Miscellaneous Covid thoughts

1) I so loved this article about why we all need to wear masks once we come out from under social distancing.  In part because I’ve already been reading so much, this one really convinced me on the value of masks.  And, the fact that we should just use good-old fashioned surgical masks and definitely save N95 for medical personnel.  And, in making its case, I learned so much about respiratory virus transmission.  Lots of really, really good stuff here.

2) It seems that this coronavirus seems to be mutating pretty slowly as these things go.  That’s great news, as it suggests that once we get a vaccine, it will actually work for a while.

3) And this was a terrific primer (put together by the good folks at NC State) on viruses and viral evolution with a bunch of scientists– again, learned so much.

4) If you only think you know what you are talking about, never, never submit to an interview with Isaac Chotiner.  Richard Epstein is a law professor who thinks he’s an epidemiologist and wrote a very influential piece (likely influencing Trump) suggesting we are over-reacting.  Rarely, oh so rarely has an emperor been seen to be so starkly naked as he is in this interview.  It really is a must-read– just trust me.  Also, just a great example of “if all you have is a hammer…” and his hammer is evolution despite knowing nothing evolution in viruses.

Honestly, reading #2 and #3 above you will definitely more about evolution in viruses than Epstein does and yet he based a whole policy argument based on what he doesn’t understand.

5) Will Covid-19 diminish in Summer?  Lots of science, and… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.  Though, more than anything… don’t count on it.  And, if it does, we’ll get to say… it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.

6) It’s really hard to know what I would have made out of this when I was a very young adult before I had settled on political science.  But, I can say, if I, as in some crazy body-switch movie, went back to being 18, I would so go into epidemiology.

7) I really wish I had had some more warning the library was closing.  Just cannot do e-books and really wanted to read a novel, but not a lot of unread novels lying around my house.  So, I made the very rare for me decision to re-read a novel and I started re-reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  Very good call

Science versus coronavirus

So, I was just going to post about the possible airborne threat of the disease, but, after waiting a day, a few other things I also wanted to get to.

Anyway, I’ve been particularly interested in how the virus is transmitted and how much uncertainty remains on that.  I think this weekend I read from two reliable accounts that the virus is and is not airborne.  Alas, it actually turns out, whether a virus is “airborne” is complicated.  Loved this article on the matter, “They Say Coronavirus Isn’t Airborne—but It’s Definitely Borne By Air: The word “airborne” means different things to different scientists, and that confusion needs to be addressed.”

Amid the hourly updates on the new coronavirus, a single, calming fact stands out: a particle of happy news, hanging in a cloud of dread. The germ that causes Covid-19 may be responsible for a terrifying public-health disaster, but hallelujah, thank the lord, at least it isn’t airborne. [emphases in original]

This message is now dogma for news outlets and public health officials. They impress on us that droplets laced with the new coronavirus don’t remain aloft for long—that they only sail for six feet at the most before they fall onto the ground. That’s why we’re told that soap and water are the best protections one can find: 20 seconds’ worth of hand-related hygiene, repeated many times throughout the day. The virus isn’t airborne; so keep on washing when you can. The virus isn’t airborne; so you’d be wise to trade your grubby handshake for an elbow bump. The virus isn’t airborne; so don’t forget to keep your fingers off your face.

But I’m afraid this standard line—this single, calming fact about the new coronavirus—may not be as simple as it seems. When health officials say the pathogen isn’t “airborne,” they’re relying on a narrow definition of the term, and one that’s been disputed by some leading scholars of viral transmission through the air. If these scholars’ fears bear out—if the new coronavirus does, in fact, have the potential to travel farther through the air than officials have been saying—then we might need to reevaluate our standards for protecting healthcare workers at the front lines of fighting Covid-19. In fact, we might need to make some tweaks to all our public-health advice…

For public health officials such as Tedros (who goes by his first name), a truly airborne virus is one that floats around for extended periods—like measles, which is known to be infectious in the air for at least half an hour. A pathogen like this can create a nightmare scenario. A sick person might ride an elevator, for instance, and shed some virus along the way. Later on, someone else who got into the same elevator might breathe in those germs and develop the disease.

There are very good reasons to believe—and good reasons for public-health officials to assure the public—that the new coronavirus virus isn’t “airborne” in that specific and apocalyptic sense. But the definition used by these officials may also be obscuring vital details of transmission. In particular, it papers over all the nuances in how someone’s virus-laden cough or sneeze or breath really travels through the air…

This black-and-white division between droplets and aerosols doesn’t sit well with researchers who spend their lives studying the intricate patterns of airborne viral transmission. The 5-micron cutoff is arbitrary and ill-advised, according Lydia Bourouiba, whose lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology focuses on how fluid dynamics influence the spread of pathogens. “This creates confusion,” she says. First of all, it garbles terminology. Strictly speaking, the aerosols are droplets, too…

For researchers like Bourouiba, who study the physics of pathogens’ paths, any virus traveling in the air might as well be described as “airborne.” But there is no consensus among scientists as to which pathogens should get that label and which shouldn’t…

For researchers like Bourouiba, who study the physics of pathogens’ paths, any virus traveling in the air might as well be described as “airborne.” But there is no consensus among scientists as to which pathogens should get that label and which shouldn’t…

When it comes to this virus’s ability to travel in air—in hospitals or elsewhere—it’s hard to know where things will ultimately land. Until then, describing it in absolute terms seems risky.

So, wow– it’s really complicated.  That said… very safe to conclude: 1) wash your hands; 2) avoid breathing air closely with a bunch of other people.

Also a good article here on the issue:

The reason the measles is so, well, viral, is that the microbe is so small and hardy that it is able to stay suspended in the air where an infected person coughed or sneezed for up to two hours, making it one of the only viruses that can exist as a true aerosol.

Now there are conflicting reports on whether the new coronavirus can. The studies suggesting that it can be aerosolized are only preliminary, and other research contradicts it, finding no aerosolized coronavirus particles in the hospital rooms of Covid-19 patients…

The weight of the evidence suggests that the new coronavirus can exist as an aerosol — a physics term meaning a liquid or solid (the virus) suspended in a gas (like air) — only under very limited conditions, and that this transmission route is not driving the pandemic. But “limited” conditions does not mean “no” conditions, [emphasis mine] underlining the need for health care workers to have high levels of personal protection, especially when doing procedures such as intubation that have the greatest chance of creating coronavirus aerosols. “I think the answer will be, aerosolization occurs rarely but not never,” said microbiologist and physician Stanley Perlman of the University of Iowa. “You have to distinguish between what’s possible and what’s actually happening.”…

“If it could easily exist as an aerosol, we would be seeing much greater levels of transmission,” said epidemiologist Michael LeVasseur of Drexel University. “And we would be seeing a different pattern in who’s getting infected. With droplet spread, it’s mostly to close contacts. But if a virus easily exists as an aerosol, you could get it from people you share an elevator with.”…

Even if the virus infects only a small fraction of those who come into contact with it, the extremely low rate among close contacts and the absence of infections in some household members of patients suggests that it rarely exists as an aerosol in most real-world situations.

“It’s more evidence that [Covid-19] is predominantly spread through droplets and not as an aerosol,” LeVasseur said….

The much-discussed hope that warmer, more humid weather will strangle the Covid-19 pandemic may or may not pan out, but there are solid data that it will make a difference to any aerosol transmission. The SARS virus survived better at 30% to 50% relative humidity than at 80%, with a half-life of only three hours rather than 27 hours at 30% humidity. Other research has also found that coronaviruses have much more difficulty existing in aerosol form in warm, humid conditions.

That reflects the fact that the SARS virus has an “envelope” that falls apart in warmer, more humid conditions. The new coronavirus has a similar envelope.

