Quick hits (part II)

1) This is really good, “Roe’s Death Will Change American Democracy”

The dissolution of Roe will not make the tensions that preceded it disappear. Several states have already issued sweeping laws criminalizing abortion, while others have declared an intention to become sanctuaries for people seeking abortions. State leaders seem intent on influencing what happens outside their borders, encouraging or punishing travel for abortion. Anti-abortion leaders hope to ban abortion across the country through federal legislation or yet another Supreme Court decision, while abortion-rights groups are seeking to ensure access, circumvent criminal laws and wage battle in state courts.

 

But more fundamentally, the story the Supreme Court tells is dangerously incomplete. The decades-long fight to reverse Roewas not an effort to restore democracy but instead an attempt to change the way American democracy works — one that, now realized, will touch areas of life well removed from reproduction.

The leaders of the anti-abortion movement have long seen their cause as a fight for human rights in which compromise was a betrayal of principle. Their stance was clear in the 1960s, as they fought the loosening of criminal abortion laws, and it was obvious after Roe was decided, when the movement agreed on the need for a constitutional amendment recognizing fetal personhood and thus banning abortion nationwide.

American party politics as we know them today were, in time, shaped by those efforts…

After Casey, some anti-abortion groups expanded their focus:To gain even more control over Supreme Court nominations, they sought to overhaul the Republican Party and the rules of campaign spending. Anti-abortion lawyers waged war on campaign finance limits, which they believed hamstrung social conservatives, disempowered small-dollar donors and violated the First Amendment. They joined other groups working to unleash a torrent of spending from nonparty outside groups, fought for donor anonymity and played an instrumental role in the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down certain limits on corporate election expenditures.

With new money and influence in the G.O.P., anti-abortion groups were able to do something new: weaken the traditional leadership of the Republican Party, which had not made the fight against Roe as much a priority as business-friendly attacks on regulations and taxes…

It is appealing to believe that judges can rise above politics, interpreting the law and nothing more, and remain indifferent to the consequences of their decisions. But it’s clear that over the years the Supreme Court has become yet another partisan institution — and one that’s unaccountable to the American people. In that light, it’s hard to see the court’s aggressive moves to remake American constitutional law as anything but anti-democratic.

The fight to undo Roe, then, has been a fight to remake our country — and it has succeeded. That fight seems even more ominous when one looks around the globe: Other countries that have recently undone abortion rights are backsliding democracies.

We live in a post-Roe America now, and we are just beginning to understand what that means.

2) Just because conservatives are not interested in meaningful criminal justice reform or try and scare people with crime, doesn’t mean rising crime isn’t a real problem, “The Liberals Who Won’t Acknowledge the Crime Problem: Refusing to admit the gravity of the problem won’t make it go away.”

Anecdata, of course, are not the same as data. And in cities such as Philadelphia and San Francisco, progressive district attorneys have insisted that their critics have gotten the facts wrong. As The New York Times recently reported, the now-recalled San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin routinely “confront[ed] voters with data that shows overall crime has not increased meaningfully while he has been in office.” Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s cantankerous district attorney, has developed a habit of browbeating critics in town-hall meetings with appeals to “the science.” His in-house criminologist, Krasner has insisted, can give people the real numbers if they really want them. Ordinary residents are being told that what they perceive to be true is not, in fact, true.

The problem here is that humans understand and interact with the world based on perception and feeling. Politics is about policy, but it is also about human nature—which, however one wishes to characterize it, is a constant to contend with. You can try to transcend human nature by appealing to people’s better angels or through education and enlightenment—but only up to a point. Information and education dont necessarily serve the purpose liberals assume they will. Very few of us will read a detailed academic journal article about trends in crime reporting before deciding how to feel about crime. Your assessment also depends on which facts you pay attention to. Any self-respecting political scientist will be aware of how the data can be manipulated to confirm one’s prior beliefs. A criminologist—considering how politicized debates over crime are—is likely to have ideological biases that inform his or her research. Are you looking at “overall crime” or certain subcategories—and who’s to say which subcategories matter more than others? The notion of neutrality may be comforting, but no one, in the end, is a disinterested observer…

Being forthright with the public when certain categories of crime are increasing is important, but debates over numbers obscure a more fundamental objection. The data miners, the journalists, and the otherwise well-intentioned people who believe—as one might believe in a religion—that all we need to come to the right conclusion is the right information seem unable to grasp that crime isn’t just crime…

To be a liberal is to take care to balance one’s individual need for basic security with a benefit of the doubt for the least fortunate and compassion for the victims of an uncaring society. The good liberal knows that poverty, substance abuse, and untreated mental illness fuel criminal activity. These are root causes. But the root causes haven’t been addressed, even by the very progressives who say that they should be. This, too, reflects a debate about moral claims and starting assumptions, and fact-checking can’t quite address those. Are the least fortunate necessarily morally superior simply by virtue of their victimhood? Is crime simply a matter of addressing grievances—or is it also true that there is bad and even evil in a fallen world and that it can’t always be resolved through social policy? Sometimes, particularly when it comes to actual criminals, crime must be punished.

3) Greg Sargent, “Texas’s new secessionist platform exposes a big GOP scam”

Of all the lies that Republicans have told about the 2020 election, one of the most insulting is the “election integrity” ruse. In this telling, GOP state legislatures passed restrictions on voting across the country not to make it harder for the opposition’s voters to cast ballots, but rather to restore GOP voters’ “confidence” in elections going forward.

The Texas GOP has adopted a new platform that’s generating headlines for its open discussion of secession from the union. But the platform also exposes how that “election integrity” scam really functions. In so doing, it lays bare some ugly truths about how radical the abandonment of democracy among some Republicans has truly become.

The new platform, which thousands of GOP activists in Texas agreed to at the state party convention over the weekend, is a veritable piñata bursting with far-right extremist fantasies. It states that Texas retains the right to secede from the United States and urges the Texas legislature to reaffirm this…

But the document might be most revealing in its treatment of voting and democracy. It declares President Biden was “not legitimately elected” in 2020. It says Biden’s win was tainted by voting in swing-state cities, furthering a GOP trend toward more explicitly declaring votes in urban centers illegitimate.

It urgently warns that Republicans must vote in high numbers in November 2022 to “overwhelm any possible fraud.” And notably, it calls for repeal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

4) Catherine Rampell, “Here’s what voters will get if they cast their ballots based on gas prices”

Americans are mad about inflation. They’re especially outraged that gasoline averages $5 per gallon nationwide. And history suggests they may act on that furor by voting the bums out.

But voters should think carefully about what they’ll get if they cast their ballot based on gas prices.

Unexpected inflation tends to cause voters to punish incumbents at the polls. The cost of gasoline looms especially large in public consciousness; it also weighs heavily on presidential approval ratings. The president does not have some super-secret special dial on his desk that can adjust gas prices, but many voters believe otherwise.

Republicans hope this widespread confusion will turn the midterms into a referendum on painful economic conditions and, by extension, Democratic leadership. They’re counting on voters to project their hopes and dreams — including their wildest fantasies about cheaper gas — onto Republican challengers.

But here’s the thing.

There are relatively few tools that the president and Congress can deploy to help boost oil production or moderate overall inflation. They probably won’t make a huge dent in price growth, but they could help a little on the margin. Unfortunately, these are not the things that either party is proposing right now. Democrats are grandstanding about “greed” and considering silly stuff such as export bans and price controls;meanwhile, Republicans demagogue about President Biden’s supposed “war on fossil fuels” and socialism.

Neither party has a serious plan for dealing with inflation overall or gas prices specifically.

Assuming that Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to disrupt energy markets, then voters realistically face a choice between high gas prices and the rest of the Democratic agenda; or, high gas prices and the rest of the Republican agenda. So it’s worth considering what that “rest of” the agenda for each party actually entails…

So what do Republicans stand for?

Their national leaders won’t say, even when asked directly; their state-level rising stars are mostly focused on fighting with Mickey Mouse and drag queens. But if you look at GOP actions taken over the past several years, including when they had unified control of the federal government, you get a sense of what Republicans are likely to prioritize.

Mostly, Republicans seem to care about tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. They want to find ways to repeal Obamacare, or otherwise reduce access to health care by (for example) slashingMedicaid.

5) Nice piece in Science on trying to understand long Covid:

For each of these researchers—and many others exploring the causes of Long Covid—untangling the complex syndrome, with a still-evolving definition, is a laborious, step-wise process. First, they must show that a possible contributor—such as minuscule clots, lingering virus, or immune abnormalities—crops up disproportionately in people with Long Covid. Then comes the hard part: proving that each of these traits, alone or in combination, explains why the coronavirus has rendered millions of people shadows of their former selves.

All agree that solo operators are unlikely. Lingering virus, for example, could attack the circulatory system, triggering blood clots or chronic inflammation. “I see this as a triangle,” Buonsenso says, with each trigger potentially explaining, or even amplifying, the others.

6) Chait, “They Will Do It Again Republicans have not been chastened by the revelations of the January 6 committee.”

The January 6 hearings are about the events of a single day, but they implicate a much broader phenomenon: the Republican Party’s faltering commitment to democracy. The mob attack on Congress a year and a half ago was merely the most grotesque manifestation of Donald Trump’s rejection of democracy, and Trump himself merely the most grotesque manifestation of his party’s authoritarian impulses.

“Parties that are committed to democracy must, at minimum, do two things: accept defeat and reject violence,” wrote the political scientists Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way earlier this year. Trump has built a movement that does neither. And while he is justifiably known for his petty egocentrism, he has finally and genuinely infused this movement with beliefs that are greater than his self-interest and whose power will outlast him…

Well over 100 Republican nominees for national or statewide office explicitly endorse Trump’s fantasy that the election was plagued by large-scale fraud. A much greater number of Republicans simply refuse to say one way or another if Joe Biden won the election fairly. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, asked recently about Barr’s confession that Trump had no grounds to dispute the election results, first asserted that something fishy did occur (“You saw some states not follow their state-passed legislation”) before pivoting to his desire not to “keep relitigating 2020.”

The party is split between those Republicans who refuse to take a stance on Trump’s coup and those who actively endorse it, with the latter faction rapidly gaining ground. The Republican nominee for Nevada secretary of state, a job that would oversee elections, has asserted, “Your vote hasn’t counted for decades. You haven’t elected anybody. The people that are in office have been selected.” Pennsylvania’s Republican candidate for governor not only supports Trump’s election-fraud lie but was present at the storming of the Capitol on January 6.

7) This is very good from Cathy Young.  Yes, Republicans are absolutely demonizing trans people, especially athletes, for cheap political points.  But, damn some of the crazy, hysterical response from the left is just so ridiculous, “Do Ohio Republicans Really Want to Use Genital Exams to Ban Trans Athletes?”

Earlier this month, news of the latest outrageous move from a GOP-dominated state legislature spread on some news sites and on social media: The Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill that not only excluded transgender students from school sports but reportedly also required genital checks—and even internal pelvic exams—for female athletes to ensure they were not trans. Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg characterized the proposed law as a “new nadir,” because it “gives anyone . . . the standing to challenge an athlete’s gender, and provides no disincentives for making false reports.” A viral thread on Twitter, with nearly 200,000 likes and nearly 80,000 retweets and quote-tweets, asserted that under this law, any girl in Ohio would have to submit to a medicalized sexual assault to play middle school or high school sports:

In fact, the genital-exam panic is almost certainly a nothingburger, the joint product of Republican clumsiness and Democratic alarmism. It is also a diversion from the underlying problem of sports (particularly school sports), sex, and gender identity—a genuinely complicated issue where reactionary culture-war politics intersect with good-faith concerns about equity for girls and women.

First, let’s get the Ohio dystopia out of the way: A close look at the story shows that the chances of mandatory genital exams for female athletes actually happening are practically nil. For starters, House Bill 151, the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” has yet to be approved by the Ohio Senate, let alone signed into law. What’s more, it’s not clear that the bill’s language actually calls for genital checks. What it says (after mandating single-sex teams, permitting the simultaneous availability of mixed-sex teams, and prohibiting schools and scholastic sports bodies from allowing “individuals of the male sex” to participate in female-only teams or events) is this:

If a participant’s sex is disputed, the participant shall establish the participant’s sex by presenting a signed physician’s statement indicating the participant’s sex based upon only the following:

(1) The participant’s internal and external reproductive anatomy;

(2) The participant’s normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone;

(3) An analysis of the participant’s genetic makeup.

This language—added to the bill on June 1 by Republican state representative Jena Powell, who first cosponsored a bill with this same language in early 2020—is hardly a sterling example of legislative draftsmanship. It is vague in several ways. One, it’s not clear whether the physician’s statement would have to be based on all three criteria, or just one or two would be enough. Two, it is not clear whether the physician would be required to actually perform an exam on the student; a similar provision in an Idaho bill was clarified to state that no new physical exam was required as long as the attestation came from a doctor who knew the individual to be a biological female. Leave it to Republican legislators to make a hot mess of any culture-war-related bill.

It seems safe to say that girls who play sports in Ohio schools will not be undergoing genital checks or pelvic exams—if only because any legislators who mandated such a thing would get clobbered by their own conservative constituents. The most likely scenarios are that the bill will either fail to pass the Ohio Senate or will be amended to alter this language. And if somehow the bill were to pass both houses of the legislature, Gov. Mike DeWine indicated last year that he would veto it…

Of course there’s some cynical weaponizing going on. If the only time you mention women’s sports in a non-transgender context is to make lame jokes about how no one watches the WNBA, you’ll forgive me if I don’t take your concern about the trans menace to female athletes very seriously. (Chances are, it’s more about the “trans” part than the “female athletes” part.)

But it is also true that the nominally “conservative” camp on this issue includes many people who can hardly be suspected of fake concern for women’s sports, or of anti-LGBT bias. They include tennis great Martina Navratilova, the first professional athlete to publicly and voluntarily come out as gay—back in 1981, when it cost her a lot of money in endorsements from skittish corporations…

Since the debate has often been framed as one between fairness and inclusiveness, the question of what’s “fair” inevitably comes up. In a recent video examining the issue of trans athletes, German physicist and science commentator Sabine Hossenfelder concludes that “it seems clear from the data that trans women keep an advantage over cis women, even after several years of hormonal therapy” and that “no amount of training that cis women can do is going to make up for male puberty.” In that sense, Hossenfelder admits, trans inclusion “isn’t fair”—but then she pivots to the position that “athletic competition has never been fair in that sense”: Superior athletes, male or female, have genetic advantages over other people, whether it’s the runner’s long legs, the swimmer’s lung capacity, or the basketball player’s height. Others say that the “fairness” question is further diluted by the indisputable fact that young people from affluent families have vastly greater opportunities to benefit from training and coaching.

Such arguments, I suspect, are unlikely to persuade. Most people find it self-evident that the advantage Lia Thomas’s natal sex gives her over biological females is a fundamentally different kind of “unfair” than the advantage Michael Jordan’s genes give him over other males—just as, for instance, they instinctively feel that the advantage conferred by doping is a fundamentally different kind of “unfair” than the advantage conferred by having more time and resources to train. Social justice activists would likely argue that such assumptions arise from precisely the sort of deeply ingrained, culturally constructed biases that we should be encouraged to question: If we feel that the trans advantage is different, they suggest, it’s because, deep down, we don’t believe that transgender women are women. And yet, without getting into the thorny “What is a woman?” question, it is entirely possible to believe that trans identities are real and should be respected and that, in some areas including sports, biological sex matters—especially post-puberty. It’s possible to question cultural biases and still come away with that conclusion.

8) Relatedly, completely hyperbolic twitter threads like this are so popular. 

Somehow, “hmmm, should Lia Thomas really be competing against women?” is not the road to complete totalitarian fascism.  Who knew?

9) How the social justice left is destroying environmental advocacy organizations from the inside-out.  And, of course, those responsible are entirely morally convinced of their rightness:

Yet most environmental activists who spoke with POLITICO saw these types of convulsions as necessary for creating a more effective pressure movement.

“They understand that you cannot win on major pieces of environmental or climate legislation without Black and brown and indigenous and other folks who come from vulnerable communities,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization with the National Wildlife Federation.

Because you know what, of course we should pay attention to their concerns, but this assertion is just not true.

But Henn said it’s important to distinguish the grunt work of organizing from “performative solidarity.” He observed too many organizations distracted by “having internal debates about messaging and identity and your positions on different issues.”

Indeed, in this new phase of environmentalism, Big Green organizations are extending themselves into labor rights, immigration, housing and democracy reform. Some groups are aiming to stir millions of latent Democratic voters across the country; to defeat state-level voter suppression initiatives; to make the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico states; to end the Senate filibuster and erode structural imbalances favoring red-leaning states.

“Do you end up taking on so much that you become paralyzed?” Henn added. “Can you actually do the longer, deeper work to build a base that will turn out for climate? That is a challenge.”

Call me crazy, but… want to improve the environment? Focus on environmental policy.

10) Sure seems like twitter’s favorite liberal historian is guilty of some pretty serious plagiarism. From what I can tell, not many people seem to care because he’s twitter’s favorite historian.  But what he’s done seems… not okay. 

11) Fascinating in National Geographic, “The microbe behind the baby formula recall can be benign—or deadly: Cronobacter sakazakii, a little-known microbe, has evolved traits that make it difficult to destroy, posing a threat to our food safety.”

The bacterium behind the baby formula recall, Cronobacter sakazakii, is less well-known than other food-borne pathogens like E. coli or Salmonella, but itcan wreak havoc in vulnerable populations like newborns or people with compromised immune systems…

Part of the Enterobacteriaceae family, these bacteria are rod-shaped organisms with whiplike appendages that help them move towards nutrients and other targets.

Not only is this bacterium mobile, C. sakazakii is also exceptionally hardy; viable bacteria have been discovered in powdered formula left on the shelf for up to two years. “The fact that it survives in arid environments for a long time is really special,” Chapman says. This trait renders traditional food safety strategies like drying food to inhibit bacterial growth useless against C. sakazakii.

The bacterium’s secret lies in its genome, according to Roy Sleater, a molecular biologist at Munster Technological University in Ireland. Sleater and his team found that C. sakazakii contains seven copies of an osmotolerane gene—which encodes a protein that helps protect the bacteria in low moisture environments—while other bacteria have just one. This enables C. sakazakii to produce much more of this protective protein compared to their less desiccation-resistant peers. And “this protection extends to other forms of stress such as high temperatures and high pressure,” Sleater says, referring to previous research that found bacteria that can survive low moisture also become more resistant to heat.

C. sakazakii is also capable of forming a biofilm, a community of bacteria that live together in a sugary matrix its members produce, Claud says. This biofilm can adhere to surfaces like countertops or hospital equipment as well as organic matter like a baby’s intestinal cells. And in a case of “together we stand and divided we fall,” a biofilm is much more than the sum of its parts—the bacteria within it communicate with one another and adapt to changes in the environment. This flexibility makes biofilms especially tough to destroy.

12) I have The Men out from the library, but haven’t started reading it yet.  As to the basis of it’s “transphobia“? Give me a break:

Some early readers have called “The Men” transphobic, because transgender women disappear along with the cisgender men. I see what they mean. The novel states that an unexplained force “had removed every human with a Y chromosome, everyone who’d ever been potentially capable of producing sperm.” Given that this is an imaginary landscape that Newman could have organized any way she chose, she’s effectively made a strong statement about where transgender people “belong”: Transgender men remain on Earth with the cisgender women. Some readers will — very reasonably — want to avoid this book because of it.

13) I really need to rewatch Flight of the Conchords.  Enjoyed a trip down memory lane with this, “Every (Full) Flight of the Conchords Song, Ranked”

14) And much further back down memory lane, I really enjoyed this on Quora, “What 1980s movies were huge at the time but are now almost forgotten?”

15) Loved this Planet Money story on mandatory employee lunch away from the workplace in France.  Turns out the origins are actually based on ventilation– using lunchtime to clean out the air. 

16) And a great Planet Money newsletter on the history of the racial wealth gap:

his new study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that, despite ostensible progress made since the civil rights movement, when it comes to the most important, bread-and-butter economic issues of income, wealth, and mobility, progress in ending racial inequality is stalling — or even reversing. The study brings into focus the simple math of why — absent radical measures — America won’t be seeing true racial equality anytime soon…

Describing the data pattern as a “hockey-stick shape” (with the hockey stick lying on its handle), Derenoncourt showed that the degree of wealth inequality between white and Black people was extremely high in 1860 and then rapidly plunged through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From 1950 onward, however, it has remained pretty flat. That is, there’s been virtually no progress in closing the wealth gap. In fact, the study finds, since the 1980s, the gap has been widening. 

Let’s start back in 1860. This was before Emancipation, when about 4 million of the 4.4 million Black people in America were enslaved. Slavery robbed the vast majority of Black Americans of the ability amass wealth and pass it on to their children. They themselves were a form of wealth — other people’s wealth. In this barbaric world, the ratio of white-to-Black wealth was 56 to 1. Said in a different way, for every dollar the average white person had, the average Black person had only about 2 cents.

Despite President Johnson rescinding the 40-acres-and-a-mule order, Black Americans made huge progress reducing the wealth gap in the first years after Emancipation. By 1870, just five years after passage of the slavery-abolishing 13th Amendment, the white-to-Black wealth gap dropped to 23 to 1, less than half what it was.

Why did the racial wealth gap fall so quickly? One reason is the effect the Civil War and abolition had on white slaveowners. Enslaved people had been a huge form of wealth — about 15% of the total wealth of white America in 1860. Hence, their liberation reduced the average wealth of white America, thereby shrinking the racial wealth gap. 

However, Derenoncourt and her colleagues calculate that only about 25% of the drop in the racial wealth gap can be explained by white slaveowners’ losses. Instead, they find, most of the reduction was the result of newly freed people being able to earn, save, invest, and amass wealth for the first time. 

