily lend itself to a “politics of hope,” as virtually everything about America might have to change to end systemic racism. No law will do it. No candidate can promise it. But it does imbue individual actions that subvert oppressive hierarchies with liberatory and emancipatory implications, helping explain the urgency of activists to critique language and challenge norms in everyday life.

  • The new left view that racism, sexism and other oppressive hierarchies are deeply embedded in American society all but ensures a pessimistic view of America. This is quite different from Obama-era liberalism. Indeed, Mr. Obama himself was cast as a redeeming figure whose ascent proved American greatness.

  • When in conflict, the new left prioritizes the pursuit of a more equitable society over enlightenment-era liberal values. Many of the academic theories, including critical race theory, critique liberalism as an obstacle to progressive change.

    In this view, equal rights are a veneer that conceal and justify structural inequality, while some liberal beliefs impede efforts to challenge oppression. The liberal value of equal treatment prevents identity-conscious remedies to injustice; the liberal goal of equal opportunity accepts unequal outcomes; even freedom of speech allows voices that would offend and thus could exclude marginalized communities.

4) Quite the headline (and story), “53 rescue dogs survived a plane crash. Now you can adopt them.”

Tony Wasielewski pulled crate after crate from the wreckage of a plane that was supposed to carry 53 rescue dogs from New Orleans to Waukesha, Wis., on Tuesday morning. Instead, it crash-landed on a snow-covered golf course just outside of Milwaukee.

As the deputy fire chief went to grab yet another crate, one of the rescues — roaming the fuselage after freeing herself during the crash — leaped into his arms and slathered him with kisses.
Wasielewski, 47, didn’t know it yet, but less than 48 hours after leaving the crash site, he would welcome that dog into his family.

It all started around 9 a.m. Tuesday when several employees at the Western Lakes Golf Club in Pewaukee, Wis., watched a twin engine turboprop airplane crash onto the green of the fifth hole, Jason Hoelz, the club’s general manager, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The plane then shot through some trees — snapping off the wings — before plowing through a marsh, skidding across the second hole fairway and ramming into a tree on hole No. 3, where it came to rest.

5) Why were rescue dogs on a plane? Because among the most prominent geographic differences is that people in Southern states are awful dog owners, on average. It’s not okay. 

6) Pretty wild story here.  Gift link. “DNA From Beethoven’s Hair Unlocks Medical and Family Secrets”

7) This sounds great.  The frustration is that we are slow-walking this stuff.  After Operation Warp Speed on vaccines, it’s been all Impulse Drive. “A nasal spray protects against coronavirus infection – Effective also against recent immune-evasive variants”

In laboratory animal studies, a molecule known as TriSb92, developed by researchers at the University of Helsinki, has been confirmed as affording effective protection against coronavirus infection. The molecule identifies a region in the spike protein of the coronavirus common to all current variants of the virus and inhibits its functioning.

“When administered nasally, the TriSb92 molecule is extremely effective in preventing infection, and experiments carried out in cell cultures indicate that it also encompasses the very latest variants, including XBB, BF7 and BQ.1.1,” explains Postdoctoral Researcher Anna R. Mäkelä from Professor Kalle Saksela’s research group.

Animal models have also demonstrated that, unlike face masks, the molecule can, when sprayed into the nose, prevent infection even after a few hours of exposure.

According to the researchers, the molecule remains fully functional at room temperature for at least 18 months, making it well suited for use as a nasal spray.

The results have been published in the Nature Communications journal.

8) Why is America so bad at this? “Law Enforcement Beat This Innocent Man to a Pulp. Will the Supreme Court Allow Him To Seek Recourse? James King is once again asking the high court to rule that two officers should not receive immunity for choking him unconscious and temporarily disfiguring his face.”

It has been almost a decade since James King, then a college student in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was choked and beaten by an FBI agent and a local police detective after they mistook him for a suspect with whom he shared no resemblance. And yet, after all this time, it is unclear if King will be permitted to merely ask a jury if he deserves some compensation for the government’s misconduct, the likes of which left his face temporarily disfigured.

That legal odyssey is finally nearing a conclusion as King asks the U.S. Supreme Court to consider his case for a second time. If the justices choose to hear his plea, they’ll have to decide if FBI agent Douglas Brownback and Grand Rapids detective Todd Allen are immune from facing a civil suit for their actions, simply because of their government status.

In 2014, King was walking from one job to the next when Brownback and Allen, who were not in uniform, accosted him without identifying themselves as law enforcement. “Are you mugging me?” King asked. He then ran. The two officers, who were part of a police task force, responded by tackling him to the ground, beating his face to a pulp, and choking him unconscious. But they were looking for someone named Aaron Davison, who had been accused of stealing alcohol from his former employer’s apartment, and who, perhaps more importantly, looked nothing like King.

Even still, police arrested King and handcuffed him to a hospital bed as he received treatment, despite the fact that the only malfeasance here was committed against, not by, King.

What followed in the proceeding years is a case study in the level of protection given to rogue government actors and the byzantine obstacle course that victims of government misconduct have to navigate should they want the privilege of achieving any sort of recourse. Indeed, King’s case has ricocheted up and down the ladder of the U.S. legal system, from the bottom to the top and back again.

9) I’m sure it’s actually quite frustrating to be super-tall and have every stranger you meet ask if you play basketball. “Yes, They Are Tall. No, They Do Not Play Basketball.: For the vertically gifted, every day of the year means standing out. But March can be particularly maddening.”

10) Trademark law is complicated, “The Supreme Court ponders a surprisingly difficult case about poop jokes: A case about a silly, poop-themed dog toy is also a case about free speech and judicial humility.”

The Supreme Court will take a break on Wednesday from the unusually political mix of cases it decided to hear during its current term, to consider a case about poop jokes.

Jack Daniel’s v. VIP Products asks whether VIP Products, the nation’s second-largest maker of dog toys, infringed upon the whiskey maker’s trademarked bottle shape and label when it sold dog toys that resemble a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. The dog toy, named “Bad Spaniels,” juxtaposes imagery drawn from the whiskey maker’s trademarks with a gag about a dog dropping “the old No. 2 on your Tennessee carpet.”

Jack Daniel’s seeks a court order prohibiting VIP from continuing to sell this toy.

A side-by-side photo of a Jack Daniels whiskey bottle and a dog toy in the shape of the bottle, featuring similar design elements.Petitioner’s brief in Jack Daniel’s v. VIP Products

Jack Daniel’s is, on the surface, a very silly case, which prompted some very silly attempts by the whiskey maker’s lawyers to explain why their client is so offended by this dog toy. Sample quote from their brief: “Jack Daniel’s loves dogs and appreciates a good joke as much as anyone. But Jack Daniel’s likes its customers even more, and doesn’t want them confused or associating its fine whiskey with dog poop.”

Lurking below the surface, however, are very serious questions about the First Amendment. And about how far courts should go in second-guessing Congress’s decisions about how to balance the needs of the marketplace with the demands of free speech. VIP has strong legal arguments that it should prevail in this case, but Jack Daniel’s also raises strong claims that the lower courts did too much to undermine federal trademark law.

11) Washington Post did a big survey of transgender adults.  Interesting take-aways:

2. Most trans people consider themselves gender non-conforming or nonbinary.

A 62 percent majority of trans adults identify as “trans, gender non-conforming” or “trans, nonbinary,” while 33 percent identify as a “trans man” or “trans woman.” Nearly half ask people to refer to them with they/them pronouns, although most say they use she/her or he/him pronouns.

3. Most have not had transition-related medical treatments.

Trans Americans reported a breadth of experiences in how they present physically and what transitioning has meant for them.

About three-quarters of trans Americans say they have changed their type of clothing (77 percent) or hairstyle or grooming habits (76 percent) to better fit their gender identity. Most also have used a different name than the one on their birth certificate (57 percent). Just 31 percent have used hormone treatments, HRT or puberty-blocking hormones, and 16 percent have undergone gender-affirming surgery or another surgical treatment to change their physical appearance.

12) Enjoyed this from Dilan Esper, “Crime Is a Legitimate Political Issue: People fear getting attacked and getting their stuff stolen, and habitual thieves and violent criminals are bad people”

The Left is going through the five stages of grief on the crime issue. For awhile, they were stuck in Denial. When upticks in the crime rate first appeared, a whole lot of people started saying that it was all BS. Republican talking points! Racist propaganda! Target was going to move its stores out of San Francisco anyway! If you look at the larger crime rate rather than homicide statistics, there was no increase!

For the most part, they’ve moved on from that. Reality has pulled them out of this position- we continue to see chain stores pull out of major cities and put stuff behind locked cabinets, more statistics have come out showing the crime rate is increasing, and there have been some really vivid anecdotes such as the CNN crew who got their equipment stolen from a car while parked at San Francisco City Hall to cover the crime issue!

And at bottom, this exposes the extensive class privilege behind a lot of what is supposed to sound like pro-working class Left rhetoric about how crime isn’t so bad. If you are a wealthy elite lawyer in San Francisco like Hamasaki is, sure, you can cope if you lose 10 grand to thieves who break into your car. (Of course, in reality lawyers like Hamasaki don’t park on the street and get their stuff stolen— they park in underground garages at fancy skyscrapers and, when they can, bill their clients for it.) You know who theft hits hard? Poor and working class people.

Homeless people have their belongings stolen all the time. You see, it turns out, one of the best ways to protect your stuff from being stolen is to not have it out on the street every day, because you have an apartment or house you can put it in. And if you are poor and have a house to live in, your neighborhood is far more likely to have a high crime rate and a lot of burglaries. It turns out thieves often can’t afford penthouse apartments in Beverly Hills, and it is easier for them to rob poor people’s houses in neighborhoods with less policing and private security, less burglar alarms, and less likelihood that they will seem “out of place” in the neighborhood.

And I am sure I don’t have to tell you that poorer neighborhoods also have higher rates of violent crimes as well. Their kids have to go to school in these conditions, and their classmates will often include some thieves and even violent gang members.

At bottom Hamasaki’s class privilege is enormous. Yes, if you are a rich person in the city who can rely on security to protect yourself and your family, can take precautions to reduce the chance of theft, and can absorb an occasional loss to thieves anyway, it’s easy to dismiss crime concerns. It’s easy to say that it’s all really racism.

13) Jeff Wise on Long Covid:

Now, three years later, the research is catching up to the anecdotal reports and the early evidence, and a clearer picture of long COVID has emerged. It turns out that, like COVID-19 itself, a lot of our early guesses about it turned out to be considerably wide of the mark. This time, fortunately, the surprises are mostly on the positive side. Long COVID is neither as common nor as severe as initially feared. As the U.S. government moves to end the country’s state of emergency, it’s another reassuring sign that, as President Biden put it during his State of the Union address, “COVID no longer controls our lives.”

The researchers had gone into the project expecting to find a large number of chronic COVID aftereffects. Instead, they concluded that there were actually very few. “As we analyzed the data,” the lead authors told Stat in January, “we were surprised to find only a small number of symptoms that were related to COVID and remained for a year post infection and the low number of people affected by them.”

Other studies produced similar results. Researchers at the University of Oxford in the U.K. combed through the health records of more than a million patients in a retrospective cohort study that compared those who’d tested positive for COVID with those who’d had other respiratory infections but had not been diagnosed with COVID-19 or tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. After following patients’ symptoms for two years, they reported in the Lancet Psychiatry last August that they “found no evidence of a greater overall risk of any first neurological or psychiatric diagnosis after COVID-19 than after any other respiratory infection.” There was an elevated risk for certain symptoms, however. They found that 6.4 percent of COVID patients experienced “cognitive deficit (known as brain fog),” compared with 5.5 percent of patients who’d had other respiratory infections. Although the Oxford researchers were looking at a different set of cognitive symptoms than the Israeli researchers were, the upshot was similar: In both cases, nearly as many controls suffered the symptom as COVID patients did…

Meanwhile, researchers at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx looked at 18,811 patients who’d tested positive for COVID-19 and 5,772 who’d had influenza. The number of patients reporting new-onset neuropsychiatric symptoms after COVID-19 was 388, or 2 percent. This figure was actually less than that for patients with influenza, which was 2.5 percent.

There’s another way to look at long COVID’s impact, and that’s by examining how it has affected the workforce. “The COVID-19 pandemic will almost certainly create a substantial wave of chronically disabled people,” Ed Yong wrote in 2020. Others argued that this surge of long-haul cases would not only mean enormous suffering but would actually pose a threat to economic recovery. “Long COVID is contributing to record high numbers of unfilled jobs by keeping millions of people from getting back to work,” a Brookings report suggested last year.

There is no evidence that any of this has actually happened. Not only did disability claims not rise during the pandemic, they fell. “You see absolutely no reaction at all to the COVID crisis,” Nicole Maestas, an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard, told Benjamin Mazer of the Atlantic in June 2022. “It’s just not a mass disabling event.”

Further data bear this out. In January, the New York State Insurance Fund, which administers disability claims, released a report analyzing long COVID claims made between Jan. 1, 2020, and March 31, 2022. It found that while there were several hundred successful claims after the initial wave in March and April of 2020, the number subsequently fell to fewer than 10 per month, and spiked into the double digits only after the alpha and omicron waves. “The percentage of people meeting the report’s definition of long COVID in the overall COVID claimant population is declining,” said Gaurav Vasisht, the NYSIF’s CEO and executive director. The most recent data, from March 2022, shows that only about 5 claims for long COVID were being granted per month out of about 3,000 disability claims in the entire state.

14) “Geothermal Power, Cheap and Clean, Could Help Run Japan. So Why Doesn’t It? For decades, new plants have been blocked by powerful local interests, the owners of hot spring resorts, that say the sites threaten a centuries-old tradition.”

A treasured getaway for travelers in Japan is a retreat to one of thousands of hot spring resorts nestled in the mountains or perched on scenic coasts, some of which have been frequented for centuries.

All are powered by Japan’s abundant geothermal energy. In fact, Japan sits on so much geothermal energy potential, if harnessed to generate electricity, it could play a major role in replacing the nation’s coal, gas or nuclear plants.

For decades, however, Japan’s geothermal energy ambitions have been blocked by its surprisingly powerful hot spring owners.

“Rampant geothermal development is a threat to our culture,” said Yoshiyasu Sato, proprietor of Daimaru Asunaroso, a secluded inn set next to a hot spring in the mountains of Fukushima Prefecture that is said to date back some 1,300 years. “If something were to happen to our onsens,” he said, using the Japanese word for hot springs, “who will pay?”

Japan, an archipelago thought to sit atop the third-largest geothermal resources of any country on earth, harnesses puzzlingly little of its geothermal wealth. It generates about 0.3 percent of its electricity from geothermal energy, a squandered opportunity, analysts say, for a resource-poor country that is in desperate need of new and cleaner ways of generating power.

15) Ethan Mollick on the amazing things GPT 4 can do.

16) And on the amazing pace of AI progress

17) Helluva chart from twitter.

18) Yes, this is real.

19) And one more chart to finish us up.  Would love to know more about what’s going on here.



Chimpanzee (and human) politics

Yascha Mounk with a fantastic interview with Frans de Waal.  So much good stuff in here:

Yascha Mounk: Why should we study primates to understand human society and human behavior? What is it that we can understand about ourselves by studying these cognate species?

Frans de Waal: We are primates. We are so close to some primates like chimpanzees and bonobos that there are even people who feel they need to be in the same genus, Homo. They’re very closely related. Socially and emotionally we are basically the same as the other primates. I don’t think there’s a huge difference in our emotional or social life, how we strive for success and how we value social relationships and so on. Cognitively, there’s just maybe a bit of a difference—some people exaggerate it and make it a huge difference. I think the differences are not so great. Yes, we have language for example. I consider that an important difference. But, overall, we are primates. Looking at the other primates, we learn a little bit about primate psychology, which is also our psychology. It places our psychology more in an evolutionary context than we’re used to. I think that’s fairly valuable.

The most common mistaken assumption is that if you look at the other primates, you see instinct. If I say for example that there’s political behavior in chimpanzees, people say, “Oh, that means it’s instinctive.” They think that in the other primates you see instinct, and if you look at humans, you see culture—more culture than biology. That’s a big mistake. Because if you look at the other primates, you also see culture. For example, a chimpanzee becomes an adult when they’re 16. They have a very slow development and they learn a lot before they are adults. We know that there’s a lot of cultural habits that they have. If you look at the other primates, you also see culture, and if you look at humans, you also see a lot of biology. I think that’s the biggest mistake, that people think that in animals things must be simple and instinctive. Nothing is simple, especially not in the great apes…

Yascha Mounk: Why should we study primates to understand human society and human behavior? What is it that we can understand about ourselves by studying these cognate species?

Frans de Waal: We are primates. We are so close to some primates like chimpanzees and bonobos that there are even people who feel they need to be in the same genus, Homo. They’re very closely related. Socially and emotionally we are basically the same as the other primates. I don’t think there’s a huge difference in our emotional or social life, how we strive for success and how we value social relationships and so on. Cognitively, there’s just maybe a bit of a difference—some people exaggerate it and make it a huge difference. I think the differences are not so great. Yes, we have language for example. I consider that an important difference. But, overall, we are primates. Looking at the other primates, we learn a little bit about primate psychology, which is also our psychology. It places our psychology more in an evolutionary context than we’re used to. I think that’s fairly valuable.

The most common mistaken assumption is that if you look at the other primates, you see instinct. If I say for example that there’s political behavior in chimpanzees, people say, “Oh, that means it’s instinctive.” They think that in the other primates you see instinct, and if you look at humans, you see culture—more culture than biology. That’s a big mistake. Because if you look at the other primates, you also see culture. For example, a chimpanzee becomes an adult when they’re 16. They have a very slow development and they learn a lot before they are adults. We know that there’s a lot of cultural habits that they have. If you look at the other primates, you also see culture, and if you look at humans, you also see a lot of biology. I think that’s the biggest mistake, that people think that in animals things must be simple and instinctive. Nothing is simple, especially not in the great apes. 

And plenty more good stuff, especially on gender.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Chait on DeSantis:

While the board handles infrastructure and maintenance, DeSantis boasted that it could use its leverage to force Disney to stop “trying to inject woke ideology” on children.

“When you lose your way, you’ve got to have people that are going to tell you the truth,” DeSantis proclaimed. “So we hope they can get back on. But I think all of these board members very much would like to see the type of entertainment that all families can appreciate.”

It is worth pausing a moment to grasp the full breadth of what is going on here. First, DeSantis established the principle that he can and will use the power of the state to punish private firms that exercise their First Amendment right to criticize his positions. Now he is promising to continue exerting state power to pressure the firm to produce content that comports with his own ideological agenda.

Whether he is successful remains to be seen. But a few things ought to be clear. First, DeSantis’s treatment of Disney is not a one-off but a centerpiece of his legacy in Florida. He has repeatedly invoked the episode in his speeches, and his allies have held it up as evidence of his strength and dominance. The Murdoch media empire, which is functionally an arm of the DeSantis campaign, highlighted the Disney conquest in a New York Post front page and a Fox & Friends segment and DeSantis touted his move in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Second, DeSantis’s authoritarian methods have met with vanishingly little resistance within his party.