Lots of cool science in both those.  Definitely worth reading in there entirety if you have an interest in the science of the disease spread.  

And, while we’re on the science.  Damn they are getting a vaccine trial started fast.  Everything still says “at least a year” but I’m going to choose to be optimistic on that based on how fast they are moving so far.  Also, more cool science on how this new generation of vaccines may work:

Moderna uses genetic material — messenger RNA — to make vaccines, and the company has nine others in various stages of development, including several for viruses that cause respiratory illnesses. But no vaccine made with this technology has yet reached the market…

Work on the vaccine started in January, as soon as Chinese scientists posted the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus on the internet. Researchers at Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases identified part of the sequence that codes for a spike-like protein on the surface of the virus that attaches to human cells, helping the virus to invade them.

A nonprofit group, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, helped pay to manufacture the vaccine for the trial.

That spike sequence is the basis for the vaccine. Moderna does not need the virus itself to produce its vaccine: The company synthesizes the stretch of RNA required for the vaccine and embeds it in a lipid nanoparticle.

I’m also going to choose to be optimistic on a possible antiviral treatment.  The good news here is that, unlike the vaccine trial, we’ve already had the safety trials (thanks to Ebola) and can focus on the efficacy phase of trials.  Also, pretty cool science behind how this (hopefully!) works:

Remdesivir, in the spotlight as scientists and governments scramble to find a treatment for the disease, took a circuitous route to center stage. Born as a general antiviral candidate, researchers threw it at an array of viruses and saw where it stuck. It bounced along from Gilead’s labs to academic centers, nudged by both federal taxpayer dollars and support from the company. It kept turning up whiffs of potential in cells and animals infected by other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, but these bugs weren’t causing sustained global crises. For years, Gilead was primarily focused on ushering remdesivir into trials and toward approval for a different kind of infection: Ebola.

But there’s nothing like a pandemic to break the emergency glass on all possible options.

Remdesivir is now being tested in five Covid-19 clinical trials that have been set up at breakneck speed. It’s been delivered through a compassionate use program to some patients, including the first case in the United States. The first trial results are expected next month, though some analysts have already raised concerns about the prospects based on the drips of data emerging from a small number of patients.

Others’ hopes are high for the drug. As of now, there are no approved therapies for any coronavirus infection, and remdesivir is the farthest along in the development process of any candidate.

“There’s only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy,” Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization said last month. “And that’s remdesivir.”…

But if remdesivir had hopes as an Ebola treatment, how can it also work against coronaviruses? Their viral families are so different, “it’s like saying a giraffe versus an elephant,” said Gene Olinger, a former U.S. Army Ebola researcher, who is now the scientific advisor at MRI Global, a nonprofit research organization.

The trick is that remdesivir does not go after the virus directly. Instead, it targets the system the virus uses to replicate itself, hijacking it like you would your office’s copy machine as part of a company-wide prank.

These viruses have a genome that consists of a strand of RNA. To make copies of themselves, they rely on a molecule called a polymerase to string together the individual building blocks of the viral genome. These are like the “letters” that we think of composing DNA.

Remdesivir is an “analog,” designed to mimic the appearance of one of the RNA letters, adenosine. It looks so similar that the polymerase can unknowingly pick it up instead of the real adenosine and insert it into the strand of viral genome that’s being constructed, like bringing home the wrong twin from summer camp. Once in place, the analog acts as a cap, preventing any additional pieces from being strung on. This leaves the strand short of the full genome. The virus can’t go on to replicate or infect other cells.

“The polymerase grabs it almost accidentally and uses it in place of adenosine,” said Maria Agostini, a postdoctoral researcher in Denison’s Vanderbilt lab. “The polymerase can kind of get it mixed up sometimes.”

The drug can inhibit coronaviruses as well as Ebola because their polymerases are similar enough that its cloak-and-dagger operation fools them all. (Remdesivir does not appear to work on other viruses with more unrelated forms of polymerase.)

Like a bad song clears out a dance floor, remdesivir can clear the viral levels in a person, as long as it can interrupt enough replication. The key, researchers say, is that it has to be delivered somewhat early in an infection, as the virus is still proliferating. In patients who develop severe disease, it’s not the virus that’s always the main problem. The body’s own immune system can react by heading into overdrive and causing secondary complications like organ damage. An antiviral can’t head that off once it’s begun.

So, maybe, a case for mild optimism?  But, clearly, its going to get so, so much worse first.  

 

Quick hits (part I)

The world is falling apart and here I am writing a blog post edition.  Also, taking time out of my 6 hours a day of obsessively reading about Covid-19 to write a post.

1) Julia Belluz wrote this two years ago, “Trump vs. “disease X”
The administration is setting up the US to botch a pandemic response.”

2) Michael Tesler, “3 ways the coronavirus could end Trump’s presidency.”  The economy, the incompetence, the focus on health care.  I suspect all three will play a role.

3) Really good discussion on closing schools and public health.  The balance of evidence suggests its the right call.  But there are some reasonable dissenting voices.  Meanwhile, my school system which has been known to shut down (on multiple occassions) for 30mph wind is choosing not to.  Surprising.  Interesting explanation (their take is that unless you are willing to commit to 8 weeks–yikes!!– it’s not worth doing).

4) Jedidiah Purdy on social solidarity:

pandemic makes the slogan of solidarity literal: an injury to one is an injury to all. That’s why a pandemic also heightens the frantic wish to withdraw oneself from the web of interdependence and ride it out alone.

The new coronavirus makes vivid the logic of a world that combines a material reality of intense interdependence with moral and political systems that leave people to look out for themselves. Because we are linked — at work, on the bus and subway, at school, at the grocery store, with the Fresh Direct delivery system — we are contagious, and vulnerable. Because we are morally isolated, told to look out for ourselves and our own, we are becoming survivalists house by house, apartment by apartment, stocking enough that’s canned and frozen, grabbing enough cold meds and disinfectant, to cut ties and go out on our own.

The scramble reveals a class system in which a mark of relative status is the power to withdraw. If you have wealth or a salary from an institution that values you, and enough space at home, you might be able to pull off the essentially absurd trick of isolating yourself for a few months by drawing down the global web of commodities on display at Costco and Trader Joe’s. But for the 50 percent of the country that has no savings and lives paycheck to paycheck, or in small apartments with little food storage, or has to hustle every day to find work, this is simply impossible. People will be out every day, on the subways, at the gas stations, choosing between epidemiological prudence and economic survival, because they have no choice but to make that choice.

And as long as this is true — as long as many of us are out there every day, mixing it up to get by — there is reason to think very few of us will be safe. Extrapolating from the little we know about the virus, the number of carriers will continue to grow. As long as our moral and political isolation drives us back into the marketplace, our material interdependence makes nearly everyone vulnerable.

“Wash your hands” is good advice but also a poignant reminder that this is not the sort of problem that personal responsibility can solve. Epidemiology is a political problem. It’s not hard to sketch the steps that would ease our cruel situation: a work stoppage, massive income support (unemployment payments with some universal basic income in the mix), a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures and evictions. Treatment for coronavirus and potentially related symptoms should be free and comprehensive, no questions asked (about immigration status, for instance), so that no one goes untreated because of fear or poverty. This is all, in the most straightforward sense, good for everyone. It is also how people look out for one another’s vulnerability and need when they see one another’s problems as their own.

5) Georgia’s oh-so-wrong efforts to remove eligible voters from their rolls.  I’m sure this was not at all intended for partisan political gain ;-).

6) Josh Barro with a succinct, yet comprehensive look at how the pandemic in America is likely to get worse.