As inspiring as the story is of an oppressed people embracing freedom and working hard to build a better life for themselves against all odds, it’s also important to note that a large part of the reason for the steep decline in the racial wealth gap in these early years reflects some simple math. When one group starts off with basically zero wealth, even tiny gains in wealth look huge. When the denominator (the bottom part of the fraction) of the white-to-Black ratio goes from nothing to something, wealth inequality falls sharply.

It’s largely for this reason that the economists find that, despite the failure of Reconstruction, the imposition of Jim Crow apartheid, and the countless other stomach-churning injustices perpetuated against Black Americans in this era, the first 50 years after Emancipation saw the greatest progress in narrowing the racial wealth gap in American history. What had been a 56-to-1 wealth gap fell to a 10-to-1 gap by 1920. That is, by 1920, for every dollar the average White American had, Black Americans had about ten cents.

A hundred years ago, it might have looked like Black Americans were on the fast-track to closing the wealth gap with white Americans. However, progress has slowed since then, and starting in the 1980s, the gap began widening.

17) Enjoyed this story of a woman playing minor league baseball

18) This was interesting from Gallup, “Americans Say Government Should Address Slavery Effects”

Two-thirds (65%) of those who say the government has a responsibility to address the effects of slavery believe all Black Americans should benefit from these efforts, while 32% say only descendants of slaves should. These attitudes are generally similar by racial and ethnic group; between 63% and 69% of Black, Hispanic and White respondents who view the government as responsible say all Black people should benefit.

Even as the public thinks the government is responsible for addressing the effects of slavery, they are divided as to whether it should issue an official apology for the nation’s history of slavery. Forty-seven percent of U.S. adults say the government should apologize, and 52% say it should not. Most Black adults, 73%, say the government should apologize, as do 55% of Hispanic adults. White adults are more likely to believe the government should not apologize (62%) than to say it should (38%)…

As Americans commemorate the Juneteenth holiday, most believe the history of slavery still reverberates in the lives of Black people in the U.S. today, with four in 10 saying it affects Black people “a lot.” The public believes the government is responsible for addressing those effects but does not favor issuing an apology for the history of slavery. The first step may involve passing legislation, or the president issuing an executive order, to set up a committee to study reparations for slavery, something that appears to have support in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives, if not the Senate. The state of California set up its own commission to study the issue and recently released its report. Other state or local governments have set up similar commissions or are considering doing so.

19) Great summary of PS research from Edsall.  This is definitely going into a syllabus, “

Scholars in the field of politics and heritability are generally in agreement about the partial heritability of political ideology.

In the specific case of the United States, Christopher Dawes and Aaron C. Weinschenk, political scientists at N.Y.U. and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, write in their paper “On the genetic basis of political orientation,” “Twin studies show that political ideology is about 40 percent heritable.” …

Given the contentious nature of these studies, McDermott, in a thoughtful email to me, described the thinking of those who are pursuing these lines of inquiry. For that reason I am going to quote her at length:

Genes influence those characteristics that would have made a difference in survival over long swaths of human history. Maybe not even a huge difference but even tiny differences add up to huge effects when multiplied by millions of people over millennia. That means that those characteristics that were most likely to make a difference in survival get preserved in genetic terms. Ideologically, what we have found over many years and many populations tends to fall into a few basic categories: sex and reproduction; in-group defense and out-group discrimination; and resource allocation.

These underlying problems tend to affect all people over time in all situations. The specific issue might look different in a given time and place: in England in the 1840s, it might have looked like debates on pornography, prostitution and slavery or whatnot. In the U.S. now it may look like abortion, transgender bathrooms, immigration, war and welfare. But the underlying political and psychological issues they tap into are exactly the same. They get expressed differently but the underlying challenge to survival is the same…

In “Integrating Genetics into the Study of Electoral Behavior,” Carisa L. Bergner and Peter K. Hatemi, political scientists at Penn State, make the case that contemporary political issues can mirror prompts or situations encountered by human beings in the distant past:

Political traits, orientations, and ideologies, including those participatory acts such as voting, donating, and volunteering, encompass fundamentally the same issues of cooperation, reproduction and survival surrounding group life that confronted our ancestors.

Modern-day ideological issues, Bergner and Hatemi continue,

surrounding sexual freedoms, mores and parenting are reflected in the prehistoric need for access to mates and to ensure the survival of offspring; policy views on immigration are little different than the primal need to recognize and protect against unknown, unlike and potentially “dangerous” others; codified laws, policing and punishment are akin to dealing with mores violators in hunter-gatherer societies; taxes and social welfare programs essentially revolve around questions of the best way to share resources for group living; foreign policy and military are matters of protecting one’s in-group and defending against potential out-groups.

Bergner and Hatemi add:

While the labels and often meanings of issues change across time and cultures, and the medium through which preferences are communicated have changed from direct, immediate and interpersonal (e.g., person to person, group sanction, etc.) to indirect, latent and impersonal (e.g., internet, voting for someone you never met, etc.), the underlying connection between the core issues that are important to humans, revolving around cooperation, defense, reproduction, resources, and survival remain.

19) The story everybody was talking about before the Supreme Court took over, “Teenage Justice A list of boys “to look out for” appeared on a high-school bathroom wall last fall. The story of one of them.”

20) This is concerning and medically/sociologically interesting. “Uterine Cancer Is on the Rise, Especially Among Black Women”

Black women represented just under 10 percent of the 208,587 uterine cancer cases diagnosed in the United States between 2000 and 2017, but they made up almost 18 percent of the nearly 16,797 uterine cancer deaths during that period, Dr. Clarke’s study found.

The uterine cancer death rate for Black women is 31.4 per 100,000 women ages 40 and up, compared with 15.2 per 100,000 for white women in the same age group, Dr. Clarke reported. (Comparable death rates for Asian American women were nine per 100,000, and for Hispanic Americans, 12.3 per 100,000.)

That makes uterine cancer an outlier, since progress has been made toward narrowing the racial gap in death rates from most cancers over the past two decades. Another National Cancer Institute report, published in JAMA Oncology in May, found that overall, death rates from cancer have declined steadily among Black Americans between 1999 and 2019, though they continue to be higher than those of other racial and ethnic groups.

The reasons for the increase in uterine cancer cases are not well understood. The most common form, endometrioid cancer, is associated with estrogen exposure, which is higher when obesity is present, and obesity rates have been rising in the United States.

But non-endometrioid cancer has increased in prevalence, too, and it is not linked to excess weight. Dr. Clarke’s study found that Black women are more likely to have this aggressive form of uterine cancer. They are less likely to be diagnosed early in the course of the illness, and their survival rates are worse no matter when they are diagnosed and what subtype of the cancer they have.

“At every stage of diagnosis, there are different outcomes,” said Dr. Karen Knudsen, chief executive of the American Cancer Society. “Are they getting access to the same quality of cancer care?” She has called for more research into the factors driving the trends.

21) You definitely want to check this one out for the photos, “When Antlers Tangle, Sometimes Both Animals Lose: Antlers, the headgear of deer, moose and elk, are more useful for display than combat. But that does not stop deadly lockups from occurring.”

22) And this story is fascinating on both the rabbit front and the virus front.  So just read it (free link). “Think All Viruses Get Milder With Time? Not This Rabbit-Killer.”

Quick hits (part I)

Friday night travel means a truncated quick hits. Sorry.  And to be clear, this is an entirely pre-Dobbs quick hits.  Still, some good stuff here.  Enjoy…

1) Yglesias on pipelines and structural racism:

Lots of people, of course, just don’t care about diversity. But today if you are a manager and you have stakeholders who do care about diversity and you tell them that there is a pipeline problem, members of the care-about-diversity community will get mad at you. And in fact experienced managers know that this is the wrong thing to say, so they won’t say it.

The problem, though, is twofold. One is that if every organization simultaneously stops making excuses and diversifies, organizations do run up against a pipeline problem after all. The other is that accepting failure to meet diversity goals as evidence of an internal culture of white supremacy sets organizations up for the kind of destabilization Grim details.

There is a large population-level educational skew

In its most generic form, the “pipeline problem” in all kinds of white-collar occupations stems from the fact that educational attainment varies significantly by race. So whether it’s a tech company or a media outlet or a progressive nonprofit, white-collar workplaces typically have a larger percentage of Asian employees than the population at large but a smaller percentage of Black and Hispanic employees…

Structural racism is structural

In a different context, the people who publish articles about how the pipeline problem is a myth would probably agree that it is harder to grow up in a poor household than in a middle-class household. They would note that Black families with middle-class incomes tend to have dramatically less wealth than similar-earning white families. They would say that residential segregation has negative impacts on children’s lives. They might note large racial disparities in exposure to air pollutionnoise pollutionwater contamination, and violence, all of which are associated with worse life outcomes.

The way a lot of public school systems operate exacerbates this.

If a school is full of poor kids with single parents who don’t have much education themselves, the teachers have a more difficult job. The teachers are also less likely to be supported by an active and well financed parent-teacher organization. So the teaching staff is more likely to have high turnover. And the vacancies are more likely to be filled by assignment from the central office with the teachers who the principals in the nice neighborhoods didn’t want to hire. So you have an objectively more difficult job being done by a mix of teachers, a significant number of whom are below average in experience or ability.

The thing about all these structural problems that progressives like to draw attention to is that they are real problems that are genuinely structural. They don’t just go away if managers at some organization chant the right incantations or if elite universities add enough staff to their diversity and inclusion offices.

And they’re also not going to go away if the issue advocacy groups who work on relevant problems are in a constant state of meltdown and infighting or if they compromise their efficacy by merging into a totalizing leftist borg that alienates everyone.

2) When I wrote Tuesday’s piece on trans issues, I had forgotten how much it was David Roberts (an excellent journalist on energy policy– unreadable when it comes to anything else) who perfectly symbolized the problem.  Jesse Singal with an epic takedown in only the way good satire can:

Overall, I believed Bazelon’s piece to be a highly competent, well-executed treatment of an impossibly fraught subject.

Believed

I don’t believe Roberts has ever written anything about youth gender dysphoria, if Google is any indication — this doesn’t appear to be an area of particular interest for him. And yet he issued a searing public condemnation of Bazelon. “The wild thing about this is that @emilybazelon is a great journalist on other topics,” he tweeted in response to Michael Hobbes (who we shan’t be discussing today), making sure to tag her. “Something about this just absolutely breaks people’s brains.” (Note that right around when I was finishing up this piece, a bunch of the tweets I’m going to be referencing disappeared, apparently deleted by Roberts. They were all live earlier today. I tried to archive them beforehand using archiv.ph but ran into some technical difficulties. Either way, I have screenshots of them — apologies if the archived links don’t work. It doesn’t look like Roberts offered any explanation for why he deleted the tweets, which had been up for almost a week, but if he does say anything I’ll update the piece here.)…

What I’d failed to account for in my old path toward understanding this issue, which had involved antique methods like “talking to people” and “reading research” and “accepting that not every question is going to have a clear, easily summarized answer,” is that the world isn’t nearly so complicated. I’d been seduced by the siren call of Nuance, that incorrigible bitch, and she had led me down a slimy rabbit hole to a very bad place, fraught with bigotry. How the hell had I become the sort of journalist who raises questions? It’s disgraceful behavior.

I decided to lash myself to the mast of Twitter certitude — a much firmer option, in these troubled times, than “curiosity” or “critical thinking” (you know who else was curious and “just asked questions”?). Once I did, I realized that I was completely wrong; I had misjudged David Roberts.

When it comes down to it, there are Good People and Bad People. David Roberts is, unlike me, a Good Person. Being a Good Person, he not only possesses moral clarity (which I sorely lack), but a moral clarity so clear it’s practically invisible. And if you have a gift like this — an ability to see the truth without doing any of the legwork usually required to get to that point — why on God’s green earth would you withhold it from others? Wouldn’t it be unethical to do so? Like not administering penicillin to a patient dying from an infection? So whereas I initially criticized Roberts for his harsh treatment of Bazelon — whereas I previously, but definitely no longer, considered his behavior to be what would happen if a mad scientist conducted a freak genetics experiment mating a gadfly with an asshole — I now have to thank him. 

I have to thank him for showing me how wrong I was to think that things can be complicated, and for teaching Emily Bazelon the same invaluable lesson.

3) Loved this Atlantic discussion on marriages:

Havrilesky: I think people want to keep marriage in a very clear binary where there are good marriages and bad marriages. And if your marriage is good, everything should be easy. And if your marriage is bad, it’s doomed and you should get divorced right now. A lot of married people understood, and a lot of married people were like, That’s not how I run my marriage. My marriage is perfect, and I never have feelings of anger or rage. I’m never disappointed in my wonderful, perfect, glorious spouse.

Maybe some people really do have really effective rose-colored glasses that they always use with their spouse, and that’s what works, you know, and they have the best sex in the world because they’re always looking through these filtered lenses at this beautiful person. I mean, in some ways, they’re basically saying the same thing, which is: “I prefer this filter. It helps me to love my spouse more when I reject the idea that there is any hatred in any marriage, except a bad one.”

Khazan: I take Heather’s point: I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing there’s one perfect person out there for you. A soul mate, if you will. Psychological research suggests that this belief in soul mates can actually impact whether we think our relationship is capable of change or if it’s doomed.

Spike W.S. Lee, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, spoke with me about the concept of “love frames” and how different perspectives of love can determine how well your relationship can weather conflict. Specifically, people who see love as a “journey” tend to take the good with the bad.

Spike W.S. Lee: In a journey frame, conflicts become more meaningful. They are part of the growth process. In love fiction, “happily ever after” really appears only at the end of the novel. It doesn’t appear in the middle, because after the happily ever after—there’s not much of a story to tell, right? Before happily ever after is all the twists and turns to conflict that make the story interesting.

People who think of love as a perfect fit—well, when conflicts arise, I start questioning: Are we really such a good fit? Did I choose the right partner? They’re more likely to think about alternatives.

4) I enjoy women’s sports, but an effort to completely overhaul American’s relationship to sports (and ignore the simple and pervasive biological advantages men have) seems misguided:

What would this look like? I propose a New Deal for women’s sports — with a women-first approach. This must go beyond creating entitlements and enforcing parity, as Title IX does. We must dismantle the grandfathered-in systemic advantages that male athletes and male-dominated sports infrastructures continue to enjoy. We must cultivate tastes for other sports, the ones that women excel in and even dominate. And we must broaden our definition of what athletic prowess looks like.

A New Deal for women’s sports would bring more women into leadership roles — in coaching, management and media. It would expand investment in women’s sports categorically. It would increase athletic and other brand endorsement opportunities. It would transform the broadcasting and coverage of women’s sports, elevating female sports journalists and improving the quantity and quality of reporting on women’s sports.Women’s sports would be built for women, with athletic feats that suit our bodies.

Men’s bodies are different from women’s; men are generally bigger, faster and stronger. And currently, the sports that make the most money and see the largest audiences in the United States are suited to a male body’s physical strengths: football tackles, basketball dunks. Sports built for women’s bodies would be different. Compared with men, women have superior flexibility and resilience. Women excel at enduring.

Endurance sports are boring– there’s a reason we don’t watch them.  Yeah, give me a dunk or a 60-yard TD pass.

5) Rick Hasen on prosecuting Trump:

There’s no denying that prosecuting Mr. Trump is fraught with legal difficulties. To the extent that charges like obstructing an official proceeding or conspiring to defraud the United States turn on Mr. Trump’s state of mind — an issue on which there is significant debate — it may be tough to get to the bottom of what he actually believed, given his history of lying and doubling down when confronted with contrary facts. And Mr. Trump could try to shift blame by claiming that he was relying on his lawyers — including John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani — who amplified the phony claims of fraud and who concocted faulty legal arguments to overturn the results of the election. Mr. Trump could avoid conviction if there’s even one juror who believes his repeated lies about the 2020 election.

And yes, there are political difficulties too. The “Lock her up!” chants against Hillary Clinton at 2016 Trump rallies for her use of a personal email server while she was secretary of state were so pernicious because threatening to jail political enemies can lead to a deterioration of democratic values. If each presidential administration is investigating and prosecuting the last, respect for both the electoral process and the legal process may be undermined.

That concern is real, but if there has ever been a case extreme enough to warrant indicting a president, then this is the case, and Mr. Trump is the person. This is not just because of what he will do if he is elected again after not being indicted (and after not being convicted following a pair of impeachments, one for the very conduct under discussion), but also because of the message it sends for the future.

Leaving Mr. Trump unprosecuted would be saying it was fine to call federal, state and local officials, including many who have sworn constitutional oaths, and ask or even demand of them that they do his personal and political bidding…

What Mr. Trump did in its totality and in many individual instances was criminal. If Mr. Garland fails to act, it will only embolden Mr. Trump or someone like him to try again if he loses, this time aided by a brainwashed and cowed army of elected and election officials who stand ready to steal the election next time.

Mr. Trump was the 45th president, not the first American king, but if we don’t deter conduct like this, the next head of state may come closer to claiming the kind of absolute power that is antithetical to everything the United States stands for.

6) Some good friends of mine in here: “Why Conspiracy Theories Flourish in Trump’s America”

Joanne Miller, a political scientist at the University of Delaware, wrote by email that she and two colleagues, Christina Farhart and Kyle Saunders, are about to publish a research paper, “Losers’ Conspiracy: Elections and Conspiratorial Thinking.” They found that “Democrats scored higher in conspiratorial thinking than Republicans after the 2016 election, and Republicans scored higher in conspiratorial thinking after the 2020 election.”

One factor contributing to the persistent Republican embrace of conspiracy thinking, Miller continued, is that Trump loyalists in 2020 — who had suddenly become political losers — abruptly understood themselves to be on “a downward trajectory.” Miller writes that “perceiving oneself to be ‘losing’ (culturally, politically, economically, etc.) is likely one of the reasons people are susceptible to belief in conspiracy theories.”

Also, love the way that Jon Jost is always out there doing solid social science that makes Republicans look bad:

Haidt added another dimension to Miller’s argument:

I don’t think there’s anything about the conservative mind that makes it more prone to conspiracies. But in the world we live in, the elites who run our cultural, medical and epistemic institutions — and particularly journalism and the universities — are overwhelmingly on the left, so of course Democrats are going to be more trusting of elite pronouncements, while Republicans are more likely to begin from a position of distrust.

Are there partisan differences in connection with conspiracy thinking?

Uscinski argues that in his view there is little difference in the susceptibility of Democrats and Republicans to conspiracy thinking, but:

The issue here isn’t about conspiracy theories so much. These ideas are always out there. The issue is about Donald Trump. The numbers are so high because Trump and his allies inside and outside of government endorsed these election fraud conspiracy theories. Trump, his many advisers and staff, Republican members of Congress, Republican governors and state legislators, conservative media outlets, and right-wing opinion leaders asserted repeatedly that the 2020 election would be and then had been stolen.

This has a lot more to do, Uscinski contended, “with the power of political and media elites to affect their followers’ beliefs than anything else.”

 

John Jost, a professor of psychology, politics and data science at N.Y.U., strongly disagrees with Uscinski, arguing that there are major differences between Democrats and Republicans on measures of conspiratorial thinking.

Jost wrote by email:

My colleagues and I found, in a nationally representative sample of Americans, that there was a .27 correlation (which is quite sizable by the standards of social science) between conservative identification and scores on a scale of generalized conspiratorial mentality.

In a separate study, Jost continued:

We observed a smaller but clearly significant correlation of .11 between conservative identification and a clinical measure of paranoid ideation, which includes items such as “I often feel that strangers are looking at me critically.” Furthermore, we found that paranoid ideation was a significant mediator of the association between conservative identification and general conspiratorial mind-sets.

Jost pointed to a January 2022 article — “Conspiracy Mentality and Political Orientation Across 26 Countries,” by Roland Imhoff, a professor of psychology at Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, and 39 co-authors — that examined the strength of the “conspiracy mentality” at the extremes of left and right based on a sample of 104,253 people in 26 countries, not including the United States.

7) The libertarian in me really doesn’t like the FDA saying “no Juul vapes.”  But, Drum brings some valuable context here:

But I think the data is in on this:

Most teen vaping (roughly 80%) is nicotine vaping, and it’s obviously bad to get kids hooked on nicotine. On the other hand, vaping is better than cigarette smoking, so if more vaping leads to lower cigarette use then it might be a net positive.

But as the chart shows, that’s not the case. Teen cigarette smoking has been declining steadily for the past couple of decades and doesn’t appear to be influenced even a tiny bit by vaping. This means that vaping has gotten more teens hooked on nicotine with no corresponding drop anywhere else to make up for it.

This doesn’t mean you have to support a ban on vaping, or even a ban on non-prescription nicotine vaping. But as you think about it, this is the factual background to consider.

8) Of course, I’ve always taken any opportunity to rant against originalism.  Certainly one of the biggest intellectual frauds ever perpetrated against the American people.  But, damn, I had missed this nice piece that makes a compelling case for the literal racist roots of it.  

9) Adam Winkler interview on guns and the Supreme Court. This part is the best!

In terms of the decision itself, what was notable about how the Court presented the history of the Second Amendment and guns?

Most notable is that the Court says it is going to look to history and tradition, but then ignores history and tradition. The Court says that only gun laws which have historical precedent are constitutionally permissible, and then the Court dismisses all of the historical precedents for heavy restrictions on concealed-carry laws as outliers. The Court says that it is going to look to history, but dismisses early English common law as too old. The Court says that it is going to look to history, but dismisses any laws that were adopted after the mid-eighteen-hundreds as too young. The Court says that it is looking to history, but also says that shall-issue permitting is constitutional, even though shall-issue permitting is a twentieth-century invention. So the Court says that it is doing history and tradition analysis, but conveniently ignores any history it doesn’t like…

This is singular. The Court says that history and tradition analysis is the way that constitutional rights should be analyzed. But all you have to do is go back to Tuesday’s decision on the funding of religious schools. The Court didn’t do any history and tradition analysis to show that there is a First Amendment requirement that states finance religious schools. [In the gun case,] the Court rejects the kind of interest-balancing that is commonplace in constitutional law more generally…

Look, this ruling is going to have its biggest impact on blue states, such as California and New York, that have relatively restrictive gun regulations. Those states will still try to regulate guns. The political movement in those states is still very strong. I think this ruling will not only lead to a lot of litigation but lead to a lot of litigation on the concealed-carry issue in particular. This is not the final word but the beginning of a long battle over it. States such as New York are going to pass laws that broadly define “sensitive places,” to make it very hard to carry a gun in New York City. Those laws will be subject to constitutional challenge. States might impose burdens on licensing requirements.