2) This is good from Jeremy Faust, “Covid antivirals not shown to decrease household spread. Here’s why they still might work.”

Why I’m still optimistic. Usually, I tend to say things like, “If an industry-funded study fails, it has to be really bad news because these studies are often subtly designed to succeed.” In this case, I think the investigators have a fundamental misunderstanding of coronavirus virology. As a result, the study designs were not adequate to detect what I think may be hidden benefits here (or rather, the detected lower rates of infection are meaningful, even though the statistics say they’re not distinguishable from noise).

In both studies, household contacts (who were confirmed not to have Covid-19 at the time of entry) were randomized to get either the antiviral or placebo after exposure to a person with a newish Covid-19 diagnosis (called the “index patient.”) I italicized newish because the household contacts were eligible for the study if the index patient had had a positive Covid-19 test and at least 1 symptom within 5 days.

The gaping hole is that symptoms generally come a few days after infection and don’t necessarily say anything about contagiousness. We know that Covid-19 patients who are asymptomatic (or pre-symptomatic) can and do have viral loads that are similar to those of symptomatic patients. That means in this study, the horse had left the barn in a great number of cases before the study even began.

A large fraction of coronavirus spread occurs early on (a few days after infection). The fact that these studies found (statistically insignificant) 24-37% reductions in infections despite enrolling household contacts of patients who were already symptomatic (for up to 5 days even) is actually remarkably good, in my view.

The reason these numbers were seen as failures is that the researchers were probably aiming for a 50% reduction (I can’t seem to find information on what researchers call “power calculations,” though I am trying to find out).

Why? Like I said: fundamental misunderstandings of coronavirus virology. If the researchers had realized how much transmission happens in the pre-symptomatic period, they might have aimed for a lower reduction as the bar for success. Also, the researchers looked at the number of participants who were positive by day 14. If a bunch of people in both arms of study were infected within 24-48 hours of the first dose of Paxlovid or Molnupiravir, those cases would tend to dilute the power of the study to detect any meaningful difference. (An analogy comes to mind to explain this statistical situation: imagine timing a stove’s performance boiling water. If the starting temperature is actually lower than you believed, you’d conclude the stove stinks. But in fact, your assumption about the baseline condition fooled you.)

Indeed, it turns out that Covid-19 patients are probably contagious for around 8 days on average (some shorter, some longer). And the peak viral load (which corresponds to peak contagiousness) in symptomatic cases has been found to occur on or around day 3 of symptoms. If household contacts were enrolled that day or the next day, the rate of infection in both arms of the study would be high. This is exactly the kind of thing that could take real 24-37% reductions and render them statistically insignificant, even though there might actually be a protective effect “in real life.” Meanwhile, asymptomatic patients may (may) have shorter windows of contagion, but their peak viral loads (which is likely when most spread occurs) appear similar to symptomatic cases.

All told, these studies show that if you enroll household contacts 1-5 days after exposure to a symptomatic Covid-positive patient, the reduction in infections is not statistically significant. But if the studies had aimed for less lofty goals (or had been designed to detect patients before they became symptomatic), the headlines may have have said that PEP worked! It’s amazing how something as subtle as study design can change the outcomes of a study.

3) You know I can’t resist an NYT article like, “How healthy is your gut microbiome?”

What are some simple things I can do to improve my gut health?

Unsurprisingly, the best way to care for your gut is to feed yourself — and by extension, your gut microbes — well.

Prioritizing foods rich in fiber (such as vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils) is one main way to boost gut health because fiber is an important source of nutrients for those bacteria, said Emily Haller, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Michigan Medicine.

Consuming a variety of plant-based foods can also help to diversify the types of microbes in your gut, which is associated with better health, Ms. Haller said. One study published in 2018, for instance, found that people who ate more than 30 types of plant foods per week had a more diverse gut microbiome than those who ate up to 10 types of plant foods per week.

Adding more fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut or kimchi to your diet can also be a safe (and tasty) way to boost the diversity of your microbiome and decrease inflammation, Dr. Sonnenburg said. Though more research is needed to confirm those links and to determine how much fermented food you must eat to obtain those benefits.

4) Some hospitals are finally figuring out… let patients sleep.

5) Given all the political controversy, this is a very important feature in the British Medical Journal, “Gender dysphoria in young people is rising—and so is professional disagreement”


Same evidence, divergent recommendations

Three organisations have had a major role in shaping the US’s approach to gender dysphoria care: WPATH, the AAP, and the Endocrine Society (see box). On 15 September 2022 WPATH published the eighth edition of its Standards of Care for the Health of Transgender and Gender Diverse People, with new chapters on children and adolescents and no minimum age requirements for hormonal and surgical treatments.212 GnRHa treatment, says WPATH, can be initiated to arrest puberty at its earliest stage, known as Tanner stage 2.

The Endocrine Society also supports hormonal and surgical intervention in adolescents who meet criteria in clinical practice guidelines published in 2009 and updated in 2017.14 And the AAP’s 2018 policy statement, Ensuring Comprehensive Care and Support for Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children and Adolescents, says that “various interventions may be considered to better align” a young person’s “gender expression with their underlying identity.”15 Among the components of “gender affirmation” the AAP names social transition, puberty blockers, sex hormones, and surgeries. Other prominent professional organisations, such as the American Medical Association, have issued policy statements in opposition to legislation that would curtail access to medical treatment for minors.16171819

These documents are often cited to suggest that medical treatment is both uncontroversial and backed by rigorous science. “All of those medical societies find such care to be evidence-based and medically necessary,” stated a recent article on transgender healthcare for children published in Scientific American.20 “Transition related healthcare is not controversial in the medical field,” wrote Gillian Branstetter, a frequent spokesperson on transgender issues currently with the American Civil Liberties Union, in a 2019 guide for reporters.21 Two physicians and an attorney from Yale recently opined in the Los Angeles Times that “gender-affirming care is standard medical care, supported by major medical organizations . . . Years of study and scientific scrutiny have established safe, evidence-based guidelines for delivery of lifesaving, gender-affirming care.”22 Rachel Levine, the US assistant secretary for health, told National Public Radio last year regarding such treatment, “There is no argument among medical professionals.”23

Internationally, however, governing bodies have come to different conclusions regarding the safety and efficacy of medically treating gender dysphoria. Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare, which sets guidelines for care, determined last year that the risks of puberty blockers and treatment with hormones “currently outweigh the possible benefits” for minors.24 Finland’s Council for Choices in Health Care, a monitoring agency for the country’s public health services, issued similar guidelines, calling for psychosocial support as the first line treatment.25 (Both countries restrict surgery to adults.)

Medical societies in France, Australia, and New Zealand have also leant away from early medicalisation.2627 And NHS England, which is in the midst of an independent review of gender identity services, recently said that there was “scarce and inconclusive evidence to support clinical decision making”28 for minors with gender dysphoria29 and that for most who present before puberty it will be a “transient phase,” requiring clinicians to focus on psychological support and to be “mindful” even of the risks of social transition.30

6) This is fascinating, “France was once Europe’s superpower, thanks above all to its enormous population. Its decline coincided with a collapse in its birth rate – now we know why.”

In the eighteenth century, France was the China of Europe. But after a thousand years of dominance based on particularly fertile land, she declined over the next 250 years to be just another European power. Around this time, more than 100 years before the rest of Europe, French women began to have fewer children. In 1700, almost 1 in 25 inhabitants on Earth, and one in five in Europe, was French. Today, less than a percent of humanity is French. Why did France’s population decline in relative terms so dramatically, and did it really mark the decline of France?

The demographic transition is usually thought to be driven by economic forces, but – in France at least – culture came first. Using data from online family trees, my work shows how the loosening of traditional religious moral constraints in Ancien Régime France drove the decline in fertility, setting France off on a wholly different course from England, which was about to see a dramatic increase in its population…

Broadly, this narrative is accurate. But for Europe’s first superpower it is out of order. The historical decline in fertility took hold in France first, in the mid-eighteenth century and more than a century earlier than in any other country in the world. At the time, there were 25 million inhabitants in France and 5.5 million in England. Today, there are 68 million inhabitants in France and 56 million in England. Had France’s population increased at the same rate as England’s since 1760, there would be more than 250 million French citizens alive today.

According to Alfred Sauvy, the French demographer who coined the term ‘third world’, in 1962, the decline in fertility is ‘the most important fact of the history of France’. France was eclipsed as Europe’s only real superpower by the relative growth of its rivals, most importantly England and Germany, in the nineteenth century.

France’s emergence as a major global power spanned several centuries, from the foundation and expansion of the Kingdom of the Franks under Clovis and Charlemagne in the fifth and ninth centuries to Napoleon. During the Hundred Years’ War in the fourteenth century, London was by far the most populous city in medieval England, but Rouen, only France’s second city, may have been as large as it.

By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, under the long-lived Louis XIV France boasted the continent’s largest population and the world’s second largest colonial empire, after Spain. It was so dominant that it prompted multiple coalitions, or grand alliances, of all the other major European powers together to challenge it. And even then the first Grand Alliance was unable to make significant gains in the Nine Years’ War at the end of the seventeenth century. In the War of the Spanish Succession soon after, the French could field 400,000 troops at times, almost as many as the combined forces of the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia, England, and the Netherlands.

The gap in demographic power and military might stood perhaps at its widest during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars from 1792–1815. The French fought against most of Europe at once and could regularly field over a million soldiers, often outnumbering its opponents, which formed more than six successive coalitions before they could eventually prevail.

Rulers had worried about a projected depopulation of France since the seventeenth century, with the pronatalist Edict on Marriage of 1666, but it was not until much later that these demographic struggles became apparent. The prevailing view is that on 15th June 1815, during the Battle of Waterloo, France lost its position as the preeminent power in Europe. The influence of demographic factors was revealed most dramatically during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when France was defeated after a solitary battle against a single opponent. During World War I, the population and military gap had completely closed, if not reversed, and Germany had substantially larger forces than France.

And yet the early decline in fertility in France is not well understood…

It is unclear why the Catholic Church’s influence waned so quickly and why France was the first country to secularize. Secularization took hold in regions that were by no means the richest areas at the time. Provence was a rural backwater of the Kingdom of France, speaking a different language and under different fiscal rules, suggesting that neither wealth nor institutions caused the decline in fertility. However, the Counter-Reformation, which was particularly powerful in France, is mentioned by historians on occasion. In fact, regions where Jansenism, a theological doctrine opposed by Jesuits and the Pope as heretical, was strongest in the eighteenth century secularized more. The same seems true for areas where the Catholic League was strongest in 1590, during the French wars of religion. Both facts imply that the French regions where the Counter-Reformation was strongest are those which secularized the most, suggesting that secularization might have been a backlash against religious powers closely connected to absolutism.

The consequences for France are astonishing. French historian Fernand Braudel argued that ‘the entire course of French history since then has been influenced by something that happened in the eighteenth century’, and asks, ‘did France cease to be a great power not, as is usually thought, on 15 June 1815 on the field of Waterloo, but well before that, during the reign of Louis XV when the natural birth-rate was interrupted?’

7) J. Miles Coleman, “The Shocking Decline of Senate Ticket-Splitting”

— Senate races are increasingly converging with presidential partisanship, to the point where the huge overperformances that were so common a decade or two ago have become much less common.

— Since 2000, the number of senators who have run more than 10 points ahead of their party’s presidential nominee has decreased sharply.

— This trend helps explain why we currently rate Democratic-held West Virginia as Leans Republican and started off Montana and Ohio as Toss-ups.

8) Great example of the dysfunctions of policy, “The Pentagon Saw a Warship Boondoggle. Congress Saw Jobs.: After years of crippling problems and a changing mission, the Navy pushed to retire nine of its newest ships. Then the lobbying started.”

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The 387-foot-long warships tied up at the Jacksonville Navy base were acclaimed as some of the most modern in the United States fleet: nimble, superfast vessels designed to operate in coastal waters and hunt down enemy submarines, destroy anti-ship mines and repel attacks from small boats, like those often operated by Iran.

But the Pentagon last year made a startling announcement: Eight of the 10 Freedom-class littoral combat ships now based in Jacksonville and another based in San Diego would be retired, even though they averaged only four years old and had been built to last 25 years.

The decision came after the ships, built in Wisconsin by Fincantieri Marinette Marine in partnership with Lockheed Martin, suffered a series of humiliating breakdowns, including repeated engine failures and technical shortcomings in an anti-submarine system intended to counter China’s growing naval capacity.

“We refused to put an additional dollar against that system that wouldn’t match the Chinese undersea threat,” Adm. Michael M. Gilday, the chief of naval operations, told Senate lawmakers.

The Navy estimated that the move would save $4.3 billion over the next five years, money that Admiral Gilday said he would rather spend on missiles and other firepower needed to prepare for potential wars. Having ships capable of fulfilling the military mission, he argued, was much more important than the Navy’s total ship count.

Then the lobbying started.

A consortium of players with economic ties to the ships — led by a trade association whose members had just secured contracts worth up to $3 billion to do repairs and supply work on them — mobilized to pressure Congress to block the plan, with phone calls, emails and visits to Washington to press lawmakers to intervene…

The effort targeted members of Congress who represent communities with large Navy stations and have collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the same military contractors that help maintain and operate these ships. They included Representative Rob Wittman, Republican of Virginia, who represents the Hampton Roads area, home to the world’s largest naval facility.

Within weeks, lawmakers offered amendments to the 2023 Pentagon spending authorization law that prohibited the Navy from retiring four of the eight ships in Jacksonville and the one in San Diego.

9) What is it about diabetes drugs having so many other benefits? “Could A Common Diabetes Drug Slow Down Aging?”

10) History Boomer is an anonymous center-left tweeter/substacker who I quite enjoy. I agree with pretty much everything in here on police violence and police reform. 

So what to do?

Blaming everything on racism is a very bad idea. It distracts from the real factors that lead to excessive police violence. Does this mean cops are never racist? Of course not. But most police violence isn’t a result of racism. If every cop in America underwent extensive diversity training the police would still be killing too many people.

Some police violence is inevitable. Until we can somehow make America less violent (a worthy goal) we will have higher rates of violent police encounters than other rich countries. Some of these encounters, inevitably, will result in wrongful deaths. This doesn’t mean, however, we can’t manage to have fewer killings by law enforcement.

Reducing the size of our departments is madness. We have too few officers, not too many. Eliminating police to solve America’s violence problem is like reducing the number of doctors in order to reduce medical errors. The defund the police activists focused on having fewer police rather than on making our police better. This was a distracting error in strategy and messaging.

Better and more extensive training seems called for. America compares poorly to its peer countries. There are specific procedures that should be reconsidered (no-knock raids, punitive traffic stops, dangerous physical restraint methods). It should be easier to get rid of bad officers (police unions seem to be a real roadblock here). Police need accountability.

Demilitarizing the police is a priority. We don’t need more SCORPIONS. The police force needs to support the communities it serves, not act as an occupying army. Sometimes force is necessary—American cops can’t go unarmed like British bobbies—but the emphasis should be on de-escalation.

Whatever we do to improve our police forces requires serious thought rather than shallow slogans. A rich country should do better with its police and for its citizens. We have lost too many men like Tyre Nichols.

11) G. Elliott Morris on why you should ignore partisan pollsters.

12) This is disturbing, “Why 23 Dead Whales Have Washed Up on the East Coast Since December”

Scientists believe the mortality rate may be tied to an unlikely confluence of factors.

The population of humpbacks, hunted legally until 1985, has rebounded, thanks in part to decades of efforts to clean the Atlantic Ocean and heavily polluted tributaries like the Hudson River. As the climate changes and oceans warm, whales and a favored prey, menhaden, are migrating and feeding in new locations, often closer to shore.

Online pandemic buying habits are also fueling a record-setting surge in cargo shipments that last year made ports in New York and New Jersey the nation’s busiest. Much of the merchandise is now toted on far bigger ships — some of which have altered their routes to help alleviate the supply-chain chaos that last year left some store shelves bare.

As a result, more whales appear to have found themselves in the direct path of more ships.

“When the whales are in these channels,” said Paul Sieswerda, executive director of Gotham Whale, a New York City-based whale research group, “you have to cross your fingers and hope there are no collisions.”

This winter’s quick succession of stranded whales also coincides with work being done in advance of the installation of roughly a dozen large offshore wind farms from Massachusetts to Virginia. Opponents of offshore wind have said that the sonar used by energy companies to map the ocean floor or the noise from seabed rock sampling might be contributing to the whale deaths, though NOAA and the Marine Mammal Commission say there is no evidence that this is true.

13) If you are going to sell tattoos that are designed to fade in “9 to 15 months” they probably shouldn’t be lasting over two years.

14) I love a good key change in music. Turns out they are disappearing and this essay explores why. 

15) Planet Money is one of my favorite podcasts, but talk about hitting my sweet spot! “Exploring Seinfeld through the lens of economics”

16) Well, this kind of sucks, but, hopefully something will be worked out and we’ll get these, “The FDA has cleared the first home flu and Covid test — but its maker just declared bankruptcy”

17) This is excellent from Freddie DeBoer. You should read all of it, “I Cannot Stress Enough That Grade Point Average is Racially Stratified Too: you want to replace the SAT because it’s racially stratified with a metric that’s… also racially stratified”

Again, I’m repeating myself, but all educational data is racially stratified. The SAT, GPA, the NAEP, the state standardized tests, reams of academic research results, and ancillary data like attendance rates. And that’s a reflection of the fact that we have a racially unequal country. What I find so bizarre about all of this is that liberals who will tell you that we live with extreme racial inequality will then turn around and say that racially unequal SAT results invalidate the test. But the test is just revealing the reality that you describe elsewhere in your politics! If we are a racially unequal country, unequal in as many ways as progressive people describe, then these results are precisely what you’d expect. Quantitative education metrics are an essential part of defining and understanding racial inequality, particularly given that they are metrics related to the success of children. Getting rid of them makes it harder for us to understand the degree and trend in that inequality. Indeed, we know that there are some racial influences on SAT score precisely because the test provides quantitative transparency. Abandoning that advantage is senseless.

Contrast that quantitative transparency with the fact that almost all competitive colleges have proprietary formulas which they use to adjust GPAs before consideration for admission. These adjustments are hugely important for admissions decisions, and yet they represent a black box, as schools usually keep their particular adjustment systems secret. So in GPA we’ve got a racially-stratified metric that gets modified by individual schools with secret formulas that make it impossible to know how that metric is actually used. Seems like a bad idea to make that so important in the admissions process. I’ve been trying to get some education reporter to investigate this dynamic for years, to no avail.

Oh, by the way, the SAT and high school GPA correlate at .785 anyway…

So an increasing focus on GPA won’t dramatically change who gets in anyway. Why then would we want to use the SAT? Because that ~.4 of the variance that’s not explained by GPA in SAT results can represent very different kinds of students. GPA rewards grinders; it rewards grade-grubbers; it rewards teacher’s pets. It’s as much a function of effort as of academic ability. And that’s fine; I would never want to remove GPA from the application process. But there are other kinds of kids, the brilliant but disengaged, the talented but unfocused, the gifted whose difficult lives keep them from doing well in school. Those kids are the ones the SAT rewards. So why not use both? And, for the record, the people who stand to gain the most from getting rid of the SAT are not poor Black kids but affluent white kids whose parents have the sway in the local school district they need to lean on teachers and get the grades they want for their children. People complain that SAT scores can be gamed with expensive tutoring. In fact, SAT tutoring has little effect, but let’s set that aside and point out what should be obvious: rich kids can get expensive tutoring to raise their GPA too! How on earth is tutoring an argument against the SAT but not against GPA, when grades are likely more easily influenced by tutoring?