7) Good and important stuff from Catherine Rampell, “Officials have spent the last few years dismantling anti-recession measures”

8) And, oh yeah, there’s still regular electoral politics.  David Leonhardt,

The biggest lesson is simply this: The American left doesn’t care enough about winning.

It’s an old problem, one that has long undermined left-wing movements in this country. They have often prioritized purity over victory. They wouldn’t necessarily put it these terms, but they have chosen to lose on their terms rather than win with compromise.

You can see this pattern today in the ways that many progressive activists misread public opinion. Their answer to almost every question of political strategy is to insist that Americans are a profoundly progressive people who haven’t yet been inspired to vote the way they think. The way to win, these progressives claim, is to go left, always.

Immigration? Most Americans want more of it. Abortion? This is a pro-choice country. Fracking? People now understand its downsides. Strict gun control? Affirmative action? A wealth tax? Free college? Medicare for all? Widely available marijuana? Americans want it all, activists claim.

This belief helps explain why so many 2020 candidates hoping to win the progressive vote — including Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris — embraced ideas like a ban on fracking and the decriminalization of the border. The left persuaded itself that those policies were both morally righteous and politically savvy. To reject any one of them was to risk being labeled a neoliberal sellout.

The thing is, progressive activists are right about public opinion on some of these issues. Most Americans do favor higher taxes on the rich, marijuana legalization and additional gun control. But too many progressives aren’t doing an honest analysis of the politics. They are instead committing what the journalist Matthew Yglesias has called “the pundit fallacy.” They are conflating their own opinions with smart political advice. They are choosing to believe what they want to believe.

They often do so by pointing to polls with favorably worded, intricate questions — and by ignoring evidence to the contrary. Affirmative action, for example, typically loses ballot initiatives. Polls show that most Americans favor some abortion restrictions and oppose the elimination of private health insurance.

By designing campaign strategies for the America they want, rather than the one that exists, progressives have done a favor to their political opponents. They have refused to make tactical retreats, which is why they keep losing.

9) I loved this cartoon.  That is all.Image may contain Advertisement Poster Brochure Paper and Flyer

10) Even after researching it, it still seems crazy to me that, even in a pandemic, we have to wait a year for a vaccine.  I get that testing is important, and time-consuming, but can’t it be expedited more during a crisis?  Do people actually suffer serious harm from ineffective vaccines?

11) So loved the final season of Bojack Horseman.  Really liked this take that doesn’t give away too much.

How do you end a series like BoJack Horseman? You stay true to your core cast of characters, treating them like flesh-and-blood (horse)people who just happened to live in a heightened world. You follow their stories so far to their logical conclusions, with no more hyperbole than can be found in the real world and without giving into either sympathetic schmaltz or nihilistic cynicism. You find a middle ground, a milestone that ties off the story and acts as a pause before it carries itself forward on its own momentum somewhere off the screen. That is the only way BoJack Horseman–perhaps the greatest animated drama series ever created–could have ended, and that’s exactly the way it does.

12) “GPS Tracking Shows How Much Wolf Packs Avoid Each Other’s Range” (thanks EMG)

wolf pack ranges

13) Well, this may be my last sports link for a while 😦  Very cool analytical analysis of what it takes to score goals at the highest level of soccer.  (Probably not a lot of lessons for my 9-year old girls Rec team).  “Be Quick, Press High, Cut Back: How to Score in the Champions League”

14) Seems that “stand your ground” laws are designed for white men to shoot non-white guys.  Okay, that’s probably not quite fair.  But for women suffering abuse– maybe not so much.  Really disturbing story in the New Yorker earlier this year.  And the follow-up is not encouraging.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Great stuff from Eric Levitz on Bernie and lessons learned.  Strongly consider reading it all.

Sanders’s base is strongly ideological and weakly Democratic. But the bulk of blue America’s primary electorate is the opposite: weakly ideological but strongly partisan. Median Democratic primary voters like the Democratic Party and its leadership. They may be open to the idea that Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Nancy Pelosi, and Pete Buttigieg subscribe to a misguided notion of political possibility, but they’re going to be resistant to the claim that they’re all amoral toadies for the billionaire class. Meanwhile, because Democratic primary voters generally like their party, “Beltway Democrats” have a lot of influence over whose side they take in intraparty disputes. Which means that it’s actually important to at least try to cultivate the goodwill of Democratic insiders, rather than actively working to alienate them. Tailoring one’s critiques of the status quo political economy to the sensibilities of normie Democrats, and the egotism of Establishment ones, is not the most cathartic mode of political engagement. Seeking to defuse tensions between liberals and socialists in critical moments, rather than forever and always trying to heighten intra-left contradictions, may be suboptimal for preserving the brand distinctiveness of your Twitter account or alternative media product. But if your goal is to build electoral power and secure progressive reforms in the near future, then you need to make those concessions to coalition building, or else offer a detailed explanation of why Sanders’s example has not revealed such concessions to be necessary.

The 2020 primary offers the broad left other unsexy lessons about electoral politics. For example, there is little to no evidence that large field operations are an efficient use of limited campaign resources in presidential elections. Progressives of all stripes have an attachment to canvassing as a tactic because it feels (and generally is) more human, civic, and democratic to have conversations with one’s fellow Americans than to bombard them with televisual propaganda. But while community organizing is indispensable, knocking on strangers doors and proselytizing for a candidate isn’t community organizing; it’s just a persuasion and mobilization tool that should be used in contexts where it appears effective (like low-turnout local elections) and dropped in contexts where it isn’t — and the 2020 primary appears to be one of the latter.

Candidates who concentrated their time and money on assembling armies of canvassers drastically underperformed those who prioritized paid and earned media. Warren made enormous investments into her Iowa “ground game,” and got third place for her efforts. The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, prioritized earned media, accepting virtually every interview and profile opportunity he was offered and working to ensure that reporters had a lovely time when covering his campaign, and rode that free press to a brief moment of improbable contention. Joe Biden, meanwhile, had virtually no field operation or ad campaign in Super Tuesday states and still dominated on the strength of a great news cycle. The corporate media’s biases will always work against left candidates to some extent. But that extent is at least somewhat variable (Elizabeth Warren did win the New York Times’ co-endorsement after all). And given the power that the media wields, it actually probably makes sense for progressive campaigns to do “bullshit” like wishing reporters “happy birthday” and not disparaging entire news outlets in response to negative coverage, even when that coverage is unfair.

2) Peter Beinart comparing Biden as the “establishment” candidate to Jeb(!) in 2016:

Why did embracing his party’s establishment work for Biden but not for Bush? Because Democrats like their establishment more. Although progressive activists criticize Obama, his approval rating among Democrats as a whole—according to Real Clear Politics’ polling average—is almost 87 percent. That makes Biden’s association with him an almost unmitigated political strength. By contrast, an internal Bush campaign poll showed that Jeb’s family connections turned many voters off. The “Bush stuff was holding him back,” one aide told The Washington Post.

Obama isn’t just personally more popular among Democrats than George W. Bush was among Republicans. His agenda is more popular too. Eighty-five percent of Democrats approve of Obamacare. By contrast, a May 2015 poll found that only 54 percent of Republicans believed that the Bush administration’s signature initiative—the Iraq War—had been worth fighting.

Sanders wants to radically expand upon Obama’s legacy. But he hasn’t frontally challenged it, because it’s broadly popular among Democrats. Trump, by contrast, made his assault on the GOP establishment’s support for immigration the centerpiece of his campaign. Soon after entering the race, he released a video slamming Jeb for calling immigration an “act of love.” At the debate a week before the South Carolina vote, he derided Bush as “so weak on illegal immigration it’s laughable.” It worked. According to exit polls, Trump beat Bush by 48 points among South Carolina Republicans who said immigration was their top issue.