In California, if you want to get a cosmetology license that gives you the ability to put chemicals in someone’s hair, you have to go through a thousand hours of training. You could imagine California saying that, if you want to carry a gun, you have to do extensive training and go to a certain kind of class before you have the ability to carry firearms. So I think we are going to see states continue to try to regulate firearms, but this opinion will make it much easier for Second Amendment advocates to go to court and strike these laws down.

10) Really liked Yglesias on AI, “We’re asking the wrong question about AI sentience”

Max Read points out that all these science fiction stories about human encounters with sentient AI are in the LaMDA corpus. And it’s certainly cool and impressive that when Lemoine started acting like a sci-fi protagonist who’s interested in exploring the depths of the AI’s humanity, LaMDA was able to match the pattern and generate an appropriate sci-fi response.

That said, you could do an improv scene with someone where they pretend to be an experimental pattern-matching AI trained on a vast corpus of human texts. Depending on who your partner was, it might be convincing or it might not. And how convincing it is would be a function of the partner’s skills as an improv actor. Some people, probably most people, would be terrible at it because improv is hard. But if you ranked 10,000 people based on the convincingness of their performance in this scenario, you wouldn’t call this a rank-ordering of the performers’ level of sentience. Only some humans are good at improv and only some humans are familiar with the functioning of Transformer-derived language models, so the people in the intersection of those circles would do well.

By the same token, Gary Marcus, who knows far more about AI than I ever will, offers this deflationary account:

Neither LaMDA nor any of its cousins (GPT-3) are remotely intelligent. All they do is match patterns, draw from massive statistical databases of human language. The patterns might be cool, but the language these systems utter doesn’t actually mean anything at all. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean that these systems are sentient.

As a description of how these systems work, that seems great. But the assertion that GPT-3’s utterances are meaningless seems untenable to me.

Nobody thinks Siri is sentient after. But if you ask Siri what tomorrow’s weather forecast is, she will tell you. And the words she utters mean things; the program wouldn’t be useful if the words weren’t meaningful and the words clearly are meaningful. There’s a longstanding debate in philosophy over internalism versus externalism about semantics: do words mean things separate from intentions or does meaning essentially rely on communicative intent? I think that AI systems, including ones that nobody is making grandiose claims about, are basically just a counterexample to semantic internalism.

GPT-3 is not trained to mimic the real rhythms of a human conversation, so I always find chatting with it somewhat frustrating. But the language it utters clearly has meaning.

The claim that the reason Goodfellas is better than the Departed because Goodfellas is more closely based on real-life events is absurd as film criticism1, but it’s absurd precisely because it’s perfectly cogent — it’s just dumb.

The face in the clouds

 

The very next paragraph from Marcus offers what I think is a much more tenable claim — not that language models’ utterances are meaningless but that humans’ tendency to anthropomorphize them is a bug in our own software:

Which doesn’t mean that human beings can’t be taken in. In our book Rebooting AI, Ernie Davis and I called this human tendency to be suckered by The Gullibility Gap — a pernicious, modern version of pareidolia, the anthropomorphic bias that allows humans to see Mother Theresa in an image of a cinnamon bun.

That is clearly correct. Humans notoriously perceive order in things that are actually random, looking to the sky and seeing crabs and bears and all sorts of things in the stars.

We are hyperactive pattern-matchers, seeing patterns that aren’t there. Certain animals like dogs and cats have evolved to manipulate us into feeding them, in part through mannerisms that we tend to interpret as expressing a wide range of human-like thoughts and emotions, even though scientists tell us that these are not particularly intelligent animals.

And since we anthropomorphize everything, we will of course anthropomorphize chat bots, too.

And while corporations have a range of motives that will shape their chatbot design decisions, to the extent that they want the people who interact with the chatbot to anthropomorphize it, they can select for one that has prone-to-anthropomorphization qualities. That appears to be the story with LaMDA which, much more so than GPT-3, is designed to “seem like” you’re talking to a real person.

11) I love getting free Jesse Singal posts.  If you were a “Reply All” fan you should read this. “No One Can Explain Exactly What PJ Vogt Did Wrong, But The Point Is We Should Now Judge Him Guilty Forever”

If you’re new to my newsletter or to this controversy, you might have to read this first (unlocked version here). I’ll give the tl;dr, but I can’t promise it’ll be enough:

-Vogt co-created and co-hosted Reply All, a Gimlet Media podcast about internet culture that was one of my favorites (if you’re new to it, start here)

Reply All, as (I would argue) part of the racial reckoning, launched a reported series on the climate of alleged racial insensitivity at Bon Appetit called “Test Kitchen” that was hosted by Sruthi Pinnamaneni

-Halfway through that series’ planned run, a former Gimlet staffer named Eric Eddings posted a tweetstorm calling out Vogt and Pinnamaneni for ignoring the fact that Gimlet has similar issues with racial insensitivity, mostly centered around the pair’s initial opposition to a unionization drive at Gimlet (though by the time of Eddings’ tweetstorm, they had both changed their minds and supported it)

-The tweetstorm was circulated far and wide by journalists outraged at the injustice Vogt and Pinnamaneni had supposedly perpetrated against their vulnerable colleagues at Gimlet; both quickly apologized and went on leave before departing Gimlet entirely, with Vogt reemerging with Crypto Island

[-editorializing on my part:] Reply All has been basically unlistenable since Vogt left, though I can’t give a truly fair account of its output over the last year because I stopped listening and because so few episodes are released these days (Unnecessary update: A couple people have told me the show’s been solid lately. I will check it out! I have not listened for quite some time, because there were some real duds in there)

[-further editorializing on my part:] As I wrote here, no one anywhere provided solid evidence Vogt or Pinnamaneni had done anything remotely bad enough to warrant being run out of their professional community amidst a carnival-like explosion of seething online rage and gleeful unpersoning (more of it directed at Vogt, I think, perhaps because he’s more famous and/or because he’s a white guy and therefore a bit easier of a target in this type of situation)

Okay, you’re all caught up! Sort of.

After Nicholas Quah praises Crypto Island in his review, he continues:

On the other hand, there remains the “Test Kitchen” of it all. It isn’t hard to plug Crypto Island into the ongoing question about what should happen after someone gets so publicly taken to task for a wrong. In Vogt’s case, it was a situation in which he had placed his professional needs in front of those of others, a stance that resulted in him opposing an effort within Gimlet to unionize and improve conditions for co-workers who did not have the same power, privileges, and security that he did. It was the hypocrisy of subsequently trying to make a journalistic work dissecting similar injustices in another workplace, seemingly before having accounted for his own actions, that sparked the brouhaha which ultimately led to Vogt’s departure.

There are layers, of course, to the question of what happens to the ousted after something like this, and we rarely get good opportunities to process this question with the appropriate sense of proportion or nuance. Now that we have one such opportunity, I’m struggling with the tension. I don’t think someone in Vogt’s position should necessarily be side-eyed from making things or working again. At the same time, the straightforwardness of his return gives me pause.

Again: No one has explained exactly what Vogt did wrong that could possibly justify the shitstorm he faced. Quah accuses Vogt of “plac[ing] his professional needs in front of those of others, a stance that resulted in him opposing an effort within Gimlet to unionize and improve conditions for co-workers who did not have the same power, privileges, and security that he did.” If you actually unpack this, there’s almost nothing there: Who doesn’t “place their professional needs in front of others,” at least part of the time? That should be enough to ruin your reputation? As for the hypocrisy charge, wouldn’t that apply only if Vogt engaged in the same sort of behavior Bon Appetit staffers claimed took place there — that is, acts of explicit and implicit racial discrimination? Where’s the evidence for those acts?

12) This is good and important, “How Houston Moved 25,000 People From the Streets Into Homes of Their Own”

Houston has gotten this far by teaming with county agencies and persuading scores of local service providers, corporations and charitable nonprofits — organizations that often bicker and compete with one another — to row in unison. Together, they’ve gone all in on “housing first,” a practice, supported by decades of research, that moves the most vulnerable people straight from the streets into apartments, not into shelters, and without first requiring them to wean themselves off drugs or complete a 12-step program or find God or a job.

There are addiction recovery and religious conversion programs that succeed in getting people off the street. But housing first involves a different logic: When you’re drowning, it doesn’t help if your rescuer insists you learn to swim before returning you to shore. You can address your issues once you’re on land. Or not. Either way, you join the wider population of people battling demons behind closed doors.

“Before I leave office, I want Houston to be the first big city to end chronic homelessness,” Sylvester Turner told me. In late January, Mr. Turner, who is serving his final term as mayor, joined Harris County leaders in unveiling a $100 million plan that would use a mix of federal, state, county and city funds to cut the local homeless count in half again by 2025.

Mr. Turner chose his words with care, and it’s important to parse his phrasing. “Chronic homelessness” is a term of art. It refers to those people, like many in the Houston encampment, who have been living on the streets for more than a year or who have been homeless repeatedly, and who have a mental or physical disability. Nationwide, most of those who experience homelessness do not fall into that narrow category. They are homeless for six weeks or fewer; 40 percent have a job. For them, homelessness is an agonizing but temporary condition that they manage to resolve, maybe by doubling up with relatives or friends.
 
 
 
 

There are at the same time many thousands of mothers and children, as well as couch-surfing teenagers and young adults who are ill-housed and at risk. These people are also poor and desperate. Finding a place to sleep may be a daily struggle for them. They might be one broken transmission or emergency room visit away from the streets. They’re in the pipeline to homelessness. But they are not homeless according to the bureaucratic definition. They are not sleeping on a sidewalk or in their cars or in shelters. Houston can offer these people a hand, but Mr. Turner is not promising to end the precariousness of their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Picking up on yesterday’s cancer theme, Eric Topol with a nice post about all the progress we appear to be making:

The narrative has been incubating for many years, but in recent days we are witnessing some extraordinary progress in treating and monitoring cancer. The convergence of genomics of the cancer—be it from the person’s DNA or tumor directly or the blood (known as liquid biopsy)—matched with the appropriate therapy is leading to outcomes that are being described as “unheard-of” by expert oncologists. This represents the essence of individualized medicine, whereby understanding the unique biologic basis of a person’s cancer can lead to highly accurate and effective treatment, and also avoid the toxicity of classical chemotherapeutic agents. Here I will review 4 recent studies, all published in the last week, and a new screening test that has become available…

We dread the diagnosis of cancer, not only because of its threat to life, but also the conventional chemotherapies that are given, with considerable toxicity. But the theme of the clusters of individualized medicine I’ve reviewed here offers a way forward that links biology and therapy. That reduces the need for chemotherapy. Moreover, as plasma cell-free tumor DNA tests get more informative, the dream of the earliest possible diagnosis of cancer may ultimately be fulfilled, and coupled with an individualized, biologic-based treatment when necessary. So at the very least, I hope you’ve now heard of some “unheard-of” important, new results that foster considerable hope for better cancer outcomes in the future.

2) I love this from Jessica Grose because so many kids have missed out on so much due to Covid and I’m really grateful that my kids have been at good ages to suffer a lot less than many, “You get only one fourth-grade block party”

Covid ran through my family in May at a languid pace: There was only one week of the past month when none of us had it, and none of our cases were concurrent. While I am incredibly grateful that we’re all vaccinated and no one had a remotely serious case, it was, of course, pretty disruptive, especially for my older daughter.

She was stuck at home isolating, but she felt sick for only about 12 hours. After which, her biggest symptom was being extremely salty about having to miss a set of fun end-of-the-school-year activities. Though she was a little bummed about skipping her class performance of the song “Anything Goes,” she was devastated to miss her school’s annual block party, which involves bounce houses, deafening Top 40 jams, a cotton candy machine and an army of sweaty, hopped-up neighborhood children.

At first, she tried to convince me that we shouldn’t let her little sister go to the block party, either. My little litigator’s argument was that her sister is only in kindergarten; she has so many years of the block party ahead of her, whereas this is the third block party my older daughter has had to miss because of Covid. (It wasn’t held in 2020 or 2021.) She has just one year left of elementary school, and in her mind it was “unfair” that her sister will probably get six years of block parties, while she had to suffer.

Though I wasn’t swayed by this argument — which was made multiple times after my kid realized she’d have to stay home — I felt awful for her by the time the party rolled around. When little sister walked out our door, big sister immediately burst into tears.

And then she said something that burrowed into me so deep, I won’t forget it. She said that her sister is only 5, so she won’t remember Covid or anything she’s had to miss. But my older daughter, who is 9, will remember it all…

But kid time is different from adult time, and it’s marked by annual activities that you can’t just reschedule. A wedding can move, and a Fourth of July party can happen every year, but they will get only one fourth grade. She gets only six elementary school block parties, and in her mind, three were taken from her. As my daughter totted up all the things she’d had to miss since 2020 (the end of her second-grade school year, an acrobatics activity only third graders get to do, the fourth-grade class trip to Philadelphia, which was canceled), her tears dotted the kitchen table. I held her, and I told her I understood that it was really very sad she couldn’t get those things back.

3) Sometimes McWhorter gets it wrong, like this time, “San Francisco Schools Are Retiring ‘Chief.’ That’s Not as Frivolous as It Seems.”  I read the essay– it really is that frivolous.

4) Yglesias, “America spends a lot more on schools than on police: And in international terms, our funding of both is very average”

Since the summer of 2020, I’ve noticed a steady drip of misleading commentary that overstates the scale of law enforcement spending relative to other more worthy items, most notably education.

I think people making these assertions are typically sincerely confused. The structure of local government in the United States is very complicated; it’s not unusual for a city to exist as a separate budgetary entity from the school district that serves its population, with public safety occupying a huge share of the municipal budget alongside some desultory “youth services” item that excludes school spending. But while I do think this line of argument reflects a genuine misunderstanding, I find it frustrating that a lot of outlets give it a pass rather than attempting to clear up this confusion.

I think this has helped entrench some misunderstandings in the minds of a lot of casual observers. When I try to correct inaccurate viral tweets about school versus police spending, I hear from a lot of progressives who say something like, “the real point is we spend too much on police.”

I don’t want to re-relitigate the police funding question,1 but polluting the environment with inaccurate facts makes it harder to reason about real tradeoffs.

Schools currently receive about five times as much money as police departments, which means cutting public order spending wouldn’t generate large increases in education spending. That’s not to say spending more on education is necessarily a bad idea, but you’d first need to convince people that paying higher taxes is a good idea. That hardly seems inconceivable to me — lots of countries have higher taxes than the United States of America — but as we’ve written before, taxes are the real issue here

America’s school/cop priorities are pretty normal

 

The United States of America is an international outlier in a number of very real ways. Private spending plays a uniquely large role in our health care system, and the same is true of our higher education system. Unusual doesn’t mean bad — I’m a defender of our higher education finance setup — but it does raise the question.

And in terms of crime and crime control, the United States is a clear outlier on two dimensions: the number of people locked in prison and the number of guns circulating on our streets. A social phenomenon like “young men form gangs that fight each other” has drastically different implications in a society when those fights are conducted with guns versus knives and bludgeons.2 This is at least part of the reason why our police are more heavily armed and trigger-happy than European cops, and you might think it means we fund policing more generously than other rich countries.

But in reality, this does not seem to be the case; OECD data indicates that the United States spends a pretty average amount on policing.

On education spending, we are the median member of the G7, spending more on our K-12 schools than Japan, Germany, or Italy but less than Canada, France, or the UK. The OECD average is to spend 3.1 percent of GDP on K-12 education, and we spend very slightly higher than that at 3.2 percent of GDP.

5) Jeff Maurer’s take on the rise in LGBT+ identity:

Clearly, these numbers are capturing three things:

  1. The momentous shift in attitudes that has allowed more gay and transgender people to live as their authentic selves;

  2. Deep confusion; and

  3. Embarrassing straight people trying very hard to be interesting.

I doubt that anyone would dispute that thing #1 has happened. You don’t have to be very old to remember when being gay or transgender was widely seen as a form of deviance, like being an animal torturer or someone who takes their socks off on an airplane. There weren’t any openly gay people at my high school, which makes me sound very old; saying “I knew no openly gay people” feels like saying “I saw Babe Ruth play” or “my first job was Zeppelin Conductor”. The fact that everyone from IHOP to the Marine Corps now trumpets their support for gay rights is a pretty good sign that times have changed.

I always felt that the main point of Pride was to push back against the mindset that forced people into the closet. Hence the name “Pride”, the slogans (“we’re here, we’re queer”), and the scores of mostly-naked men doing body shots off of each other in full view of everyone. Pride meant living without fear or shame at a time when those things were common. It seemed important that the crowds be large — which required straight people to show up — in order to say: This is all good. Those of us in attendance accept people as they are. If my presence contributed to that, then great, because that’s why I was there, though honestly the street food didn’t hurt, and as the cause went mainstream Pride also became a great place to meet women…

The core of the arguments that proved persuasive in Obergefelland Bostock(which legalized gay marriage and outlawed discrimination against transgender people, respectively) was that being gay or transgender is an ascriptive characteristic. That is: It’s not a choice. Remember when people argued that being gay was a choice? That period was from from BCE 200,000 until 2015. Thankfully, we’re mostly past the days when people thought you could “cure” being gay or transgender with an intense bible camp or some idiotic “scared straight” program. The “it’s not a choice” argument has won the day, thanks to its brilliant articulation by activists, lawyers, and a very persuasive Lady Gaga song.

But the expansion of LGBTQ+ dialogue often includes things that are choices. We now frequently discuss behaviors, not traits. The “Q” in “LGBTQ” is the problem. The “Q” stands for “queer”, and “queer” — which is not a slur in this context — can encompass basically any behavior that’s gender nonconforming. The Human Rights Campaign says that the term refers to “a spectrum of identities and orientations that are counter to the mainstream.” Okay — but what does “counter to the mainstream” mean? And what “identities and orientations” are we talking about? Remember: This term was added to LGBT, so it’s not any of those. Ultimately, attempts at definitions (see more here and here) don’t do much to build on the Webster’s definition of “queer” as “at variance with what is usual or normal”.

That opens the door for bored straight people. We can cram any gender nonconforming behavior under the “queer” umbrella. Are you a woman who likes football? A guy who paints his nails? Congratulations: You are now the same as a person born with a characteristic that at an absolute minimum complicated their life and who very likely faced serious discrimination. You’re just like my gay friend whose family is from Pakistan, Guy Who Likes To Wear Jazzy Socks. Birds of a feather, you are. You should get together and swap stories; you can tell him about the time you’re pretty sure you got a sideways glance from a co-worker, and he can tell you about how he will never, ever come out to his dad for as long as he lives.

Obviously, this straight co-opting of gay identity is massively insulting. But it’s not unheard of. I don’t for a minute believe that 20.8 percent of Gen Z is gay; I believe that some of that 20.8 percent have rounded up minor eccentricities into a gender identity. Those lost little doofuses are aided by activist rhetoric that seems designed to be confusing. I’m not surprised that many gay people are annoyed by this; what surprises me is that normie liberal culture seems to tolerate it. We’ve nodded along as voices claiming to speak for the marginalized have blurred the line between fundamental orientations and minor proclivities. This seems to be part of the broader left-wing project to be completely duped by any movement that wraps itself in the language of social justice no matter how stupid or antithetical to the cause of actual social justice that movement may be.

6) This is good, “There’s still no HIV vaccine. The science behind coronavirus shots may help.”

7) I get that hitting and violence are part of hockey.  But it is still too easy to seriously injure a player (and make the game worse for their absence)

Look, I love hockey. But I hate this garbage.

Kane, MacKinnon and Landeskog are three supremely gifted hockey players, all with often uncontainable combinations of skill and strength. They’re capable of majestic beauty on the ice, with a brutalist touch. That’s what we want to see: jaw-dropping plays, not jaw-breaking hits. But this is the NHL, and we’re simply not allowed to have nice things. Even in the fastest, most aesthetically pleasing series we’ve had in years.

So instead of raving about Connor McDavid’s steal-and-score 38 seconds into Saturday’s Game 3, or Mike Smith’s old-school pad-stack save on Landeskog, or Cale Makar’s uncanny ability to create a zone exit and zone entry out of nowhere, or Draisaitl’s incredible toughness, or just the breathtaking end-to-end hockey we’ve been gifted in this Western Conference final, we’re talking about dirty, dangerous hits. We’re talking about the Department of Player Safety. We’re talking about all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons. We’re stuck in the feedback loop, The Discourse that never ends.

Again.

I get it. Hockey’s a tough sport. The physicality of the game has always been a selling point, and there’s a sort of beauty to a perfectly delivered — and clean — hit. A shoulder through the chest, a smear along the boards, a well-executed hipcheck that sends a guy soaring.

And there’s always going to be a part of the fan base with an animalistic need for violence, those who long for the days of frequent ferocious fights, who want real life to be like “Slap Shot,” who scream at the idea of ever regulating contact in any meaningful way. Hell, when I arrived in Edmonton on Friday night, the customs agent asked why I was in town. After I told him, he immediately started calling for Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft to put Brett Kulak on the top pairing and bury Darnell Nurse, who’s been struggling mightily as he battles an injury. When I pointed out to him that Kulak’s biggest contribution to Game 2 was an elbow to MacKinnon’s head (he got all of two minutes for it), the customs agent smiled and exclaimed, “Yeah! Real hockey!”

But it’s 2022, not 1982. We know what causes brain injuries, and we know the long-term effects of them. We know that boarding a guy is extremely dangerous. We know that slew-footing a guy is extremely dangerous. We know that elbowing a guy in the head is extremely dangerous.