You guys aren’t creating some level playing field where the rich kids won’t get ahead. Instead, you’ll be disadvantaging the brilliant but poor Black kid from a low-income school who used the SAT as the way to announce themselves. And you’re giving a hand to the idiot sons of privilege whose tony private academies will ensure they get a good GPA but who could never crack the SAT.

18) Meanwhile, people way over-estimate how much difference SAT prep makes.

19) Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the Sea is simply one of the most amazing albums ever (I’m lucky to have seen NMH and Jeff Mangum solo)– and it’s 25 years old.  I enjoyed this appreciation.  And somehow I either forgot or never saw this amazing scene in Parks and Rec. 

20) When he was 28, Jimmy Carter really did directly help prevent a nuclear meltdown in Canada. 

In 1952, Carter was selected to join an elite team to help develop the Navy’s first nuclear submarines. Once he had trained his crew and the submarine was constructed, Carter was to be the commanding officer of the USS Seawolf, according to Carter in his 1976 book “Why Not the Best?: The First 50 Years.”

Then the partial meltdown happened, and Lt. Carter was one of the few people on the planet authorized to go inside a nuclear reactor.

Carter and his two dozen men were sent to Canada to help, along with other Canadian and American service members. Because of the intensity of radiation, a human could spend only 90 seconds in the damaged core, even while wearing protective gear.

First, they constructed an exact duplicate of the reactor nearby. Then they practiced and practiced, dashing into the duplicate “to be sure we had the correct tools and knew exactly how to use them,” Carter wrote.

Each time one of his men managed to unscrew a bolt, the same bolt would be removed from the duplicate, and the next man would prep for the next step.

Eventually, it was Carter’s turn. He was in a team of three.

“Outfitted with white protective clothes, we descended into the reactor and worked frantically for our allotted time,” he wrote.

In one minute and 29 seconds, Carter had absorbed the maximum amount of radiation a human can withstand in a year.

The mission was successful. The damaged core was removed. Within two years, it had been rebuilt and was back up and running.

21) More of this, please, “Plant toxin hailed as ‘new weapon’ in antibiotic war against bacteria”

Scientists have discovered a plant toxin whose unique method of dispatching bacteria could be used to create a powerful new range of antibiotics. The prospect of developing new antibacterial drugs this way has been hailed by doctors, who have been warning for many years that the steady rise of multidrug-resistant pathogens such as E coli now presents a dangerous threat to healthcare across the planet.

The new antibiotic – albicidin – attacks bacteria in a completely different way to existing drugs, a group of British, German and Polish scientists have revealed in a paper recently published in the journal Nature Catalysis. This suggests a new route could be exploited to tackle bacterial disease, they say.

“We could not elicit any resistance towards albicidin in the laboratory,” said Dmitry Ghilarov, whose research group is based at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. “That is why we are really excited – because we think it will be very hard for bacteria to evolve resistance against albicidin-derived antibiotics.”

Albicidin is produced by a bacterial plant pathogen called Xanthomonas albilineans that triggers a devastating disease, known as leaf scald, in sugarcane. The pathogen uses albicidin to attack the plant, but it was also found, several decades ago, that it was highly effective at killing bacteria.

“The problem was that, at the time, we did not know exactly how albicidin attacked bacteria and so we could not use it as the basis of new antibiotics because these might have triggered all sorts of complications in the human body,” said Ghilarov. “We had to determine precisely how it killed bacteria before we could do that – and that is what we have now achieved.”

Working with scientists at the Technische Universität Berlin in Germany and at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, Ghilarov and his team used a series of advanced techniques to reveal how albicidin kills.

“Now we have a structural understanding, we can create modifications of albicidin to improve its efficacy and pharmacological properties,” said Ghilarov. “We believe this is one of the most exciting new antibiotic candidates in many years. It has extremely high effectiveness in small concentrations and is highly potent against pathogenic bacteria – even those resistant to the widely used antibiotics such as fluoroquinolones.”

22) It really is ridiculous that we think it just fine for a man to go gray and not a woman.  The reporter profiled here still looks great (and of course, you shouldn’t have to look great to report the news), “After Going Gray, a News Anchor Found Herself the Focus of the Story: Lisa LaFlamme was dismissed after a decades-long TV career, not long after she stopped dyeing her hair, setting off debates across Canada about sexism, ageism and going gray”

Quick hits (part I)

1) Derek Thompson on lab leak and masks:

Start with the lab-leak hypothesis. Three years ago, many journalists and scientists rushed to condemn a theory that deserved a fair and open trial. But let’s not replace one nutty take (The lab-leak theory is racist) with another (We know for sure that COVID came from a lab). Although the Department of Energy and the FBI say the virus likely emerged from a lab rather than a wet market, four other agencies and the National Intelligence Council have come to the other conclusion: that COVID likely started with natural exposure to an infected animal. By this count, the lab-leak theory is still an underdog, trailing 5–2 among government institutions. Adding to the confusion is the fact that none of the agencies reached their conclusion with much conviction, even with access to untold stacks of top-secret information. As my colleague Dan Engber pointed out, “Only one [assessment], from the FBI, was made with ‘moderate’ confidence; the rest are rated ‘low,’ as in, Hmm, we’re not so sure.” …

The frustrating truth is that we’ll probably never know for sure how the pandemic started. China’s refusal to grant access to global investigators is sketchy, but we don’t know what they’re trying to protect or conceal.

In the absence of certainty, we should proceed as if both theories are true. That means much more federal scrutiny of gain-of-function research in U.S.-backed labs. That also means reconciling ourselves to the probability that COVID will not be the last pandemic of the century—or, perhaps, the decade. After more than 1 million American pandemic deaths, “taking the pandemic seriously” seems to mean civilians posting condemnations of other people’s behavior online rather than the federal government laying out a clear and comprehensive anti-pandemic strategy to ensure, for example, the accelerated manufacture of vaccines and other antivirus therapeutics…

And speaking of civilians continually screaming at one another, let’s talk about masks.

The review by Cochrane, a London-based health-research organization, looked at 78 studies in total, including 18 trials focused solely on mask use. Their stated objective was simple: “to assess the effectiveness of physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of acute respiratory viruses.” In short, do masks work? The authors concluded that they don’t. “There is just no evidence that [masks] make any difference, full stop,” a co-author, Tom Jefferson, said.

Sounds definitive. So I called several sources whom I’ve found to be honest and informed on the issue of masks in the past three years. Jason Abaluck is a Yale professor who ran a massive, multimillion-dollar study on community masking in Bangladesh. Possibly the most comprehensive masking study ever undertaken, it found that community-wide mask wearing provided excellent protection, especially for older Bangladeshis. “The press coverage” of the Cochrane review “has drawn completely the wrong conclusions,” he told me. Jose-Luis Jimenez, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who studies the transmission of airborne diseases like COVID, is one of the country’s most cited researchers on the nature of aerosols. “I think it’s scientific garbage,” he said of the review.

Abaluck, Jimenez, and other like-minded researchers have an extensive list of grievances with the Cochrane paper. One criticism is that some of the most convincing evidence for masks from laboratory and real-world studies was left out of the review. The best reasons to believe that masks “make a difference” as a product, Jimenez said, are that (1) COVID is an airborne disease that spreads through aerosolized droplets, and (2) lab experiments find that high-quality face masks block more than 90 percent of aerosolized spray. Meanwhile, observational studies during the pandemic did find that masking had a positive effect. For example, a 2020 study comparing the timing of new mask mandates across Germany found that face masks reduced the spread of infection by about half…

“Poor-quality masks, worn poorly, work poorly, and high-quality masks, worn properly, work well,” Jimenez offered as a summation of the evidence. For that reason, I think it is reasonable to say that mask mandates probably reduce COVID in settings where high-quality masks exist and social norms of mask wearing can be maintained.

2) Dan Kois, “The Case for Hanging Out: There’s a growing crisis in our social lives. Could the cure be this simple?”  Yes, yes, yes!!  We make it so overly-complicated and we should all just casually hang out with our friends more often without making a big deal out of it.  Damn that was a good thing about my teenage and college years.

But it was not because I thought her book was interesting that I had reached out to Liming. It was because I passionately believed that her book was right. “I’ve become an accidental witness to a growing crisis,” she writes in Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time. “People struggling to hang out, or else voicing concern and anxiety about how to hang out.” I, too, see a crisis brewing, among not only people my age but among the peers of my teenage children and the college students I teach. Pushed further into isolation by the pandemic, we’re all losing the ability to engage in what I view as the pinnacle of human interaction: sitting around with friends and talking shit. I agree with Liming that no one is down to hang out anymore, and agree with her that it’s a “quiet catastrophe.” …

I can’t be the only one for whom memories of ages 16 to, say, 25 consist mostly of sitting around bedrooms, crappy dorm rooms, and crappier apartments, doing nothing much at all. I had jobs that didn’t pay a lot, so I didn’t have a ton of money to go out to bars or clubs, which is why instead I hung out for hours with groups of friends: telling jokes, venting about life, talking earnestly about politics and sarcastically about art (or vice versa)…

Those years, as Liming writes, were “almost effortlessly social.” But nowadays, though hanging out with friends still happens—around living rooms and fire pits, on scheduled and rescheduled college-friend weekends—it’s an effortful pastime that requires coordination of calendars and a flurry of planning texts. I remember once, when I was in college, wandering over to my friend Ehren’s apartment, letting myself in, and watching whatever he had going on the TV. I knew he was there; I could hear him peeing in the bathroom. When he came out, he exhibited zero surprise to find me on the couch. It’s impossible to imagine doing such a thing now, even with my closest friends.

3) A new study on the artificial sweetener erythritol finds it may contribute to heart issues.  Turns out the study is complete crap, but that did not stop all sorts of breathless headlines.

4) Damn, Cathy Young writes so much good stuff, ‘Ron DeSantis’s Illiberal Education Crusade: Florida’s “anti-woke” power grabs in K-12 and public universities should be opposed—but not by defending progressive illiberalism.”

The “War on Woke” waged by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis continues with a new bill introduced in the Florida House of Representatives last week, House Bill 999, based on proposals introduced by DeSantis at the end of January. While DeSantis’s office said the proposal would elevate “intellectual freedom,” such language can be seen as Orwellian considering that the bill restricts or bans the teaching of a number of ideas and concepts at public colleges and universities in the Sunshine State.

But Democrats and dissident conservatives attempting to describe and respond to this worrisome trend often resort to badly flawed narratives that distort the overall picture in several ways.

First, these narratives sometimes exaggerate the right-wing depredations they critique—for instance, by equating the rejection of the African American studies AP curriculum with an outright ban on teaching African American history.

Second, they tend to discount the very real problem of left-wing illiberalism and ideological diktat in education, dismissing all complaints about it as either astroturfed right-wing disinformation or misguided centrist panic that plays into the hands of the right. To acknowledge that at least in some cases DeSantis and his imitators are responding to real problems and tapping into valid concerns may complicate the narrative, but it doesn’t mean that the “anti-woke” right is fighting the good fight. It just means that the political fights over these issues often pit the proverbial two wrongs against each other—and that the sane middle desperately needs alternatives…

Florida’s HB 999 is an almost perfect case in point, since it’s practically an anti-woke higher education wish list. There is, perhaps most notably, a ban on “any major or minor in Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, or Intersectionality, or any derivative major or minor of these belief systems” at any public college or university. General education core courses at state schools may not “include a curriculum that teaches identity politics, such as Critical Race Theory, or defines American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” There is a ban on the funding of extracurricular programs and activities that espouse “diversity, equity, and inclusion or Critical Race Theory rhetoric” or other concepts flagged as problematic by an earlier Florida law and associated with social justice ideology (e.g., that “a person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously” or “bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex”). The bill also shifts the power to hire professors to school boards of trustees and allows trustees to periodically review faculty members’ tenure.

If all of this looks blatantly unconstitutional, not to mention an unabashed assault on academic freedom, that’s because it is…

So there we have it: It’s the “Flight 93 election,” academia edition. The argument on the right is that things are so bad, only red-state politicians can save the academy, and they must save it by banning “woke” ideas and axing “woke” programs. You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

Kaminer, who has watched decades of social and institutional censorship campaigns from the left, sees a profound irony in the current “power plays on the right”:

They’re saying, This is so crucial, so important, so essential for the preservation of American culture or American democracy that we cannot afford to give the people who oppose us the rights that we want to enjoy. And that’s what the left has been saying for years: We can’t afford to let them speak because their speech is a form of discrimination, and we can’t afford to let that continue.

One may debate just how bad things have gotten in the academy. (The Knight Foundation, which has done annual surveys on the campus climate for speech since 2016, finds that close to 60 percent of students believe freedom of speech is more important than for a campus to be made “safe” from offensive speech or ideas.) But in any case, the notion that political pressures on the right can “fix” the damage from political pressures on the left is deeply misguided. The most likely result of these interventions in Florida—and similar legislation now being proposed in other states following Florida’s example—will be further polarization and wagon-circling. The left will brush aside critiques of speech suppression by institutional power and cultural diktat, arguing that only censorship by the government matters. The right will defend political interventions as the only way to curb the progressive stewards of culture and academe. This particular culture war may turn into a race to the bottom between the “red” and the “blue”: legally and institutionally coercive crusades to squash “wokeness” on the “red” side, knee-jerk defenses of “woke” institutional and cultural coercion on the “blue” side.

Are there enough people of goodwill to work across partisan divides to defend free expression, promote open debate, and counter the illiberal drift in academic and cultural institutions through speech, advocacy, reform, legal challenges, and other hard work? The survival of an open society may depend on the answer.

5) Great guest post on Noah Smith’s substack about homelessness:

The story of homelessness in America is perfectly captured by the following quote in the Economist:

Few Americans lived on the streets in the early post-war period because housing was cheaper. Back then only one in four tenants spent more than 30% of their income on rent, compared with one in two today. The best evidence suggests that a 10% rise in housing costs in a pricey city prompts an 8% jump in homelessness.

And that’s just it: before modern-day homelessness, there was poverty, there was mental illness, there was nice weather, there was welfare, there were liberal places, and there were drugs. So, something must have changed. And what changed were the rents:

If the primary problem of homelessness is housing, then the primary solution to homelessness is housing. And housing is indeed the solution:

●       Atlanta reduced homelessness by 40% through housing

●       Houston reduced homelessness by 63% through housing

●       Finland reduced homelessness by 75% through housing

●       Tokyo reduced homelessness by 80% through housing

But as important as housing supply is to reducing homelessness, places like Houston also demonstrate the importance of going beyond it.

Houston has always had a significantly lower rate of homelessness than other large cities, like New York City and Los Angeles, because unlike those cities, Houston builds a lot of housing:

But despite its ample housing supply, which, as mentioned, resulted in a lower baseline level of homelessness, Houston has still struggled with this problem. And that is because, while housing supply is vital, it will never ever, ever, ever be enough on its own for families who lack income, the disabled, the elderly, and other highly vulnerable populations.

This is why in 2011 Houston started going beyond supply by implementing the Housing First model, which pairs affordable housing with supportive services for people who are experiencing severe mental illness, drug addiction, and other debilitating issues. And, as a result, something incredible happened – homelessness plummeted:

And while mental health and drug addiction aren’t lead factors in homelessness (the vast majority of homelessness is temporary and the vast majority of homeless people just need housing), some homeless people, particularly the chronically homeless (which, again, is a minority of the homeless population), need both housing and supportive services. But if you just give the chronically homeless supportive services without housing, they will still be homeless. Hence why homelessness is primarily a housing problem.

Critics of Housing First will be quick to point to California’s gargantuan homeless population as a failure of the Housing First model. But California’s homelessness crisis isn’t an indictment of Housing First, it’s an indictment of California’s self-inflicted housing shortage and stratospheric rents, which have overwhelmed the Housing First system.

As the data clearly shows, places with the best track records of reducing homelessness do two things: (1) they build ample housing, thereby preventing many cases of homelessness from occurring in the first place, and (2) have ample subsidized housing, which humanely and effectively addresses the homelessness that does occur.

So in conclusion: places with the highest drug addiction rates, highest severe mental illness rates, highest poverty rates, most generous welfare benefits, and the nicest weather don’t have the most homelessness. Places with the highest housing costs do. So we as a society are left with a choice: If we don’t want to solve homelessness, we can continue to misdiagnose it. If we do want to solve homelessness, we can build an ample supply of housing and subsidized housing. There’s no way around this. The solution is clear. And what happens next is up to us.

6) David French on Scott Adams and cancel culture:

Americans have read story after story (from across the political spectrum) of activists, corporations and colleges targeting individuals for speech that is squarely within the mainstream of either progressive or conservative thought. In other words, dissent — even thoughtful dissent — has become dangerous, in both right- and left-leaning America. Private organizations are acting punitively when the government cannot. This is the essence of cancel culture, the widespread use of private power to punish allegedly offensive speech.

That said, many of us who recoil from the excesses of cancel culture also reject the idea that organizations should have no standards at all. To take an extreme example, if you find out that a colleague is in the Klan, should you defend him from termination? Or should a private corporation remove a grand wizard from its payroll as an act of necessary corporate hygiene?

How can American culture square this circle? How can it defend a culture of free expression while still understanding that private entities can and often should draw lines in accordance with their own values and their own rights to freedom of association?

One of the most useful definitions of toxic cancel culture comes from the Yale University professor Nicholas Christakis. In a thoughtful 2020 Twitter thread that highlighted several examples of improper private censorship, he defined cancel culture as “1) forming a mob, to 2) seek to get someone fired (or disproportionately punished), for 3) statements within Overton window.”

The Overton window is a political term of art that roughly refers to those ideas within the political mainstream. The appeal of Christakis’s formulation was that it concisely captured the precise public fear — that a person can be cast out of polite society for saying something completely conventional, normal and in good faith.

But there’s a problem — the more that America polarizes, the more it contains not one but two Overton windows, the “red” window and the “blue” window. Speech that is squarely mainstream in Red America is completely out of bounds in Blue America, and vice versa.

We could list any number of topics where shifting standards and changing norms breed intolerance at the extremes and confusion in the middle. Millions of Americans thus tread lightly, fearful that even the tentative expression of a dissenting thought could lead to a vicious backlash.

7) This review of the new 1619 Hulu documentary is about the best thing I’ve read genuinely grappling with it’s very real strengths and very real weaknesses.

8) Matt Yglesias had a really nice post pretty much on this topic a while back.  Here Dilan Esper (I have no idea who he is, but he posts a ton of good stuff on twitter) with a good take, “Single Issue Advocacy Is Underrated: The habit of requiring every cause to constantly shout-out its support for coalitional “allies” is a bad one”

Successful single issue campaigns redound throughout history, from national organizations like the United Negro College Fund, which sent smart Black kids, historically excluded from secondary education, to college, to local organizations like BUStop, the anti-busing advocacy organization that took control of Los Angeles school board politics in the late 1970’s and stopped mandatory busing.