By the time he left the race, Jeb Bush had a net favorability rating among Republicans of only five points. Biden’s net favorability among Democrats last month, by contrast, was almost 50 points. That discrepancy isn’t simply a function of the two candidates’ performances on the stump. It’s a statement about the party establishments they represent. Asked to explain Bush’s failure, Mike Murphy, the chief strategist for the former governor’s super PAC, explained, “Our theory was to dominate the establishment lane” but “the problem was there was a huge anti-establishment wave. The establishment lane was smaller than we thought it would be.”

In the Democratic Party, by contrast, the establishment lane is turning out to be larger than many people just last month thought it would be.

3) Quite enjoyed this personal essay.  Imagine finding out your long-time ex-boyfriend was not dating Lady Gaga.

4) Unsurprisingly, I’ve taken an interest in the 1918 flu epidemic.  Gladwell wrote about it way back in 1997.

As the Amherst College biologist Paul Ewald argues in his brilliant 1994 book, “Evolution of Infectious Diseases,” under normal circumstances the mildest offspring of any flu family will always triumph, because people who are infected with the worst strains go home and go to bed, whereas people infected with the mild strains go to work, ride the bus, and go to the movies. You’re much more likely, in other words, to catch a mild virus than a nasty virus because you’re more likely to run into someone with a mild case of flu than with a nasty case of flu. In 1918, Ewald says, these rules got inverted by the war. The Spanish flu turned nasty in the late summer in France. A mild strain of flu spreading from soldier to soldier in the trenches stayed in the trenches because none of the soldiers got so sick that they had to leave their posts. A debilitating strain, though, resulted in a soldier’s being shipped out in a crowded troop transport, then moved to an even more crowded hospital, where he had every opportunity to infect others. Wars and refugee camps and urban overcrowding give the worst flu strains a huge evolutionary advantage. If there were ever again a civil war in China, flu-watchers would be on full alert.

5) No, you don’t need more about how William Barr is just the worst, but he is!

Attorney General William P. Barr quietly intervened in an immigration asylum case last week when he issued a decision that narrowed the definition of torture for asylum seekers who invoke itas a grounds for staying in the United States.

Barr used a process known as “certification,” a historically little-used power of the attorney general that allows him to overrule decisions made by the Board of Immigration Appeals and set binding precedent. Immigration lawyers and judges say the Trump administration is using the power with greater frequency — to the point of abuse — as it seeks to severely limit the number of immigrants who can remain in the United States. The administration is also using it as a check on immigration judges whose decisions don’t align with the administration’s immigration agenda, experts say.

6) My daughter is all about the “exclamatory particle.”  Interesting, according to linguist John McWhorter, females tend to drive these language changes.  So, for now, it’s Sarah and young women saying “stop-uh” before you know it, it may be most everyone.

7) Political Scientist friend, Patrick Miller, posted the following on Facebook when sharing Ezra’s great article about Bernie (which it cannot hurt to share again).

Last Super Tuesday post, I swear. I saw this on Twitter this morning, and felt that it articulated (better than I can) how a lot of people like me feel about Sanders–more negative about his style and personality than (often) the sentiment of his political substance. It’s frightening to see our political institutions being torn down year after year, and it’s frightening to see a candidate like Sanders who traffics in conspiracy theories about parties, the media, and elected leaders as central to his campaign message. Parties, with all of their trappings, are good for democracy, and a lot of us have invested a lot over the years in trying to make the Democratic Party healthy and functional because that makes our democracy stronger. The media is good for democracy. It could all work better and more inclusively, yes, but it’s hard to embrace a message that further tears these institutions down.

8) The following strikes me as the key fact about Covid-19 and why, lamenting aside, containment efforts were almost surely doomed to fail:

The biology of the virus also makes it hard to contain, since it’s possible to spread the virus before showing symptoms of it. “I don’t think we quite know the extent of how often that happens, but it is happening,” Grubaugh says. With SARS in 2003, infected people did not spread the virus without symptoms. They also tended to get sicker, often contracting pneumonia. That made cases easier to detect and isolate.

All of the above is a recipe for an outbreak to become endemic, or a disease that sticks around.Humans haven’t seen this virus before, which means we’re not immune. It’s also a recipe for millions of potential infections in a pandemic — a worldwide outbreak of a new disease.

9) James Carville takes a victory lap interview with Sean Illing.  While Carville makes some good points in the interview, it astounds me that he would put so much emphasis on the SC debate.  Ummm, no, that was so not the turning point.

Sean Illing

The South Carolina debate was definitely Biden’s strongest debate, and he had a moment or two, but what was the big shift?

James Carville

Go back and look at the tape of what I said in my post-debate analysis. Biden was actually talking to voters in South Carolina. Elizabeth Warren, inexplicably, was talking to her fundraising list. Bernie was speaking to the larger questions of the Revolution. Biden just got real and spoke directly to the people in South Carolina.

It’s not just about the issues, like health care or the economy or climate or whatever. It’s about how you talk about them and if you do it in a way that people understand, that relates to them. I think Biden did that. The stupid thing that so many of these candidates are doing now is speaking to opinion leaders, to the Twitter mob. Let me tell you something, that shit doesn’t win elections, all right? It just doesn’t.

10) Colorized daily life in NYC from just over 100 years ago.  So cool!

11) Liked this from Drum:

I do wish that patients paid more attention to the outputs of sophisticated statistical models when choosing doctors and hospitals, as I think this would improve quality, but mostly they don’t.

Me too, Alex, me too. However, even among my pretty smart friends, I can’t get them to prioritize even a simple time-series chart over their gut feeling of what “must be true.” And even when I do make a tiny bit of headway on some subject or another, if I bring it up again a month later it turns out they’ve completely forgotten everything I said. They’re back to whatever barstool opinion they had before.

We are overclocked primates. It takes intense training to get humans to overcome the constant mutterings of their lizard brains and pay attention instead to quantitative evidence—i.e., to produce scientists—and even among scientists this training works only in a pinch. This is why elections are won by appealing to people’s emotions, not trying to change their view of the facts. We may be proud of our massive prefrontal cortexes, but they’re merely a thin veneer over the billion years of evolution that produced the rest of our brain.

¹Quiet rooms and nice nurses, it turns out.

12) Wired says lab-grown meat is coming whether we like it or not.  I like it.

13) You know, I generally look to Europeans and wish we could do policy as sensibly as they do.  But, definitely, not always.  Like Germany’s irrational and counterproductive abandonment of nuclear power:

On New Year’s Eve, while the rest of the world was preparing to ring in a new decade, employees of the German energy company EnBW were getting ready to pull the plug on one of the country’s few remaining nuclear power plants. The license to operate the two reactors at the Philippsburg nuclear facility expired at midnight after 35 years of providing carbon-free power to Germans living along the country’s southwestern border. The Philippsburg plant was the 11th nuclear facility decommissioned in Germany over the past decade. The country’s remaining six nuclear plants will go dark by 2022.

Germans have always had a complicated relationship with nuclear power, but the radioactive cloud that swept over Germany following the Chernobyl disaster in the mid-1980s gave new life to the antinuclear policies supported by the country’s Green Party. Following Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant meltdown, Germany’s antinuclear lobby kicked into high gear, and tens of thousands of people took to the streets in protest. The German government quickly passed legislation to decommission all of the country’s nuclear reactors, ostensibly to keep its citizens safe by preventing a Fukushima-style disaster. But a study published last month by the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that Germany’s rejection of nuclear power was an expensive and possibly deadly miscalculation.