And none of that is hockey, anyway. Hockey is MacKinnon turning on the afterburners and leaving a defenseman in the dust. Hockey is Kane powering his way through the offensive zone and willing the puck into the net.

8) Twitter thread summarizing excellent new research on the Supreme Court:

9) Michael Gerson, “The GOP spin on gun rights is wrong — morally and legally”

A significant group of Americans believe it is. In a recent CBS-YouGov poll, 44 percent of Republicans agreed that mass shootings are “unfortunately something we have to accept” in a free country. It is the “unfortunately” that gets to me.

This is a case involving unequally distributed peril. For most observers, such misfortune amounts to reading a depressing newspaper article. For the families involved, it means suffering beyond measure and grief beyond relief. Government cannot take all the risk out of life. But is it permissible to “accept” the risk of murder on behalf of other people’s children? Is it moral to make our peace with such evident evil?

Any consideration of gun regulation in the United States immediately involves a debate about our fundamental law. Through most of American history, the prefatory clause of the Second Amendment — “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” — determined the meaning of the operative clause, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This made sense in a country where the entire western frontier was ragged and bloody with danger. Every able-bodied man was expected to possess a useful weapon to fight for the security of his state. And at least part of the reason to stay armed was that many people feared and opposed the accumulation of federal power.

The Virginia Constitution made this connection explicit, saying “that a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free State; … that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”…

This means that one of the main pro-gun arguments — that reasonable gun restrictions violate sacred, natural rights — is somewhere on the far side of laughable ignorance. The right to keep and bear arms does not mean the right of 18-year-olds to buy assault rifles. Many Republicans seem intent on combining the stability and wisdom of teenagers with military-grade firepower.

10) This seems crazy, “How Do You Say Your Name? Difficult-To-Pronounce Names and Labor Market Outcomes”

Abstract

This paper tests for the existence of labor market discrimination based on a previously unstudied characteristic: name fluency. Using data on over 1,500 economics job market candidates from roughly 100 PhD programs during the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 job market cycles, we find that having a name that takes longer to pronounce is associated with 1) a significantly lower likelihood of being placed into an academic job or obtaining a tenure track position; and 2) an initial placement at an institution with lower research productivity, as measured by the research rankings in the Research Papers in Economics (RePEc) database. We obtain similar results using two alternative ways of measuring pronunciation difficulty, a computer generated algorithm based on commonality of letter and phoneme combinations and a subjective measure based on individual ratings, and they hold after the inclusion of many control variables including fixed effects for PhD institution and home country.

11) This was so much fun to watch, “Taika Waititi Answers the Web’s Most Searched Questions”

12) We shall see if this proves true. Gallup, “Abortion Poised to Be a Bigger Voting Issue Than in Past”

Gallup first asked voters how the abortion issue factors into their voting calculus in 1992, leading up to the presidential election that year. The question has been asked in all recent presidential election years except for 2008 and was asked in the 2014 midterm election year.

Gallup has also asked the question in some nonelection years, often finding lower percentages saying abortion would not be a major issue in their vote than was the case in the nearest election year. Even then, the percentage saying abortion would not be a major issue had never been lower than the 23% measured in a 2007 survey. The full trend can be found in the linked PDF at the end of this article.

The current results are based on a May 2-22 poll, which began just after the leaking of a draft opinion of a Supreme Court ruling that indicated the court was going to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision and allow states to impose new restrictions on abortion. The poll finds that Americans are opposed to overturning Roe and that their attitudes have shifted toward greater support for legalized abortion.

Until 2016, fewer than one in five voters said a candidate must share their views on abortion. Since then, the percentage has continued to grow, reaching 24% in 2020 and 27% this year.

Likewise, the percentage of voters who say abortion is not a major issue in their vote has declined over the years.

  • Between the 1992 and 2012 election years, 30% to 37% of voters said abortion was not a major issue for them, eclipsing the “candidate must share views” response by about 2-to-1.
  • In 2016 and 2020, the percentage saying abortion would not be a major issue fell to 27% and 25%, respectively. In 2020, roughly equal proportions of voters said a candidate must share their views on abortion as said it wasn’t a major voting issue for them.
  • The 16% today saying abortion is not a major voting issue for them represents the first time less than 25% have attached this little significance to it in an election year and lags the 27% saying a candidate must share their views by a sizable margin.

13) This is very good from Brookings, “5 things to understand about pharmaceutical R&D”

Much has been made of the threat to new drugs and “new cures” posed by legislation such as Build Back Better. However, looking carefully at the data on R&D patterns and evidence on how the industry responds to market expansion suggests a less dramatic impact of reduced revenues on R&D. Thus, modest changes in the size of payments to the pharmaceutical industry would likely have little impact on the future health of Americans. This is especially the case since the Build Back Better legislation promises three things: 1) a focus on drugs that have exceeded “normal” durations of market exclusivity; 2) safe harbors for drugs developed by smaller biotechnology companies; and 3) that the U.S. will continue to pay the highest prices for brand name drugs in the world by a significant margin.

14) Since the ACLU does not actually seem committed to free speech any more (they are at least still doing good work on criminal justice) FIRE is stepping into the breach on free speech.

15) First, I thought it was interesting that the Tampa Rays had several players refuse to participate in the Pride celebration.  I also thought it was quite interesting to see just how much opinion can now make it into a straight NYT news article if it’s on LGBT issues:

As a low-payroll team that challenges convention, the Rays prioritize clubhouse harmony; without buy-in from players, their unorthodox on-field strategies might not work. The organization wanted to share its values with the uniforms, Silverman said, but would not force players to comply if they were uncomfortable.

Yet by allowing the players to opt out of the promotion — and to use the platform to endorse an opposite viewpoint — the Rays undercut the message of inclusion they were trying to send. Words like “lifestyle” and “behavior” are widely known tropes often interpreted as a polite cover for condemning gay culture.

The Rays held their promotion the day after the Dodgers had honored the memory of Glenn Burke, a former outfielder for the team who was the first major leaguer to have come out as gay, at the team’s LGBTQ+ Pride Night in Los Angeles. The resistance of some players in St. Petersburg — despite the Rays’ best intentions — showed how far the movement still has to go.

16) This is nuts, “Republicans want to hand-count paper ballots. That’s less accurate.”

Supporters of former president Donald Trump’s false claim that he actually won the 2020 election are preparing for the next election by attacking the ballot scanners that tabulate the results, arguing that hand-counting paper ballots is more accurate.

For instance, this week the Wisconsin Republican convention called for all votes to be cast on paper and counted by hand. And last month, Arizona’s Republican candidates for governor and secretary of state filed a federal lawsuit demanding that scanners be barred in upcoming elections, arguing that the “voting system does not reliably provide trustworthy and verifiable election results.”

Republicans are arguing that humans are more likely than machines to get the count right. Evidence, however, suggests the opposite: Computers — which ballot scanners rely on — are very good at tedious, repetitive tasks. Humans are bad at them. And counting votes is tedious and repetitive.

17) David French, “Against Gun Idolatry

No, the threat to America’s gun culture comes from the gun rights movement itself. The threat is gun idolatry, a form of gun fetish that’s fundamentally aggressive, grotesquely irresponsible, and potentially destabilizing to American democracy. And it’s become so prevalent that I would not—I could not—write the same piece for The Atlantic again. 

What is a gun fetish? It’s a concept that’s tough to define, but easy to observe. When a leading candidate for Senate runs on a platform that’s “pro-God, pro-Gun, and pro-Trump,” then guns (and Trump) are elevated far above their proper place in American life. The same goes for popular t-shirts and signs that declare a person “pro-life, pro-God, and pro-gun.” 

We see the gun fetish when a member of Congress appears on television with crossed AR-15s behind her head. Or when another member of Congress raffles off a .50 caliber sniper rifle. You definitely see it when a third member of Congress posts a Christmas message that looks like this:

The gun fetish rears its head when politicians pose with AR-15s in their campaign posters, or when a powerful senator makes “machine-gun bacon” to demonstrate just how much he loves the Second Amendment.

It’s certainly not the case every time a politician publicly shoots a gun that they’re exhibiting a gun fetish, but the sheer prevalence of the open display of firearms (and not just any firearm, but the AR-15 specifically) illustrates that something has changed…

Something has changed in the streets as well. It’s now common to see men and women armed to the teeth, open-carrying during anti-lockdown protests and even outside public officials’ homes. This is when the gun is used to menace and intimidate. It’s displayed not as a matter of defense but rather as an open act of defiance. It’s meant to make people uncomfortable. It’s meant to make them feel unsafe. 

This transition from defense to defiance can destabilize our democracy. The concept of self-defense is rooted in a high view of human life. In his Second Treatise of Civil Government, John Locke described a “fundamental law of nature” (his description of the “will of God”) that man be “preserved as much as possible” yet “when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred.”

Indeed, scripture makes multiple allowances for self-defense, in both the Old and New Testaments. While I respect Christian pacifism, I simply don’t see it required by the biblical text. My own view is that the refusal to protect innocent life can constitute a grave moral wrong. If a violent man came after my family, and I did not do everything in my power to stop his attack—even if it meant killing him to save my wife and kids—then I would have failed a profound obligation as a husband and father.  

Defiance is different. It’s rooted in the will to power. It is designed to implant fear, not to save lives but to exert control. It contradicts a core value of a classically-liberal society, that change comes through courts and the ballot box, not through intimidation and fear. 

18) Cool and disturbing New Yorker interactive, “When Cars Kill Pedestrians.” 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Drum has joined the “clean the air” train:

A couple of months ago I mentioned “Far UV” as a possible solution to COVID-19, so I was interested to see it mentioned prominently in a recent tweet thread from an expert.

In general, the thread was about which engineering (not social) measures are worthwhile and which aren’t. To summarize super briefly, his advice is: Don’t waste time with cleaning, but do spend time on ventilation. Here are his top four recommendations:

4. Open windows. Also open the door and use a fan to push air from the window and out the door. It will be a lot of flow. The main problem is it can’t be done when it’s cold outside. It’s difficult to calculate the exact flow from windows. 17/21

3. Ventilation Improvements. Good ventilation can provide between 3-6 ACH. All the previously mentioned strategies are inferior to having a building with good ventilation. I can’t overstate the importance of investing in upgrading ventilation. 18/21

2. Upper Room UVGI — the real deal. It can add 12-24 eACH. It reduced measles outbreaks by 75%. If we want to go all out on mitigating airborne spread, this technology is needed. 19/21

1. Far UV. I’ve seen estimates between 10-300+ eACH. This technology isn’t widespread yet and still expensive, but it could be a game changer moving forward. 20/21

2) Very good stuff from Michael Powell, “What Lia Thomas Could Mean for Women’s Elite Sports: Although the number of top transgender athletes is small, the disagreements are profound, cutting to the core of the debate around gender identity and biological sex.”

Michael J. Joyner, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., studies the physiology of male and female athletes. He sees in competitive swimming a petri dish. It is a century old, and the sexes follow similar practice and nutrition regimens.

Since prepubescent girls grow faster than boys, they have a competitive advantage early on. Puberty washes away that advantage. “You see the divergence immediately as the testosterone surges into the boys,” Dr. Joyner said. “There are dramatic differences in performances.”

The records for elite adult male swimmers are on average 10 percent to 12 percent faster than the records of elite female swimmers, an advantage that has held for decades.

Little mystery attends to this. Beginning in the womb, men are bathed in testosterone and puberty accelerates that. Men on average have broader shoulders, bigger hands and longer torsos, and greater lung and heart capacity. Muscles are denser.

“There are social aspects to sport, but physiology and biology underpin it,” Dr. Joyner noted. “Testosterone is the 800-pound gorilla.”…

But peer reviewed studies show that even after testosterone suppression, top trans women retain a substantial edge when racing against top biological women…

Most scientists, however, view performance differences between elite male and female athletes as near immutable. The Israeli physicist Ira S. Hammerman in 2010 examined 82 events across six sports and found women’s world record times were 10 percent slower than those of men’s records.

“Activists conflate sex and gender in a way that is really confusing,” noted Dr. Carole Hooven, lecturer and co-director of undergraduate studies in human evolutionary biology at Harvard University. She wrote the book “T: The Story of Testosterone.” “There is a large performance gap between healthy normal populations of males and females, and that is driven by testosterone.”…

Joanna Harper, a competitive transgender female runner and Ph.D. student studying elite transgender athletic performance at Loughborough University in Britain, agreed that testosterone gives transgender female athletes some advantage.

But she spoke of inexorable emotional and psychological pressures on transgender athletes.

“Is it so horrible,” she said, “if a handful of us are more successful than they were in men’s sports?”

“So horrible”?  No.  Should we introduce a layer of unfairness for the vast majority of biological female competitors to reduce the psychological pressures on Joanna Harper?  Yes. No.

[Note– I somehow wrote “yes” when I meant “no” as I was clearly too taken with the rhetorical construction I had going on there.  Sorry!   

3) Ezra Klein on an abundance agenda for Democrats:

So I won’t say markets failed. We failed. Growth slowed, inequality widened, the climate crisis kept getting worse, deindustrialization wrecked communities, the pandemic proved America’s supply chains fragile, China became more authoritarian rather than more democratic, and then Vladimir Putin’s war revealed the folly of relying on countries we cannot trust for goods we desperately need.

No one considers this success. Deese, in his speech to the Economic Club of New York., declared the debate over: “The question should move from ‘Why should we pursue an industrial strategy?’ to ‘How do we pursue one successfully?’”

I am unabashedly sympathetic to this vision. In a series of columns over the past year, I’ve argued that we need a liberalism that builds. Scratch the failures of modern Democratic governance, particularly in blue states, and you’ll typically find that the market didn’t provide what we needed and government either didn’t step in or made the problem worse through neglect or overregulation.

We need to build more homes, trains, clean energy, research centers, disease surveillance. And we need to do it faster and cheaper. At the national level, much can be blamed on Republican obstruction and the filibuster. But that’s not always true in New York or California or Oregon. It is too slow and too costly to build even where Republicans are weak — perhaps especially where they are weak.

This is where the liberal vision too often averts its gaze. If anything, the critiques made of public action a generation ago have more force today. Do we have a government capable of building? The answer, too often, is no. What we have is a government that is extremely good at making building difficult.

The first step is admitting you have a problem, and Deese, to his credit, did exactly that. “A modern American industrial strategy needs to demonstrate that America can build — fast, as we’ve done before, and fairly, as we’ve sometimes failed to do,” he said.

He noted that the Empire State Building was constructed in just over a year. We are richer than we were then, and our technology far outpaces what was available in 1930. And yet does anyone seriously believe such a project would take a year today?

“We need to unpack the many constraints that cause America to lag other major countries — including those with strong labor, environmental and historical protections — in delivering infrastructure on budget and on time,” Deese continued…

The problem isn’t government. It’s our government. Nor is the problem unions — another favored bugaboo of the right. Union density is higher in all those countries than it is in the United States. So what has gone wrong here?

One answer worth wrestling with was offered by Brink Lindsey, the director of the Open Society Project at the Niskanen Center, in a 2021 paper titled “State Capacity: What Is It, How We Lost It, and How to Get It Back.” His definition is admirably terse. “State capacity is the ability to design and execute policy effectively,” he told me. When a government can’t collect the taxes it’s owed or build the sign-up portal for its new health insurance plan or construct the high-speed rail it’s already spent billions of dollars on, that’s a failure of state capacity.

But a weak government is often an end, not an accident. Lindsey’s argument is that to fix state capacity in America, we need to see that the hobbled state we have is a choice and there are reasons it was chosen. Government isn’t intrinsically inefficient. It has been made inefficient. And not just by the right:

What is needed most is a change in ideas: namely, a reversal of those intellectual trends of the past 50 years or so that have brought us to the current pass. On the right, this means abandoning the knee-jerk anti-statism of recent decades; embracing the legitimacy of a large, complex welfare and regulatory state; and recognizing the vital role played by the nation’s public servants (not just the police and military). On the left, it means reconsidering the decentralized, legalistic model of governance that has guided progressive-led state expansion since the 1960s; reducing the veto power that activist groups exercise in the courts; and shifting the focus of policy design from ensuring that power is subject to progressive checks to ensuring that power can actually be exercised effectively…

So this is what I have become certain of: Democrats spend too much time and energy imagining the policies that a capable government could execute and not nearly enough time imagining how to make a government capable of executing them. It is not only markets that have failed.

4) And an interesting rejoinder from Ryan Avent (thanks, JM)

I mean no disrespect to Ezra when I say that it is not surprising, given his wonk bona fides, that he would seek an answer to our troubles in reports produced by think tanks. But it seems to me a mistake to think that what we have here is a technical problem, for which we’re likely to find the solution in wonk-produced white papers. Similarly, treating a “state-capacity-building agenda” as an issue category which simply needs to be bumped up Democratic elites’ priority list does not feel like a productive route forward. That strikes me as a proceduralist way of visualizing the problem, actually.

But more broadly, I am uncomfortable with the idea that we can get to a better American future by making this a liberal crusade: that “what America needs is a liberalism that builds”, as the title of the essay has it. I understand it: Democrats are persuadable, a liberalism that builds would be a good thing, thus we should seek to persuade Democrats to embrace a liberalism that builds. But transforming the Democratic party into an institution which champions supply-side progressivism would bind the supply-side progressivism agenda to the electoral fortunes of the Democratic party—which are not good—while also conjuring up a passionate opposition to supply-side progressivism, dedicated to preventing its realization and indeed to making sure that much of America sees the “abundance agenda” as Satanic Communism, or possibly Communist Satanism.

A very big problem that we have right now (one which Ezra has written about) is that there are virtually no political values or identities which are able to transcend the partisan divide. This is an extraordinarily bad thing, because it means that even extremely basic, obviously good things which ought to command widespread support—like vaccination against a deadly virus, or participatory democracy—get processed by our political habits into stuff that a meaningful share of Americans comes to see as bad. Now if you are an elected Democrat or a party operative, there is only so much you can do about this; you’re there to try to win elections and get good things done, and you can’t swear off good policies because of the risk that they become identified with the party and thus activate the polarization reflex.

But if the country is going to survive, we need to find a way to disentangle certain broad political beliefs from questions of party identification. America should be a place in which people who oppose the notion that “democracy is good and we should respect the outcome of elections” are a tiny minority of party-less cranks, not a major wing of one of two parties which ever govern. And “America should set ambitious national goals and meet them, because that’s who we are and that’s what we do” ought to command a similar sort of mass support. Parties will disagree about the specifics and that matters. But an America in which we are able to build and maintain a broad national consensus around certain sacred principles—that democracy is good, that the country is a can-do place—should also be one with a more functional day-to-day politics.

You may not like that idea. You may think it reeks of the mushy op-ed centrism which imagines that we could all just get along if only we stopped caring which party wins elections. But it seems implausible to me that an abundance agenda will be the magic talisman that allows Democrats to win commanding majorities, which they will then use to make everyone’s policy dreams come true. And it seems implausible to me that an abundance agenda can be passed on a bipartisan basis without first building national political identities and values which transcend the partisan divide.

You may think that “building national political identities and values which transcend party” does not seem all that much more plausible than those other things. And you may be right. I don’t want to suggest that this would be an easy thing to do, or that there is some clear set of steps which need to be followed to get it done. I’m not arguing that it will be easy; I’m only arguing that it is necessary. 

5) This is a serious and interesting social science analysis of the rise of LGBT identity, especially among young adults.  What I especially appreciate is this is the first time I’ve seen the US compared to other nations. The summary:

  • The last decade has seen a precipitous rise in the share of Americans identifying as LGBT, particularly among the youngest adults. Today, among those under 30, a wide range of surveys converge on a number of around 20%.
  • Government data from Canada and the UK indicate that surveys might be overestimating the extent of the rise in LGBT identity. This caveat must be kept in mind in understanding this report. Nonetheless, these government sources indicate that the trend is real, even if less reliable surveys might exaggerate it. The UK’s Office for National Statistics finds that 7.6% of those 16-24 identify as LGBT, which can be taken as a low-end estimate for that country.
  • The most popular LGBT identity is bisexual, which is significantly more common among women than men.
  • When we look at homosexual behavior, we find that it has grown much less rapidly than LGBT identification. Men and women under 30 who reported a sexual partner in the last five years dropped from around 96% exclusively heterosexual in the 1990s to 92% exclusively heterosexual in 2021. Whereas in 2008 attitudes and behavior were similar, by 2021 LGBT identification was running at twice the rate of LGBT sexual behavior.
  • The author provides a high-point estimate of an 11-point increase in LGBT identity between 2008 and 2021 among Americans under 30. Of that, around 4 points can be explained by an increase in same-sex behavior. The majority of the increase in LGBT identity can be traced to how those who only engage in heterosexual behavior describe themselves.
  • Very liberal ideology is associated with identifying as LGBT among those with heterosexual behavior, especially women. It seems that an underlying psychological disposition is inclining people with heterosexual behavior to identify both as LGBT and very liberal. The most liberal respondents have moved from 10-15% non-heterosexual identification in 2016 to 33% in 2021. Other ideological groups are more stable.
  • Very liberal ideology and LGBT identification are associated with anxiety and depression in young people. Very liberal young Americans are twice as likely as others to experience these problems. 27% of young Americans with anxiety or depression were LGBT in 2021. This relationship appears to have strengthened since 2010.
  • Among young people, mental health problems, liberal ideology, and LGBT identity are strongly correlated. Using factor analysis in two different studies shows that assuming one common variable between all three traits explains 40-50% of the variation.
  • Because the rise in LGBT identity is so heavily concentrated on the political left, its influence on the balance of power between the two parties is likely to be limited.
  • College students majoring in the social sciences and humanities are about 10 points more LGBT than those in STEM. Meanwhile, 52% of students taking highly political majors such as race or gender studies identify as LGBT, compared to 25% among students overall.
  • Various data sources indicate that gender nonconformity – trans and non-binary identity – reached its peak in the last few years and has started to decline.
  • What kind of high school or college a young person attends poorly predicts their likelihood of identifying as LGBT. The one exception is Liberal Arts colleges, where 38% of students describe themselves in this way. This indicates that schooling might not have a large effect on changes in LGBT identity.
  • Overall, the data suggest that while there has been an increase in same-sex behavior in recent years, sociopolitical factors likely explain most of the rise in LGBT identity.