However, despite this being a model of successful advocacy, for causes good and bad, most activist organizations stay far away from the single issue model, and even those who pursued narrower focuses in the past have now branched out. Take, for instance, this infamous tweet from last spring:..

So why did they say it? Well, they said it because they were trying to be a good coalition member. The rules of activism require that you periodically shout out all your allies. So there they are in that tweet- not only LGBT groups, but also Blacks, Indians, immigrants, young hipster urbanites (that’s what these groups mean when they say “young people”), the poor, and disabled people. It has nothing to do with the cis heterosexual women who bear the brunt of abortion bans— indeed, it’s almost actively insulting of them. It’s about the coalition.

But, of course, from a standpoint of actually persuading people to support abortion rights, that ACLU tweet is a disaster. It makes it look like the movement is afraid to say that abortion is a women’s rights issue (this has become a common problem among activist groups). It makes the pro-choice position look dishonest. It looks like pro-choicers embrace inaccurate information because they want to keep ideologues happy.

And it’s the type of mistake that the Anti-Saloon League would have never made. Plenty of ASL members were involved in feminist causes and sympathetic to the broader goals of suffragists. But to use a famous phrase from the Black civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, they kept their eyes on the prize. An organization that spreads its activism out over a variety of different causes becomes less effective at advocating important causes. Indeed, it can even become counterproductive, as the ACLU tweet shows.

Why does this happen? Well, one reason may go back to Left-wing theory, which is full of concepts like “united front” and “popular front” where a vanguard of activists will lead a broad coalition to work towards a slate of Marxist policy goals. But I’m not sure the people at modern civil rights organizations are that steeped in Marxist theory. Rather, I think the main thing is that this sort of thing is how you avoid headaches caused by your coalition partners. If an abortion rights group says “we’re going to go back to single issue messaging on abortion and how it is central to women’s rights”, that group is going to face accusations of racism, transphobia, ableism, and all the rest. It’s better to just go along and get along even if it dilutes the message.

I also think there’s a psychological issue at play. There’s a tendency for everyone to want to be an activist about everything. You can see how this plays out in public discourse— the same people who posed as experts on pandemic policy two years ago now declaim with an air of expertise on Ukraine or youth transition. It’s more fun to always be relevant and to have a certain sort of celebrity, and you don’t maintain that status by working only on a single issue; indeed, you may have to work in obscurity when that issue is not in the limelight.

But if you actually care about success, this all should infuriate you. Connecting abortion rights to unrelated, sometimes less popular causes is not good for abortion rights. Nor, I should add, should an immigration activist connect her cause to abortion rights, given there are some Catholics who may strongly support immigrant rights while disagreeing with the Left coalition’s position on abortion. Single issue advocacy allows you to maximize your effectiveness. We should get back to it.

9) George Packer takes on the language of wokeness:

The guide’s purpose is not just to make sure that the Sierra Club avoids obviously derogatory terms, such as welfare queen. It seeks to cleanse language of any trace of privilege, hierarchy, bias, or exclusion. In its zeal, the Sierra Club has clear-cut a whole national park of words. Urbanvibranthardworking, and brown bag all crash to earth for subtle racism. Y’all supplants the patriarchal you guys, and elevate voices replaces empower, which used to be uplifting but is now condescending. The poor is classist; battle and minefield disrespect veterans; depressing appropriates a disability; migrant—no explanation, it just has to go.

Equity-language guides are proliferating among some of the country’s leading institutions, particularly nonprofits. The American Cancer Society has one. So do the American Heart Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the National Recreation and Park Association, the Columbia University School of Professional Studies, and the University of Washington. The words these guides recommend or reject are sometimes exactly the same, justified in nearly identical language. This is because most of the guides draw on the same sources from activist organizations: A Progressive’s Style Guide, the Racial Equity Tools glossary, and a couple of others. The guides also cite one another. The total number of people behind this project of linguistic purification is relatively small, but their power is potentially immense. The new language might not stick in broad swaths of American society, but it already influences highly educated precincts, spreading from the authorities that establish it and the organizations that adopt it to mainstream publications, such as this one.

Although the guides refer to language “evolving,” these changes are a revolution from above. They haven’t emerged organically from the shifting linguistic habits of large numbers of people. They are handed down in communiqués written by obscure “experts” who purport to speak for vaguely defined “communities,” remaining unanswerable to a public that’s being morally coerced. A new term wins an argument without having to debate. When the San Francisco Board of Supervisors replaces felon with justice-involved person, it is making an ideological claim—that there is something illegitimate about laws, courts, and prisons. If you accept the change—as, in certain contexts, you’ll surely feel you must—then you also acquiesce in the argument.

10) Edsall on Trump’s “magic trick”

Adam Enders, a political scientist at the University of Louisville who has often written with Uscinski about conspiracy thinking, argued in an email:

Trump identified a fairly large segment of the American population that is not particularly ideological nor particularly attached to the two major parties. Moreover, these individuals are distrusting of the government, animated by an anti-establishment political worldview that holds that politicians are unresponsive to their constituents, corrupt and all too eager to conspire against “the people.”

Enders said he doubts that Trump

sees himself as “trapped” in this strategy — rather, this coalitional expansion represents his primary value to the Republican Party. This is his magic trick. And I suspect Trump’s Republican electoral competitors recognize this to be the case. For example, it is precisely these anti-establishment voters that DeSantis is vying for when he engages in conspiracy-related culture war posturing on issues such as Disney “grooming” children, C.R.T. and the like.

11) Good stuff from Tom Nichols on angry young men:

These attacks are not merely “violence” in some general sense, nor are they similar to other gun crimes classified as “mass shootings” beyond the number of victims. Drug-war shoot-outs and gang vendettas are awful, but they are better-understood problems, in both their origins and possible remedies. The Lost Boys, however, are the perpetrators of out-of-the-blue massacres of innocents. Their actions are not driven by criminal gain, but instead are meant to shock us, to make us grieve, and finally, to force us to acknowledge the miserable existence of the young men behind the triggers.

After each Lost Boy killing, Americans are engulfed in grief and anger, but eventually, we are overtaken by a sense of helplessness. Sometimes, we respond by raging at one another; we fight about gun control or mental-health funding or the role of social media as we try to fix blame and reduce a seemingly inexplicable act to something discrete and solvable. But I wonder now, as I did back in 2015, if all of these debates are focusing on the wrong problems. Yes, the country is awash in guns; yes, depression seems to be on the rise in young people; yes, extremists are using social media to fuse together atomized losers into explosive compounds. But the raw material for all of the violence is mostly a stream of lost young men.

Why is this happening? What are we missing? Guns and anomie and extremism are only facets of the problem. The real malady afflicting these men, one about which I’ve written much in the intervening years since that original article, is the deluge of narcissism in the modern world, especially among failed-to-launch young men whose injured grandiosity leads them to blame others for their own shortcomings and insecurities—and to seek revenge.

The lost boys are mostly young and male, largely middle- or working-class. Frustrated by their own social awkwardness, they are so often described as “loners” that the trope has been around from as early as the 1980s. But these young males, no matter how “quiet,” are filled with an astonishing level of enraged resentment and entitlement about their roles as men, and they seek rationalizations for inflicting violence on a society they think has both ignored and injured them. They become what the German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger called “radical losers,” unsuccessful men who feel that they have been denied their dominant role in society and who then channel their blunted male social impulses toward destruction.

And they are, above all, staggeringly narcissistic. Almost all of the recent mass killers, for example, thought they had a special mission in the world. We know this because they felt compelled to tell us so.

12) David Wallace-Wells with a great piece on the lab leak:

This puts us in a strange epistemological limbo for such a mystery: No genuine proof seems to have arrived, one way or the other, three years on, in part because investigations have been largely stonewalled by China. That means that anyone contemplating the origins of the pandemic and its relevance for lab safety is operating to some degree from positions of ambiguity and probability.

But if you had been told, back in 2019, that this would be the state of knowledge in 2023, would it not seem extremely weird to you that there has not been a broad public conversation about the wisdom of potentially dangerous virological research in the meantime? That so much more oxygen had been eaten up by partisan theater than by public debate over the policy implications of such a possibility? And that the most significant set of reforms yet proposed — those issued a month ago by an expert panel from the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity and now being reviewed by the White House — were put together quietly, with little public attention paid to them beyond those already engaged in lab-safety debates?

The boundaries of mainstream discourse have suggested that we should resolve the matter of pandemic origins before moving on to the implications of the lab-leak hypothesis. But this has proved a paralyzing standard, and not just because so little definitive progress has been made on the central detective work. The question of how the deadliest pandemic in a century began is an undeniably consequential one. But so is the matter of what steps to take given that it remains to so many — including Anthony Fauci — an open question.

And personally, I think that if I were asked what the chances of an accidental outbreak would have to be to justify a loud and public reckoning over lab safety, I would put the number much lower than full proof. In fact, much lower even than “preponderance of evidence” — as low as 5 percent, perhaps, or 1 percent or less. Truthfully, I’m not sure that it would need to be any higher than zero, given that early in 2020, many of those scientists who would become the most stalwart critics of the lab-leak theory privately acknowledged that the origins of the pandemic were very much up for debate and that a laboratory leak was a perfectly plausible — perhaps even the most likely — explanation for the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan a few months earlier.

13) Great stuff from Brian Klass, “How many politicians are psychopaths? Dark Triad traits are over-represented in positions of power. Are the halls of Congress and Parliament overrun with psychopaths?”

Whenever I give public lectures about power, I often do a simple experiment. I ask people in the audience to raise their hand if they would willingly switch places—trade careers—with a member of Congress or a member of Parliament.

Without fail, few raise their hands. When I ask why they kept their hands tucked to their sides, many tell me that nobody could pay them enough to become a politician.

You have to be fake. You have to raise money. You’re beholden to lobbyists. Powerful people will constantly be working to destroy your life, poring over every fragment of your past, hoping to take you down. Your personal and family life will never again feature a moment’s peace. (Most of the people who do raise their hands are thinking about the money; political power is directly linked to future wealth).

Those costs of obtaining political power in modern society are real. But there’s a certain kind of person who systematically discounts those risks; who thinks the costs don’t apply to them because they are smart enough to game the system; and, most importantly, who thinks that the power is worth any cost.

In English, we use the phrase “power-hungry” as an insult. But it literally means “someone who wants power.” And people who want power are more likely to get it.

Unfortunately, it turns out that psychopaths really want power—and are very good at getting it. There are, as we’ll soon see, a disproportionate number of psychopaths in politics (and business), destructive figures who have been dubbed “snakes in suits.”

That’s why the dedication of my last book, Corruptiblereads as follows: “To all the nice, non-psychopaths out there who should be in power but aren’t.”

What’s been missing from a lot of these political science accounts of how and why people decide to enter politics is a hidden variable: an individual’s psychological thirst for power. Psychologists have tried to capture this concept, but the various measures are pretty flimsy. They go by various names: nPow (need for power); SDO (social dominance orientation); and so on. They’re certainly better than nothing, but they remain too subjective.

Nonetheless, they’re aiming to capture a crucial variable. Some of us crave power. Others couldn’t be bothered and actively avoid seeking power.

To become powerful, you need to overcome three hurdles.

First, you must seek power. Those who don’t seek power usually don’t become powerful, because (unfortunately) political parties don’t do enough active recruiting, instead waiting for candidates to put themselves forward. This hurdle is the one the blocks most people; there’s a vast pool of wonderful would-be leaders out there who simply bow out because it doesn’t appeal to them, or they don’t think they’d be good at it, or they think they’d lose.

As a result, you’re left with a much smaller pool of people who believe they would be good leaders and would win. We need good people who think this way, because egotists and narcissists certainly do. As a result, undesirable people end up as a higher concentration among the potential pool of politicians. People who are too modest or who have self-doubt but might make excellent leaders don’t usually set their sights on political power.

Second, you must obtain power. This requires a certain set of skills that aren’t neutral. Those who are a bit more manipulative, a bit more strategic, a bit more ruthless, and a bit more power-obsessed are most likely to overcome this hurdle. Douglas Adams was broadly correct when he wrote that “anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

Of course, this process is also reflective of social biases, such that women and ethnic minorities face greater hurdles here. So, the selection process isn’t just reducing the pool by personality traits, but also by demographics based on society’s flaws.

Third, you must maintain power, which is easier said than done, given that other power-hungry people are constantly gunning for your job. As I wrote in Corruptible, nobody has ever heard of Pedro Lascuráin, because although he sought and obtained power, he served as Mexico’s president for just 45 minutes.

A certain kind of person is good at political survival and the brutality of the political arena amplifies undesirable traits, culling those who can’t (or won’t) cut it. Again, this distills the potential pool further, getting rid of too many good, decent people who want to serve, not wield power for its own sake.

Who has an easy time clearing all three hurdles? The answer, unfortunately, is psychopaths…

Similarly, when it comes to politics, a wide array of research has suggested that psychopaths may be better at getting power, but are worse at wielding it. 

14) This is wild, “Did flu come from fish? Genetics points to influenza’s aquatic origin”

15) I feel like critics, like me, of the crazy trans activists who say you are a transphobe who wants kids to die for raising legitimate questions about how we are doing all this with adolescents need to clearly state that this new attack on adult transgender people is just wrong, “New state bills restrict transgender health care — for adults
Until now, most legislation banning gender-affirming care targeted minors. This year, a growing number of bills would also limit access for adults.”

16) Brave new world, “Face Recognition Software Led to His Arrest. It Was Dead Wrong: Alonzo Sawyer’s misidentification by algorithm made him a suspect for a crime police now say was committed by someone else—feeding debate over regulation.”

17) This is a really important point that has been lost in a lot of reporting, “Actually, One Texas Judge Is Not the Final Decision-Maker on Medication Abortion: One district judge’s ruling does not have to affect the entire country.”

18) I love the expected goals metric and hockey and also pay attention to it in soccer.  I had not idea there was an post-shot expected goals metric.  Very cool.  Basically, Mallory Swanson has suddenly become a super-elite soccer player because she’s not just getting shots from good spots, but placing those shots incredibly well.

19) So tired of stories like this.  Democrats need to really make hay out of stories like this come 2024 elections. “To safeguard healthy twin in utero, she had to ‘escape’ Texas for abortion procedure”

20) I’m sympathetic to Ruth Marcus‘ take here, “That student loan case? I’m rooting against both sides.”

The Biden administration’s legal arguments for its student loan forgiveness plan, presented before the Supreme Court during more than three hours of oral arguments on Tuesday, made me doubly queasy.

As a threshold matter, the administration contends that technical rules about who has standing to sue in this case make the loan-forgiveness program effectively unreviewable in court. As I wrote soon after the court agreed to hear the case, that’s troubling, especially when the cost of the plan is somewhere in the neighborhood of half a trillion dollars.

On the merits, the administration rests its legal authority for forgiving student loan debt on a 2003 law that gives the Education Department broad power to change loan rules during times of war or national emergency. That had the air of a workaround — after candidate Joe Biden in 2020 promised student loan relief untethered to the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, after Congress balked at legislation that would have granted loan forgiveness, and without going through the ordinary, time-consuming process of writing new regulations.

And yet, as Tuesday’s oral arguments underscored, the positions taken by the states challenging the president’s plan are similarly unsettling. If the student loan case raises the specter of an overreaching president abusing emergency powers, it also evokes fears of an imperial judiciary, straying beyond its constitutionally imposed boundaries at the expense of the other branches.

21) The WP Editorial also reflects this dynamic, though I’m not sure I agree with the conclusion: “Biden overreached on student loans. But the court shouldn’t stop him.”

22) Some interesting social science, “Picture Perfect: The Direct Effect of Manipulated Instagram Photos on Body Image in Adolescent Girls

This study investigates the effect of manipulated Instagram photos on adolescent girls’ body image, and whether social comparison tendency moderates this relation. A between-subject experiment was conducted in which 144 girls (14–18 years old) were randomly exposed to either original or manipulated (retouched and reshaped) Instagram selfies. Results showed that exposure to manipulated Instagram photos directly led to lower body image. Especially, girls with higher social comparison tendencies were negatively affected by exposure to the manipulated photos. Interestingly, the manipulated photos were rated more positively than the original photos. Although the use of filters and effects was detected, reshaping of the bodies was not noticed very well. Girls in both conditions reported to find the pictures realistic. Results of this study implied that the recent societal concern about the effects of manipulated photos in social media might be justified, especially for adolescent girls with a higher social comparison tendency.

23) Political scientist Samuel Abrams on illiberalism among young faculty:

As the academy gets younger it grows more authoritarian, according to a new survey of over 1,400 faculty members conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). The free speech group’s findings portend a dark future for higher education if this course isn’t reversed—and if faculty minds don’t become more open to dissenting viewpoints.

Over the past decade or so, many academic departments embraced ideological views in their teaching and research, promoting social justice–laden scholarship as a way of correcting the wrongs of the past. Unsurprisingly, many departments developed left-of-center academic monocultures, becoming unfriendly to differing opinions. Young faculty entering the profession are only adding to this academic echo chamber…

Shockingly, younger faculty report more acceptance of violence to combat speech. While 97 percent of older faculty say it’s never acceptable for students to use violence to stop a campus speech, only 79 percent of younger faculty agree. That one in five younger professors show any level of acceptance for violence to stop speech should alarm all of us.

Mixing age with ideology reveals even more pronounced support for illiberal attitudes. Among liberal faculty 35 and under, only 23 percent indicated that students shouting down a speaker is never acceptable, compared with 88 percent of conservative faculty. Moderate faculty in this age group were also much more likely than their conservative colleagues to endorse the acceptability of these tactics.

Perhaps most alarming of all, only 64 percent of young and liberal faculty say it’s never acceptable for students to use violence to stop a campus speech.

Illiberalism runs deep among young liberal faculty members, and their views regrettably resemble those of their students rather than their more senior peers. As newer and far less tolerant numbers of professors replace older faculty, colleges and universities may be in a true crisis if the higher education enterprise destroys its core values.

The research also finds that faculty members are self-censoring at higher rates. In 1955, at the end of the second Red Scare after World War II during the age of McCarthy and deep anti-communist fear, 9 percent of social scientists said they toned down their writing for fear of causing controversy. Today, 25 percent say they’re very or extremely likely to self-censor their writing in academic publications.

More than half of faculty—52 percent—say they’re afraid they’ll lose their job or reputation over a misunderstanding of something they said or did, or because someone posted something from their past online. While almost three-quarters of conservative faculty expressed this year, 40 percent of even liberal faculty agree. That’s staggering: two in five professors who are a part of the prevailing orthodoxy on campus are fearful of losing their jobs over a misunderstanding.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Michelle Goldberg on Fox News and the Dominion lawsuit:

As the Dominion filing lays out, there was panic at Fox News over viewer backlash to the network correctly calling Arizona for Joe Biden on election night. Despite its accuracy, the call was viewed, internally, as a catastrophe.

“Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience?” Carlson texted his producer. He added, “An alternative like Newsmax could be devastating to us.” Sean Hannity, in an exchange with fellow hosts Carlson and Laura Ingraham, fretted about the “incalculable” damage the Arizona projection did to the Fox News brand and worried about a competitor emerging: “Serious $$ with serious distribution could be a real problem.”

Hyping false claims about election fraud was a way for Fox to win its audience back. While the Arizona call was “damaging,” Fox News C.E.O. Suzanne Scott wrote in a text to Fox executive Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s son, “We will highlight our stars and plant flags letting the viewers know we hear them and respect them.”

When Fox News reporter Jacqui Heinrich fact-checked Trump’s wild claims about Dominion on Twitter, Carlson was enraged and tried to get her fired. “It needs to stop immediately, like tonight,” he texted Hannity. “It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.” (Heinrich kept her job but deleted the tweet.)

The network knew, of course, that Trump’s lawyer Sidney Powell, a chief promoter of Dominion conspiracy theories, was a delusional fantasist. The legal brief reveals that some of her claims about Dominion were based on an email Powell had received from someone who claimed to be capable of “time travel in a semiconscious state.” On Nov. 18, 2020, Carlson told Ingraham: “Sidney Powell is lying by the way. Caught her. It’s insane.” Ingraham wrote back that Powell was a “complete nut.”

But according to the Dominion brief, an analysis by Ron Mitchell, the senior vice president for prime-time programming and analytics, found that “Fox viewers were switching the channel specifically to watch Sidney Powell as a guest” on Newsmax. A few days after this analysis, Powell was a guest on Hannity’s show.

At one point, Carlson did express skepticism of Powell on-air, noting on Nov. 19 that she had never produced evidence for her claims. “Maybe Sidney Powell will come forward soon with details on exactly how this happened, and precisely who did it,” he said, adding, “We are certainly hopeful that she will.”

Even this gentle note of doubt produced viewer pushback, though most of a message about it from Fox executive Raj Shah is redacted. Afterward, Carlson seems to have given up trying to steer his audience away from total credulity about Trump’s stolen election claims, even though he privately called Trump a “demonic force.” On Jan. 26, Carlson hosted MyPillow founder Mike Lindell on his show and let him sound off about Dominion without resistance. In fairness, Carlson may have had a motive for indulging Lindell besides grubbing for ratings. As Media Matters for America pointed out, MyPillow at the time was Carlson’s single biggest advertiser.

2) Andrew Prokop, “A juicy new legal filing reveals who really controls Fox News”

Who really runs Fox News?

Some liberals have a mental model in which the network lies to and misleads its audience, propagandizing them to support Republicans and the right. But an ongoing defamation lawsuit from the voting machine company Dominion against Fox News tells a more complex story — one in which the network’s key players feel compelled to supply the conspiratorial content the audience is demanding.

new filing by Dominion’s attorneys released Thursday cited a trove of Fox emails and texts they had obtained in the discovery phase of the lawsuit, as well as testimony from top executives and hosts, to lay out a narrative about what happened in the tense weeks after Election Day 2020, when then-President Donald Trump was spreading lies about the election.

As they discussed coverage of Trump’s falsehoods, Fox’s top executives and primetime personalities were explicitly terrified of alienating pro-Trump viewers, panicked about losing the “trust” of the audience, and anxious about competition from the further right and more conspiratorial Newsmax.

Almost everyone at the network, it seems, understood Trump’s allegations about a stolen election, and particularly his attorney Sidney Powell’s wacky tales of malfeasance from Dominion, were nonsense.

But an intense culture of what one might call “political correctness” took hold — in which challenging Trump and Powell’s claims could only happen with the utmost care and sensitivity, for fear of offending the tender feelings of Fox viewers.

More broadly, in understanding how lies and conspiracies spread on the right, it’s important to reckon not just with the suppliers of this coverage, but also the demand. There’s an intense desire for it among viewers that organizations like Fox calculate they have to satisfy in some way. And if Fox doesn’t provide it, those audiences will just seek it out elsewhere.

3) I didn’t know all that much about Ruben Gallego (he’ll hopefully knock-off Sinema and be Arizona’s next Democratic Senator), but I consider myself a huge fan after this interview.  

4) The fact that DeSantis thinks it is good politics to take on not just AP African-American studies, but all of the College Board and AP classes suggests that his political instincts are not always so great.  Talk about alienating suburban voters!

5) Good stuff from Chait, “Fight the Anti-Trans Backlash With Accountability, Not Silence.”  Relatedly, the hysterical, hyper-aggressive, completely non-rational response to pieces like this from Chait by the trans-activists on twitter just completely undermine their position.  

On Wednesday, a large collection of progressive journalists launched a public campaign, including a letter and a coordinated in-person demonstration by GLAAD, to protest the New York Times’s coverage of youth gender care. The letter claims the Times’s coverage is excessive, and it raises a couple attribution complaints about sources in a few of the stories to suggest the overall tenor is biased toward criticism.

The letter’s key premise is that the Times is whipping up public concern over a nonexistent phenomenon. “Puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy, and gender⁠-⁠affirming surgeries have been standard forms of care for cis and trans people alike for decades,” explains the letter. Since nothing especially new is occurring medically (“This is not a cultural emergency”), it follows that reporters have no reason to give the matter any new attention.

But this is simply not true. Reporting in theTimes, and in the other publications noted above, all show clearly that the field has undergone dramatic changes in the last decade or so. The old practice asked medical providers to diagnose gender dysphoria only in children who expressed persistent belief that they had the wrong gender identity. Many medical providers have adopted the view advocated by activists that children’s professed identity needs to be taken at face value almost immediately, with significantly less medical gatekeeping.

“I think what we’ve seen historically in trans care is an overfocus on assessing identity,” Colt St. Amand, a family-medicine physician at the Mayo Clinic told theTimes. “People are who they say they are, and they may develop and change, and all are normal and okay. So I am less concerned with certainty around identity, and more concerned with hearing the person’s embodiment goals.” This is a candid description of the new theory sweeping through clinics across the country: Stop the “overfocus” on assessing the gender identity of kids, and instead take their statement at face value and proceed to helping them actualize what they say they want.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) last year dropped its age guidelines for hormone use and surgeries. Some clinicians have expressed concern over the new practices. “It went so quickly that not even centers but individual clinicians, people who were not knowledgeable, were just giving this kind of treatment,” said Dr. Peggy Cohen-Kettenis, a Dutch psychologist who worked at the clinic that pioneered treatment for transgender youth, in another story in the Times. Many American gender clinics, Reuters found, prescribe puberty blockers “on the first visit, depending on the age of the child.”

At the same time as providers have sped up their protocols for transitioning children, the number of children requesting gender reassignment has risen dramatically. Within a few years, the number of young people identifying as transgender “nearly doubled,” and the number of pediatric gender clinics exploded from “a handful” to more than 60.

Unlike in past years, when “those assigned male at birth accounted for the majority,” a large majority of children questioning their gender now were assigned female at birth, reported Reuters. “Adolescents assigned female at birth initiate transgender care 2.5 to 7.1 times more frequently than those assigned male at birth,” according to WPATH. This is taking place in the context of a mental health crisis that is disproportionately affecting girls and LGBTQ+ teens. Properly assessing kids who question their gender is much more challenging when they are afflicted with serious mental health challenges. And so medical providers are diagnosing and treating kids much faster than before at a time when the patient population has become much harder to diagnose.

Whatever parallels the letter writers see to past practices — the letter cites episodes going back as far as 1394 — phenomena like a surgeon on TikTok telling teens to “Come to Miami to see me and the rest of the De Titty Committee,” as Reuters found, are new. One can defend the new practices, but it is preposterous to maintain that the field has merely continued “standard forms of care for cis and trans people alike for decades,” rather than having implemented a very sharp change.

But proceeding from the false assumption that nothing significant has changed in the field of youth-gender care, it is easy to see why progressive critics would believe the only explanation for the Times devoting significant reporting resources to the issue would be to foment a panic. And what other motives would the Times have to foment a panic besides fear and bias?…

The primary harm cited by the protesters is one that arises regularly any time a reporter or commentator suggests there are problems with the new treatment practices for gender-questioning youth: They are blamed for a wave of Republican-driven laws. It doesn’t matter if the reporter or critic opposes these laws. The presumption is that anything that discredits the left automatically benefits the right. The anti-Times letter makes a great deal of the fact that Times reporting has been cited by sources like Arkansas’s attorney general, and that a conservative activist “approvingly cited the Times’ reporting and relied on its reputation as the ‘paper of record’ to justify criminalizing gender⁠-⁠affirming care.”

It is true that Republicans are passing a wave of harmful, restrictive laws on trans medical access. The blame for laws like this does not rest with the medical providers who demanded evidence for the rapidly changing protocols in their field, nor with the reporters who brought these doubts to light. It lies first with politicians and the party that pass them. But blame will rest as well with activists who were so certain they stood on the side of justice that they sought to silence all doubt until it was too late.

Of course, the whole reason leftists try to associate reporters at the Times with Republican-backed laws is precisely that their targets do not agree with the conservative position on transgender care. If they did agree with it, there would be no shame in associating them with Republican-sponsored legislation. The point is to discredit any middle position, forcing a binary choice between extremes.

The idea that reporting on failures and abuses in the system feeds a backlash strikes me as completely backward. Of course, the right is going to push for harmful laws restricting trans youth regardless of the evidence. But the degree to which those bans win support in the middle of the political spectrum depends heavily on whether there is any real abuse in the system to correct. Conservative “bathroom” bills have died out because they combatted an imaginary problem with no real or sympathetic victims. Measures that target a real problem — even if they go too far — stand a better chance of success if they can point to actual, not imagined, harm.

The official line of pro-trans activists and their allies has maintained a dogmatic insistence that such victims of the newer, faster, and more aggressive treatment of gender-questioning kids are vanishingly rare. But that insistence has often extended to reflexively denying or ridiculing trans people who come to regret their transition (as two trans researchers, Leo Valdes and Kinnon MacKinnon, explained in The Atlantic).

6) This is cool– some polling on ChatGPT:

One-third (35%) of the public reports hearing a lot about recent artificial intelligence developments regarding the ability of computers and machines to carry out decision-making thought processes similar to humans. This level of awareness is much higher than eight years ago (12%). The biggest increase has been among younger adults. In 2015, just 12% of 18- to 34-year-olds heard a lot about recent developments in the field. Today, nearly half (45%) this age group says the same. Overall, more men (46%) than women (24%) have heard a lot about recent AI developments. Fully 9 in 10 Americans (91%) are aware of the term artificial intelligence, which is up from 70% in 2015.

One of the newer AI products is ChatGPT, an application that can have conversations and write entire essays based on a few human prompts. Six in ten (60%) Americans have heard about this product and 72% believe there will be a time when entire news articles will be written by artificial intelligence. However, very few see this as a positive development. In fact, more than 3 in 4 (78%) say that news articles written by AI would be a bad thing. Furthermore, 65% say it is very likely that AI programs such as ChatGPT will be used by students to cheat on their schoolwork.

“AI has started to permeate every facet of life. Most Americans are skeptical that this is a good thing, even though many of them use some form of artificial intelligence on a regular basis already,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Overall, only 1 in 10 (9%) Americans believe computer scientists’ ability to develop AI would do more good than harm to society. The remainder are divided between saying AI would do equal amounts of harm and good (46%) or that it would actually do more harm to society overall (41%). These results are largely unchanged from Monmouth’s poll in 2015, but public opinion continues to be more pessimistic about AI’s impact than it was a generation ago. When this same question was asked in 1987 by Cambridge Reports/Research International, 20% of Americans said AI would do more good than harm, 29% expected equal amounts of harm and good, and 39% said it would do more harm overall.

7) This is pretty wild, “Orca Moms Pay a High Price to Feed Large Adult Sons: A maternal preference for sons in a group of killer whales that swim off the Pacific Northwest may contribute to its endangered status.”

A fully grown male orca is one of the planet’s fiercest hunters. He’s a wily, streamlined torpedo who can weigh as much as 11 tons. No other animal preys on him. Yet in at least one population, these apex predators struggle to survive without their moms, who catch their food and even cut it up for them.

Scientists have previously seen that some killer whale mothers share food with their grown sons. In a study published Wednesday in Current Biology, researchers found that this prolonged feeding carries a huge reproductive cost for mothers.

Killer whales, actually the largest members of the dolphin family, swim throughout the world’s oceans. Yet they live in discrete populations with their own territories, dialects and hunting customs. A group that spends much of the year off the coast of British Columbia, Washington and Oregon is known as the southern residents. They eat mainly Chinook salmon, which have been increasingly hard to find.

“Killer whales worldwide are doing fine,” said Michael Weiss, research director at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash. But the southern residents, with a population of just 73, are considered endangered.

These whales stay with their birth family for their whole lives. The families are led by matriarchs who can live 80 to 90 years. Yet the females stop reproducing in midlife: Orcas and a few other whale species are the only mammals, besides humans, known to undergo menopause.

To try to explain menopause, scientists have looked for ways that matriarchs encourage the survival of their children and grandchildren. A 2012 study of southern resident killer whales, along with their neighbors, the northern residents, showed that the presence of older moms helped adult offspring stay alive — especially sons. Males over age 30 were eight times more likely to die in the year following their own mothers’ deaths.

One likely factor is that their moms feed them. After a female dives to catch a salmon, Dr. Weiss said, she surfaces with the fish sideways in her mouth. Another whale, often her son, may lurk over her shoulder. “She’ll basically jerk her head and bite down really hard, and half of the fish will float back behind her,” Dr. Weiss said, to her waiting kid. This feeding continues throughout the son’s life.

An adult male may be simply too bulky to easily chase a fleeing salmon, Dr. Weiss said. The whale’s more petite mom “not only is probably better at catching the fish but probably better at finding it,” he said, thanks to her years of experience. “We think that’s a big part of what’s keeping these males alive.”

8) “Cunk on Earth” is basically a polished Ali G (one of my all-time favorites) meets history documentary and it’s so good. 

Philomena Cunk, the host of Netflix and BBC Two’s Cunk on Earth, a mockumentary series about the history of human civilization, asks the stupidestquestions. Half historical tour guide and half field reporter, the character, played by comedian Diane Morgan, trains her glassy gaze upon real academics who’ve dedicated their lives to scholarship and poses queries like, “How did Egyptians build the pyramids? Did they start at the top and work down?” and “Were numbers worth less back in ancient times?” These experts, many of whom are in on the bit, play along by answering her questions as sincerely as they can. In episode five, Ashley Jackson, a professor of imperial and military history at London’s King’s College, gives in quickly after Cunk accuses him of “mansplaining” the distinction between the Soviet Union and what she calls the “Soviet Onion.” “If you want to talk about Russian Soviet vegetables, we can,” he says.

But Charlie Brooker, the show’s creator — best known in the United States for creating the anthology series Black Mirror — knows Cunk on Earth can’t sustain itself on dopey interview questions alone (Morgan’s Cunk character originated on Brooker’s mid-2010s BBC Two series, Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe), so the show etches out different ways to maintain its profound commitment to stupidity. Cunk’s narration is packed with factual inaccuracies, anecdotes about eccentric characters from her personal life, and daffy non sequiturs. “What’s ironic about Jesus Christ becoming a carpenter was he was actually named after the two words you’re most likely to shout after hitting your thumb with a hammer,” she says in episode two. For no apparent reason, the show’s go-to benchmark for the measurement of time is the 1989 Technotronic song “Pump Up the Jam.” Each reference to the “unrelated Belgian techno anthem” is accompanied by nearly 40 seconds of the song’s extremely ’80s music video and a chyron displaying jokes about the song like, “‘Pump Up the Jam’ is an anagram of ‘Jam Up the Pump.’” There is a commercial for a hotel resort played completely straight, a solo reenactment of a medieval feast turned mêlée soundtracked by expert sound design, a Black Mirror–inspired bit about traumatizing an artificially intelligent Beethoven by re-creating his sentience within a smart speaker, and more.

9) Robinson Meyer, “A Huge, Uncharted Experiment on the U.S. Economy Is About to Begin”

If you want to understand the immense windfall the Biden administration is about to bestow on green industries, take a look at hydrogen. Engineers still aren’t exactly sure what role the gas will play in a climate-friendly economy, but they’re pretty sure that (contra the ridicule in “Glass Onion) it will be useful for something. We might burn it to generate heat in factories, for instance, or use it to make high-tech chemicals.

And thanks to three laws Congress passed over the past two years — the bipartisan infrastructure law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the climate-focused Inflation Reduction Act — the industry will be very well taken care of. Over the next decade, the government is going to invest $8 billion in hydrogen “hubs” across the country, special zones where companies, universities and local governments can build the machinery and expertise that the new industry needs. Other hydrogen projects will qualify for a $10 billion pot of money in the Inflation Reduction Act or $1.5 billion in the infrastructure bill. Still others could draw from a new $6.3 billion program that will help industrial firms develop financially risky demonstration projects.

So that’s up to $25.8 billion before you get to the bazooka: an uncapped tax credit for hydrogen that could pay out perhaps $100 billion or more over the next decades.

Few Americans realize it yet, but the trifecta of the Biden-era laws amounts to one of the biggest experiments in how the American government oversees the economy in a generation. If this experiment is successful, it will change how politicians think about managing the market for years to come. If it fails or misfires, then it will greatly limit the number of tools to fight climate change or a recession. The story of the 21st-century American economy is being shaped now.

I say “experiment,” but, really, there are two. The first concerns the economy. President Biden’s team believes that it can move the United States toward a more robust, high-capacity and even re-industrialized economy. Can it? And can it use policy moreover to make sure that innovative ideas don’t get lost in the research lab or patent office, but instead make their way to the factory floor and corporate showroom, generating jobs and economic value along the way?

Don’t get me wrong: Some kind of climate boom is now all but assured. The investment bank Credit Suisse predicted last year that the Inflation Reduction Act would put more than $800 billion into the economy by the end of the decade, galvanizing more than $1.7 trillion in climate-friendly public and private spending overall. The law will transform the United States into the “world’s leading energy provider,” the bank said. The American renewable industry alone could attract 78 percent more investment per year by 2031, according to the energy-research firm Wood Mackenzie.

10) Damn I just hate this post-Roe reality, “Her baby has a deadly diagnosis. Her Florida doctors refused an abortion.”

Deborah and Lee Dorbert say the most painful decision of their lives was not honored by the physicians they trust. Even though medical experts expect their baby to survive only 20 minutes to a couple of hours, the Dorberts say their doctors told them that because of the new legislation, they could not terminate the pregnancy.

“That’s what we wanted,” Deborah said. “The doctors already told me, no matter what, at 24 weeks or full term, the outcomefor the baby is going to be the same.”

Florida’s H.B. 5 — Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality — went into effect last July, soon after the U.S. Supreme Court overturneda half-century constitutional right to abortion.

The new law bans abortion after 15 weeks with a couple of exceptions, including one that permits a later termination if “two physicians certify in writing that, in reasonable medical judgment, the fetus has a fatal fetal abnormality” and has not reached viability.