To uncover the hidden costs of denuclearizing Germany, economists used machine learning to analyze reams of data gathered between 2011 and 2017. The researchers, based at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, and Carnegie Mellon University, found that nuclear power was mostly replaced with power from coal plants, which led to the release of an additional 36 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, or about a 5 percent increase in emissions. More distressingly, the researchers estimated that burning more coal led to local increases in particle pollution and sulfur dioxide and likely killed an additional 1,100 people per year from respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses.

14) My now regular co-author, Mary-Kate Lizotte (in addition to the always co-author Laurel Elder) has a new book out on gender gaps in issues.  Some key findings here:

It is still true that women, across the different subgroups, are more likely than men to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate. Why? Political science research, including my own, provides insight into what issues and other characteristics explain this phenomenon. Attracting the majority of women voters, especially white women, college-educated women, and black women, requires presidential candidates to highlight a vision of a more equal society and a government that protects the well-being of its citizens through a strong social safety net, a commitment to anti-discrimination policies and a green environmental policy agenda…

Simply put, women are more likely to want a candidate who advocates for policies that promote equality and provide a social safety net. To motivate turnout among and procure votes from women, candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination should stress such a vision and emphasize how they differ from President Trump on these issues, on equality, and on compassion more generally.

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

Happy Leap Day.

1) I am so not getting a PSA screening until there are outcomes way better than this:

In the most definitive study done to date to assess the value of PSA screening, the European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer concluded that 781 men aged 55 to 69 when they enrolled would have to be screened to prevent one man from dying of prostate cancer after 13 years. In this study, approximately one man in six who were screened was falsely identified as possibly having prostate cancer, and two-thirds of positive PSA results in the first round of screening were false-positives.

2) Loved this “Virtual imagery that would make me run faster on the elliptical”

My onscreen avatar is carrying a laptop and it is just beginning to rain. Also, she’s wearing suede…

I snatch a golden idol from a pedestal in an ancient temple, and, as I smirk, thinking how easy that was, rocks fall from the ceiling. The roof is going to collapse! I sprint down a corridor, idol in hand, while arrows shoot from the walls, each a near miss. My colleague’s there, waiting for me, telling me to give him the statue first and then he’ll help me across the pit that gapes between us—but he betrays me, stealing the statue and leaving me to die. I leap over the pit, slide under a closing stone door, and BAM, there’s my colleague, dead. Arrows got him. I recover the statue, pausing for a moment to catch my breath, maybe wipe the sweat off my brow with a lemongrass-scented towelette, but there’s no time! A massive boulder comes rolling down out of nowhere, and if I don’t keep running, I will be crushed!

3) David Roberts on how Elizabeth Warren is the only candidate who understands the procedural reforms necessary to restore trust in American government.  But, sadly, that doesn’t exactly resonate with voters.

4) Wired, “Will Your Cat Eat Your Corpse? The short answer is maybe. The long answer won’t make you feel any better.”

5) Atlantic with good stuff from EJ Dionne’s new book:

The broad idea of dignity and its specific connection to work has been on my mind ever since. The idea appealed to me because it rang true to the core idea of Catholic social thought—“the equal dignity of every person”—that helped shape my own politics long ago. But to see it used so explicitly in a campaign was instructive. The idea finds its power from a deep intuition that the anger in our public life, across many of our lines of division, arises from a felt denial of dignity.

Blue-collar workers of all races—very much including the white working class, which has loomed so large in political analysis since 2016—have experienced this denial of dignity. But it is also experienced by African Americans, Latinos, and immigrants across classes. In the Trump Era, these workers confront a rise in racism and nativism championed by the president himself. Women who experience sexism, and young Americans who see themselves denied opportunities their parents enjoyed, feel it, too.

In my new book, Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country, I argue that dignity should be the central purpose of a new post-Reagan economics and a new post-Trump politics. Dignity binds together progressives and moderates opposed to Trump. It can also bring together constituencies who now find themselves opposed to each other. A focus on dignity may thus have immediate political power, but it also has a deep moral resonance.

Dignity is compelling because it is a value, not an ideology or a program. But neither is it an empty slogan. Dignity has strong implications for both policy and our culture. And it answers a moral yearning felt both individually and collectively. Lifting up dignity as a core national purpose is essential to renewing a society that has lost track of the powerful “We” that opens our Constitution. A commitment to equal dignity can play an important role in pulling together a nation that Trump has devoted himself to dividing.

6) On Adam Cohen’s new book on how the Supreme Court overwhelmingly has protected the rich over our history:

Many progressives hold these truths to be virtually self-evident. The United States Supreme Court has the hallowed role of protecting the most vulnerable in society. At a minimum, it does not engage in judicial activism to burden them further. And only now, when the court has shifted decisively to the right, is it in danger of relinquishing that function.

Adam Cohen’s “Supreme Inequality” shows that these beliefs utterly fail to capture the court’s treatment of the poor. For 50 years, he explains, it has exacerbated economic inequality through its aggressive jurisprudence…

Cohen’s insight that the court has been an activist for income inequality is important. Commentators have widely excoriated income inequality as the scourge of our time (Cohen quotes the hedge fund manager Ray Dalio’s description of it as an “existential threat” to the nation). Yet many attribute income inequality to broad trends like advances in technology or globalization — and even commentators who point to the actions of governmental institutions rarely mention the court. After Cohen’s book, progressives should add the court’s jurisprudence to the list of causes for income inequality. What’s more, they should include income inequality on the list of negative consequences to be feared from future courts, especially now that Brett Kavanaugh has joined the court.

7) I haven’t yet read McKay Coppins big Atlantic cover story on the massive Republican disinformation campaign that’s coming, but it’s been the talk of the town and a must-read.  I did listen to his Fresh Air interview, though.  And, damn, it really is scary as hell.

8) Soft “g” for .gif, damnit!  If you were actually using the internet back in the 1990’s, like I was, there was no controversy, that was just how it was pronounced.

9) I think/fear Brian Beutler is spot-on about the media’s 2016 malpractice almost sure to be repeated if Bernie is the nominee:

Trump has only just begun treating Bernie Sanders as his likely 2020 opponent, but Sanders’ lengthy public career and progressive politics have already aroused the same professional habits that brought us the email craze four years ago.

Political journalists face strong incentives to portray the two major parties as roughly similar moral and ethical entities that happen to share different philosophical values. Reporters are often trained to approach their subjects this way, until the practice becomes so ingrained that the supposed equivalence between the parties becomes axiomatic to them. These incentives drove mainstream media outlets to amplify the email controversy and downplay Trump’s cascade of outrages until their coverage appeared balanced, but thus left consumers with wildly inaccurate perceptions of the candidates’ relative trustworthiness.

To allow moral and ethical distinctions between partisan agendas and tactics to seep into reporting would be extremely disruptive. One party’s conduct might be consistently less ethical and principled than the other’s, but acknowledging as much, and allowing it to shape coverage, would alienate sources in that party, and drive its followers to outlets willing to sanitize the truth. But if the background assumption of most news producers is that both parties engage in dirty tricks, politicians of all stripes lie, and the nature of empirical fact itself is contestable, it creates a huge loophole that allows unscrupulous, dishonest actors to game news coverage itself, until it no longer conveys reality. [emphasis mine]

Sanders’s candidacy comes as an enormous relief to practitioners of this kind of journalism. As the most left-wing member of the Senate, and perhaps of the whole Congress, he allows political journalists to fall back on platitudes about the parties catering to their extremes, without examining the content of their agendas or their political styles.

10) Linda Greenhouse, “The Supreme Court Nears the Moment of Truth on Religion: The majority’s view of the Constitution’s free-exercise clause poses a threat to civil society.”