6) Good stuff on the history of the 2nd amendment:

We argue fiercely today about the intended relationship between the famous opening phrase (“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,”) and the famous main clause (“the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”). But it’s fruitless to try to nail down that relationship, to hope to prove for good and all that the opening phrase is or is not a preamble, or that a preamble does or does not determine the meaning of a main text, or that a “being” phrase means something different from or identical to a “whereas” clause.

The sentence is weak. The weakness is deliberate. Madison couldn’t afford, on the one hand, to let the amendment seem to contradict the hard-won federal military power in the Constitution’s main body. He couldn’t afford, on the other hand, to underscore too strongly for the states’ comfort the overwhelming nature of that federal power. He seems therefore to have resorted to a preamble-ish-like phrase (no other amendment in the first ten has a preamble), referring to the supposed benefits of state militias, while employing a loose “being” construction — technically the “absolute” phrase, largely avoided by modern English, for good reason — that leaves the phrase’s grammatical relation to the main clause permanently imprecise, and thus causes, despite so many assertions of certainty, permanent doubt…

However well or poorly such arguments are formed — Wills’s, while tricky, is exhaustively well-founded and logical; many of the gun advocates’ are not [UPDATE: Also see Justice Scalia’s grammatically and historically uninformed opinion in District of Columbia vs. Heller, 2008, where the  Supreme Court decided for the first time that the right is an individual one] — both sides in the current gun-rights debate are trying to make sense of something intended by its author not to make that kind of sense. Madison wasn’t trying to protect or rule out a right to individual gun ownership. He was trying to conjure a mood of grudging, semi-coherent consensus, to establish nationhood. To that end, he denied real divisions and real effects and wrote that denial into founding law. Seeming to contradict even while declining to contradict the federal military power in the Constitution’s main body, the Second Amendment, as written, passed, and ratified, is legal gibberish.

7) Too much TV has reached epic proportions:

It’s not your imagination: Spring 2022 has seen an avalanche of new and returning TV content. In the past ten weeks or so, streaming platforms and cable networks rolled out more than 50 new and returning high-profile series. An insane 15-day stretch at the end of April crammed in roughly two dozen pedigreed projects including fresh seasons of past Emmy faves (Barry, Russian DollThe Flight Attendant, Ozark), a galaxy of star-studded newcomers (The First Lady, Shining Girls, Gaslit), and a few long shots just hoping to get noticed (Billy the Kid, Outer Range). Even for the era of too much TV, it’s been ridiculous — yet amazingly, this audiovisual assault wasn’t simply an accident of the calendar. In some cases, it was a premeditated act.

Industry insiders tell Vulture the root cause of the programming pileup is the many Emmy-hungry platforms desperately seeking statuettes. Rather than just a handful of big cable powers (HBO, Showtime, FX, AMC) and a couple of streamers (Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu) duking it out for awards, all the new digital players (Apple TV+, Disney+, Peacock, Paramount+) are scrambling for recognition, as are smaller cablers such as Starz and Epix. And just as movie studios release critic-friendly titles in the fall to ensure maximum exposure before Oscars voting, these platforms are convinced that timing a show for spring betters the odds of a shower of Emmy noms come summer. Does it matter that last year’s big category winners (Ted LassoThe CrownThe Queen’s Gambit) were released the previous summer or fall? Apparently not. “So many titles have benefited in years past,” one veteran exec says of the spring scheduling strategy. “The show was fresh on voters’ minds just as the ballots were going out.”…

The good news for folks who believe there is, in fact, too much TV? Some insiders are convinced the past few months will be remembered as an inflection point for the business, a moment when execs realized they couldn’t spend themselves to victory in the streaming (or Emmys) wars. “I’ll leave it to Landgraf to call Peak TV, but it really does feel like this spring was the top,” one industry veteran says hopefully, referring to FX chairman John Landgraf. He believes “the reckoning we saw with Netflix” — when the company’s stock collapsed in the wake of stalled growth — will reverberate through the business and result in flat or reduced content spending. “What could happen in the wake of this streaming correction is that people slim down their offering, and that will help the traffic jam abate,” the exec predicts, making it clear he believes this will be a good thing. “We as an industry have overdone it.”

8) It really does seem that many universities are now using DEI statements not unlike the way Christian colleges often expect faculty/staff to make a commitment to Christianity. And for public universities that is decidedly not right. 

FIRE recognizes that universities generally may pursue DEI-related initiatives, but at institutions bound by the First Amendment or their own promises of expressive freedom, those efforts must not threaten free speech or academic freedom. Our statement explains that the ideals of free speech and of diversity and inclusivity are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, the latter depends on the former: “When universities uphold expressive freedom, they allow a diversity of voices and perspectives to flourish and create space for dialogue across lines of identity and ideology.”

Of course, institutions of higher education have both the authority and obligation to prevent unlawful discrimination on campus, as well as an interest in employing faculty who work toward the academic success of students of various backgrounds and identities. But DEI policies frequently go further, compelling faculty to affirm contested views on matters of public debate or to embed specific ideological perspectives in their academic activities. This violates faculty members’ individual rights and thwarts values like intellectual freedom, epistemic humility, and open-mindedness that underlie a university’s mission to produce and disseminate knowledge.

9) So this is an anonymous substack written by progressive Democratic staffers that’s been getting a lot of attention.  Here they take on popularism.  As you know, I lean popularist, but really try to be open-minded on this.  That said, I did not find this anti-popularism take compelling at all.

10) I didn’t clerk for Scalia, but I know this, “We Clerked for Justices Scalia and Stevens. America Is Getting Heller Wrong.”

But despite our fundamental disagreements, we are both concerned that Heller has been misused in important policy debates about our nation’s gun laws. In the 14 years since the Heller decision, Congress has not enacted significant new laws regulating firearms, despite progressives’ calls for such measures in the wake of mass shootings. Many politicians cite Heller as the reason. But they are wrong.

Heller does not totally disable government from passing laws that seek to prevent the kind of atrocities we saw in Uvalde, Texas. And we believe that politicians on both sides of the aisle have (intentionally or not) misconstrued Heller. Some progressives, for example, have blamed the Second Amendment, Heller or the Supreme Court for mass shootings. And some conservatives have justified contested policy positions merely by pointing to Heller, as if the opinion resolved the issues.

Neither is fair. Rather, we think it’s clear that every member of the court on which we clerked joined an opinion, either majority or dissent, that agreed that the Constitution leaves elected officials an array of policy options when it comes to gun regulation.

Justice Scalia — the foremost proponent of originalism, who throughout his tenure stressed the limited role of courts in difficult policy debates — could not have been clearer in the closing passage of Heller that “the problem of handgun violence in this country” is serious and that the Constitution leaves the government with “a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns.” Heller merely established the constitutional baseline that the government may not disarm citizens in their homes. The opinion expressly recognized “presumptively lawful” regulations such as “laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms,” as well as bans on carrying weapons in “sensitive places,” like schools, and it noted with approval the “historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’” Heller also recognized the immense public interest in “prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill.”…

Most of the obstacles to gun regulations are political and policy based, not legal; it’s laws that never get enacted, rather than ones that are struck down, because of an unduly expansive reading of Heller. We are aware of no evidence that any perpetrator of a mass shooting was able to obtain a firearm because of a law struck down under Heller. But Heller looms over most debates about gun regulation, and it often serves as a useful foil for those who would like to deflect responsibility — either for their policy choice to oppose a particular gun regulation proposal or for their failure to convince their fellow legislators and citizens that the proposal should be enacted.

11) A fun family discussion about how fast foreign languages sound led me to this– it’s really interesting:

To investigate this puzzle, researchers from the Université de Lyon recruited 59 male and female volunteers who were native speakers of one of seven common languages — English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish — and one not so common one: Vietnamese. All of them were instructed to read 20 different texts, including the one about the house cat and the locked door, into a recorder. All of the volunteers read all 20 passages in their native languages. Any silences that lasted longer than 150 milliseconds were edited out, but the recordings were left otherwise untouched.

The investigators next counted all of the syllables in each of the recordings and further analyzed how much meaning was packed into each of those syllables. A single-syllable word like bliss, for example, is rich with meaning — signifying not ordinary happiness but a particularly serene and rapturous kind. The single-syllable word to is less information-dense. And a single syllable like the short i sound, as in the word jubilee, has no independent meaning at all.

With this raw data in hand, the investigators crunched the numbers together to arrive at two critical values for each language: the average information density for each of its syllables and the average number of syllables spoken per second in ordinary speech. Vietnamese was used as a reference language for the other seven, with its syllables (which are considered by linguists to be very information-dense) given an arbitrary value of 1.

For all of the other languages, the researchers discovered, the more data-dense the average syllable was, the fewer of those syllables had to be spoken per second — and thus the slower the speech. English, with a high information density of .91, was spoken at an average rate of 6.19 syllables per second. Mandarin, which topped the density list at .94, was the spoken slowpoke at 5.18 syllables per second. Spanish, with a low-density .63, ripped along at a syllable-per-second velocity of 7.82. The true speed demon of the group, however, was Japanese, which edged past Spanish at 7.84, thanks to its low density of .49. Despite those differences, at the end of, say, a minute of speech, all of the languages would have conveyed more or less identical amounts of information.

“A tradeoff is operating between a syllable-based average information density and the rate of transmission of syllables,” the researchers wrote. “A dense language will make use of fewer speech chunks than a sparser language for a given amount of semantic information.” In other words, your ears aren’t deceiving you: Spaniards really do sprint and Chinese really do stroll, but they will tell you the same story in the same span of time.

12) EJ Dionne, “The gun debate is paralyzed by our past”

But today’s gun politics did not come from nowhere. The Civil War ended 157 years ago, yet the alignments that led up to and defined that conflict are still very much alive in our politics.

Look first at simple measures. In the Giffords Law Center’s list of the 20 states with the toughest gun laws, only Virginia, which tightened its statutes recently, was part of the old Confederacy. Among the 20 states with the lowest rates of gun deaths, Virginia was again the only one that left the Union after Abraham Lincoln was elected. (It’s worth noting that the two parties have, in a broad sense, switched sides. All the states that backed Lincoln in 1860 supported Barack Obama in 2008.)

But the influence of the struggles over slavery and secession goes deeper. As the historian Heather Cox Richardson argued in her 2020 book “How the South Won the Civil War,” the North may have prevailed militarily but not, in the long run, politically.

The triumph of Southern-inflected conservatism came first with the dismantling of Reconstruction in 1877, leading to the Jim Crow era of white supremacy. The Southern political ethic was also reflected in the West, she argues, with the rise of the myth of the cowboy and the rugged (White and male) individualism he embodied. Today’s coalition against sensible gun laws is largely an alliance between the South and the non-coastal West.

The battle over the Supreme Court and the meaning of the Constitution also has echoes in Civil War-era clashes. In his 2021 “The Crooked Path to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution,” historian James Oakes traced the radical differences in how anti-slavery forces in the North and defenders of slavery in the South read the nation’s founding document.

13) I will absolutely admit that males are decidedly not great when it comes to attitudes about women and sex.  But Laurie Penny’s take is absolutely unhinged!

This also led me to a excellent takedown of Penny’s book:

The grandiloquently titled Sexual Revolution: Modern Fascism and the Feminist Fightback sounds more Kate Millett than Robin Norwood; it promises something serious-minded and galvanising, even if the word fascism does, in context, whiff just a little of Rick in The Young Ones. But as I read Laurie Penny’s “searing critique of male dominance”, it was Norwood of whom I thought. If the tone of this book is almost comically relentless – if Penny, whose pronouns are they/them, says something once, they say it 54 times – it’s also oddly reminiscent of a superannuated self-help manual, its assumptions seemingly based mostly on the experiences of its author and their friends, a focus group to whom every possible Bad Thing has happened at least once (so handy).

14) I really don’t love that Princeton went after a professor because of his statements about race in academia.  But, in the end, he really did have sex with an undergraduate.  As to this UCF professor, however, the idea that criticizing affirmative action should be a fireable offense it nuts. 

15) So good from Scott Alexander, “A Guide To Asking Robots To Design Stained Glass Windows”

I’m going to go out of order here so I can demonstrate some principles from simplest to most complicated. Empiricism was the easiest window to generate. I wanted a picture of Charles Darwin studying finches. DALL-E was happy to provide.

(On these and most other images, I’ve put the prompt on the top so you can see what it’s doing. All of these “screenshots” are slightly edited. In particular, I’m only showing three rather than the usual ten so that they show up better.)

Though even on this easiest of questions, some of the pictures could only be described as “disastrous”.

If Darwin had really looked like this, I bet he would have had an easier time convincing people of evolution.



16) Katherine Wu, “The U.S. Is About to Make a Big Gamble on Our Next COVID Winter: Experts are expected to choose a vaccine recipe for the fall, when Omicron may or may not still be the globe’s dominant variant.”

Unavoidably, several months will separate the selection of this autumn’s vaccine and the deployment of said shot. That’s eons in coronavirus time. Half a year ago, we were all still living in Delta’s world; now a whole gaggle of Omicrons are running the show. Any decision that scientists make in June will have to involve assumptions about how SARS-CoV-2 will shape-shift in the future, which exactly no one is eager to make. “We keep getting burned,” says Adam Lauring, a virologist at the University of Michigan. Perhaps the virus will stay on its Omicron bender, making an Omicron vaccine—a favorite for the fall’s jab jubilee—sound like a no-brainer. Or perhaps by the time summer’s through, it will have moved on to a Rho, Sigma, or Chi that springs out from somewhere totally unexpected and undermines that Omicron shot. With so many people around the world harboring some degree of immunity, the virus is being forced to continually reinvent itself, and no one knows what new costumes it might try on next.

Our choice of fall shot, then, is inevitably going to be a gamble and a guess. But with the clock ticking down, most of the experts I’ve been talking with think an ingredient swap is wise, and probably inevitable. “We should be updating the vaccines now or yesterday,” said Jonathan Abraham, a physician and immunologist at Harvard Medical School. Modeled on the version of the virus that kick-started the crisis more than two years ago, our current crop of immunizations is still guarding against severe illness and death. But that OG variant has long since fizzled out—leaving our shots, in this one sense, frozen in the past, while the real SARS-CoV-2 continues to race ahead. A 2022 revamp might finally give our vaccines a chance to close some of that gap.

16) I’m semi-obsessed with evaluation and selection, whether it be college scholarship students, faculty colleagues, or pro athletes.  I really enjoyed this from Leonhardt a while back about the NFL draft:

Predicting performance is unavoidably hard, even in the country’s most popular form of mass entertainment, where executives can devote lavish resources to research. “There’s no crime in that,” Cade Massey, a University of Pennsylvania economist, said. “The crime is thinking you can predict it.”

The real mistake that the executives make is hubris. They believe that they can forecast the future and design draft strategies based on their confidence. In 2018, for example, the New York Jets traded away four picks for the right to move up only three spots in the draft — to the third pick from the sixth. With that third pick, the Jets executives thought that they would draft a quarterback so great that he would be gone by the sixth pick.

The quarterback they chose was Sam Darnold, who (as the chart above also shows) has been a disappointment. Imagine if the Jets had instead kept the sixth pick, taken Allen and also kept their other picks. It could have transformed the team.

The most successful N.F.L. teams have adopted a version of this anti-Jets strategy. They have embraced the power of humility. The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s and New England Patriots built Super Bowl winners by exchanging high picks for a larger number of lower picks. In recent seasons, the Los Angeles Rams have exchanged early picks — whose value league executives tend to exaggerate, as a 2005 academic paper by Massey and Thaler showed — for established players.

With those players, the Rams won last season’s Super Bowl. The Jets failed to make the playoffs, for the 11th straight season…

The most direct analogy to the N.F.L. draft is the hiring process elsewhere. Most employers still put a lot of weight on job interviews, believing that managers can accurately predict a candidate’s performance from a brief conversation. Research suggests otherwise.

Interviews can help people figure out whether they will like another person — which has some value — but not how effective that person will be at a job. If you think you’re a clairvoyant exception, you are probably making the same mistake the Jets did.

To be clear, the implication is not that nobody knows anything. Structured job interviews, which mimic the tasks that a job involves, can be helpful. And at the draft tonight, N.F.L. teams won’t be totally clueless: Higher draft picks have historically performed better than lower picks, but only somewhat.

The trouble is that human beings tend to overstate their ability to predict events. People who can resist that hubris — who can mix knowledge with humility — are often at a competitive advantage.

17) And speaking of predicting success, I loved Derek Thompson’s 2017 book The Hit Makers.  It’s basically about how thing become really popular– whether 21st century pop songs or 19th century impressionist art.  Of course, one of the great ironies is that I would have loved this book and read it back in 2017 if I had heard about it then (and it’s not long I’m not out there paying attention for interesting non-fiction), but it never made it across my radar till Thompson mentioned it in a tweet last month.  Nice review of the book in The Guardian:

But what about that old question people tend to ask of any new cultural product – you know, “Is it any good?” There is some fascinating stuff on internet-enabled focus grouping of new pop songs, which reveals that many tracks that score as highly as those that go on to become hits just languish forever in obscurity. Thompson concludes that quality – never defined, for this is not a work of philosophical aesthetics or even cultural criticism – is a necessary condition for success, but not a sufficient one. After that you need a big dose of luck: a crack marketing team, or the right influential friends, or a friendly broadcast. Yet one could as easily conclude from all the same evidence that, not only is the high quality of a product or artwork not a sufficient condition for its success, but that quality is completely irrelevant – that popularity is, always and everywhere, simply a matter of dumb luck. That, however, would not be an appropriate message for the kind of book aimed at a soft-business audience hoping to glean some scientific tips for success…

Responsibly, Thompson keeps insisting that “there is no formula” to success, but a book such as this is obliged nonetheless to offer pseudo-formulae, “takeaways” for the executive that, inevitably, are always hedged about with such formulae as that x “sometimes” ensures success (so at other times it doesn’t) or “can” create popularity (except when it can’t). Unusually for books of the type, however, it is at least self-conscious about its own commercially imposed limitations: in a winningly disarming tone, Thompson periodically mentions the challenges of working within this literary genre. It demands illustrative “stories”, for instance, but the author rightly warns us to beware of the seductively anti-rational powers of narratives, even as he deploys them himself.

So is Hit Makers a hit in the making? Well, one of the key things the author wants us to understand throughout is this: “Most consumers are simultaneously neophilic – curious to discover new things – and deeply neophobic – afraid of anything that’s too new.” Or, to put it less pseudo-scientifically, people want something that’s a bit new but also deeply familiar. It is surely no coincidence that Hit Makers, a book of a very familiar type with a couple of good new twists, is the ideal kind of product for such an audience.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Science! “Doctors Transplant Ear of Human Cells, Made by 3-D Printer”

A 20-year-old woman who was born with a small and misshapen right ear has received a 3-D printed ear implant made from her own cells, the manufacturer announced on Thursday. Independent experts said that the transplant, part of the first clinical trial of a successful medical application of this technology, was a stunning advance in the field of tissue engineering.

The new ear was printed in a shape that precisely matched the woman’s left ear, according to 3DBio Therapeutics, a regenerative medicine company based in Queens. The new ear, transplanted in March, will continue to regenerate cartilage tissue, giving it the look and feel of a natural ear, the company said.

“It’s definitely a big deal,” said Adam Feinberg, aprofessor of biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Feinberg, who is not affiliated with 3DBio, is a co-founder of FluidForm, a regenerative medicine company that also uses 3-D printing. “It shows this technology is not an ‘if’ anymore, but a ‘when,’” he said.

Alexa, the patient, before the surgery, left, and 30 days after the surgery.

Alexa, the patient, before the surgery, left, and 30 days after the surgery. Credit…Dr. Arturo Bonilla, Microtia-Congenital Ear Institute

2) Frank Bruni shares some of the best writing about guns recently:

Here’s Bret Stephens in The Times: “The United States seems to have a not-so-secret death cult that believes that the angry god known as the Second Amendment must be periodically propitiated through ritual child sacrifice.” …

Also in The Times, Maureen Dowd: “We’ve become a country of cowards, so terrified of the unholy power of gun worship that no sacrifice of young blood is too great to appease it.” …

In The New Yorker, the conclusion of Jessica Winter’s excellent essay about Uvalde echoed lines from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” while excoriating Republicans who offer only “thoughts and prayers” for the dead: “If the leaders of this political movement, which in Texas managed to ban most abortions and criminalize health care for trans kids in the space of a school year, took real offense to murdered children, they would never simply accept their deaths as the unfortunate cost of honoring the Founding Fathers’ right to take up muskets against hypothetical government tyranny. They would act. If America were not afraid to know itself, we could more readily accept that gun-rights advocates are enthralled with violent sorrow. This is the America they envisaged. It is what they worked so hard for. Their thoughts and prayers have been answered.” 

3) Really want to know more about what’s going on here:

4) Some good research on polling: “Reluctant Republicans, Eager Democrats? Partisan Nonresponse and the Accuracy of 2020 Presidential Pre-election Telephone Polls”

Using the registration-based samples and disposition codes of state-level pre-election telephone polls conducted by the National Election Pool as part of the National Exit Poll in 12 states, we test whether likely Democrats were more likely to cooperate with the National Exit Poll than likely Republicans and independents. Using information about both respondents and nonrespondents, we find that Democrats are more likely to cooperate with telephone interviewers than Republicans and independents by 3 and 6 percentage points, respectively, even after controlling for individual and geographic features plausibly related to nonresponse (e.g., age, gender, race, urban/rural, community support for President Trump, and effects of COVID-19). Equalizing the partisan cooperation rate when post-stratifying to account for the partisan differences in cooperation decreases the average polling error on the margin of victory by 4 percentage points in the polls we examine, but sizable errors remain in critical swing states because of within-party differences in who responds and/or errors in the available partisanship measures in the voter file.