It is not clear how the Dorberts’ doctors applied the law in this situation. Their baby has a condition long considered lethal that is now the subject of clinical trials to assess a potential treatment.

Neither Dorbert’s obstetrician nor the maternal fetal medicine specialist she consulted responded to multiple requests for comment.

A spokesman for Lakeland Regional Health, thehospital system the doctors are affiliated with, declined to discussDorbert’s case or how it is interpreting the new law. In an emailed statement, Tim Boynton, the spokesman, said, “Lakeland Regional Health complies with all laws in the state of Florida.”

The combination of a narrow exception to the law and harsh penalties for violating it terrifies physicians, according to Autumn Katz, interim director of litigation at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who has been tracking the implementation of abortion bans across the country.

Florida physicians who violate the new law face penalties including the possibility of losing their licenses, steep fines and up to five years in prison.As a result, Katz said, they “are likely to err on the side of questioning whether the conditions are fully met.”

11) Apparently, norovirus is making a big comeback these days.  My family has been fortunate in not experiencing this for many years now, but we’ve sure done our norovirus time.  It’s just an insanely effective virus:

Still, fighting norovirus isn’t easy, as plenty of parents can attest. The pathogen, which prompts the body to expel infectious material from both ends of the digestive tract, is seriously gross and frustratingly hardy. Even the old COVID standby, a spritz of hand sanitizer, doesn’t work against it—the virus is encased in a tough protein shell that makes it insensitive to alcohol. Some have estimated that ingesting as few as 18 infectious units of virus can be enough to sicken someone, “and normally, what’s getting shed is in the billions,” says Megan Baldridge, a virologist and immunologist at Washington University in St. Louis. At an extreme, a single gram of feces—roughly the heft of a jelly bean—could contain as many as 5.5 billion infectious doses, enough to send the entire population of Eurasia sprinting for the toilet.

Unlike flu and RSV, two other pathogens that have bounced back to prominence in recent months, norovirus mainly targets the gut, and spreads especially well when people swallow viral particles that have been released in someone else’s vomit or stool. (Despite its “stomach flu” nickname, norovirus is not a flu virus.) But direct contact with those substances, or the food or water they contaminate, may not even be necessary: Sometimes people vomit with such force that the virus gets aerosolized; toilets, especially lidless ones, can send out plumes of infection like an Air Wick from hell. And Altan-Bonnet’s team has found that saliva may be an unappreciated reservoir for norovirus, at least in laboratory animals. If the spittle finding holds for humans, then talking, singing, and laughing in close proximity could be risky too.

Once emitted into the environment, norovirus particles can persist on surfaces for days—making frequent hand-washing and surface disinfection key measures to prevent spread, says Ibukun Kalu, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Duke University. Handshakes and shared meals tend to get dicey during outbreaks, along with frequently touched items such as utensils, door handles, and phones. One 2012 study pointed to a woven plastic grocery bag as the source of a small outbreak among a group of teenage soccer players; the bag had just been sitting in a bathroom used by one of the girls when she fell sick the night before.

Once a norovirus transmission chain begins, it can be very difficult to break. The virus can spread before symptoms start, and then for more than a week after they resolve. To make matters worse, immunity to the virus tends to be short-lived, lasting just a few months even against a genetically identical strain, Baldridge told me.

12) Catherine Rampell on Trump’s tax cuts:

This past week, more than 70 Republican lawmakers introduced a bill to make permanent the 2017 GOP-passed tax cuts, large chunks of which are scheduled to expire in 2025. Thenew bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Vern Buchanan (Fla.), credited the original tax cuts for “historic economic growth” and promised more “prosperity” ahead if they’re extended.

The White House, among others, has repeatedly attacked the proposed Trump tax-cut extension. With pretty good reason: At precisely the same time that Republicans are raising a hue-and-cry about federal deficits, they’re proposing a measure that would massively worsen our fiscal challenges.

Extending President Donald Trump’s individual tax cuts in full would add around $3 trillion to federal deficits over a decade, according to various estimates. As President Biden and others have pointed out, this is of a piece with other GOP-endorsed proposals that would widen deficits, such as repealing funding for the Internal Revenue Service and undoing Democrats’ prescription-drug pricing overhaul.

Moreover, extending the Trump tax cuts sounds pretty plutocratic: By far, the biggest benefits would go to higher-income households, according to estimates from the Tax Policy Center.

There is also little evidence that the 2017 tax law significantly boosted growth, at least based on the investment-driven theories touted by its supporters. It definitely didn’t generate enough economic growth to “pay for itself,” as those same supporters promised.

What’s more, in the regular polling that occurred for years after the law’s passage, it was almost consistently underwater in favorability.

All in all, probably not such a wise thing for Republicans to launch their economic agenda this way. Right?

And yet: If I had to guess, I’d bet that all or nearly all of the Trump tax cuts will indeed get extended before they lapse — evenifBiden is still president when the deadline comes, and even if Democrats somehow achieve unified control over both legislative chambers again.

In designing their 2017 tax overhaul, Republicans did something clever: They made the corporate-side tax changes (mostly) permanent, and the individual-side ones temporary. This made the upfront cost of the bill look a lot cheaper, with the “expectation that no Congress would stand in the way of extending them later on,” says Tax Policy Center’s Steven M. Rosenthal.

Why was it reasonable to assume that future Congresses won’t let the tax cuts sunset, as planned, given how unpopular the original law was? Because the tax cuts did, in fact, benefit most Americans, including the middle class…

So, if these individual-side tax provisions lapse, a whole lot of Americans’ tax bills will rise — and whoever stands in the way of extending those provisions will inevitably get blamed for “raising taxes.” President Barack Obama learned this the hard way when he was in the White House and negotiating with Republicans over extensions to the Bush-era tax cuts. After all, once voters have received a benefit, it becomes politically dangerous to ever take that benefit away, even if initially the program seemed unpopular. (Just ask Republicans about Obamacare!)

The White House has so far been noncommittal about its approach to the soon-to-expire Trump tax provisions. But Biden might have already boxed himself into keeping most of them in place.

That’s because he has repeatedly pledged — including in the recent State of the Union — that “nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will pay an additional penny in taxes.” If this “no new taxes” promise is supposed to mean no projected increases due to expiring tax breaks, most of the 2017 law gets extended. Which is still expensive! Depending on exact details, extending all of the expiring provisions other than the top tax rate could cost $2.1 trillion over a decade, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Even Biden’s proposed billionaire tax wouldn’t raise enough to offset that price tag.

Once upon a time, when both parties pretended to care about fiscal responsibility, Republicans generally favored addressing budget challenges through spending cuts, and Democrats through tax increases. Today, everyone’s on record as opposing just about anything that might make a significant dent in the deficit.

13) Good stuff from two of my favorite epidemiology follows on twitter, “We Still Don’t Know What Works Best to Slow the Spread Of COVID-19″

Since those first, bleak days of the early pandemic, we’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the steps taken at the start of the crisis, when governments and their public health advisers were making emergency decisions armed with very little data and information on an entirely new illness. This was the era before we had developed the powerful vaccines and medicines that have transformed the outlook for COVID-19. While there is certainly evidence that these early community mitigation strategies, which scientists call “non-pharmaceutical interventions” (NPIs), reduced the spread of the virus, what might surprise you is how little effort there has been to fully assess their impact.

Because of a lack of research on NPIs, we still can’t answer important questions like: which government measures had the greatest and the least impact? How did the sequencing and timing of these NPIs affect their effectiveness? Which measures caused more harm than benefit? We need answers to these questions so we can prepare for the next pandemic, armed with better knowledge.

When it comes to NPIs, every angry person online has a strong belief that if only we had spent more time promoting mask wearing, been more like Sweden with its government-sponsored healthcare and incredibly generous paid sick leave provisions, or done something, anything, better than we did, we could have averted the mass deathdisability, and orphanhood that COVID-19 caused. However, given the lack of data, it’s remarkably hard to know exactly how we could have used NPIs more effectively.

The most strident critics of government interventions and of public health measures during COVID-19 go so far as to say that the “cure was worse than the disease”—that is, they think NPIs killed more people than COVID-19 itself. Our research found no evidence for this assertion; we found that letting the virus rip through the population in an uncontrolled way was much deadlier, at least in the short term, than the most stringent NPIs, such as shelter-in-place orders.

Nevertheless, as we previously argued, highly restrictive NPIs clearly caused harms. For example, prolonged shelter-in-place orders were linked with an increase in harmful alcohol use and domestic violence. However, there has been little in the way of research on the trade-offs—that is, on understanding the balance between the harms of uncontrolled viral transmission versus those of NPIs. And it can also be very difficult to distinguish the impacts of the pandemic itself from the harms of NPIs. There’s no doubt, for example, that prolonged school closures affected children’s mental health, but so did losing a parent or other caregiver to COVID-19.

With all NPIs, when you start digging into the research evidence, the picture isn’t always clear cut. Take masks. From a basic science perspective, masks work—they filter the particles that we breathe. High filtration masks, like N95s, work better than surgical or cloth masks. Masking provides quite a bit of protection for the people wearing them against respiratory diseases, and can also help reduce transmission from an infected person to others…

But the problem with all this complexity is that it is anathema to the tedious simplicity that surrounds most COVID-19 retrospection. It’s easy to argue that ill-defined “lockdowns” have caused unimaginable harm, or that even the most extreme, ongoing NPIs are a great idea. It is, however, far harder to ask difficult questions like “When is it reasonable to close schools due to infectious diseases?” or “Do stay-at-home orders have a marginal benefit or harm when coupled with a range of other NPIs?” or even “Could we have achieved the same reduction in cases with less damaging interventions?”.

Which is a problem, because one thing virtually every expert agrees on is that we will face another pandemic just like COVID-19, or even more deadly, at some point in the future. Hopefully, we can get ready for it.

14) Typically excellent Noah Smith, “The U.S. cannot afford to turn against immigration: Bringing in new recruits is not charity, nor is it a luxury. It’s a necessity.”

Why we need immigration now more than ever


One reason we need immigrants is to keep our population young. Despite a very small post-pandemic uptick, the country’s total fertility rate has fallen well below the replacement level over the past decade and a half:

Source: OWID

This puts us slightly below the fertility rates of Denmark and France, and slightly above the UK and Germany. In other words, the America fertility exceptionalism of the 1990s and early 2000s is now a thing of the past.

Everyone is talking about China’s demographic challenges these days. Well, bad news: Those same problems are going to hit the U.S. equally hard unless we sustain robust levels of immigration. Not only does immigration directly increase our population by bringing young workers over to support our growing legions of elderly folks, but it also increases fertility because immigrants tend to have more kids.

Without immigrants, our population will grow older and older on average. Each worker will need to work more days out of every year just to support the growing ranks of the elderly. Productivity will probably fall as well, and multinational companies will be less willing to invest in a shrinking U.S. market.

And the problem created by shortages of high-skilled immigrants will be especially acute. As Alec Stapp and Jeremy Neufeld wrote in a Noahpinion guest post last year, immigrants are absolutely essential to U.S. innovation and technical leadership:

Despite making up just 14% of the population, immigrants are responsible for 30% of U.S. patents and 38% of U.S. Nobel Prizes in science. A team of Stanford economists recently estimated that nearly three quarters of all U.S. innovation since 1976 can be attributed to high-skilled immigration.

Immigrants’ contributions in the business world are comparably impressive. Recent analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy found that 55% of billion-dollar startups in the U.S. were started by immigrants…

Today, defense-related industries disproportionately turn to international talent to find workers with advanced STEM degrees. And there is nothing new about the idea that attracting the best and brightest can be a major strategic asset — it has been a major benefit to U.S. security from the Civil War through WWIIthe Cold War, and beyond.

Restrictionists’ response to this is to just wave their hands and mumble some sort of pablum about educating our own people more instead. This is fantasy. Not only do those restrictionists have no idea how to improve U.S. education, this “solution” neglects the brute fact that America has only 4% of the world’s population — the global talent pool is always going to be bigger than the local one, just due to sheer size.

That’s not to say that “low-skilled” immigration (a term I really dislike, btw) is bad. We need that too. Research continues to show that immigration of manual laborers doesn’t hurt the wages or the job prospects of the native-born. And even uneducated manual laborers who move to a new country to win a better future for themselves are a highly selected set, which is why the kids of poor immigrants tend to be very upwardly mobile. But pound-for-pound, high-skilled immigration is the highest priority, especially because of strategic considerations and the need to stay ahead in the tech race.

Quick hits (part I)

1) NC House voted for a new law eliminating earth science requirement and adding a computer science requirement.  What happens in NC Senate remains to be seen.  Among other things, the standard HS curriculum will now only require 2 sciences, but UNC system expects 3.  Hmmm.

2) Surprised I missed this before, but a big Reuters investigation on youth gender transitions.  Short-version, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Frustrating version: an honest and open-minded exploration/discussion of these uncertainties gets you labeled a transphobe and subject to ridiculous amounts of online hate (not me, mind you, but others I respect).

The United States has seen an explosion in recent years in the number of children who identify as a gender different from what they were designated at birth. Thousands of families like the Boyers are weighing profound choices in an emerging field of medicine as they pursue what is called gender-affirming care for their children.

Gender-affirming care covers a spectrum of interventions. It can entail adopting a child’s preferred name and pronouns and letting them dress in alignment with their gender identity – called social transitioning. It can incorporate therapy or other forms of psychological treatment. And, from around the start of adolescence, it can include medical interventions such as puberty blockers, hormones and, in some cases, surgery. In all of it, the aim is to support and affirm the child’s gender identity.

But families that go the medical route venture onto uncertain ground, where science has yet to catch up with practice. While the number of gender clinics treating children in the United States has grown from zero to more than 100 in the past 15 years – and waiting lists are long – strong evidence of the efficacy and possible long-term consequences of that treatment remains scant.

Puberty blockers and sex hormones do not have U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for children’s gender care. No clinical trials have established their safety for such off-label use. The drugs’ long-term effects on fertility and sexual function remain unclear. And in 2016, the FDA ordered makers of puberty blockers to add a warning about psychiatric problems to the drugs’ label after the agency received several reports of suicidal thoughts in children who were taking them.

More broadly, no large-scale studies have tracked people who received gender-related medical care as children to determine how many remained satisfied with their treatment as they aged and how many eventually regretted transitioning. The same lack of clarity holds true for the contentious issue of detransitioning, when a patient stops or reverses the transition process.

The National Institutes of Health, the U.S. government agency responsible for medical and public health research, told Reuters that “the evidence is limited on whether these treatments pose short- or long-term health risks for transgender and other gender-diverse adolescents.” The NIH has funded a comprehensive study to examine mental health and other outcomes for about 400 transgender youths treated at four U.S. children’s hospitals. However, long-term results are years away and may not address concerns such as fertility or cognitive development.

Frustrating version: an honest and open-minded exploration/discussion of these uncertainties gets you labeled a transphobe and subject to ridiculous amounts of online hate (not me, mind you, but others I respect).

3) Like, for example, this very good post from Yglesias, that, yes, asks some tough questions, “Progressives need to engage with the specific questions about youth gender care”

It’s an excellent piece, and it helped me articulate why I disagree so strongly with the segment of Slow Boring’s audience that wants me to join them in complaining about elective pronouns and the contemporary progressive vocabulary of cis-versus-trans. These linguistic shifts are not just some pose or studied effort to slice the political salami just so — they speak to this core question of dignity.

I would add, with a gesture at Judith Shklar, that decent people are on guard against the politics of cruelty. Cruelty can be tempting and it can be fun, but even the worst of us know that cruelty is wrong. So there are always people seeking a higher justification for their cruelty, a reason that being an asshole is actually a high-minded undertaking serving some crucial purpose. And today’s backlash to trans rights clearly involves people doing this — bullies and wannabe bullies being jerks for sport.

And when bullies are working to make so many people’s lives harder, it’s enormously important, as Bouie does, to articulate the guiding principles that help us push back against their conservative crusade.

But it’s also important not to avoid venturing into the weeds of the specific policy questions we’re facing, and this is where I think progressives are falling short…

This is where you get into the reality that abstract political values don’t always answer factual questions.

Phunky and Joseph agree that teens should be able to get reversible gender-affirming treatments. But are puberty-blocking medications reversible? According to the United States government they are, but the UK’s NICE says there is no good clinical evidence on this.

Importantly, because youth gender dysphoria treatment is an off-label use of drugs that were originally created to treat precocious puberty, the big clinical trials that were conducted for FDA approval don’t really speak to the issue at hand in a clear way. Again, this is not some special feature of gender-affirming care or the fault of anyone in the trans community. But it’s also not a fever dream of the reactionary right. A structural feature of American health regulation is that the FDA sets a very high bar for approving drugs but a very light regulatory bar for their off-label use. Pharmaceutical companies have no incentive to organize new clinical trials because their medication is already being used for this purpose and the market is growing.

This is one of these things where it’s such a political hot button that most of the people offering any commentary on the issue have very strong feelings. I have scanned some of the relevant arguments from qualified professionals and it really strikes me as understudied and somewhat hard to say. My point, though, is that the enduring values articulated by Douglass and channeled by Bouie can’t determine any particular factual conclusion about the impact of medications.

Meanwhile, despite the attention given to the controversy about the reversibility of puberty blockers, the current World Professional Association for Transgender Health recommendations say that “hormones could be started at age 14, two years earlier than the group’s previous advice, and some surgeries done at age 15 or 17, a year or so earlier than previous guidance.” WPATH has its reasons for making this recommendation, but I don’t think Phunky and Joseph are drawing the line the way they did as an attack on the dignity of trans people. It’s quite possible they would change their stance if they knew that WPATH had changed its recommendation — people often have weakly held views and defer to expert organizations. But at a minimum, the current WPATH recommendations are laxer and the science of puberty blockers more uncertain than a casual scan of the coverage would lead you to believe.

4) Good stuff from Lee Drutman, “Democrats are for rich people? Republicans are not? Has the world turned upside down?”

Last week, my talented New America colleague Oscar Pocasangre and I released a new deep data-dive on the demographics and voter preferences of all 435 congressional districts. 

We had started last fall by asking how competitive districts were tugging differently on Democratic and Republican coalitions. We wound up with an even deeper understanding of the challenges both parties face in holding together their coalitions.

The report is chock-a-block with fascinating stuff. (I promise!). But the scatterplot that sticks out for me is our Figure 2. 

Districts vary considerably by percent of residents who identify as white. This is not news to anybody. Most districts have average income in the mid-five figures, but some districts have high average incomes: Also not news to anybody.

But if we break districts into four quadrants, splitting on the average, we get four types of districts. And that’s where it gets interesting… 


The most common type of district has a below-average income, and is more white than average. These are the districts where Republicans dominate. Of the 162 districts that fit this category (about 37 percent of districts), Republicans won 137 in 2022, or 85 percent.

But in the other three types of districts here, Democrats dominate.

Democrats do best in the more diverse and wealthier than average districts. Of these 82 districts, Democrats won 63 in 2022, or 77 percent.

Democrats also prevail among the more diverse (less white) and less affluent districts, winning 74 out of 102 such districts, or 73 percent — just a shade less than the less white, wealthier than average districts.