The startling fact of the matter is that Judges Griffin, Stranch and Donald were applying the law as they found it — as the Supreme Court has handed it to them in a series of decisions instructing judges to accept almost any religious claim, no matter how preposterous, at face value and to put the government to an extremely tough test to justify any infringement on a “sincere” religious belief. In the Hobby Lobby case six years ago, the court gave dispositive legal weight to the claim by owners of two for-profit businesses that the legal requirement to include contraception coverage in their employee health plans would make them complicit in the sin of birth control.

“It is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority.

Rather than looking at the Sixth Circuit prison decision, Fox v. Washington, as an outlier, we need to see it as a harbinger, a frightening one. I don’t know whether this particular case will end up at the Supreme Court. But there are plenty of cases like it, making claims that would have been dismissed out of hand not too many years ago and that now have to be taken seriously by those of us worried about the growing threat that an increasingly weaponized free-exercise clause poses to civil society, along with the statutes meant to extend its reach.

11) Lessons from a Buddhist monk on facing death.  Good stuff, but… We’ll see how I feel about this when I’m old, but what really scares me about dying at this point in my life is not actually dying, but the certainty of suffering for those I would leave behind.  Even if one is comfortable with their own death, you cannot get everybody who loves you thinking like a Buddhist monk.  And it’s a lot easier to deal with the death of a loved one at an older age than when you feel you’ve lost somebody way to early.

12) Well, of course Republicans want to make poor people freeze to help fund Corona virus response.  Yes, seriously.  These people are the worst:

It’s now looking like coronavirus is threatening a potential public health emergency. And a battle has broken out between the White House and Democrats over how much money to allocate to the crisis, with the White House pushing for less than Democrats think is called for.

But at the core of this dispute is something that’s hasn’t yet gotten public exposure — and is potentially very troubling.

House Democrats tell us they are outraged by one aspect of the White House response in particular: The White House appears to have informed Democrats that they want to fund the emergency response in part by taking money from a program that funds low-income home heating assistance.

A document that the Trump administration sent to Congress, which we have seen, indicates that the administration is transferring $37 million to emergency funding for the coronavirus response from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, which funds heating for poor families.

13) I actually quite like Turkish Delight (I used to have a colleague who would regularly return with it from Turkey), but I do so love this post, “C.S. Lewis’s Greatest Fiction Was Convincing American Kids That They Would Like Turkish Delight”

14) Yes, we totally should do toilets like the Japanese do.  To some degree, though, it would almost be worse to get used to a better toilet experience at home and then have to suffer in comparison when going anywhere else in America.  But, hey, if this actually starts taking off, I’m ready to be an early adopter.

15) Very good stuff here, “I was a juror in the Roger Stone trial. Attacking our foreperson undermines our service.”

These events raise serious concerns for me not merely as a juror in the trial but also for the threat to our bedrock principles.

Elected officials have no business attacking citizens for performing their civic duty. The jury system is rooted in English common law and enshrined in both Article III and the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution; it is fundamental to the American system of justice. All of us need to be concerned when this process is attacked. More than 1.5 million Americans are impaneled on juries every year, according to the National Center for State Courts. Federal service is more rare than state-level service, but a 2007 center report found that more than a third of Americans will serve on a jury at some point in their lifetimes. Jurors are not merely expected but required to judge facts fairly. We are required to disclose any potential bias and are asked whether that potential bias would prevent us from rendering an impartial verdict.

16) Drum with a good take on the outrage machine (and, damnit, I did read this article before I saw Drum’s post):

Can someone please tell me why this tiny local story is on the front page of a national newspaper?

Oh, right: it “went viral.” Therefore it must be covered.

STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT. Everything is caught on camera these days. Everything is outrageous these days. Everything goes viral these days—if by “viral” you mean that a few thousand people took five seconds to retweet something.

Why do we do this? Why can’t we let local stories stay local unless they truly have some kind of national significance? Why do we insist on stoking outrage at every opportunity? It’s not as if we lack for plenty of genuine national-level outrages, after all.

 

 

 

Coronavirus is coming for you

Yes, what’s going on with the COVID-19 is legitimately scary and concerning.  It’s also pretty fascinating.  The Atlantic’s James Hamblin:

Severe illness caused by viruses such as H5N1 also means that infected people can be identified and isolated, or that they died quickly. They do not walk around feeling just a little under the weather, seeding the virus. The new coronavirus (known technically as SARS-CoV-2) that has been spreading around the world can cause a respiratory illness that can be severe. The disease (known as COVID-19) seems to have a fatality rate of less than 2 percent—exponentially lower than most outbreaks that make global news. The virus has raised alarm not despite that low fatality rate, but because of it.

Coronaviruses are similar to influenza viruses in that they are both single strands of RNA. Four coronaviruses commonly infect humans, causing colds. These are believed to have evolved in humans to maximize their own spread—which means sickening, but not killing, people. By contrast, the two prior novel coronavirus outbreaks—SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome, named for where the first outbreak occurred)—were picked up from animals, as was H5N1. These diseases were highly fatal to humans. If there were mild or asymptomatic cases, they were extremely few. Had there been more of them, the disease would have spread widely. Ultimately, SARS and MERS each killed fewer than 1,000 people.

COVID-19 is already reported to have killed more than twice that number. With its potent mix of characteristics, this virus is unlike most that capture popular attention: It is deadly, but not too deadly. It makes people sick, but not in predictable, uniquely identifiable ways. Last week, 14 Americans tested positive on a cruise ship in Japan despite feeling fine—the new virus may be most dangerous because, it seems, it may sometimes cause no symptoms at all…

But even with the ideal containment, the virus’s spread may have been inevitable. Testing people who are already extremely sick is an imperfect strategy if people can spread the virus without even feeling bad enough to stay home from work.

Lipsitch predicts that, within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. But, he clarifies emphatically, this does not mean that all will have severe illnesses. “It’s likely that many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic,” he said. As with influenza, which is often life-threatening to people with chronic health conditions and of older age, most cases pass without medical care. (Overall, around 14 percent of people with influenza have no symptoms.)

Lipsitch is far from alone in his belief that this virus will continue to spread widely. The emerging consensus among epidemiologists is that the most likely outcome of this outbreak is a new seasonal disease—a fifth “endemic” coronavirus. With the other four, people are not known to develop long-lasting immunity. If this one follows suit, and if the disease continues to be as severe as it is now, “cold and flu season” could become “cold and flu and COVID-19 season.” [emphases mine]

Of course, if the fatality rate stays up near 2% (unlikely, I think, as other parts of the article detail the fast and impressive work to find a vaccine) that’s one hell of an endemic virus.  But, who knows, maybe years from now it will be no big deal for me to get an email from a student telling me they missed class for COVID-19.

Quick hits (part I)

1) An opportunity to put pangolins in my blog?  Hell, yes.

In the search for the animal source or sources of the coronavirus epidemic in China, the latest candidate is the pangolin, an endangered, scaly, ant-eating mammal that is imported in huge numbers to Chinese markets for food and medicine.

The market in pangolins is so large that they are said to be the most trafficked mammals on the planet. All four Asian species are critically endangered, and it is far from clear whether being identified as a viral host would be good or bad for pangolins. It could decrease the trade in the animals, or cause a backlash.

It is also far from clear whether the pangolin is the animal that passed the new virus to humans. Bats are still thought to be the original host of the virus. If pangolins are involved in disease transmission, they would act as an intermediate host. The science so far is suggestive rather than conclusive, and because of the intense interest in the virus, some claims have been made public before the traditional scientific review process.

2) David Brooks oversells it, but raises some worthwhile points in, “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake”

This is the story of our times—the story of the family, once a dense cluster of many siblings and extended kin, fragmenting into ever smaller and more fragile forms. The initial result of that fragmentation, the nuclear family, didn’t seem so bad. But then, because the nuclear family is so brittle, the fragmentation continued. In many sectors of society, nuclear families fragmented into single-parent families, single-parent families into chaotic families or no families.