5) This is pretty interesting from Gallup.  Despite our big partisan divisions on climate change, when you actually get to specific policies, rank-and-file Republicans have some pretty solid support:

6) Love this from Chait:

 

7) Hockey can still be a great game without legal hits leading to concussions.  Sarah Civian:

Canes rookie forward Seth Jarvis, 20, confirmed he suffered a concussion in Game 7 on an open-ice hit from Jacob Trouba. This was after a puck to the groin area and another puck to the chiclets during the playoffs.

Jarvis has such a bright future, and it was really hard to listen to him describe what his experience has been like these past few days.

“I’m doing a lot better today than I have been. My headache has basically gone away today,” he said Thursday. “I still feel like I am in a fog, pretty slow. Other than the concussion, the other two aren’t that serious of injuries.”

Other than the concussion, the other two aren’t that serious. That’s hard to hear from a 20-year-old or anyone.

His memory of suffering the concussion is blurry.

“I know we had a power play in the first period,” he said. “After that, I don’t remember anything until — I can remember parts of watching it in Bill (Burniston’s) office in the third period. I remember KK (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) driving me home a bit. Then I don’t remember anything until halfway through the next day.

“It’s a little bit scary when you don’t remember anything.”

Jarvis laughed it off, but hearing this made me nauseous. The hit Trouba delivered was clean by the textbook, and Jarvis is a shorter guy, but I’ve heard there’s been discussion around the league about discouraging players from making open ice hits like these. I’m not really sure how I feel about it, but I do wonder if it’s time to look into the “textbook” and protect players at open ice.

“Tough question,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “There’s so much that goes into all that. I think they’ve done what they can on that. They certainly look at everything, which is the key. It’s just, it’s part of the game, unfortunately. You’re going to get hit sometimes. I don’t know how you do it any differently. Unless you take hitting right out of the game — then what are we playing?”

It’s a tough question, but listening to a 20-year-old, wide-eyed kid brush off a concussion blackout is even harder.

8) Way back when my son’s seizures were not well controlled (i.e., more than 16 years ago) I remember reading interesting things about vagus nerve stimulation and epilepsy, but haven’t paid much attention to it since.  Apparently, vagus nerve stimulation is now some kind of panacea:

In recent years, the vagus nerve has become an object of fascination, especially on social media. The vagal nerve fibers, which run from the brain to the abdomen, have been anointed by some influencers as the key to reducing anxiety, regulating the nervous system and helping the body to relax.

TikTok videos with the hashtag “#vagusnerve” have been viewed more than 64 million times and there are nearly 70,000 posts with the hashtag on Instagram. Some of the most popular ones feature simple hacks to “tone” or “reset” the vagus nerve, in which people plunge their faces into ice water baths or lie on their backs with ice packs on their chests. There are also neck and ear massages, eye exercises and deep-breathing techniques.

Now, wellness companies have capitalized on the trend, offering products like “vagus massage oil,” vibrating bracelets and pillow mists, that claim to stimulate the nerve, but that have not been endorsed by the scientific community.

Researchers who study the vagus nerve say that stimulating it with electrodes can potentially help improve mood and alleviate symptoms in those who suffer from treatment-resistant depression, among other ailments. But are there other ways to activate the vagus nerve? Who would benefit most from doing so? And what exactly is the vagus nerve, anyway? Here’s a look at what we know so far…

Evidence indicates that stimulating the vagus nerve can help people with epilepsydiabetes, treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder — as well as inflammatory autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis. There is even some preliminary research suggesting that long Covid symptoms could originate, in part, from the virus’s effect on the vagus nerve.

“It can sound sort of magical with all the things it does,” said Eric Porges, an assistant professor in the department of clinical and health psychology at the University of Florida who studies the vagus nerve. Our understanding of the vagus nerve “continues to grow in richness and depth,” he said, but there is still much to learn about how it works.

In the early 2000s, researchers started to show that vagus nerve stimulation could help some patients who were severely depressed and had not responded to other treatments.

A wave of studies followed.

By 2005, the Food and Drug Administration had approved implantable pulse-generating devices that sent electrical signals to the vagus nerve, for use in patients with treatment-resistant depression. Similar devices have also been approved for obesity — to help control feelings of hunger and fullness — and for the treatment of epilepsy. The downside of these devices, however, is that the surgery is expensive and it can take months — and sometimes as long as a year — to have an effect.

Researchers are now recruiting patients for the largest clinical trial to date examining to what degree vagus nerve stimulation may help patients with depression who have been unable to find relief with other treatments.

The device may be especially helpful for those with bipolar depression because so few treatments exist for them, said Dr. Scott Aaronson, one of the senior psychiatrists involved in the clinical trial and the chief science officer of the Institute for Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics, a center within the Sheppard Pratt psychiatric hospital that aims to help people who have not improved with conventional treatments and medications.

In general, one of the problems with treating depression “is that we’ve got a lot of medications that pretty much do the same thing,” Dr. Aaronson said. And when patients do not respond to those medications, “we don’t have a lot of novel stuff.”

Implanted vagus nerve stimulation isn’t currently accessible for most people, however, because insurers have so far declined to pay for the procedure, with the exception of Medicare recipients participating in the latest clinical trial.

Dr. Tracey’s research, which uses internal vagus nerve stimulation to treat inflammation, may also have applications for psychiatric disorders like PTSD, said Dr. Andrew H. Miller, the director of the Behavioral Immunology Program at Emory University, who studies how the brain and the immune system interact, and how those interactions can contribute to stress and depression.

PTSD is characterized by increased measures of inflammation in the blood, he said, which “can influence circuits in the brain that are related to anxiety.”

In one pilot study at Emory, for example, researchers electronically stimulated the neck skin near the vagus in 16 people, eight of whom received vagus nerve stimulation treatment and eight of whom received a sham treatment. The researchers found that the stimulation treatment reduced inflammatory responses to stress and was associated with a decrease in PTSD symptoms, indicating that such stimulation may be useful for some patients, including those with elevated inflammatory biomarkers.

Meanwhile, Dr. Porges and his colleagues at the University of Florida have patented a method to adjust vagus nerve electrical stimulation based on a patient’s physiology. He is now working with the company Evren Technologies, where he is a shareholder, to develop an external medical device that uses this approach for patients with PTSD.

9) And, yeah, my kid is big (20 years old next week and 165 pounds or so) and has autism, but I’m so, so grateful he’s never had truly major behavioral difficulties.  I just feel so bad for families like those in this story, “Sabrina’s Parents Love Her. But the Meltdowns Are Too Much. Unpredictable violence, chaotic outbursts and countless trips to the emergency room. What happens when an autistic teenager becomes unmanageable at home?”

10) Ross Douthat says we should make it notably harder for young adults to get guns.  He’s onto something here– just don’t stop at 25.

So I would like to see experiments with age-based impediments rather than full restrictions — allowing would-be gun purchasers 25 and under the same rights of ownership as 40- or 60-year-olds, but with more substantial screenings before a purchase. Not just a criminal-background check, in other words, but some kind of basic social or psychological screening, combining a mental-health check, a social-media audit and testimonials from two competent adults — all subject to the same appeals process as a well-designed red-flag law.

Sure, own your gun.  But, like in actually civilized nations, everybody should have to have a more substantial screening.

11) It kind of sucks that this is true, but, alas… “Plastic Recycling Doesn’t Work and Will Never Work: If the plastics industry is following the tobacco industry’s playbook, it may never admit to the failure of plastics recycling.”

The first problem is that there are thousands of different plastics, each with its own composition and characteristics. They all include different chemical additives and colorants that cannot be recycled together, making it impossible to sort the trillions of pieces of plastics into separate types for processing. For example, polyethylene terephthalate (PET#1) bottles cannot be recycled with PET#1 clamshells, which are a different PET#1 material, and green PET#1 bottles cannot be recycled with clear PET#1 bottles (which is why South Korea has outlawed colored PET#1 bottles.) High-density polyethylene (HDPE#2), polyvinyl chloride (PVC#3), low-density polyethylene (LDPE#4), polypropylene (PP#5), and polystyrene (PS#6) all must be separated for recycling.

Just one fast-food meal can involve many different types of single-use plastic, including PET#1, HDPE#2, LDPE#4, PP#5, and PS#6 cups, lids, clamshells, trays, bags, and cutlery, which cannot be recycled together. This is one of several reasons why plastic fast-food service items cannot be legitimately claimed as recyclable in the U.S.

Another problem is that the reprocessing of plastic waste—when possible at all—is wasteful. Plastic is flammable, and the risk of fires at plastic-recycling facilities affects neighboring communities—many of which are located in low-income communities or communities of color.

Unlike metal and glass, plastics are not inert. Plastic products can include toxic additives and absorb chemicals, and are generally collected in curbside bins filled with possibly dangerous materials such as plastic pesticide containers. According to a report published by the Canadian government, toxicity risks in recycled plastic prohibit “the vast majority of plastic products and packaging produced” from being recycled into food-grade packaging.

Yet another problem is that plastic recycling is simply not economical. Recycled plastic costs more than new plastic because collecting, sorting, transporting, and reprocessing plastic waste is exorbitantly expensive. The petrochemical industry is rapidly expanding, which will further lower the cost of new plastic.

Despite this stark failure, the plastics industry has waged a decades-long campaign to perpetuate the myth that the material is recyclable. This campaign is reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s efforts to convince smokers that filtered cigarettes are healthier than unfiltered cigarettes.

12) Yowza! “Alligator Kills Florida Man Retrieving Frisbees in Lake, Officials Say”

13) Good stuff from ClearerThinking, “Using survey data to explore promising intervention areas for improving well-being”

A quick summary of our most interesting results

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Figure 1: Main results. The smaller black boxes show which of the eight psychological challenges were most predictive of life quality or depression. For each of these psychological challenges, the white boxes below show the statements that participants’ agreement or disagreement with was most predictive of life quality or depression. 

In terms of which psychological challenges that may be especially prevalent, our results (which we replicated in a confirmatory follow-up study) suggest that:

 
  1. Reducing negative self-image and feelings of emotional isolation may be a promising way of improving subjective life quality.

  2. Reducing negative self-talk and feelings of emotional overwhelm may be a promising way of improving depression.

Additionally, we found two psychological strategies that seemed particularly promising for improving both life quality and depression: reminders of personal strength and gratitude for positive things in life. In addition, making time for healthy activities (like exercise) and relying on other people were both correlated with an increase in life quality.

14) There was this whole weird thing online this week about whether Swedish people feed their guests.  Prompted a deep dive from NYT:

A Swedish child sits at a dinner table while his friend and the friend’s parents dine on meatballs, mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce. The delicious aroma wafts below the child’s nose, but there is no plate for him.

This setting, while quite normal in Sweden and other Nordic countries, has horrified people around the world, shocked to learn that some Swedish families do not invite their children’s visiting friends to eat with them at mealtime.

Instead, when it’s time to eat, a child might go home, stay in the friend’s room and play or sit at the table with the family and not eat.

The custom was the subject of much conversation (and a little concern) online after a recent Reddit post circulated widely. The post asked “what is the weirdest thing you had to do at someone else’s house because of their culture/religion?” and in one of the more popular replies, someone described going to their Swedish friend’s house and being told to wait in a room while the family ate. “I wish my abuela were still around,” Lynda Carter, the actress who played Wonder Woman, said on Twitter. “She’d be trying to airlift tamales to Sweden.”

The people of Sweden, a country UNICEF ranked as the most family friendly in 2019, were left to explain why there did not seem to be enough pickled herring to go around.

Hakan Jonsson, a food studies professor at Lund University in Sweden, said sharing food is the foundation of culture, so he understands why other people might see this custom as a “hostile” act. A few years ago, he was part of a program to discuss Swedish cultural customs with immigrants and this practice was “regularly mentioned” as being very strange.

Professor Jonsson said he had not studied the custom, and it was not one his family practiced, but he guessed it could be traced to several parts of Swedish identity.

Before advances were made in food storage, he said, Swedish people would have three to four months to harvest a year’s worth of food in the cold climate, so spontaneous dinners have never been a part of the culture. He said Swedish people also want to respect the independence of the family and offering another person’s child a meal could be seen as a critique of the other person’s ability to support a family.

“There has been a very strong urge of independence, to not rely on others’ good will for having a good and independent life,” Professor Jonsson said. “It was a very strong driver toward the welfare state, to create this impersonal assistance, where you did not have to rely on any other person.”

15) Bizarre local news/sports story, “Did Raleigh mayor make little Rangers fan cry at Canes game? Baldwin, father disagree.” 

16) Some good Covid social science:

Does information about how other people feel about COVID-19 vaccination affect immunization intentions? We conducted preregistered survey experiments in Great Britain (5,456 respondents across 3 survey waves from September 2020 to February 2021), Canada (1,315 respondents in February 2021), and the state of New Hampshire in the United States (1,315 respondents in January 2021). The experiments examine the effects of providing accurate public opinion information to people about either public support for COVID-19 vaccination (an injunctive norm) or public beliefs that the issue is contentious. Across all 3 countries, exposure to this information had minimal effects on vaccination intentions even among people who previously held inaccurate beliefs about support for COVID-19 vaccination or its perceived contentiousness. These results suggest that providing information on public opinion about COVID vaccination has limited additional effect on people’s behavioral intentions when public discussion of vaccine uptake and intentions is highly salient.

17) Arthur Brooks, “The Two Choices That Keep a Midlife Crisis at Bay”

The first decision: Choose to focus on what age gives you, not what it has taken away. The developmental psychologist Erik Erikson believed that midlife presents a crossroads with two paths forward, which he called generativity and stagnation. My own research bears this out, and shows that the path you take is largely up to you. Stagnation, which can lead to a crisis, happens when you try to fight against time, whether you’re desperately trying not to look older or struggling against changes in your skills and strengths. Generativity comes from accepting your age and recognizing the new aptitudes and abilities that naturally develop after age 40 and get stronger through your 50s and 60s. These include the growing ability to see patterns clearly, teach others, and explain complex ideas—what psychologists call “crystallized intelligence.”

The second decision: Choose subtraction, not addition. Early in life, success usually comes from addition: more money, more responsibility, more relationships, more possessions. Life in early adulthood is like filling up an empty canvas. By midlife, however, that canvas is pretty full, and more brushstrokes make the painting worse, not better. This explains why studies find that the most common concerns reported by middle-aged adults involve getting everything done in their busy life, their energy level, job complications, and insufficient sleep.

Midlife is the point at which your medium of choice should change from a canvas to a sculpture, in which the work of art appears as a result of chipping away, not adding. This is hard to do when you have accepted a lot of responsibilities at work and at home. But I have found that in many cases, the most important impediment to chipping away is a belief that success = more. In middle age, this is bad math. Work to change your objective by stepping away from voluntary duties and responsibilities, and making more time to think, read, love, and pray—the work that you need to do to reengineer you.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Episode bloat is such a problem on steaming series.  I will not be watching Stranger Things season 4. Sepinwall:

To accommodate all these people, places, and concepts, the show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, have opted to supersize all of this season’s episodes. In its earlier years, Stranger Things was not exactly a breezy show, with each installment usually hovering close to a full hour. But it wasn’t until the Season Three finale that the Duffers went full Sons of Anarchy with a 78-minute conclusion. That’s the new normal for Season Four, where the shortest of these May episodes is 63 minutes, the longest is 98, and the rest are all in the 70s. Netflix has also taken the unusual step of announcing the run times for the two July episodes, and the first is an hour and 25 minutes, while the second is two and a half hours long. Without doing an exhaustive search, that appears like it will be the longest episode in American TV history — a half hour longer than the M*A*S*H finale that 105.9 million people watched, 45 minutes longer than the Lost finale, more than twice as long as the longest episode of The Sopranos. It is also between 30-60 minutes longer than pretty much every movie that has influenced the Duffers, and those movies did not arrive with 10 and a half hours of preceding material that year…

The Duffers are smart writers and directors. They know that all the films that inspired the show tend to be lean and mean. So why the increasing bloat? They definitely wouldn’t be the first showrunners to get self-indulgent in their hit series’ later seasons. (Game of Thrones also waves hello.) And as the creators of one of the streaming era’s biggest hits, there’s probably very little little in the way of “no” from their bosses at Netflix — and there could, in fact, be some encouragement. With a show where Netflix knows for sure that most viewers will watch in its entirety, the longer the episodes, the more the “minutes spent watching” metric rises, and the happier the great and powerful Netflix algorithm feels. In this perilous moment, Netflix needs all the good data it can get

Or maybe it’s something much less nefarious than that. Maybe the Duffers just fell too in love with all these people they created, and/or the actors playing them, and couldn’t let any of them go, even in situations where they no longer had a take on the character (Mike, Will) or where the story might hit harder without them (i.e., Hopper’s sacrifice under the mall being real). And because they couldn’t say goodbye to any of them, Stranger Things as a whole just kept getting bigger and bigger, growing beyond their control in the same way that Eleven and some of Dr. Brenner’s other subjects once did.

2) Some good social science on partisanship and Covid:

Does local partisan context influence the adoption of prosocial behavior? Using a nationwide survey of 60,000 adults and geographic data on over 180 million registered voters, we investigate whether neighborhood partisan composition affects a publicly observable and politicized behavior: wearing a mask. We find that Republicans are less likely to wear masks in public as the share of Republicans in their zip codes increases. Democratic mask wearing, however, is unaffected by local partisan context. Consequently, the partisan gap in mask wearing is largest in Republican neighborhoods, and less apparent in Democratic areas. These effects are distinct from other contextual effects such as variations in neighborhood race, income, or education. In contrast, partisan context has significantly reduced influence on unobservable public health recommendations like COVID-19 vaccination and no influence on nonpoliticized behaviors like flu vaccination, suggesting that differences in mask wearing reflect the publicly observable and politicized nature of the behavior instead of underlying differences in dispositions toward medical care.

3) This article on “American Gentry” is really good:

The reality of American wealth and power is more banal. The conspicuously consuming celebrities and jet-setting cosmopolitans of popular imagination exist, but they are far outnumbered by a less exalted and less discussed elite group, one that sits at the pinnacle of the local hierarchies that govern daily life for tens of millions of people. Donald Trump grasped this group’s existence and its importance, acting, as he often does, on unthinking but effective instinct. When he crowed about his “beautiful boaters,” lauding the flotillas of supporters trailing MAGA flags from their watercraft in his honor, or addressed his devoted followers among a rioting January 6 crowd that included people who had flown to the event on private jets, he knew what he was doing. Trump was courting the support of the American gentry, the salt-of-the-earth millionaires who see themselves as local leaders in business and politics, the unappreciated backbone of a once-great nation…

These elites’ wealth derives not from their salary—this is what separates them from even extremely prosperous members of the professional-managerial class, such as doctors and lawyers—but from their ownership of assets. Those assets vary depending on where in the country we’re talking about; they could be a bunch of McDonald’s franchises in Jackson, Mississippi; a beef-processing plant in Lubbock, Texas; a construction company in Billings, Montana; commercial properties in Portland, Maine; or a car dealership in western North Carolina. Even the less prosperous parts of the United States generate enough surplus to produce a class of wealthy people. Depending on the political culture and institutions of a locality or region, this elite class might wield more or less political power. In some places, it has an effective stranglehold over what gets done; in others, it’s important but not all-powerful.

4) Ed Kilgore, “Will the ‘School-Shooting Generation’ Change Politics?”

There are multiple indicators that younger millennials and members of Generation Z, who have grown up experiencing regular trauma from mass shootings, especially in schools, could make gun violence a bigger issue in the political discourse. A Harvard Institute of Politics survey in 2018 found that 70 percent of likely voters under 30 that year believed gun laws should be stricter, up from the 49 percent who favored that view in 2013 soon after the Sandy Hook massacre. As one young activist wrote in Seattle University’s student paper last year, fear and anger over school shootings has shaped an entire cohort of new and future voters:

I was never alive to see a time before active shooter drills were set in place. We were trained to hide from a gun before we even knew what the object was. My generation was exposed to the idea of death so early on because we needed to understand the true harm of a gun for our own safety. We had to learn quickly that at any moment someone could walk into our school, a place we were told was our “safe space” from home, and hurt any one of us because it was that easy for someone to get a gun. 

At a time when Democrats desperately need young voters to turn out in midterm elections, where the electorate typically skews old and white, this generation’s intense feelings on gun violence could make it a more salient campaign issue…

There was a time in living memory when progress on federal civil-rights legislation seemed as hopeless as a congressional gun-safety measure seems today. A historic breakthrough occurred with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which formally ended de jure segregation. But southern states resisted its implementation, and just as importantly, racist politicians protected themselves by refusing to extend voting rights to Black citizens. It appeared another long slog of activism would be necessary to produce federal voting-rights legislation … until suddenly public opinion was aroused by television coverage of peaceful voting-rights protesters being brutalized by armed police officers in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965. Just eight days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson convened a joint session of Congress to hear his call for voting-rights legislation. By May, the Senate filibuster was broken, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 soon followed.

It’s unlikely that the nightmare images from Uvalde will generate a similar galvanization of public opinion, much less dislodge congressional obstruction of measures against gun violence. It’s possible, however, that beneath the surface, an accumulation of nightmare images from schools and shopping malls and college campuses and movie theaters and churches will together produce a “Selma moment” — a paradigm shift in which the impossible suddenly becomes possible. But political leadership as well as public support will be necessary.

5) First-hand account of a surviving student from Uvalde (free link).  It is just unbelievable how the police waited so long to help these kids. 

6) It really is nuts that the US still requires a negative Covid test to enter.  As if there’s not tons of Covid here already.  Here’s how various travelers are getting around it. 

7) Really enjoyed this Alex Tabarrok review of a new book on parenting:

Nate Hilger’s has written a brave book. Almost everyone will find something to hate about The Parent Trap. Indeed, I hated parts of it. Yet Hilger is willing to say truths that are often not said and for that I would rather applaud than cancel.