Finally, among the whiter and wealthier districts, Democrats also win the majority, 51 out of 89, or 57 percent. 

Put another way, Democratic members of Congress come from many different types of districts. Republican members of Congress overwhelmingly come from districts that are mostly white and less affluent than average.

5) I had a conversation the other day where someone suggested that the illiberal liberal overreach is receding because they don’t have Trump to animate them.  Chait makes this point in his latest newsletter:

6) Not your everyday NYT Op-Ed, “Let Us Eat Lungs

Federal policy in the United States allows butchers to sell virtually every part of an animal’s body as human food, with one notable exception: the lungs. In 1971 the Department of Agriculture declared animal lungs unfit “for use as human food” and banned them from the commercial food supply.

As a doctor who enjoys eating nose to tail, including an animal’s internal organs and entrails, I believe that the lung ban makes no medical sense and accomplishes little to keep the American public safe. The Department of Agriculture should discard the rule.

When people first hear about this rule, even scientists and food law experts I’ve spoken to, they often presume that it is designed to protect us from dangerous infections that can harbor in animal lungs, like tuberculosis and anthrax. But the language of the ban’s stated rationale says little about lung infections. When the Department of Agriculture proposed the rule in 1969, it purported to protect people from eating things like dust, flower pollen and fungal spores that animals (including humans) inhale.

The rule was based on studies conducted around 1970 in which pathologists at the Department of Agriculture cut open the branching airways of animal lungs to study them much more deeply than in a typical post-mortem examination. The pathologists found those inhaled airborne particulates. They also found stomach contents, which may have refluxed up the animals’ esophagi and into their airways before or after death.

Notably, the pathologists did not mention any serious infections, which are generally discovered with a typical superficial examination — the same check that every internal organ undergoes before being U.S.D.A. approved. (Infected specimens should, of course, be kept out of the food supply.)

Still, the Department of Agriculture felt that such impurities rendered lungs unfit for human consumption and banned them outright. Scottish haggis, which includes the organ, disappeared from store shelves and butcher shops in the United States. (Dried lung treats for pets, however, are legal and widely available. Also, the ruling does not extend to those who hunt and slaughter animals for personal consumption.)

To be clear, there is little scientific data to show that ingesting these impurities is dangerous — or, conversely, that it is safe. But a basic understanding of how our lungs clean themselves suggests how nonsensical the Department of Agriculture rule is.

Needless to say, I will not be partaking regardless of FDA regulations.

7) It really was pretty interesting to see just how far the Texas Tech DEI bureaucracy had inserted themselves into the faculty hiring process, “In rare move, Texas Tech rescinds DEI litmus test for faculty. Others aren’t as lucky.”

As diversity initiatives have proliferated on campuses in recent years, FIRE has expressed repeated concern that mandatory diversity statements — in which a faculty member must pledge allegiance to prevailing views about diversity, equity, and inclusion to get hired or promoted — impose an illiberal campus orthodoxy. This week, a Wall Street Journal piece shed light on Texas Tech University’s use of these statements to weed out candidates with dissenting views, exposing the dark underbelly of a practice that FIRE has long criticized. It also prompted the university to take the unprecedented, and welcome, step of rescinding the policy and reviewing hiring practices across all departments. 

On Monday night, National Association of Scholars Senior Fellow John D. Sailer announced in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece the release of 99 pages of internal documents revealing how faculty applicant statements discussing contributions to DEI served as a political litmus test for hiring at Texas Tech University. 

The records, obtained from the public university via public records requests, cast a bright light on the ideological conformity demanded of candidates for Texas Tech faculty positions. FIRE has long argued that these statements are intended to reward adherence to highly specific views on diversity and punish those who hold different views. The Texas Tech records show that’s exactly what’s happening, with rubrics describing with particularity which views professors are expected to express and which views were unacceptable: 

Don’t know the difference between “equity” and “equality”? You’ll get dinged for that. Might you have forgotten to acknowledge that the land on which you hope to teach was once occupied by Native Americans? You’ll be knocked for that, too.

The search committee flagged one candidate for espousing “race neutrality” in teaching. He expressed that respecting students and treating them equally regardless of race was best practice, but this raised the school’s alarm for reflecting “a lack of understanding of equity and inclusion issues.” Conversely, an immunology candidate received high marks for mentioning “inclusivity in lab” and referencing their “unconscious bias.” 

8) Yasmin Tayag on the difficulty of making sense of the research on masks:

An important feature of Cochrane reviews is that they look only at “randomized controlled trials,” considered the gold standard for certain types of research because they compare the impact of one intervention with another while tightly controlling for biases and confounding variables. The trials considered in the review compared groups of people who masked with those who didn’t in an effort to estimate how effective masking is at blunting the spread of COVID in a general population. The population-level detail is important: It indicates uncertainty about whether requiring everyone to wear a mask makes a difference in viral spread. This is different from the impact of individual masking, which has been better researched. Doctors, after all, routinely mask when they’re around sick patients and do not seem to be infected more often than anyone else. “We have fairly decent evidence that masks can protect the wearer,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Brown University, told me. “Where I think it sort of falls apart is relating that to the population level.”

The research on individual masking generally shows what we have come to expect: High-quality masks provide a physical barrier between the wearer and infectious particles, if worn correctly. For instance, in one study, N95 masks were shown to block 57 to 90 percent of particles, depending on how well they fit; cloth and surgical masks are less effective. The caveat is that much of that support came from laboratory research and observational studies, which don’t account for the messiness of real life.

That the Cochrane review reasonably challenges the effectiveness of population-level masking doesn’t mean the findings of previous studies in support of masking are moot. A common theme among criticisms of the review is that it considered only a small number of studies by virtue of Cochrane’s standards; there just aren’t that many randomized controlled trials on COVID and masks. In fact, most of those included in the review are about the impact of masking on other respiratory illnesses, namely the flu. Although some similarities between the viruses are likely, Nuzzo explained on Twitter, COVID-specific trials would be ideal.


The handful of trials in the review that focus on COVID don’t show strong support for masking. One, from Bangladesh, which looked at both cloth and surgical masks, found a 9 percent decrease in symptomatic cases in masked versus unmasked groups (and a reanalysis of that study found signs of bias in the way the data were collected and interpreted); another, from Denmark, suggested that surgical masks offered no statistically significant protection at all.

Criticisms of the review posit that it might have come to a different conclusion if more and better-quality studies had been available. The paper’s authors acknowledge that the trials they considered were prone to bias and didn’t control for inconsistent adherence to the interventions. “The low to moderate certainty of evidence means our confidence in the effect estimate is limited, and that the true effect may be different from the observed estimate of the effect,” they concluded. If high-quality masks worn properly work well at an individual level, after all, then it stands to reason that high-quality masks worn properly by many people in any situation should indeed provide some level of protection.

9) Super-depressing Washington Post story on authoritarian regimes giving draconian sentences for protest.  Gift link.

That’s all — a click.

They are hardly alone. The world’s political prisons are bulging. A string of popular uprisings over the past few years brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to the streets, protesting against authoritarianism in Hong Kong, Cuba, Belarus and Iran; against the military junta that toppled democracy in Myanmar; and against strict restrictions on speech and protest in Russia and China. Also, Arab Spring uprisings swept Egypt, Syria and elsewhere a decade ago, and protests broke out in Vietnam in 2018. Most of these protests were met with mass crackdowns and arrests. Thousands of participants — largely young and demonstrating for the first time — have been held in prison for demanding the right to speak and think freely and to choose their leaders.

Authoritarian regimes often work in the shadows, using secret police to threaten dissidents, censor the media, prohibit travel or choke off internet access. But when prisons are jam-packed with thousands who simply marched down the street or sent a tweet, the repression is no longer hidden; it is a bright, pulsating signal that freedom is in distress.

Arrested for political protest

Belarus, Cuba and Vietnam have thrown thousands into prison in recent years.

*Justicia 11J says 990 people are imprisoned and convicted or pending trial in Cuba.


Political prisons are, sadly, not new. During the 20th century, the practice of mass repression grew to immense proportions in Joseph Stalin’s gulag system of forced labor camps. Political prisons have been notorious in Fidel Castro’s Cuba; Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; Cold War East Germany; apartheid South Africa; North Korea; and, in recent years, in China’s Xinjiang region.

According to the classic definition, formulated by Carl J. Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1956, a totalitarian dictatorship is characterized by an ideology, a single party led by one person, a terroristic police, government control of all communications, a weapons monopoly and a centrally controlled economy. In today’s world, fewer authoritarian states run a command economy. But many embrace the other characteristics. The political prisons are where the threads come together, punishing those who challenge a regime’s monopoly on power.

10) Stuart Stevens on Nikki Haley:

I remember the first time I saw Nikki Haley. It was in a high school gym before the 2012 South Carolina Republican presidential primary. Tim Scott, who was then a congressman, was holding a raucous town hall, and Ms. Haley was there to cheer him on. The first woman to be governor of South Carolina, the first Indian American ever elected to statewide office there, the youngest governor in the country. Whatever that “thing” is that talented politicians possess, Ms. Haley had it. People liked her, and more important, she seemed to like people. She talked with you, not to you, and she made routine conversations feel special and important. She seemed to have unlimited potential.

Then she threw it all away.

No political figure better illustrates the tragic collapse of the modern Republican Party than Nikki Haley. There was a time not very long ago when she was everything the party thought it needed to win. She was a woman when the party needed more women, a daughter of immigrants when the party needed more immigrants, a young change maker when the party needed younger voters and a symbol of tolerance who took down the Confederate flag when the party needed more people of color and educated suburbanites…

As a former Republican political operative who worked in South Carolina presidential primaries, I look at Ms. Haley now, as she prepares to launch her own presidential campaign, with sadness tinged with regret for what could have been. But I’m not a bit surprised. Her rise and fall only highlights what many of us already knew: Mr. Trump didn’t change the Republican Party; he revealed it. Ms. Haley, for all her talents, embodies the moral failure of the party in its drive to win at any cost, a drive so ruthless and insistent that it has transformed the G.O.P. into an autocratic movement. It’s not that she has changed positions to suit the political moment or even that she has abandoned beliefs she once claimed to be deeply held. It’s that the 2023 version of Ms. Haley is actively working against the core values that the 2016 Ms. Haley would have held to be the very foundation of her public life.

11) On the viral spread of psychogenic disease (Tik Tok tics) among today’s teens.  I’m sure this has no relationship whatsoever to insanely increasing rates of gender dysphoria in teens. 

Over the next year, doctors across the world treated thousands of young people for sudden, explosive tics. Many of the patients had watched popular TikTok videos of teenagers claiming to have Tourette’s syndrome. A spate of alarming headlines about “TikTok tics” followed.

But similar outbreaks have happened for centuries. Mysterious symptoms can spread rapidly in a close-knit community, especially one that has endured a shared stress. The TikTok tics are one of the largest modern examples of this phenomenon. They arrived at a unique moment in history, when a once-in-a-century pandemic spurred pervasive anxiety and isolation, and social media was at times the only way to connect and commiserate.

Now, experts are trying to tease apart the many possible factors — internal and external — that made these teenagers so sensitive to what they watched online.

Four out of five of the adolescents were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, and one-third reported past traumatic experiences, according to a study from the University of Calgary that analyzed nearly 300 cases from eight countries. In new research that has not yet been published, the Canadian team has also found a link to gender: The adolescents were overwhelmingly girls, or were transgender or nonbinary — though no one knows why.

12) Horse virus story from history! “A virus crippled U.S. cities 150 years ago. It didn’t infect humans.”

In the late 19th century, American cities moved to a soundtrack of clopping and clanking. Horses pulled commuters on streetcars, hauled construction materials for new buildings, carted groceries to homes, and conveyed patrons to theaters and baseball games.

But in late September 1872, horses fell sick on several farms near Toronto. Within days, a veterinarian found an additional 14 sick horses in the city. Within a week, the count grew to 600. The mysterious “Canadian horse disease” spread quickly, following rail lines into bustling cities and knocking out the workhorses that had powered the United States into a new era.

A fire devastated Boston’s commercial district, in part because horses were too sick to haul pump wagons. In New York, boxes lay untouched at railroad depots and city piers, among the busiest in the world. People lost work. Garbage went uncollected, mail undelivered. Political rallies, just weeks ahead of the presidential election, were canceled. Streets fell silent in such far-flung cities as Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco. In D.C., streetcar service was shut down, as was horse- and mule-drawn traffic on the C&O Canal.

Known as the Great Epizootic, the outbreak of what was later determined to be the equine flu hit the vast majority of the country’s horses between October 1872 and March 1873, temporarily paralyzing cities in a crisis “comparable to what would happen today if gas pumps ran dry or the electric grid went down,” University of Tennessee historian Ernest Freeberg wrote.

Fortunately, the crisis was short-lived. Most horses rallied, and life in each locale resumed within several weeks. But the 150-year-old episode serves as an early example of how vulnerable modern life can be to a disease outbreak among animals. It’s a strikingly familiar theme at a time when an outbreak of avian flu has helped send egg prices soaring (and has infected some mammals) — and when a virus believed to have started in animals in a Chinese open-air market jumped into humans and shut down much of the globe starting in 2020.

13) This is pretty wild, “How Supergenes Beat the Odds—and Fuel Evolution: Stretches of DNA that lock inherited traits together often accumulate harmful mutations. But they also hold genetic benefits for species.

THOUSANDS OF MILES from home in the steamy Amazon rain forest in the mid-1800s, the British naturalist Henry Walter Bates had a problem. More than one, really; there were thumb-size biting insects, the ever-present threat of malaria, venomous snakes, and mold and mildew that threatened to overtake his precious specimens before they could be shipped back to England. But the nagging scientific problem that bothered him involved butterflies.

By the time Bates’ discovery reached the scientific cognoscenti in England, Charles Darwin’s then new proposal of natural selection could explain why this brilliant mimicry occurred. Birds and other predators avoid Heliconius butterflies because they are toxic to eat, with a bitter taste. The mimics were not toxic, but because they looked so much like the foul-tasting Heliconius, they were less likely to be eaten. The closer the resemblance, the more potent the protection.

What Bates and many later evolutionary biologists couldn’t explain was how this mimicry was possible. Getting the right shades of aquamarine and fiery orange in the right places on the wings required a constellation of precisely tuned genes. Those traits would have to be inherited with perfect fidelity, generation after generation, to preserve the Heliconius disguise. Maybe real Heliconius butterflies could afford to deviate a bit in coloration because their toxins could still teach predators to stay away in the future, but the mimics needed to be consistently flawless replicas. Yet the random reshuffling and remixing of traits in sexual reproduction should have quickly disrupted the essential coloring patterns.

Today we know that in many species the answer is supergenes—stretches of DNA that lock several genes together into a single inheritable unit. “They’re kind of a wild card,” said Marte Sodeland, a molecular ecologist at the University of Agder in Norway. This aggregated form of inheritance “has obvious advantages, because it allows rapid adaptation, but there’s a lot we don’t know yet.”

Supergenes once seemed like an evolutionary oddity, but the rise of genetic sequencing has shown that they are far more common than researchers believed. Not all supergenes may serve a function, but work in just the past few years has revealed that traits in a wide range of animal and plant species might be driven by these groups of genes that function like a single gene. Supergenes help wild sunflowers adapt to a range of environments, such as sand dunes, coastal plains, and barrier islands. In other families of plants, they produce subtle but important variations in their sexual organs and fertility that help to prevent inbreeding. Research published last spring showed that in some fire ant species, supergenes determine which type of social organization predominates—whether a colony has a single breeding queen or more than one, and whether it produces more males or females. (Specific supergenes in humans haven’t been confirmed, but likely candidates have been found.)

14) Really interesting book excerpt in the Atlantic, “What Really Took America to War in Iraq: A fatal combination of fear, power, and hubris”

Fear, power, and hubris explain America’s march to war in Iraq. By thinking otherwise, by simplifying the story and believing that all would be well if we only had more honest officials, stronger leaders, and more realistic policy makers, we delude ourselves. Tragedy occurs not because our leaders are naive, stupid, and corrupt. Tragedy occurs when earnest and responsible officials try their best to make America safer and end up making things much worse. We need to ask why this happens. We need to appreciate the dangers that lurk when there is too much fear, too much power, too much hubris—and insufficient prudence.

15) This is really going to get a full post soon, as I just listened to the best podcast limited series ever, but, for now, Kristof: “Two-Thirds of Kids Struggle to Read, and We Know How to Fix It”

A lovely aphorism holds that education isn’t the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.

But too often, neither are pails filled nor fires lit.

One of the most bearish statistics for the future of the United States is this: Two-thirds of fourth graders in the United States are not proficient in reading.

Reading may be the most important skill we can give children. It’s the pilot light of that fire.

Yet we fail to ignite that pilot light, so today some one in five adults in the United States struggles with basic literacy, and after more than 25 years of campaigns and fads, American children are still struggling to read. Eighth graders today are actually a hair worse at reading than their counterparts were in 1998.

One explanation gaining ground is that, with the best of intentions, we grown-ups have bungled the task of teaching kids to read. There is growing evidence from neuroscience and careful experiments that the United States has adopted reading strategies that just don’t work very well and that we haven’t relied enough on a simple starting point — helping kids learn to sound out words with phonics.

“Too much reading instruction is not based on what the evidence says,” noted Nancy Madden, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who is an expert on early literacy. “That’s pretty clear.

“At least half of kids in the U.S. are not getting effective reading instruction.”

Other experts agree. Ted Mitchell, an education veteran at nearly every level who is now president of the American Council on Education, thinks that easily a majority of children are getting subpar instruction.

Others disagree, of course. But an approach called the “science of reading” has gained ground, and it rests on a bed of phonics instruction…

I became intrigued by the failures in reading after listening to a riveting six-part podcast, “Sold a Story,” that argues passionately that the education establishment ignored empirical evidence and unintentionally harmed children.

“Kids are not being taught how to read because for decades teachers have been sold an idea about reading and how children learn to do it,” Emily Hanford, a public radio journalist who for years has focused on reading issues, says in the first of the podcasts. She told me that the podcast has had more than 3.5 million downloads.

One of the targets of the podcast is Lucy Calkins, a professor at Columbia University Teachers College who has a widely used reading curriculum. Calkins has acknowledged learning from the science of reading movement and from Hanford, and she told me how she has modified her curriculum as a result — but she also says that phonics was always part of her approach and that media narratives are oversimplified.

As Calkins and others revise their materials, skeptics worry that curriculums still aren’t fully committed to phonics but layer it onto other strategies, leaving students befuddled.

It’s easy to be glib in describing these reading wars. Everyone agrees that phonics are necessary, and everyone also agrees that phonics are not enough.


What’s clear is that when two-thirds of American kids are not proficient at reading, we’re failing the next generation. We can fix this, imperfectly, if we’re relentlessly empirical and focus on the evidence. It’s also noteworthy that lots of other interventions help and aren’t controversial: tutoring, access to books, and coaching parents on reading to children. And slashing child poverty, which child tax credits accomplished very successfully until they were cut back.


Actually, this is overly-generous to the phonics-deniers.  But, more on that in a future post. 