If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor.

My nuclear family of origin was very small and had no extended family really at all.  My current nuclear family has beloved extended family in state, but still a pretty good distance.  I’ll admit to being jealous of people of have adult siblings, cousins, aunts/uncles, etc., all in the same area.

3) David Leonhardt, “The Question All Democrats Need to Ask Themselves: If your preferred candidate doesn’t win the nomination, will you still do everything you can to deny Trump a second term?”

Yes, the candidates have their differences. But they have much bigger similarities. If elected, every single Democratic presidential candidate would act to slow climate change, raise taxes on the rich, reduce gun deaths, expand voting rights, lower health care and education costs, protect abortion access, enforce civil-rights laws, appoint progressive judges, rebuild overseas alliances and stop treating the Justice Department as a personal enforcer. The moderates are running to the left of Barack Obama, and the progressives would be constrained by Congress.

The alternative, of course, is truly radical. Many Democrats know all this, yet they still get so caught up in the passions of the primary campaign that they risk helping Trump…

Today the Republican Party has become so radicalized that it opposes almost any government action to solve problems. Its domestic agenda consists largely of cutting taxes for the rich and freeing companies from oversight. The substantive part of many policy debates now happens within the Democratic Party — which means that tensions are only natural.

And yet progressives and moderate Democrats still agree on far more than they disagree. Each side would be more effective if it were open to learning from the other, Dionne writes, rather than lapsing into “an unseemly moralism that feeds political superiority complexes.”

My answer to that questsion is, hell, yes (yes, including for Bernie).  One of my problems with Sanders’ supporters is that I feel too many of them are so committed to Bernie that their answer to this question is too much… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

4) I know EMG will enjoy this story on horse toes.  Really.  “A Horse Has 5 Toes, and Then It Doesn’t: As a horse’s hoof forms, scientists say something profound is occurring in its anatomical development.”  Featuring horse embryos from NC State!

The horse embryos were provided by C. Scott Bailey, a co-author and an expert on horse reproduction at North Carolina State University. They were all from mares that had been artificially inseminated on known dates, so the researchers knew with some precision how many days along they were.

The discovery implies something profound about how anatomical development works. As an embryo puts itself together, growing from a tiny wad of cells into multiple specialized tissues fed by blood vessels and linked by the winding threads of nerves, it is following a template. That template is subject to evolution, just like other things about the animal. But some moments in the process, or some routes that development takes, may not be easily altered…

Adult horses have no need of all five toes. But at a point long before the embryos have actual feet, the ancient programming still requires those five clusters to form. Does that mean that diverting development away from this digit-forming process would cause serious problems?

It’s possible, Dr. Kavanagh said. Other stages of development seem to be more flexible, generating new innovations that evolution can act on; it is probably not random chance that some stages are not malleable.

The study confirms an observation published in 2018 by another set of biologists that horses have many more blood vessels and nerves in their legs than required to feed a single toe, suggesting that they still have signs of an earlier, many-toed state.

5) Really good Political Science conversation, “If Moderates Are Electable, Why Are Ideologues Winning?”

Atop Democratic primary polls, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are re-igniting a debate about whether moderates are more electable. Are voters pushing the candidates to the extremes or just looking for moderate alternatives? Andrew Hall finds that moderate candidates are more likely to win general elections, but that they are running for office less often than extremists. The benefits of office are declining and the costs are increasing, especially for potential moderates. But Stephen Utych finds that moderates are far less advantaged in general elections over extremists than they used to be. Partisan polarization means voters increasingly treat politicians in each party as interchangeable, lowering the costs of nominating extremists. Either way, voters are not the main cause of polarization.

6) David Frum on the truly execrable William Barr:

At the law schools of the 1970s and ‘80s, a militant faction of professors taught a harsh lesson. Law, they argued, is a myth that property owners invoke to protect themselves and oppress those without property. The legal reasoning that we students were so frantically working to absorb was in fact a deception, an expensive drapery concealing the brute realties of political and class power.

Some students indignantly rejected this teaching. Others accepted that it contained some truth, mixed with much exaggeration and propaganda.

Adam Serwer: The dangerous ideas of Bill Barr

But young William Barr—George Washington University Law School, Class of 1977—seems to have absorbed the radical message with perverse enthusiasm: Alrighty then! Let’s do it!

As attorney general, Barr has focused on two missions: on the one hand, cracking down on crimes by the poor and the foreign-born; on the other, going easy on the crimes of President Trump’s associates. This administration likes to call itself “tough on crime” and to revile its Democratic opponents as “the party of crime.”

But toward its own many crimes, the Trump administration is genially indulgent. Like the gangsters around the table in the first Godfather movie, the Trump administration is able to convince itself that its victims are animals without souls—and that its own lawbreaking is a necessary, even honorable, accommodation to the facts of life. “The real crimes were on the other side!” Donald Trump tweeted after he heard the news of Roger Stone’s recommended sentence of seven to nine years—exactly in line with federal sentencing guidelines for Stone’s convicted offenses.

As attorney general, Barr has delivered a series of speeches about the importance of sternly enforcing the law against lower-class people…

The Trump administration rationalizes its treatment of Stone by endlessly fulminating and tweeting against prosecutors, judges, even jury forepersons. Barr’s warnings against inquiring into subjective motivations in the case of uniformed police dealing with street crime get forgotten when the police wear suits and ties and must deal with Trump crime. Then (and only then!) it matters whether the officer in question showed previous loyalty to President Trump. If not, then (and only then!) the officer’s possible motive matters more than anything, and certainly more than the proven evidence.

American criminal law is harsh; American prison sentences are severe. Most of the time, Trump and his attorney general relish this harshness.

There’s some argument as to who invented the phrase “To my friends, everything; to my enemies, the law.” Whoever said it first, it clearly impels the higher levels of the Trump Justice Department. But even the Trump Justice Department needs the expensive drapery of the pretense of legal reasoning. When the president insists on yanking that drapery aside day after day on Twitter and television, the reality of what is going on becomes too embarrassing even for Barr to endure. [emphasis mine]

7) Annie Lowery is exactly right about the fundamental irrationality of the Berniephobes (he’s far from my first choice, but not because I fear his policies being enacted):

A President Bernie Sanders would have about as much control over the economy as President Donald Trump: outside of a recession, not nearly as much as one might think, and particularly not in the short term. Political scientists and economists have demonstrated that how well the economy performs under different administrations mostly has to do with the fortuities of market timing. President Barack Obama inherited a catastrophe that had nowhere to go but up; Trump inherited a long boom that has just kept booming. Their policies have mattered but, outside the response to the Great Recession itself, mostly on the margin. The same would be true for Sanders or Warren or Amy Klobuchar or Joe Biden or any of the other candidates. If the economy tanks on Sanders’s watch, what he does will be enormously important. If it does not, his policies would take years to change the shape of American growth.

Presidents are just not that powerful in the United States’s polarized, divided, and choke-point-choked political system. Sanders has put out a slate of transformative economic policies, but realistically, few of them are likely to be passed, and those probably in watered-down and compromised versions. As The American Prospect, the left-of-center magazine, has noted, Sanders or another progressive could do a considerable amount via executive action, including the instant forgiveness of student debt held on the federal books. But many of the biggest changes Sanders seeks—wealth taxes, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, a jobs guarantee—would have to wend their way through Congress.