Hilger argues that the problems of poverty, pathology and inequality that bedevil the United States are not primarily due to poor schools, discrimination, or low incomes per se. The primary cause is parents: parents who are unable to teach their children the skills that are necessary to succeed in the modern world. Since parents can’t teach the necessary skills, Hilger calls for the state to take their place with a dramatic expansion of not just child care but collective parenting…

Schools, Hilger writes are “actually the smallest and most equalizing part of a much larger skill-building system.” The real problem, says Hilger, are parents.

But what about discrimination? When it comes to wage discrimination, Hilger is brutally honest:

If we compare individuals with similar cognitive test scores, Black college graduates earn higher wages than white college graduates. Studies that don’t control for test score differences but examine earnings gaps within specific professions—lawyers, physicians, nurses, engineers, scientists—tend to find Black workers earn zero to 10 percent less than white workers. These gaps could reflect discrimination, unmeasured skill differences, or other factors such as geography. In any case, such gaps are small compared to the 50 percent overall Black-white earnings gap and reinforce the idea that closing skills gaps would go a long way toward closing income gaps.

Hilger argues that racism does play an important role in explaining Black-white wage differentials but it’s the historical racism that made black parents less skilled and less able to pass on skills to their children. In the twentieth century, Asians, Hilger argues, were discriminated against in the United States at least much as Black Americans. But the Asians that came to the United States had high skills while the legacy of slavery meant that Black Americans began with low skills. Asians, therefore, were better able to overcome discrimination. The success of Nigerians and Jamaican immigrants in the United States also speaks to this point.  (Long time readers may recall that in 2016 I dubbed Hilger’s paper on Asian Americans and Black Americans the Politically Incorrect Paper of the Year .)

Parental investment is surely important but Hilger overstates his case. He writes as if poorer parents have neither the abilities nor the time to teach their children while richer, better educated parents simply invest lots of hours and money imbuing their children with skills:

…the enormous variation in parents’ own academic skills has big implications for kids because we also demand that parents try to be tutors. During normal times, parents in America spend an average of six hours per week helping—or trying to help—their kids with school work. Six hours per week is more than K12 math and English teachers get with children…good tutoring by parents for six hours a week, every week, year after year of childhood could raise children’s future earnings by as much as $300,000.

The data on the effectiveness of SAT test-prep suggests that these efforts are not nearly so effective as Hilger argues. The parental investment story also doesn’t fit my experience. I didn’t spend six hours a week helping my kids with their homework. I doubt most parents do. I simply assumed my kids would do their work. I do recall that we signed my kids up for tutoring at Kumon, the Japanese math education center. My kids would complain bitterly when we took them for drill on the weekend. It was mostly filling out rote forms and my kids would hide or bury their drill sheets so we were always behind. Driving my kids to the Kumon center, monitoring them. and forcing them to do the work when they rebelled like longshoreman on work-to-rule was time consuming and it was ruining our weekends. I felt guilty, but after a while, my wife and I gave up. Today one of my sons is a civil engineer and the other is a math and economics major at UVA.

Hilger has an answer to this line of objection, or at least he says he does, but to my mind it’s a very odd answer. He argues, relying heavily on Sacerdote, that adoption studies show that more skilled parents result in more skilled kids. I find that answer odd because my reading of Sacerdote is that the effect of parents are small after you control for genetics—this is, as Hilger acknowledges, the conventional wisdom among psychologists. (See Caplan for an excellent review of the literature). It is true that Sacerdote plays up the effect of parents, but it looks small to me. Here is the effect of the adopted mother’s maternal education on the child’s education.

As you can see there is an effect but it is almost all from the mother going from having less than a high school education to graduating high school (11 to 12 years). In contrast, the mother can move from graduating high school to having a PhD and there is very little change in the education level of an adoptee. Note, however, that the effect on non-adoptees, i.e. biological children, is much larger throughout the entire range which suggests the influence of nature not nurture.

8) Kristoff on how to reduce shootings (free link for this one). 

9) One thing I really love about Noah Smith is that I see a post with a title like “Ideas to boost Japanese growth” and think “why would I want to read that?” But, since it’s Smith, I end up really enjoying it and learning a ton. 

The woes of the Japanese workplace are by now well-known. Workers spend long hours sitting around in open-plan offices trying to look busy for the boss, waiting for the boss to go home. Young workers are paid near-poverty wages even at good companies, with raises dependent entirely on seniority rather than performance or value-added. Promotions are also seniority-based, meaning management is stuffed with old guys who don’t understand the benefits of new technologies, new markets, and new business models. This model also stifles the contributions of women, immigrants, etc. And by preventing employees from moving from company to company, it keeps ideas and knowledge from flowing and recombining.

9) Yes, I will go on record as saying its nuts that Northern Arizona University now expects its undergrads to take four “diversity perspectives” courses.  And, yeah, I do have doubts on the intellectual rigor on some of them.

At Northern Arizona University, a course titled Intersectional Movements of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality promises to analyze “how intersectionality, and the matrix of inequality, have shaped the production of knowledge” and to provide “a critical lens through which intersectional epistemologies can be foregrounded.” Another, Introduction to Queer Studies, covers “queer theory and activism,” the “social and historical construction of gender and sexuality,” and the “role of allies and social change.” Trans Existence and Resilience, meantime, promises to “examine trans epistemologies as well as critiques of Eurocentric models of thinking about genders that explain peoples’ existence within Western frameworks and ontologies.”

Each of these courses counts toward one of NAU’s two “diversity requirements,” which students must satisfy to complete their degrees. Now, NAU plans to take the requirements even further, mandating that students take four of such courses—a policy that the university’s own diversity-curriculum committee describes as “unprecedented.”

10) Honestly, the reality of this Monkeypox spread is just some really bad luck when it comes to the behavior of some individuals who had been recently infected, “Expert: Monkeypox likely spread by sex at 2 raves in Europe”

11) Good stuff (free post) from Yglesias on energy costs:

Expensive energy is really bad

High gasoline prices are obviously a good talking point for Republicans.

But over and above being a talking point, expensive energy is a genuinely very grave problem that serious policymakers should be trying to address on the merits, not just for which they are seeking political solutions.

Why is it bad? While energy consumption scales with income to some extent, it’s not like millionaires drive three times as much as the median American. People sometimes say that inflation is regressive, which I think is probably not true, but expensive gasoline is absolutely regressive, which means the direct consequences for human welfare are pretty dire. Beyond that, though, people treat their gas and utility expenses as quasi-fixed because altering them is hard. In other words, they respond to expensive energy by economizing on things that aren’t energy: by canceling a Netflix subscription, by skipping date night to avoid babysitting expenses, by making do rather than replacing a broken microwave. Indeed, fresh research suggests that a $1 increase in gas prices generates essentially a $1 reduction in non-gas spending in the short term.

The upshot is that even someone like me, whose gasoline expenses are very low and whose home electricity expenses are essentially zero,3 ends up suffering some economic hardship because it’s more difficult to sell newsletter subscriptions when everyone is watching gas costs drain their bank account.

What makes things really punishing, though, is that it’s not only households that have quasi-fixed energy costs — so do businesses.

So imagine you own a dive bar. You’re annoyed personally about how much more you’re paying for gas, but you figure it doesn’t have much to do with the bar business. Except your customers are a bit more frugal with their drinking since their wallets are lighter due to the higher energy costs. Not by a huge amount, but they are buying cheaper drinks and fewer of them. They’re also tipping less generously, which is annoying your staff. You also realize that the cost of air conditioning the bar in the summer is going up. Your revenues are heading down while your expenses are heading up, so at a certain point, it makes financial sense to curtail your hours because the slowest times in the week no longer pencil out.

And that’s a fairly trivial example. Someone whose business involves using a lot of gasoline — like the guys who deliver the beer to the bar — really needs to raise prices because their costs are exploding. Since this is happening at the same time that people are drinking less beer, it’s really bad for business to increase prices, but you’d be losing money driving the truck if you don’t.

Stag whether or not you get “-flation”

Translating into economics-ese, from the standpoint of people running non-energy businesses, high energy prices are a negative supply shock.

If you open up an economics textbook, you’ll find a simplified chart like this showing that when an industry faces a negative supply shock, they sell less stuff and they sell it at higher prices.

High energy prices are a negative supply shock to almost every business you can think of. For some businesses, like smelting aluminum, it’s an incredibly bad negative shock; for others, it’s pretty mild. But while the economy can adjust from a supply shock to one sector, a supply shock hitting almost every sector simultaneously creates a really bad problem.

12) This is one way to get back at your neighbors:

Myrna Campbell, who lives in the neighborhood across from the sign said she doesn’t believe the proposed strip club is real.

“It’s just his way of striking back at the neighbor who questioned what his intent was for the property,” Campbell said.

Campbell, who serves as secretary of the Hunt Estates Homeowner’s Association called the sign an act of retaliation after neighbors brought up an issue of Smith storing cars on the lot.

“Our main concern is that regulations be followed, and it be done properly if he is going to use that as a place to store inoperable vehicles,” Campbell said. “It’s just unfortunate that he has chosen to behave in this manner because all that was done initially was when one of the homeowners saw the junk cars on the lot, all she did was call and ask what his intent was with the property and he got angry about that and this is his retribution, I guess.”

According to Campbell, she has written to the Haywood County manager citing concerns.

Hoochie Hut or not, Smith said he does plan to add privacy fencing around his property.

A business registration search for ‘Hoochie Hut’ on North Carolina’s Secretary of State website came up with zero results.

13) Imagine paying over $500 for tickets to see Paul McCartney and then missing the show after sitting in traffic for four hours because the city/venue did not actually have the infrastructure to deal with the show. 

14) This is a fascinating campus controversy (free link).  Princeton clearly went after this professor because he had attacked their embrace of DEI orthodoxy.  That’s not okay!  Also, not okay is his infraction.  Sex with an undergraduate over a decade ago.  Sorry, I don’t care how long ago or how consensual.  Not okay.  

15) So, whatever happened to fluvoxamine as a Covid treatment? FDA says no. “Why the FDA rejected fluvoxamine as a Covid-19 drug: The FDA made a reasonable decision — but one that still shows much of what’s wrong with our current system for emergency approvals.”

Last year, researchers who were testing cheap generic drugs in the hope that one or more of them might prove to work as a Covid-19 treatment stumbled across a promising candidate: the antidepressant fluvoxamine.

In a massive randomized controlled trial, called Together, researchers at McMaster University compared eight different repurposeddrugs, and foundmost of them — including ivermectin, the antiparasitic that many embraced as a Covid-19 miracle cure — failed to do much against the disease. But fluvoxamine appeared to reduce severe disease by about 30 percent. While fluvoxamine had already shown some promisein small-scale trials last year, small-scale trials can sometimes turn up spurious good results, so most people didn’t take fluvoxamine seriously until the impressive data from the Together trial.

“This already feels different from hydroxychloroquine and company given the high quality of the research,” Paul Sax argued in NEJM Journal Watch, which analyzes recent research. “We might finally be onto something.” Government regulators, though, remained more skeptical — in part because the regulatory system isn’t exactly designed for adding new indications for drugs that have already been approved by the FDA without a pharmaceutical company sponsoring them.

Another researcher who was convinced of the case for fluvoxamine, David Boulware, decided to take matters into his own hands. The FDA didn’t know how to deal with submissions for a drug to be approved for a new indication without someone responsible for the submission? Fine. He’d submit it himself. In December, he wrote and submitted an emergency use application for fluvoxamine as a treatment for Covid-19.

In a lot of ways, it was a heartwarming story about the power of citizen science. But that’s not how it turned out.

This week, the FDA rejected the application for an emergency use authorization of fluvoxamine. Regulators argued that the results from the Together trial were more ambiguous than they looked — most of the benefits came from a reduction in extended observation in the emergency room, an endpoint fairly specific to the study’s clinical setting in Brazil and not necessarily all that useful. They pointed out that since the Together trial, additional studies have attempted to find a record of fluvoxamine’s benefits, and mostly haven’t found results as large.

16) The circus is coming back without the animals acts.  Hooray!  I’ve always loved the amazing things humans do (give me five motorcycle riders in a 20-foot sphere!) so much more.

17) I just came across this SNL skit and damn do I love it.

18) Paul Waldman, “Gun sales have exploded. Funny, that didn’t make us all safer.”

19) This is wild! Watch a Giant Stingray’s Safe Return to Its River Home. (I’ve got a lot of free NYT articles still to go this month, so here you go for this one, too). 

20) So damn true from Jay Caspian Kang, “Touch Screens in Cars Solve a Problem We Didn’t Have”  Buttons, damnit, buttons!

Today I want to talk about the oversize touch screen in my Subaru Outback. All my car’s important functions, which once were controlled by perfectly serviceable buttons, have now been relegated to a matrix of little boxes on a glowing screen. And, of course, the screen does not even really comply with my commands. Instead, it randomly changes its brightness and then disconnects my phone at the exact moment I need to look at the navigation map.

To do something as simple as change the direction of the air-conditioning from blasting in my face to blasting at my feet or to listen to a podcast, I need to hunt for a tiny, sensitive square, wait for a second screen to load and then find the appropriate icon on that new screen. This generally takes me about 10 seconds of inattention to the road because, despite having owned this car for two years, I have zero intuitive sense of where these small shapes and pictures are.

This presents me with a decision, one that must be made while driving: I can jab blindly at the screen while swerving on the road; I can try to make Siri play the podcast or adjust the air, an option that has not once worked; or I can drive in silence with the air-conditioning blasting in my face. I almost always choose the option of least resistance, which means that I am essentially driving a car with no adjustable climate control and no radio.

The question of whether touch screens are good or bad was broached way back in 1986, when Buick put something called the Graphic Control Center in its Riviera line. What’s particularly striking about the Graphic Control Center, a nine-inch touch screen in the center of the dashboard, was that it wasn’t all that functionally different from today’s versions.

You could turn the fan up and down, you could set your car’s temperature, and you could change the radio station. There was a five-band sound equalizer that you could use to turn up the bass in your speakers. (The funniest, and perhaps most useful, feature was the Reminder function, which was like a to-do list for the driver. Here’s a video showing all the functions.)

But by 1990, Buick had abandoned the Graphic Control Center after drivers complained that every small adjustment to the car’s temperature or radio caused them to take their eyes off the road while they prodded a touch screen.

Thirty-two years later, touch screens are not only back but mostly standard. The complaints are the same: The screens are equally useless and enraging. Distracted, frustrated drivers, of course, are dangers to themselves and everyone else on the road.

The only difference now is that the evidence of the effects that glowing screens have on automotive safety is overwhelming.

The (not) secrets of happiness

Last month Arthur Brooks had a nice piece on practical ways to improve your happiness.  If you pay attention to this research at all, no surprised, but a nice succinct list and things you can actually do.  

1. Invest in family and friends. The research is clear that though our natural impulse may be to buy stuff, we should invest instead in improving our closest relationships by sharing experiences and freeing up time to spend together.

2. Join a club. The “social capital” you get from voluntarily and regularly associating with other people, whether or not you do so through a formal club, has long been known to foster a sense of belonging and protect against loneliness and isolation.

3. Be active both mentally and physically. You can make this advice as complicated and expensive as you want. But if you like to keep things simple, just try to walk for an hour and read for an hour (not for work!) each day.

4. Practice your religion. This might sound impractical if you don’t have a traditional faith or practice it traditionally. However, for the purposes of happiness, religion can be understood more broadly, as a spiritual or philosophical path in life. Search for transcendent truths beyond your narrow day-to-day life.

5. Get physical exercise. This is a slightly souped-up version of No. 3 above: Your daily walk should be supplemented with a purposive exercise plan. This is consistent with the research showing that regular exercise of all different types enhances mood and social functioning.

6. Act nicely. Agreeableness is consistently found to be highly and positively correlated with happiness, and it can be increased relatively easily.

7. Be generous. Behaving altruistically toward others rewards the brain with happiness-enhancing boosts of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.

8. Check your health. Of all health issues, those that create the greatest unhappiness are typically chronic pain and anxiety. Don’t neglect your visits to the doctor and the dentist, and seek mental-health assistance if your emotions are interfering with your work, relationships, or social activities.

9. Experience nature. Studies have shown that, compared with urban walking, walking in a woodland setting more dramatically lowers stressincreases positive mood, and enhances working memory.

10. Socialize with colleagues outside of work. Data have shown that work friendships increase employee engagement, which is associated with both happiness and productivity for workers. I believe that the move to remote work during the pandemic has inadvertently lowered the true compensation of work for millions, explaining in part the so-called Great Resignation. Bonding with your co-workers is a way to take it back.

This list is quite similar to the advice routinely dispensed by top academics writing for popular audiences, such as the UC Riverside psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky (who was also one of the 18 experts in the study), and by nonacademics who write about the science of happiness, such as Gretchen Rubin. “These ideas are terrific—and familiar,” Rubin told me recently. What impressed her wasn’t their originality (your grandmother might’ve told you most of them); rather, it was the fact that they were both effective and practical. “For many of us, the bigger challenge isn’t knowing what actions would make us happier, but actually doing those things,” she said.

I think the evidence is pretty clear that the most important thing is investing in quality relationships with other humans.  Meanwhile, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz had a nice piece on money and happiness in the NYT as part of the blitz for his new book (which I’ll definitely be reading):

The activities that make people happiest include sex, exercise and gardening. People get a big happiness boost from being with a romantic partner or friends but not from other people, like colleagues, children or acquaintances. Weather plays only a small role in happiness, except that people get a hearty mood boost on extraordinary days, such as those above 75 degrees and sunny. People are consistently happier when they are out in nature, particularly near a body of water, particularly when the scenery is beautiful.

The findings on the data of happiness are, to be honest, obvious. When I told my friends about these studies, the most common response was, “Did we need scientists to tell us this?”

But I would argue that there is profundity in the obviousness of the data on happiness.

Sometimes, big data reveals a shocking secret. At other times, big data tells us that there is no secret. And that’s the case with happiness.

This is crucial to keep in mind for the many of us who are not doing the obvious things that make people happy. We are falling for traps that the data says are unlikely to make us happy.

Many of us work far too hard at jobs with people we don’t like — not a likely path to happiness. Dr. MacKerron and the economist Alex Bryson found that work is the second-most-miserable activity; of 40 activities, only being sick in bed makes people less happy than working. The economist Steven Levitt found that when people are uncertain whether to quit a job, they can be nudged to quit. And when they quit, they report increased happiness months later.

Man, that part about work is sad!  Sure, I complain about meetings and various other bureaucratic stuff.  But I really like my work and and generally happy when doing it.

Many of us while away hours on social media — also not a path to happiness. The Mappiness project found that, of 27 leisure activities, social media ranks dead last in how much happiness it brings. A randomized controlled trial on the effects of social media found that when people were paid to stop using Facebook, they spent more time socializing and reported higher subjective well-being.

Ooof, well there’s my fail.  Though, I’d say most social media users are obviously just doing it wrong.  I love being connected to old friends and seeing their families, adventures, etc., and I honestly learn more from twitter (and I love to learn) than pretty much anywhere else.  

The summary:

Big data tells us there are very simple things that do make people happy, things that have been around for thousands of years. After reading all the studies on happiness, I concluded that modern happiness research could be summed up in one sentence, a sentence we might jokingly call the data-driven answer to life.

The data-driven answer to life is as follows: Be with your love, on an 80-degree and sunny day, overlooking a beautiful body of water, having sex.

I will say I sure do love being with loved ones at bodies of water and I actually should try and do that more.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Yes, more deBoer, but I really just love him even when I don’t agree with him.  But this is really thought-provoking about how discriminating based on physical attractiveness is just an accepted norm:

We have a new controversy of a kind that crops up more and more often. It’s the kind that seems incredibly tired right from the beginning, where the various players take their places and dutifully recite their parts. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, which in defiance of all logic still exists, has chosen new cover models. One of them is Yumi Nu, a fuller-figured model, someone who once would not have been considered viable for that venue. Some conservatives, predictably, are big mad about it, including Jordan Peterson. Inevitably, and with a real sense of the eternal recurrence of modern political cycles, the body positivity crowd has rushed to Nu’s defense.

Personally, I think Nu is attractive, and there’s also going to be conventionally hot and thin models in that magazine, and Sports Illustrated is a fucking relic anyway and who cares. You’d think the Google Image search would have immediately mooted the swimsuit issue, but apparently not. Anyway, I can’t imagine occupying the headspace where I got mad about which unobtainable model is on the cover of a magazine, even if I didn’t think Nu was good-looking. (Then again, the people attacking Peterson are also playing right into his game.) What I do think this argument shows is a certain confused manner of thinking about attractiveness which has cropped up since we decided that literally every arena in human experience needs to be “socially just.”

Consider Ashley Graham, another full-figured model who has posed for the swimsuit issue. (Whether Graham qualifies as a plus-sized model or not is apparently a matter of controversy, and I’m staying away.) While Graham is heavier than most models traditionally have been, she’s also very beautiful. I love her body, but even aside from the elasticity of what’s attractive in a women’s body she has the face of… well, of an internationally-celebrated model, which she is. I’m certainly not the first to make this point, but that’s not any more “realistic” than a wafer-thin model is. It’s not any more approachable. It’s not any more achievable, for the average woman. And so the question is, what is the feminist value of this supposed embrace of different body types if you’re still highlighting women whose looks are unachievable for almost everyone? How is “you should judge yourself against Ashley Graham’s beautiful face and perfect skin and nice tits” any more humane than “you should be as thin as Kate Moss”? …

Germane to my point here, though… is the bone structure of your face chosen? Can you choose to have a perfect nose? Is your eye color somehow under your control in a way your weight isn’t? Sure, we can radically change our appearances with surgery and all manner of other techniques, but the self-acceptance philosophy that’s core to Instagram feminism suggests that we shouldn’t feel any pressure to do that stuff. And spotlighting the expectation to be skinny while ignoring all of the other difficult standards of conventional beauty seems very odd to me. The hallmarks of appearing attractive are not in any sense fairer than body fat standards, yet nobody is giving up on the idea of more or less attractive people.