16) I loved this New Yorker interview with Aubrey Plaza.  Also loved “Emily the Criminal” which I watched this week (and you should, too– it’s on Netflix).

17) Yglesias makes the case for cautious optimism on police reform

18) Derek Thompson on the mental health crisis among teen girls:

American teenagers—especially girls and kids who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning—are “engulfed” in historic rates of anxiety and sadness. And everybody seems to think they know why.

Some psychologists point to social media, whereas others blame school shootings; others chalk it up to changes in parenting. Climate-change activists say it’s climate change. Atlantic writers like me blather on about the decline of physical-world interactions. These explanations aren’t equally valid, and some of them might be purely wrong. But the sheer number of theories reflects the complexity of mental-health challenges and suggests that, perhaps, nobody knows for sure what’s going on…

Why is it so hard to prove that social media and smartphones are destroying teen mental health?

The story seems simple from a distance: Teen anxiety increased during a period when smartphones and social media colonized the youth social experience. Offline time with close friends went down. Time spent alone staring into a virtual void went up. Sounds pretty bad.

But the academic literature on social media’s harms is complicated. Perhaps the most famous and trusted study of the effects of social media on polarization and mental health is “The Welfare Effects of Social Media.” When researchers paid people to deactivate their Facebook accounts, they found that online activity went down, offline activity went up, both polarization and news knowledge declined, and subjective well-being increased. Many participants who had been randomly selected to leave Facebook stayed off the site even weeks after they had to, suggesting that using social media may be akin to compulsive or addictive behavior. The researchers describe the effect of Facebook deactivation on depression and anxiety as “small—about 25-40 percent of the effect of psychological interventions including self-help therapy.”

In a few years, the assumption that social media is making us crazy might look eye-bleedingly obvious, like a surgeon-general warning that sucking on cigarettes to pull addictive carcinogens into your lungs is, in fact, bad for your lungs. But the best evidence we have suggests that social media isn’t really like smoking. My guess is that it’s more of an attention alcohol—a substance that, in small doses, can be fun or even useful for adults, but in larger doses can cause problems for certain people. But maybe even that’s too strong. Just as academics now believe we overrated the danger of online echo chambers (in fact, social media probably exposes us to a much wider range of views than cable news does), we’ll realize that we unfairly blame social media for declining mental health.

“There’s been absolutely hundreds of [social-media and mental-health] studies, almost all showing pretty small effects,” Jeff Hancock, a behavioral psychologist at Stanford University, told The New York Times last year. I think we still need more high-quality studies and randomized trials to fully understand what’s happening here…

Why are Americans so mentally distressed even as they’ve become better at talking about mental distress?

It’s obvious, you might say: As anxiety rates have escalated, more people have had to build their own personal therapeutic glossary.

Or maybe something else is going on. In the past few years, a great deal of U.S. discourse has absorbed the vocabulary of therapy, with frequent references to trauma, harm, emotional capacity, and self-care. But the ubiquity of “therapy-speak” on the internet has coincided with the emergence of an internet culture that is decidedly anti-therapeutic.

Research from both the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Beihang University, in Beijing, have found that intense and negative emotions are among the most likely to go viral online. Anger and outrage seem to be aerodynamic on the internet not only because we’re drawn to the emotional meltdowns of our fellow humans, but also because demonstrating outrage about a topic is a good way of advertising one’s own moral standing.

Anger, outrage, and catastrophizing are exactly what modern therapists tell their patients to avoid. One of the most popular modes of clinical psychology is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which formalizes an ancient wisdom: We don’t often control what happens in life, but at the margins, we can change how we think about what happens to us. We can learn to identify the most negative and unhelpful thoughts and restructure them, so as to guide us toward better feelings and behaviors. In life, treating minor problems as catastrophes is a straight path to misery—but online, the most catastrophic headlines get the most attention. In life, nurturing anger produces conflict with friends and family; online, it’s an excellent way to build an audience.

Modern internet culture has adopted therapy-speak while repeatedly setting fire to the actual lessons of modern therapy. It’s a bizarre spectacle, like a hospital where fake doctors know the words for every disease but half of the surgeries result in sepsis. In the open expanse of the internet, we could have built any kind of world. We built this one. Why have we done this to ourselves?

19) I’ve read about ChatGPT “watermarks” but couldn’t really understand.  Now, I do!  So cool. 

20) Party Down is one of the best TV comedies ever.  So cool that they’ve made some new episodes. 

21) Maryn McKenna, “The Bird Flu Outbreak Has Taken an Ominous Turn: The avian flu has killed millions of chickens, decimated wild birds—and moved into mammals. Now the poultry industry needs new measures to stop its spread.

“When there’s public discussion of addressing zoonotic disease, it almost immediately turns to vaccination, preparedness, biosecurity—but no one discusses addressing the root cause,” says Jan Dutkiewicz, a political economist and visiting fellow at Harvard Law School’s Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law and Policy Clinic. “We would never have a debate about preventing cancer from tobacco products without talking about stopping smoking. Yet when it comes to zoonotic disease risk, there is a huge reticence to discuss curbing animal production.”

That might be an unthinkable proposal, given that Americans ate an estimated 1.45 billion wings during the Superbowl last Sunday—and that as a culture, we’re not inclined to ask many questions about how our food arrives at our plates. “Industrial animal production operates and maybe even depends on a distance between the consumer and the realities and violence of industrial animal production,” says Adam Sheingate, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University who studies food and agriculture policy. “Most people really prefer not to know how their food is produced.” Still, he points out, when disease risks from food become clear, other nations respond rapidly—such as when the UK changed cattle-farming practices after Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, the human variant of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow disease,” killed 178 people in the mid-1990s.

“This is not to say we get rid of poultry,” says Andrew deCoriolis, executive director of Farm Forward, a nonprofit that works to improve farm animal welfare. “It’s to say: We have to understand what are the factors that are the biggest risk drivers, and perhaps legislate changes to them. That could be moving farms out of flyways, it could be reducing the number of barns on a particular location, it could be reducing animal density within the barns.”

Dreadful though it is, it’s possible to construe the current outbreak as an opportunity to begin gathering big data about what makes poultry production so vulnerable. Precisely because the disease has spread so widely, data could reveal patterns that haven’t been visible before—whether affected farms use certain feed or water systems, for instance, or buy just-hatched birds from specific breeding lines, or are sited in particular landscape features or lie under the migration routes of identifiable birds. “There isn’t a lot of research to show what are absolute best practices, because viruses are stochastic—you don’t know exactly when you’re going to get an introduction,” says Meghan Davis, a veterinarian and epidemiologist and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

After the 2015 outbreak, which up to that point was the worst poultry producers could imagine, the industry focused on identifying the human networks that made its farms vulnerable. Companies tried to control how visitors might unknowingly expose them to the virus: through sharing housing with workers from another property, or driving a truck from an infected farm onto a clean one, or carrying mail or even a cell phone that might have been contaminated. The extraordinary expansion of H5N1 flu into wild birds now may mean that producers also have to think about how the environment itself invites exposure. Wetlands attract ducks. Copses shelter raptors that pursue rodents that scavenge spilled grain. It’s an approach that concedes that biosecurity can never be perfect, and that a production system can never fully seal itself off from the world.

22) Frank Bruni on RDS:

But the latest wave of commentary underestimates him — and that’s dangerous. He’s not Walker: Nate Cohn explained why in The Times early this week, concluding that DeSantis “has a lot more in common with Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan” when they were gearing up for their first presidential bids than with Walker, Kamala Harris or Rick Perry, whose sizzle fizzled fast.

He’s also not Jeb Bush. It has become popular to make that comparison as well, likening DeSantis to his predecessor in the Florida governor’s mansion. But DeSantis has the very venom that Bush didn’t. He’s a viper to Bush’s garter snake.

23) The AP African-American studies controversy is so much more complicated than both sides are presenting it.  Finally, John McWhorter with far and away the best explanation of what’s really going on here:

I’d like to make clear that I disapprove of the vast majority of DeSantis’s culture warrior agenda, a ham-handed set of plans designed to stir up a G.O.P. base in thrall to unreflective figures such as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. If DeSantis runs for president, he will not get my vote.

However, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and in terms of how we tell the story of Black America, the board did the right thing, whether because of DeSantis’s threat or for more high-minded reasons. The take that I saw in the course’s original draft depicted the history of Black America over the past several decades as an unbroken stream of left protest against a seemingly unchanging racist hegemon. There is certainly drama in the procession. The Black Panthers, the Black arts movement, Black studies departments, Black Lives Matter. Incarceration, reparations and Black struggle. Amiri Baraka, Molefi Kete Asante, Manning Marable (all notably left-leaning writers). But Black history has been ever so much more than protest and professional pessimism; note how hard it is to imagine any other group of people whose history is written with this flavor so dominant.

This is not education but advocacy. And in no sense does racism mean that the difference has no meaning. The key issue is the difference between opinions that are considered and debated and opinions that are mostly uncontested and perhaps considered uncontestable — essentially opinions that are treated as if they were facts.

Of course, it is possible to teach about opinions rather than facts. When that is properly done, the opinions are presented along with intelligent counterproposals. Given that Black conservatives — or skeptics of progressive narratives often processed as mainstream after the late 1960s — were nowhere to be found in the A.P. curriculum (except for Booker T. Washington, who has been dead for over a hundred years, and Zora Neale Hurston, whose conservatism is all too often downplayed), it is reasonable to assume that opinions from the left were going to be presented with little or no meaningful challenge.

Certain takes on race are thought of by an influential portion of progressive Americans — Black, white and otherwise — as incarnations of social justice. To them, our nation remains an incomplete project that will remain mired in denial until these ways of seeing race are universally accepted and determine the bulk of public policy. These issues include ones in the earlier version of the A.P. course, such as the idea that Black people may be owed reparations and that one of the most accurate lenses through which to view America is through the lens of intersectionality.

I imagine that to people of this mind-set, incorporating these views into an A.P. course on African American studies is seen as a natural step, via which we help get America woken by appealing to its brightest young minds. But for all the emotional resonance, the savory intonation of key buzzwords and phrases and the impassioned support of people with advanced degrees and prize-awarded media status, views of this kind remain views.

To dismiss those in disagreement as either naïve or malevolent is unsophisticated, suggesting that racial enlightenment requires comfort with a take-no-prisoners approach and facile reasoning. Not even the tragedies of America’s record on race justify saying “I’m just right, dammit!” as if the matter were as settled as the operations of gravity…

Some C.R.T. advocates, for example, conclude that systemic oppression means that views from those oppressed via intersectionality must be accepted without question, as a kind of group narrative that renders it egregious to quibble over the details and nuances of individual experience. As the C.R.T. pioneer Richard Delgado put it, nonwhite people should protest based on a “broad story of dashed hopes and centuries-long mistreatment that afflicts an entire people and forms the historical and cultural background of your complaint.”

But this perspective, called standpoint epistemology, while intended as social justice, also questions empiricism and logic. Who really thinks that its absence from an A.P. course constitutes denying that slavery happened or that racism exists? C.R.T. advocates too often discuss white people as an undifferentiated mass, as in claims that white people resist letting go of their power, a view memorably promulgated by the legal scholar Derrick Bell. There is a rhetorical power in this sociological shorthand, but it also encourages a shallow classification of American individuals as bad white people and good everybody else. Fact this is not.

To pretend that where Blackness is concerned, certain views must be treated as truth despite intelligent and sustained critique is to give in to the illogic of standpoint epistemology: “That which rubs me the wrong way is indisputably immoral.”

And I hardly see this as applying only to people I disagree with. I have broadcast my views about race for almost a quarter century. Naturally, I consider my views correct — that’s why they are my views — and contrary to what some may suppose, conservative white people are by no means the core of people who often see things my way. I am always gladdened to find that there are quite a few Black people from all walks of life who agree with me. Yet I would protest seeing my views on race included in an A.P. course as facts or uncontested opinions.

There are certainly conservatives who think discussion of racism should be entirely barred from public life. This is, on its face, blinkered, ignorant and pathetic. But to pretend that controversial views on race from the left are truth incarnate is being dishonest about race as well. It sacrifices logic out of a quiet terror of being called racist (or, if Black, self-hating). How that is progressive or even civil in a real way is unclear to me. In being honest enough to push past the agitprop, I hate having to say that in this case, DeSantis, of all people, was probably right.

24) And, lastly, Pamela Paul wrote what struck me as a very reasonable defense of JK Rowing on gender issues.  I swear, if all you saw about this was what leftists on twitter had to say, you would genuinely think Paul had written something along the lines of “all transgender people deserve to die.” 

“Trans people need and deserve protection.”

“I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others but are vulnerable.”

“I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them.”

“I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.”

These statements were written by J.K. Rowling, the author of the “Harry Potter” series, a human-rights activist and — according to a noisy fringe of the internet and a number of powerful transgender rights activists and L.G.B.T.Q. lobbying groups — a transphobe.

Even many of Rowling’s devoted fans have made this accusation. In 2020, The Leaky Cauldron, one of the biggest “Harry Potter” fan sites, claimed that Rowling had endorsed “harmful and disproven beliefs about what it means to be a transgender person,” letting members know it would avoid featuring quotes from and photos of the author.


(Positive)ly fine

You know what I was most afraid about with getting Covid? Extended social isolation.  And, voila, here I am :-(.  I’m not completely isolated.  I spend a decent amount of time with my kids out on the deck each day.  I’ve been zooming for various things (including class), but, my God is my extreme extrovert psyche not cut out for this!!  Alas, every day since February 7 I start with a rapid Covid test and every day that sample line turns dark pink in no time.  Ugh.

The thing is I feel totally fine.  Just the slightest bit of extra mucous, but, not something I think I’d really even think twice about under normal circumstances.  And I think my energy level was roughly back to normal by this past weekend.  Today, I realized there was no reason not to fully resume my exercise regimen and I ran my normal distance in just ever-so-slower than my usual time (I realized that any other illness I would not have an everyday test of viral load and I would have assumed I had recovered and resumed normal exercise).  But those damn pink lines!  

Anyway, this of course caused me to to more research on lingering Covid.  Among, other things, staying positive this long is not unusual at all.  And really does suggest the CDC’s– let yourself out of isolation after five days if you are symptom free– is far more about expediency than actually preventing the spread of Covid. 

Some good stuff I came across:

How long should I isolate if I have covid?

The coronavirus has the tricky feature of being transmissible even before the infected person has symptoms. In general, the peak period of virus shedding starts about a day or two before symptoms appear and continues two or three days after.

Even though a person is less likely to transmit the virus later in the course of illness, it’s still possible. Research shows that people continue to shed virus that can be cultured in a laboratory — a good test of the potential to pass along the virus — for about eight days on average after testing positive.

In another report, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School found that 30 percent of patients were still testing positive on a rapid antigen test 10 days after their infection was confirmed through a sensitive PCR molecular test.

And this was especially handy from NPR, “Still testing positive after day 10? How to decide when to end your COVID isolation” (at this point I feel like surely I’ll still be testing positive on day 10)

Testing to get out of isolation is tempting because it promises a straightforward answer. Unfortunately — and perhaps unsurprisingly — the science is not entirely settled.

“We don’t have anything that says definitely you are contagious or definitely you’re not,” says Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease specialist at UChicago Medicine. “The best thing we have are these rapid antigen tests.”

Unlike PCR tests, which search for genetic material from the virus, rapid antigen tests work by looking for the proteins that are packed inside the virus. A positive test generally correlates with the presence of infectious virus. Scientists can determine that by taking samples from someone who’s been infected and trying to grow the virus in a lab — what’s known as a viral culture…

Generally, most people who get infected are not still testing positive on an antigen test 10 days after symptom onset.

If you have enough virus in your system to be turning one of these tests positive, that means your body probably hasn’t yet fully cleared the infection,” says Hay.

But there is no perfect study that shows how likely it is thata positive test on a rapid test translates into shedding enough virus that you could actually infect another person, says Dr. Geoffrey Baird, chair of the department of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“The answer to that is clear as mud,” he says.

Indeed, infectious disease experts tend to differ about how much stock to put in a rapid test result when someone knows they’re infected and deciding whether it’s safe to rejoin the outside world.

After all, Baird points out that these tests were never designed to function as get-out-of-isolation cards. Relying on the result to tell whether you’re truly still infectious is dicey, he says.

“There’s actually a lot more discrepancy than anyone would be happy with,” he says.

A positive antigen test could essentially be picking up leftover viral “garbage,” which can include “dead viruses, mangled viruses … viruses that are 90% packed together but not really going to work,” says Baird. And the amount can vary depending on each person’s immune system, the variants, the stage of the infection, and so on…

In fact, a study co-authored by Landon followed health care workers at the University of Chicago who had been infected but were feeling mostly better and went to get tested after five days. They found that more than half of them still tested positive on antigen tests after six days.

This tracks with other research. For example, one study analyzing data from a testing site in San Francisco during the January omicron surge suggests that many people were still testing positive after five days. And research done by the CDC shows about half of people were still testing positive on the antigen test between five and nine days after symptom onset or diagnosis.

“You’d be erring on the side of caution if you followed the test and said, ‘I’m not going to leave my isolation until after my test is negative,'” she says.

Preliminary data from scientists at Harvard and MIT shows that about 25% of symptomatic people with COVID-19 had virus that could be cultured after eight days after symptom onset or their first test.

On the more encouraging side, there’s this:

Some research has aligned more closely with the CDC isolation guidance, which assumes most people will no longer be infectious after five days. A preprint study of close to 100 vaccinated college students at Boston University suggests that a majority were no longer infectiousafter five days.

“Only about 17% of those who we looked at still had what looks like viable COVID out past five days,” says Dr. Karen Jacobson, an infectious disease specialist at the Boston University School of Medicine and one of the study’s authors. A very small number did have virus that could be cultured eight days after symptom onset.

Her study found that a negative rapid antigen test on day five is a “perfect” indicator of whether the virus could be cultured in a lab. In other words, anyone who had a negative test on day five or later after their initial diagnosis had no more detectable virus.

The flip side was that if you had a positive rapid [test], about half of the people still had culturable virus and half did not,” says Jacobsen. “The way that we’ve started to frame it, and I think many others have, is that if you’re positive, you particularly need to take this very seriously.”

At the end the day, if you’re still testing positive but you feel fine and are symptom-free, the decision to go out in the world comes down to context. If you’re going to spend time with people who are high-risk, think twice, says Landon.

“If you are thinking about going to the nursing home to visit your grandmother, this is not the time to do it,” she says.

But if there’s something essential you need to do, don’t feel trapped in your house. Go do it but keep your mask on, she adds.

And here’s the cool scientific study on all this.

Anyway, so, presumably it’s only about 50-50 at this point that I’d still be infecting people with my positive test.  Of course, we’ve made it 8 days with me not infecting any of the other five household members (ventilation plus N95 when in common areas absolutely works!), so I’m sure not going to blow that now.  Charts C and E above really make it seem like it is pretty damn safe to come out after 10 days, regardless of the testing status, as eyeballing it only about 5% of people seem to have culturable (i.e., infectious) virus, regardless of testing at that point.  So, I don’t know what I’ll do when I’m still positive at day 10 (I know what my wife will want me to do), but this sure is damn frustrating.  


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