There is no majority in Congress for any of those policies at the moment. Bodies that overrepresent old, white, and rural voters are unlikely to pass a new New Deal anytime soon. Bernie’s camp openly admits as much, as do elected progressives. Is Medicare for All achievable? “The worst-case scenario? We compromise deeply and we end up getting a public option,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said this week. “Is that a nightmare? I don’t think so.” Wall Street knows it, too. In a recent note to clients, JPMorgan’s analysts argued that American “political institutions” would make dramatic policy changes highly unlikely. “We put the probability of major changes like Medicare-for-all or a wealth tax at less than 5 percent.”

Would the economy tank if Congress did pass Sanders’s chosen policy regime? That is questionable as well. Sanders’s economic plans are meant to bolster the earning and political power of low- and middle-income families, while forcing companies to compete with another, taming the power of the financial system, and greening the economy. They amount to a huge fiscal-stimulus program, which would be unlikely to ruin the economy any more than the Trump tax cuts, another big stimulus program, would. The country’s staggering levels of income and wealth inequality are distorting the very fabric of the economy: raising saving relative to consumption and investment, dampening GDP growth, impeding mobility, and fraying the political system. There’s a good argument that reducing inequality would boost the country’s long-term growth rate, not hurt it.

8) Tara Parker-Pope on how, maybe, Millennials slower approach to love and marriage is a good thing:

But what is particularly striking is how quickly the cohort has rewritten the rules for courtship, sex and marriage. In 2018, the median age of first marriage was approaching 30 (29.8 for men and 27.8 for women). That’s more than a five-year delay in marriage compared to 1980, when the median age was 24.7 for men and 22 for women.

A 2017 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that many younger millennials in their early 20s aren’t having sex, and are more than twice as likely to be sexually inactive than the previous generation. Another study found that American couples ages 25 to 34 spend an average of six and a half years together before marrying, compared with an average of five years for all other age groups…

Ask millennials and they will tell you that there is nothing casual about their approach to sex, dating and romance.

“Hooking up with someone doesn’t mean that millennials now don’t value marriage,” says Anne Kat Alexander, who at 23 is in the second wave of the millennial generation. “If anything, they value marriage more because they are putting a lot more forward thinking into that decision.”

Dr. Fisher says her research suggests today’s singles seek to learn as much as possible about a potential partner before they spend time, energy and money on courtship. As a result, the path to romance has changed significantly. Whereas a “first date” used to represent the getting-to-know-you phase of a courtship, now going on an official date with someone comes later in the relationship.

And for some singles, sex has become the getting-to-know you phase of courtship. In a study conducted for Match.com, Dr. Fisher found that among a representative sample, 34 percent of singles had sex with somebody before the first date. She calls it “the sex interview.”

First, do you really need six years to figure out if you should marry someone.  That’s serious overkill.  Secondly, yes, I guess I’m just old, but sex before dating??!!

9) And, yet, apparently when it comes to dating, there’s a lot of very traditional gender role stuff going on.  Sociology Professor, Ellen Lamont, “If You Want a Marriage of Equals, Then Date as Equals: Why are many dating practices a throwback to an earlier era?”

However, I noticed a glaring disconnect between the straight women’s views on marriage and their thoughts on dating. Once these women were married, it was difficult to right the ship, so to speak. The same gender stereotypes that they adopted while dating played out in their long-term partnerships.

Three-quarters of Millennials in America support gender equality at work and home and agree that the ideal marriage is an equitable one. Consequently, I expected the young women I interviewed to epitomize feminist liberation. Yet, when they thought of equality among men and women, they focused more on professional opportunities than interpersonal dynamics. Americans with a college education now get married in their early 30s on average, as young adults put their love life on hold while they invest in their education and establish a career. Given the significant time, money, and effort they put into building this career, the women I spoke with expected to partner with people who would support their ambitious professional goals. The men said they desired and respected these independent, high-achieving women and actually saw them as more compatible partners as a result.

And yet in a throwback to an earlier era, many women I spoke with enacted strict dating rules. “It’s a deal breaker if a man doesn’t pay for a date,” one woman, aged 29, told me. A 31-year-old said that if a man doesn’t pay, “they just probably don’t like you very much.” A lot of men, they assumed, were looking for nothing more than a quick hookup, so some of these dating rituals were tests to see whether the man was truly interested in a commitment. A third woman, also 31, told me, “I feel like men need to feel like they are in control, and if you ask them out, you end up looking desperate and it’s a turnoff to them.”

On dates, the women talked about acting demure, and allowing men to do more of the talking. Women, they said, were more attractive to men when they appeared unattainable, so women preferred for the men to follow up after a date. None of the women considered proposing marriage; that was the man’s job. “I know it feels counterintuitive … I’m a feminist,” the first woman said. “But I like to have a guy be chivalrous.”

On a related note, a female student who is a smart, ambitious, liberal feminist told me about a recent fraternity weekend event she attended (with a, supposedly, better kind of fraternity) that left me beyond appalled at the gender dynamics.

10) And, while we’re at it.  This from Stephanie Coontz is really good, “How to Make Your Marriage Gayer: Same-sex spouses feel more satisfied with their partners than heterosexual ones. What’s the secret?”

Once children come along, old marital traditions reassert themselves even more. A University of Texas researcher, Joanna Pepin, and her colleagues recently found that married mothers spend more time on housework than single mothers and have significantly less leisure time than cohabiting mothers. As Dr. Pepin told me, “The gender expectations traditionally associated with being a wife seemingly encourage married mothers to do more housework than their unmarried counterparts, and their husbands to accept that as normal.”

Here’s where same-sex couples can offer their different-sex counterparts useful tips. Since same-sex couples can’t use imputed male-female differences to sort out who does what, they rely less on stereotypes. Heterosexual parents tend to see tasks such as child care, laundry and dishes as part of a package that is handed to one partner. Same-sex couples are far more likely to each take on some traditionally “feminine” and some “masculine” chores.

They are also more likely to share the routine tasks. A 2015 survey found that almost half of dual-earner, same-sex couples shared laundry duties, compared with just under a third of different-sex couples. And a whopping 74 percent of same-sex couples shared routine child care, compared with only 38 percent of straight couples.

11) I’m not a particular fan or detractor of Bloomberg, but what I don’t like is unfair attacks on anybody that get policy wrong.  Especially when they come from a college professor, like this tweet:

It may be wrong and dangerous, but the research is pretty clear that teacher quality is far more important than class size.  So, wait, neither wrong nor dangerous, but backed by empirical evidence.

12) I loved reading about what it’s like being a pizza consultant.

13) This is kind of amazing, “People Born Blind Are Mysteriously Protected From Schizophrenia”

But the whispered-about fact persists: Being born blind, and perhaps specific types of congenital blindness, shield from the very disorders vision loss can encourage later in life. A myriad of theories exist as to why—from the blind brain’s neuroplasticity to how vision plays an important role in building our model of the world (and what happens when that process goes wrong). Select researchers believe that the ties between vision and psychotic symptoms indicate there’s something new to learn here. Could it be that within this narrowly-defined phenomenon there are clues for what causes schizophrenia, how to predict who will develop it, and potentially how to treat it? …

This view of the brain argues that rather than perceiving the world around us in real time, our brains create a model of what’s out there, predict and simulate what we experience, and then compare our predictions to what’s actually happening—using any errors to update or change the model in our minds. The accuracy of your past predictions are crucial for the accuracy of your overall model—it’s what you’re comparing new inputs to, and how you’re making any adjustments.

This is where vision comes in. Vision gives us a lot of information about the world around us, and is an important sense that helps link together other sensory cues, like sound and touch, Pollak said. If the way a person sees the world is off, it can make it harder to predict, correct errors, and build a model of the world that makes sense. And when people have problems with their vision, the brain has to make more predictions to explain them. On the other hand, if you couldn’t see anything, you wouldn’t build up those false representations of the world around you—which could lead to problems in thinking later on.

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