2) How can you not love this in McSweeney’s, “A passenger’s one-star review off the trolley ride from the trolley problem”?

3) So much this from Yglesias, ‘Let’s use unspent Covid funds to make great next generation vaccines”

Eric Topol writes that the latest new variants seem to offer considerable capacity to evade immunity, meaning the coming winter wave may be similar in severity to the Omicron winter rather than the situation we hoped for where waves diminish in amplitude.

The sad reality is that as bad as Covid-19 is, it’s not really deadly enough to ever burn itself out. It’s also not mild enough to be “just the flu” and is additive to flu’s burden of disease rather than substituting for it. It’s also of course possible that new variants will emerge that are deadlier.

To get out of this cycle, we’re going to need to develop a more general vaccine. Ideally, that means one that targets the shared properties of the entire coronavirus family and gets out of playing whack-a-mole with variants. There are also important ongoing lines of research into vaccines you would take as a nasal spray rather than a shot. I suspect needlephobia plays a much larger role in vaccine refusal than anyone wants to squarely admit, but a bigger issue is that nasal vaccines could potentially be much more effective at blocking the transmission of the virus, which right now is often able to colonize people’s noses and create mild cases that keep bouncing around making it harder to achieve true sterilizing immunity. There are lots of different agencies and groups around the world with a role to play in doing that science and bringing the products to market. But BARDA has been America’s MVP for developing public health technology and deserves to be high on the funding priority list.

4) Been some really dramatic videos of this lately (including here), “Beach Houses on the Outer Banks Are Being Swallowed by the Sea”

5) Meanwhile, digging large holes in the beach (Outer Banks or elsewhere) can literally kill you

A pit the size of a grave was found on a popular Outer Banks beach, prompting warnings that passersby are at high risk of being seriously hurt or killed by falls and cave-ins.

The discovery in Kill Devil Hills was announced May 17, the same day two siblings were trapped when a hole caved in on a New Jersey beach. An 18-year-old died before rescuers could reach him, according to the Toms River Police Department.

Kill Devil Hills posted the warning with a photo showing the “massive hole” was big enough to hold the town’s ocean rescue supervisor.

6) NYT Editorial pulls no punches, “Student Debt Is Crushing. Canceling It for Everyone Is Still a Bad Idea.”

The Biden administration should spend its finite resources and political capital on fixing the higher education system to make it more affordable while helping those borrowers in the most distress. There are already ways to do this, although they have not gotten nearly enough attention or resources.

Canceling student debt across the board is not one of them. Trying to fix such a shattered system with the flick of a pen on an executive order could even make it worse. Canceling this debt, even in the limited amounts that the White House is considering, would set a bad precedent and do nothing to change the fact that future students will graduate with yet more debt — along with the blind hope of another, future amnesty. Such a move is legally dubiouseconomically unsoundpolitically fraught and educationally problematic.

7) Yascha Mounk with a great conversation with Adolph Reed on race and class.  Once again, I find myself loving the take of a Marxist:

Reed: Yeah. The other pole was—and here’s the sleight of hand—that people were poor because they lacked a sense of personal capacity. This was the foundation of the community mobilization approach to fighting poverty, the idea being that you organize the poor to act on their own behalf, and somehow, magically, that would turn into the end of poverty. Hardly anyone recognized that, at the time, in the terms in which I’m describing it now. But in effect, the psychologistic understanding of the roots of poverty was becoming part of the basis of the new left’s understanding of radicalism. 

And I can’t tell you how many frustrating meetings I attended when I was in college—people thinking the point of politics was to express themselves and to realize their deeper identities and aspirations. That’s one tributary that flowed into this great river that we’re talking about today. And then in the mid-to-late 80s, in the academy, in particular, the newer disciplines of Black Studies, feminist studies, etc, emerged with an aura of ersatz politics or extramural political meaning about them, just as they were becoming institutionalized as solidly respected fields of study in the elite academy. Scholars in those fields were under internal pressure themselves to combine what we might call their social service justifications for their existence with demonstrations of high intellectuality. So, at that moment of need, we get another infusion of French theory, and we also get a particular kind of American appropriation of cultural studies on the British model. And they come together in a way that reinforces identitarianism. Then my colleague and friend James Scott’s work on the “hidden transcripts” of the oppressed gets appropriated by people in those disciplines to make claims about how the truth of women, blacks, Hispanics, whatever, can never be known, unless you do the deep, almost Straussian, mystified understanding of hidden meanings that can only be reached through an elaborate and an esoteric hermeneutic, which also carries with it a race-reductionist and identitarian component in the sense that there’s at least a substantive argument that’s packed into that, that only the black woman can really get access to the esoteric interpretation of the state of the black woman. You can see how this also becomes a career imperative.

Mounk: Fascinating. I’d never thought that what some people call “situated knowledge,” what often today is called standpoint epistemology, has one of its roots in the work of James Scott, whom I also greatly admire.

You use the term “race reductionism,” which is one of the phrases that you’re well known for. What is race reductionism, and why should we be worried about it?

Reed: I give my son credit for the term. And on a rhetorical level, it’s obviously a reversal of the “class reductionism” charge that people levy at the likes of us. But there’s an organic foundation for the term. If you start out from the assumption that the black experience in North America has been uniformly defined by racism, white supremacy and even like a sort of demon theory of a transcendent anti-blackness that has animated the history of the entire world, what that means is that you’re reducing everything that has to do with black Americans’ experience to their racial classification. And we see that now for instance, shortly after the 2016 presidential campaign, an MSNBC host, who I describe as a tribune of neoliberal anti-racism, Joy-Ann Reid, in an interview with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, declared that black people don’t have an interest in stuff like free public higher education, or Medicare for All, or a $15 an hour wage, or employment security, or access to a secure and dignified retirement. What black people actually want is a “reckoning,” as they call it, and to have the racial conversation. That can only work, first of all, if others are at all prepared to accept her as a ventriloquist of 46 million black people, but also, if people are prepared to accept (including her, by the way) the premise that every other feature of the lives of any black person is subordinate to their racial classification, and to an agenda that purportedly can be read out from the racial classification. That seems like a textbook explanation of racial reductionism to me. And I think that’s a mindset that dominates current identity politics.

8) George Packer on the new political book, This will not pass

The failures of the book’s Democrats do not threaten the republic. The rotten core around which our democracy has begun to collapse is the Republican Party. It remains Trump’s party as long as he keeps his grip on its voters and can defy the medical odds against an old man who eats badly and never exercises. Trump’s most fervent supporters in Congress, such as Representatives Mo Brooks, Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, don’t even exist in a category of responsibility and blame: Their behavior is the political equivalent of not guilty by reason of insanity. Burns and Martin reserve their sharpest criticism for Republicans who know better—moral vacuities motivated by opportunism and power lust. These include lesser-known members of Congress such as Jim Banks of Indiana and Elise Stefanik of New York; the erratic Senator Lindsey Graham, whose only constant seems to be an insatiable desire for attention; and McConnell himself, who flirted briefly with principle in his comments on Trump after January 6, before finding safety in a refusal to say much of anything.

But the embodiment of Trump’s Republican Party, and the object of the authors’ undisguised contempt, is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. He is willing to betray any vestige of truth, courage, and self-respect to stay in Trump’s good graces and therefore remain the party’s top contender for speaker of the House. At one point, Burns and Martin inform us that Trump took to calling McCarthy a “pussy,” and they add: “McCarthy responded not by defying the former president but by more or less setting out to prove him right.” One of the biggest scoops—McCarthy’s brief, private criticism of Trump and his congressional fanatics immediately after January 6—endangered all of the work McCarthy had done afterward to secure the godfather’s blessing. When McCarthy declared the story a falsehood of the liberal media, the authors produced an audio recording to confirm its accuracy. But McCarthy and his party are so lost in a miasma of tribalism and lies that this humiliation didn’t matter. He retained the support of Trump, who might share Burns and Martin’s disdain for McCarthy but who knows a useful tool when he sees one.

This Will Not Pass raises a question that isn’t easy to answer: What is it about political power that leads people to desecrate themselves so nakedly in its pursuit? Speaker of the House is an important position, but what’s the overwhelming appeal of a career as a congressional backbencher, or as a committee chair gaveling endless meetings that achieve nothing in particular? The book’s Republicans hardly seem motivated by policy ideas, let alone by a desire to govern well in the public interest. They passed little substantive legislation when their party controlled Congress and the White House during Trump’s first two years. The most popular of them are nihilistic combatants in the culture wars whose chief skill is building personal brands. When the institutions of government hollow out, what’s left is the chase for these cheap gratifications, removing the last self-restraints from those in power.

Anyone who spends time in Washington encounters intelligent, capable, hardworking people who went into politics for relatively idealistic reasons and manage to resist its more corrupting temptations. The brighter lights in this book include some Democrats and a few Republicans who believe in self-government, understand the need for both principle and compromise, and are willing if necessary to take on their own side. None of them seems likely to ever get very far. Those picking up this book a few decades from now will have to confront the question of why a free people, in discarding their most promising leaders while elevating the likes of Kevin McCarthy, asked for their own destruction.

9) Brownstein on this week’s primaries:

That tilt reflects the fundamental shift in the GOP coalition that Brabender identified. In a process that predates Trump but has greatly accelerated since his emergence, the GOP has grown more reliant on non-college-educated, non-urban, and religiously conservative voters, many of whom express anxiety about demographic and cultural change in polls, while shedding support from college-educated and more moderate voters, especially those clustered in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.

Pennsylvania crystallizes that change. In the early 1990s, about one-third of Republican primary votes in the state were cast across the southeast, in Philadelphia and its four surrounding suburban counties, according to calculations by Berwood Yost, the director of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster. But by 2018, as residents of those suburbs continued a generation-long migration toward the Democratic Party, the Philadelphia region’s share of the state’s GOP primary vote had fallen to a little over one-fifth.

Simultaneously, the mostly blue-collar counties around Pittsburgh, in southwestern Pennsylvania, slightly increased their share of the GOP vote, while the less densely populated counties in the state’s center increased their share even more, Yost found. Results as of early Wednesday suggest that these patterns largely held in this primary, with Philadelphia and its suburbs again contributing only a little more than one-fifth of GOP primary votes, the southwest a little less than one-fifth, and the interior counties the remainder…

What does this mean for the future direction of the GOP? The challenge for the small remnant of Republican candidates who resist Trump—or even those who want to support his general direction without personally bending the knee to him—is that these changes have shrunk the audience for any alternative path. As voters who are uneasy with Trumpism—largely college-educated suburbanites in metropolitan areas—have drifted away from the party, the core left behind is more receptive to Trump-style arguments. And the more that GOP primaries produce Trump-style candidates, the less likely center-right voters will be to vote in such elections at all.

That leaves little hope in the near term for the dwindling band of conservatives and Republicans who want to see the party shift back away from Trumpism. “There was a time I thought you could remove him and save the party,” Sarah Longwell, the founder of the anti-Trump Republican Accountability Project, tweeted on Monday. “But looking at these GOP primaries—not to mention the last 18 months—it’s clear Trump has metastasized across the party. And it can’t be saved.”…

At minimum, it appears highly unlikely that November will produce the widespread repudiation of Trump-style candidates that critics such as Kristol consider the prerequisite to any GOP course correction. And if voters don’t decisively reject Trumpism in November, the odds increase that the GOP will embrace Trumpism again in 2024, either with Trump himself or another candidate who has embraced his agenda, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

That likelihood has huge implications not just for the competition between the two parties, but for American democracy. Republican primary voters so far have nominated multiple candidates who echo some version of Trump’s wild claims of 2020 election fraud, who promise to make it more difficult to vote, and who signal, as in Mastriano’s case, that they might seek to overturn any Democratic victory for president. The real price of Trumpism’s grip on the GOP might be a full-scale constitutional crisis in 2024.

10) Interesting academic research on polling:

Using the registration-based samples and disposition codes of state-level pre-election telephone polls conducted by the National Election Pool as part of the National Exit Poll in 12 states, we test whether likely Democrats were more likely to cooperate with the National Exit Poll than likely Republicans and independents. Using information about both respondents and nonrespondents, we find that Democrats are more likely to cooperate with telephone interviewers than Republicans and independents by 3 and 6 percentage points, respectively, even after controlling for individual and geographic features plausibly related to nonresponse (e.g., age, gender, race, urban/rural, community support for President Trump, and effects of COVID-19). Equalizing the partisan cooperation rate when post-stratifying to account for the partisan differences in cooperation decreases the average polling error on the margin of victory by 4 percentage points in the polls we examine, but sizable errors remain in critical swing states because of within-party differences in who responds and/or errors in the available partisanship measures in the voter file.

11) Can interventions can more women interested in running for office?  More social science:

The under-representation of women in American politics can likely be explained, at least in part, by women’s comparatively lower levels of political ambition. We analyze a co-ed, religious program for high school students in which participants lobby their Members of Congress and receive political skills training. By leveraging longitudinal survey data about the participants and a difference-in-differences design, we find that the program successfully increased the political ambition of its female participants. To the best of our knowledge, we offer the first quasi-experimental evidence demonstrating a possible means of increasing the political ambition of high school-aged American women. Our results demonstrate that female political ambition can be increased without relying on programs that explicitly focus on gender and ambition.

Social desirability, social tipping points, and masks on airplanes

The latest from Gallup:

Although the country is split over whether masks should be mandated on planes, a majority of Americans (60%) say that given the choice, they would choose to wear a face mask if they were traveling by plane in the next few days. Forty percent say they would opt to go maskless.

It’s really hard to get actual numbers on this, but at some point the accumulation of anecdotes means something and I’d bet you $10,000 60% of American air travelers are not wearing masks.  One of my regularly flying friends (who is actually a pollster) says it’s not over 20% in his recent experience.  And I’ve seen many other anecdotal accounts that suggest that range.  Definitely nowhere near 60%.  So, what’s going on here?  Are people just lying about this?  Is saying you think there should be masks on planes a socially desirable answer for liberals?  

Here’s my folk theory… which I’ve been thinking about a lot ever since attending various sporting events (with required and enforce to required and unenforced to not required mask policies) from January onward. Short version… we’re sheep.  Humans are social animals.  There’s a good number of people (maybe around 20%) who are just going to wear a mask, regardless of what others around them are doing.  There’s a good number who just won’t (20%??) unless it is genuinely enforced (e.g., Duke basketball games this winter, not NC State basketball games).  But a huge number of people who are somewhere along the lines of “yeah, masks are pretty good, but, hmmm, what’s everybody else doing?”  Earlier this year there was some percentage of mask wearing– I think around 80% or so, but that’s a ballpark estimate– where this large middle group looks around and thinks, “yeah, pretty much everyone is wearing a mask, I should wear mine.” But once it starts falling more people think, “hmmm, a lot of people aren’t wearing masks, maybe I won’t.”  And then you get down to some level, presumably under 50%, and lots of people think, “yeah, sure, I’m no anti-masker, but it’s not required and most people are wearing them, so…”  And then you end up with just that 10-20% who are genuinely committed.  And, I think a lot of these people would have said, “yeah, I’ll wear a mask at the game.”  But, as fewer and fewer around them actually do, you end up with far less people than those who actually say they would.

Now, another option is just that survey respondents are insanely dramatically different from airline passengers.  Or again, on some level they don’t really mean it, but think they should say that they will wear a mask on flights.  But, I strongly suspect that it’s really just that people are 1) very social animals; 2) surprisingly bad at predicting their own future behavior, especially in social contexts. I think if you conducted an experiment where airline passengers literally could not see what other passengers were doing, you might actually get somewhere close to that 60%.  But in the real world when they walk into the airport or on the plane and see all those other people not wearing masks, many of that 60% aren’t nearly so committed to the idea after all.  

Anyway, I find it a fascinating issue in both polling and human behavior.  

Quick hits (part III)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover photo

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

Yes, you read that correctly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there any direct evidence suggesting multiverses exist? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

2) Brian Beutler: on the Democratic response to Roe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call it “Greedflation.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The researchers had data on:

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

So, what traits make people desirable to others?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I need more friends?

Really enjoyed this NYT article (haven’t done any gift NYT articles yet this month, so I made that one) on the science of adult friendships:

For years, friendship in America has been in decline, a trend that accelerated during the pandemic. Three decades ago, 3 percent of Americans told Gallup pollsters they had no close friends; in 2021, an online poll put it at 12 percent. About a year into the pandemic, 13 percent of women and 8 percent of men age 30 to 49 said they’d lost touch with most of their friends.

There are health implications to all of this. Friendship can be an important factor in well-being, while loneliness and social isolation — distinct but related conditions — can be associated with an increased risk for conditions like depression and anxiety or heart disease and stroke. An often-cited 2010 meta-analysis led by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University in Utah, concluded that loneliness is as harmful to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day…

While she and other friendship researchers admit there aren’t many studies that have specifically tackled the question of how many friends people should aim for, those that have been done offer a range — and somewhere between three and six close friends may be the sweet spot.

If your goal is simply to mitigate the harmful impact loneliness can have on your health, what matters most is having at least one important person in your life — whether that’s a partner, a parent, a friend or someone else, said Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas.

“Going from zero to one is where we get the most bang for your buck, so to speak,” Dr. Hall said. “But if you want to have the most meaningful life, one where you feel bonded and connected to others, more friends are better.”…

While friendship research offers some benchmarks, it may be more useful for most of us to simply do a bit of soul-searching. Marisa Franco, a psychologist and author of the forthcoming book “Platonic: How The Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends,” recommends starting with a fairly obvious but powerful question: Do I feel lonely?

“Loneliness is a sort of signal or alarm system,” Dr. Franco said. Everyone feels lonely from time to time, but this is a deeper question about whether you regularly feel left out or isolated. One recent survey suggested that roughly one in three Americans have experienced “serious loneliness” during the pandemic.

It also helps to ask yourself if there are parts of your identity that feel restricted, Dr. Franco said.

“Different people bring out different parts of us. So when you have a larger friend group, you’re able to experience this side of yourself that loves golf, and this side of yourself that loves cars, and this side of yourself that loves flowers,” she said. “If you feel like your identity has sort of shrunk, or you’re not feeling quite like yourself, that might indicate you need different types of friends,” she added.

Of course, making friends in adulthood isn’t always easy. Research shows people struggle with it because they find it difficult to trust new people, and because they are simply crunched for time. For those reasons, it is often easier to start by rekindling old relationships that have fizzled, Dr. Franco said. Take initiative and don’t assume that friendships just happen organically, she said. But be judicious. Spending time with friends you feel ambivalent about — because they’re unreliable, critical, competitive or any of the many reasons people get under our skin — can be bad for your health.

The amount of time you actually spend with your friends matters, too. Dr. Hall’s research suggests that on average, very close friendships tend to take around 200 hours to develop. Quantity and quality go hand-in-hand.

I think I’m doing okay, actually, but as an extrovert who likes to consider himself multi-faceted, I think I need a lot of friends.  I love that there’s friends I can talk politics with, talk sports (mostly hockey), talk TV and movies, talk cool science and social science, talk books, talk about teaching college, talk parenting.  Hey, I think I’ve got it all pretty much covered.  But, that actually covers a fair number of people.  And I’m definitely not up to 200 hours (that’s a lot!) with all of them.  

Meanwhile, I was all set to post that, and David Epstein’s latest newsletter was an interview all about relationships, including adult friendships (the whole thing is great and totally worth your time, but I’m sticking to friendships here):

DE: Ok I want to switch gears to friendship. I liked this quote: “The weakness of friendship is also the source of its immeasurable strength.” Can you explain what you mean there?

EB: Friendship gets the short end of the stick as far as relationships go. Which is sad, because work by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman shows friends make us happier than any other type of relationship. I’m not trying to cause a Category 5 Twitter Storm here, but friends beat spouses when it comes to increasing our happiness. (Sorry, spouses.)

The issue here is that most every other form of bond has an institution behind it, a metaphorical lobbying group promoting its interests. You have an employment contract with your boss, a marital contract with your spouse and you can go to jail for not taking care of your kids. Screw up any of those relationships and there will be direct consequences. With friends, uh, not so much. We can just walk away.

Friends are only in our lives because we want them to be. And this is why friendships make us happier than any other relationship: it’s always a choice, never an obligation.

DE: So what did Dale Carnegie get right and wrong about “how to win friends and influence people”?

EB: Most of what Carnegie wrote has been validated by the research. Seeking similarity is powerful. Paying people sincere compliments is effective. (Did I mention that “Range” is an utterly amazing masterwork of a book?) The only big point Carnegie was wrong about was saying we should try and see things from the other person’s perspective. Studies show we’re pretty terrible at this and it actually makes us worse at relating to others.

The real problem with Carnegie’s work is that while it’s great for the initial stages of a casual friendship, it doesn’t offer much in the way of building deep connections. Carnegie wrote the book for developing business relationships. Everything in it is fairly easy to do, which is why we like it – but that also makes it a great playbook for manipulative people. To build deep friendships we need to display “costly signals” that can’t be easily faked. If you think that just noting similarities and paying compliments is going to get you a brother-from-another-mother or a sister-from-another-mister level of friendship, you probably believe disco is going to make a comeback.

DE: One more friendship question for you: You marshaled a mountain of research on how important deep friendships are for health and happiness, and yet, we don’t always treat friendships as a daily priority. Any suggestions?

EB: Making time is critical. A Notre Dame study of 8 million phone calls showed friendships were more likely to persist when people checked in roughly every two weeks. Still, that can seem difficult for many of us with busy lives. The secret here is making it more organic. Turning the regular time together into something more of a ritual or a habit. Exercising together. Having a lunch or call every Sunday. Starting a book club. Routine activities like this can make keeping up with friends relatively effortless.

I definitely try to make time for my friendships (mostly through pizza lunches, as many of my readers know), but I could certainly do better on the long-distance friendships.  I used to do more evening phone calls when I was doing the dishes, etc., but now I just always listen to a podcast.  

Anyway… friends are important.  Value them and make them happen.

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